Vicodin Dreams, Existential Realities, Joy, & Happiness

A few days ago I had minor surgery. I’m memorizing the nations of the world in order to regain neural synapses after the anesthesia. I’ve come to think of my surgery as the Lesser Antilles.

I’ve also come to think of the capitals of Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Montenegro, and Moldova as corollaries of the scrambled parts of my brain that have not checked back in. Towns with names that cluster consonants, especially p’s and j’s, are beyond my command.

Part of it is the Vicodin. Like anesthesia, it takes time to get out of your system. I appreciate pain killers as much as the next person and I relish dreams where people sing, dance, fly and do absurd things in technicolor. Yet, there is the pull to clarity.

I like my awake world crystal clear. If you are of a certain age, think of the old Hamm’s Beer ads set in Minnesota to the tom-tom beat of “from the land of sky blue waters.” Surely I think of that because the family of my first love, from when I was 11 to 17, owned those islands, but I digress. I have to be pretty disoriented to leap back to the sureness of that adolescent love as he is now a far right conservative who lives in San Diego and says “any woman who can skin a bear is my kind of woman.” All hail FaceBook! All hail the unfriending feature!

But I digress.

For the past few weeks I have been mulling through the difference between joy and happiness. It is of a different nature than learning the capitals of Europe or Africa. More subtle, more vowels, fewer consonants.

Bobby at the front desk and I decided two nights before the surgery that joy originates from within while happiness comes from outside of one’s self. We did a high five on that one! Bobby is the Buddha Incarnate of our building. His eyes have that look.

To be clear – ha! – joy is a light inside that pervades and grows, pushing outward and seemingly from an endless source. Continually expanding, it proves that love is in the DNA that created life. (Don’t get all ruffled up if that is too airy-fairy for you and you want to say I’m still on Vicodin. I’m not. Well, I’m on the existential downside of Vicodin. I have just enough left in my system to speak my truth.)

Happiness is – and I realize I’m into semantics that don’t hold true for everyone, but, hey, stay with me – what we feel when something more or less concrete and measurable is added to our perception of our lives or ourselves. Something – or some perspective – comes to us that makes us feel bigger, better, more attractive, safer, more loved.

That is, joy comes in the package – though sometimes latent, waiting your discovery – while happiness is an add-on.

Both are good. We are happy when we receive a bonus, a compliment, a new basketball, a kitchen renovation. We are happy when we go places that are nice, see a comedy, buy new boots, take a selfie that flatters us, make a sale.

Some things both make us happy and enliven joy. A new love affair, a grandchild, holding hands, a great meal and wine with old friends, dancing, singing.

Some things simply blow our minds. Looking into the eyes of a newborn and seeing the universe.

Joy is the real thing of it, however, and joy is more than I can write of now, or possibly ever, and that is okay because the joy of which I speak cannot be defined. It is enough to know that it exists and to learn that, when you are grateful for it, it increases immediately. Becoming conscious of your joy allows it to release from a private chamber inside you and to emerge from you into the world. It has no borders.

[Serious note: I have never been chemically depressed and I apologize a thousand times over to every reader who has been and who finds what I write to be naive. I hope it still has some meaning to you.]

Yet – dum-dum-de-dum, here comes the existential part – we live inside bodies, minds, and emotions that go through time and space, interacting and often clashing against each other. The downside of Vicodin is that when the high is over you may find that it has shaken out the harsh parts of your history and current reality, the coarse sandpaper times where you were hurt, misguided, angry, and unhappy.

This morning I realized that the characters in my dreams post-Vicodin have all been lesser people who have betrayed me. Not the big betrayers – large as China – but the forgotten ones, who are more like Kansas or Uruguay or East Timor.

These dream visitors had become dull shapes, ragamuffins on the edges of memory – the teacher who thought I cheated and gave me a D for the semester despite having all A’s in her course, the friend who wouldn’t testify for me in court because she was afraid, the man who got me pregnant when he was 40 and I was 21 and fresh off the farm. Real people. People who fail us and our trust. Normal average people.

Why one asks did they come visiting? And the answer comes that it is because these are the people who surround us, then and now. They must be accepted, they are us.

Acceptance of flaws is a demand of joy that must be met. Joy sets the terms and guides us to meet them. It demands that we learn to love as it does or, rather, as it is.

Yes, people are confused, opinionated, distrustful, and afraid. In extremes, we kill each other. We are Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Gaza and Israel, Bosnia, Columbia, the DRC. That list goes on and on. No high fives there.

I dreamt of these people unpleasantly – a slight grimace in my sleep, a concern about my survival – but we are each other’s life condition. Such glory and careless haphazard meanness!

Joy comes from within and one thing it cannot help but do is to show what is dark – the blood flecks, scars, forgotten disliked people. It also heals, if we are willing to be healed and want to be clear.

So I memorize nations and capitals, learning where people live, who they are and what they do. Next I’m moving on to rivers and lakes. Did you know the Caspian Sea is huge? I want to go there someday. On a boat from port to port. In the sun, in joy, with friends.


Shoot first or never shoot?

For a brief period in the fall and winter of 1975 I simultaneously dated two men. One was David Hume Kennerly, the White House photographer for President Ford who received the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his photography in Vietnam and Cambodia. The other was Richard (“Flashlight”) Gordon, a member of a religious commune in New York state and former teacher at Smith College.

David was a little miffed. I don’t remember it being as much about my seeing another man as by the choice of Richard, a dropout with long hair, drawstring pants, and sandals. The Vietnam war was over by only a few months. David had been on the frontlines, he had photographed death.

Once he called me from San Francisco and said there had been an assassination attempt less than an hour before on President Ford. His gut had told him to demand that Ford go around the back of his waiting car, not the front – a move that surely saved the President’s life. The bullet skimmed by David, who credited his gut with saving his life then and in Vietnam.

“Ask that guy you see,” David said, “what he would do if people were running at him and shooting at him.”

Me: “Flashlight, what you do if people were running at you and shooting at you?”

Flashlight: “If I had a gun, I’d shoot them first.”

This issue of shoot first or not at all is a tricky one. Just because both the Pulitzer Prize winner and an imitation yogi agreed on shooting first did not mean to me that it was the best thing to do. (I had also started going to the commune, which centered around universal love. The mice were caught in humane traps and transported off grounds.)

Most significantly, death is permanent. I’m not making a case for no life after death. I am saying that when your body dies you no longer walk, talk, eat, feel, think, dream, kiss, hold hands, study, go to school, go to theater, feed your children, have children, dance, sing, raise a family, make love. You’re dead.

We tend to slide over this fact in regards to other people, especially when the number of dead gets large, especially when we kill by drones, especially after we decide to hate them, especially if they have killed people we like or identify with, especially if they believe things we don’t believe, especially if we are afraid of them, and especially if we think they want to kill us.

Yet we never lose sight of the fact that we personally don’t want to die. We are fully and always aware when it comes to ourselves that death means the end of being here.

So, is it all about clearing the way so we feel we won’t have to die, at least not soon? Some Israelis said of Gaza that it occasionally needs mowing. It’s not that Israelis are meaner than other people. It’s the position they are in that includes fear, historical beliefs and harsh realities, isolation, and having the power at hand to “mow.”

Circumstances, real and imagined, affect how people – individually and collectively – perceive. In turn, what people perceive affects what they are willing to do to others, including to kill them. Given a potent dose of the “right” circumstances many, maybe most, people lose empathy. They become empathetically illiterate.

Look at ISIS. They perceive – literally live in – a different reality than most of us do. Their beliefs, which are circumstances, seal them inside a “truth” that gives them a mission and radical zeal. They want power and territory to bring the world into line with their image of truth and they will kill for it. You and I may not buy into their vision but they are pretty intent about it. They believe their perceived reality.

We could also say that we in the US perceive people are coming at us, and our friends and other good people, with the intent to kill us. It seems real from here. What can we do except shoot before they get here or before the number of dead becomes even more astronomical? Hold that question.

Why two beheadings was a catalyst instead of more than 140,000 dead Syrians and 900,000 Syrian refugees and displaced people is another question. Well, we know why. The beheadings were two from the US home team. Our empathic literacy only spoke English.

In the midst of this violent catastrophe we forget that all people are people are people are people and killing means real people die.

Our major flaw as human animals is that we forget that each of us is potential and future and love and art and creation and compassion and beauty. We forget our existence is an incomprehensible miracle, and it ends.

Given the stakes, you would think we would put more thought and action into creating circumstances where people perceive their good as invested in the good of others, where we give each other what we all need so we become friends and family, so it becomes unthinkable to kill each other.

But once the horror is underway, . . .  Well, I, too, would probably pick up the gun and shoot first if the option were between them and me. Certainly I would if it were between them and my family or friends. Now, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to save myself or family or friends if faced with murderous assault.

I know that in reality this is a moot point since I personally will never fight in a war and I will never own a gun, but if I am hypothetically willing to kill in some circumstances, how can I say my nation never can?

And I believe, faced with a choice between my death and that of a member of my family or a close friend, I would go on the sword. Hopefully this is never tested.

But it is tested endlessly around the world, isn’t it? Parents are constantly giving up their lives to save their children due to real and desperate circumstances. Average people do heroic things.

Can we average people do what is needed to prevent future wars and lessen the wars now around us?

Average people brought an end to the war in Vietnam even if it was late in the game. Such a futile stupid war.

Has there ever been a wise war? President Carter referred to war as sometimes a “necessary evil,” which raises the pertinent question of if wars can be prevented in advance by actions taken by you and me, average people.

Assuming the answer is “yes,” the most pertinent question is, are we willing to build communities across cultures, to minister to each other’s needs, and to become empathically literate in all languages?

It would take conscious evolution of our consciences, voluntary opening up, leaps of faith in ourselves and others, and going against our impulses to shut down and shut out. Many good people do peace-making work now. How do we build on their work to create a massive coalition of the willing? This is the question. What are the answers?

The question “shoot first or never shoot” must become obsolete, a relic of when we were more primitive. War photos of dead, wounded, and dying men, women, and children should only be seen in historical archives.



A Hairbrush for the Generations

There was a child raised on a farm in Iowa during the Depression who sold apples on the corner as her classmates walked by. She was intelligent and skipped two grades of school. Perhaps that helped her humiliation. She vowed never to marry a farmer.

But she did marry a farmer, a handsome farmer 12 years older than she. They met when she stopped to ask directions to the one-room schoolhouse where she was to teach.

Mom, young adult

She was 21 and had taught at one-room schoolhouses since she was 19. Or was it 18? She believed she would never get married – all those freckles and that red hair.

The marriage was difficult, not a lot of fun for her or her silent husband or their two children. After the children went to college, she returned to school and renewed her teaching certificate. Then she taught for decades – special education and third grade. Her students loved her. Her daughter, i.e. me, could never figure that out.

She died at age 96 on the next to the last day of 2013. A few days ago she spoke through a medium to ask her daughter’s forgiveness, i.e. mine, for being stubborn, for being unable to express her emotions (caused by her own emotionally deprived upbringing), for having always to be the one who was right (caused by immense insecurities), for her jealousy (regarding her silent husband), and for being a difficult mother. She said she was sorry for being such “a pain” to me and others, and explained why she was as she was. I was stunned.

I wrote a blog months ago titled “I Never Saw My Mother Cry.” The medium said there were tears in her eyes and she just wanted to hug her.

Whatever you, reader, think of mediums or life after death or “other worlds” there is a realm where thoughts, history, and knowing collect and seem to be able to realign. Whether it is an individual or collective unconscious that has little to do with the deceased, ESP, or uber-intuition I don’t know, but I know this realm exists, though I’m not going to go into the personal detailed things my mother told the medium to “prove” to her and me that it was she.

I didn’t need an apology from my mother. She was long ago forgiven and has long been loved. But in appears that she needed to ask my forgiveness even so, and I felt her emotional release afterwards and have felt her happy warmth since. She feels like a little girl, finally allowed to dance, who is making up for lost time.

HairbrushIn her emotionally frozen and somewhat materially-deprived life as an adult, my mother had certain things that mattered. One was a toiletries set that included a hairbrush, mirror, comb, and glass jar for face powder. The mirror and comb are gone but I snatched the brush and jar, cherishing them as sweet pretty things that were always on the chest of drawers in their bedroom. The set had always been incongruous to me in that harsh emotional landscape where people were isolated from each other, and I treasured it.

Last night after my five-year-old granddaughter soaked in the bathtub and got the playground dirt off her knees and feet and her fine golden hair washed, she used the brush. The soft bristles didn’t hurt her.

She used it again this morning. I purred inside.

“I look so beautiful.”

“Yes, my precious love, you do.”

When we see the photographs of destruction in war zones, there are often photos of a doll, a stuffed toy animal, a piece of china, a framed photograph against the wreckage. That one thing tells us of the life that was, the warmth and caring, and tender things of everyday life – or what everyday life is meant to be, where we love each other and express it. The tragedy, the loss, is shown in the contrast – and we the viewers don’t know if those lives are recoverable or if the people are dead or wounded beyond recognition. Refugees perhaps?

My mother’s life seems in this strange unidentifiable realm to be recovered, at least through me and for me. She needed to apologize for her sake, to let me know that she – wherever she is – could unfreeze emotions and realign them into fluid love for the sake of healing – hers and perhaps mine. I don’t know how this works, but it does. I may be stunned, but I do embrace.

And my granddaughter knows I love her “bigger than the whole universe” and that the brush belonged to her Gramma Belle, and that she and the brush are beautiful. Very beautiful.


Ode to Thrust Bearings: getting unstuck

Humans progressed from sticking twigs into holes in the earth and then licking off the ants to inventing thrust bearings, glorified wheels that opened the way for the industrial revolution, advanced agriculture, and travel in outer space. Can we not find the equivalent to change our human interactions and bring harmony to the world?

. . . . .

The world needs more thrust bearings. Thrust bearings allow things to be mobile and flexible while remaining stable. They allow large heavy things to turn, move, and realign. They allow juxtaposed things to stay in connection with each other while one – or both – is turning, moving, and realigning.

We need more thrust bearings in world politics, we need them for social mobility, we need them to manage the relationship between finances and education, we need them to unstick prejudices, we need them to navigate clashing attitudes on abortion, same-sex marriage, minimum wages, health care, gun control, immigrants, and housing for everyone. We need them in the U.S. Congress. We need them between religions and cultures. We need them wherever there is war, poverty, destruction, or hate.

What is a thrust bearing? It is a human invention, a thingamajig with only one purpose – to allow objects to turn in relationship to each other on a axis. It is, in effect, a flattened ring of multiple ball bearings that fits between a same-size washer on the top and a same-size washer on the bottom.

Yes, there are tools for almost everything – give me a large enough lever and a place to stand and I can make the earth move – but my heart belongs to thrust bearings.

thrust bearing

The thrust bearing that thrills me most is 15/16” in diameter with a center hole 5/8” in diameter. It is a 304 stainless steel alloy mix of iron, chromium, nickel, and small amounts of other things. (See photo of my actual thrust bearing.)

Thrust bearings are put to use by slathering them in grease between their two washers. Think lox slathered with cream cheese on both sides between two toasted bagel chips.

After this photo was taken my heartthrob was slathered, layered, and placed on a small rod – an axis – atop a stainless steel pole 2” wide by 3’ high. A matching stainless steel “top piece” of pole 3” high was placed on top of the thrust bearing.

close up of wingThis 3″ top piece is attached to a “cradle” with finger-like prongs that hold a 120 lb. angel’s wing of Carrera marble. The wing is 39″ long. The concept, construction, and installation for the support pole and cradle were all done by museum installer par excellence David Graham alongside Patrick Burke.

The thrust bearing allows the wing to turn on a horizontal axial plane 4′ high in my garden. Not like a windmill, it is too heavy for that. But I can turn the wing easily to view it from different angles.

Very few things look the same from difference angles. Very few things are not metaphors for something else.

My thrust bearing has the capability to allow an object of up to 3000 lbs. to rotate on an axial plane at 10,000 revolutions per second. Try that, junior cadets.

DSCN5285A nearly life-size terra cotta woman titled “Waiting for an Angel” sits nearby. She is serene, sure that angels exist and, if she waits long enough, one will walk in to reclaim the wing that fell to the ground and turned to marble. (The wing’s sculptor is Elizabeth Turk. The name of the creator of “Waiting for an Angel” has vanished from my records. There is more about both on my blog Returned: One Angel’s Wing.)

Her dream is ethereal but the thrust bearing that allows the wing to move is concrete. It is not a wish, a notion, or a longing. It is real. We humans need both the dream and the tool.

Humans progressed from sticking twigs into holes in the earth and then licking off the ants to inventing thrust bearings, glorified wheels that opened the way for the industrial revolution, advanced agriculture, and travel in outer space. Can we not find the equivalent to change our human interactions and bring harmony to the world?


We need interior and exterior tools to bring us into equilibrium with each other so we can be flexible, creative, and work together to overcome inequalities such as food for some and not for others, medicine for some and not for others, education for some and not for others, safety and equal rights for some and not for others.

We are stuck. We confuse our selected morality with absolute truth. We trumpet the mythology of our own religion while mocking that of others. We justify killing as though we have no other option. We give precedence to one sex over the others. We favor some races and cultures over others. We imprison people unequally and label it protection of the rest of us. We think guns make us strong.

We entrench. We find it difficult to change our positions and beliefs. We close our doors and our borders and our minds and our hearts. We build walls against each other and then we bomb our way through them to kill each other. We feed our hate and fear and memory of harm done to us until it turns into harm and horrors we do to others.

We lack the courage and vision – or perhaps only the will? – to reconsider our stuck positions. We like thinking we are right, we like not questioning ourselves. But if we are to live in peace then we need to find and use our inner thrust bearings. We need to change our perspectives on what exists, what is possible, and how to get there. We need to do it individually and collectively.

So what does a thrust bearing look like? They are nouns, verbs, people, states of being, qualities.

For starters: Pope Francis, Jane Goodall, Desmond Tutu, neighborhood soup kitchens, dedicated teachers, fair trade agreements, cat videos, chocolate, inner-city gardens, deep listening to each other, forgiveness, reunions, interfaith outreach, art in our schools, nonviolent protests against injustice and inequality, paid maternity leave, respect for the homeless and poor, neighborhood libraries, smiles, increased minimum wage, diversity.

Love, education, and medicine are thrust bearings. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the Golden Rule thrust bearing.

Many NGO’s are thrust bearings. Top of my list are Search for Common Ground, Doctors Without Borders, Bereaved Parents – Family Forum, Women for Women International, Chime for Change, and World Pulse.

Countless thousands of women in Africa are thrust bearings. UN resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace, and Security” to get women at negotiation tables and in the enactment of peace accords is a thrust bearing. Any book by Jean Shinoda Bolen is a thrust bearing, including the just-released “Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman.”

We need countless more. But to have more thrust bearings in our individual and collective lives we must first believe in goodness and possibility. We must hold tenaciously to the vision of living together in generous harmony.

We must accept we can be kind and still be safe, we can reach out and not be harmed, we can give and not be destitute, and we can listen to those we think are our enemies until they become our friends. If we do not, we will continue to grind against each other. There will only be friction between us. We will continue to be afraid in a fracturing world.

DSCN5270The woman in my garden has waited for an angel for nearly two decades. She is patient, loving, and kind. When we humans become more adept at using the thrust bearings inside us – love, patience, and kindness – heaven has a chance.

If a thingamajig 15/16″ across can hold something 3000 lbs while it rotates 10,000 revolutions per second, shouldn’t we as flesh and blood and passion and visionaries be able to find our way out of this stuck place?

I think we can. I believe it is possible.




My Cyber Stalker, tsk tsk

Nearly a decade ago now a former employee began stalking me through the Internet, though she didn’t restrict herself to the Internet. When “Family Circle” magazine wrote an article about Peace X Peace, the nonprofit I started in 2002 to connect women to women for private conversations through the Internet, the article centered on an interview and photos of me. Immediately after publication, the editor contacted me because an anonymous hate note had come to them. She forwarded it and said, “This sounds like a disgruntled former employee.” That it was and it wasn’t the first time.

The ways in which stalkers can say nasty things about you and to you include by email, texts, posts on websites, comments on blogs, and more. She has used all of them.

All one needs to do this is enough tech savvy to keep getting new email addresses so you can circumvent the bans against your old ones and the willingness to use your precious time and energy to track a person and say ugly things. I say “precious time and energy” because to me everyone’s time and energy are precious and shouldn’t be squandered – exempting necessary downtime and chocolate.

My personal stalker is a master of “ugly,” laden in snark with a dose of cackle. Nothing is taboo for her to create, hinged on some thread of historical “fact” (is it real to her?), and say.

My tech people and I thought we had her banned from my ever having to see anything from her, but – voila! – a change of her email address and a comments section to blogs, and she’s back and active. Who knows how much she wrote over the years that went directly into one of those little trashcan icons with no one knowing the better.

Her comments on my blogs cannot go public without my approving them, but in the past two weeks I have read several – skimmed more like it – on how my husband told her immediately how he wanted to divorce me, what an ego-maniac I am, and so it goes. I pay enough attention to make sure it’s her with the same old same old. Then I photograph and file before deleting to provide the future option of bringing police action for harassment.

Through the years I have not responded. She’s hardly been a ripple in my life except to remind me that there are people who falsify their resumes both before and after working for you, who lie to your face and about you to others, who can hate you and rage. It’s not pleasant but it is true.

And it is sad. And I wish it weren’t true. But it is. And after a decade of silence I am looking at this a bit and with a longer lens.

I know her troubles and rage go beyond me. It should have been a signal to me that she was in two lawsuits when I hired her. Well, I only knew of one of them then, but, alas, I was taken in. Mea culpa.

It raises questions about her:

Does she know she lies? Surely she must.

Does she know she is a stalker and classic harasser? I suspect she doesn’t.

How does one hate so hard for so long? Does she not long to write me off as a monster and go on with her life? As horrid as she thinks I am, I shouldn’t be worth spending time on.

It raises questions about me:

Is there a grain of truth to her charges? It’s not popping out to me but surely she’ll remind me. Is it egomaniacal of me to write blogs that tell of my life, circumstances, and foibles? Isn’t that what most blogs do?

Do I monitor what I say or write, knowing she will read it? I hope not.

Why does someone hate me so much? My answer to this, from life experience, is that people run their own interior movies and they cast you in roles that work for them. We might want the good roles, but they might cast us as bad.

It raises questions about the people around us. Let’s look at the large scale:

How do peacemakers find techniques to bring harmony when some people don’t have the same thought processes, rationales, beliefs, values, or methods of discernment as most of us do and/or they have no taboos? Particularly when such people are most likely a disproportionate number of the rulers of nation, factions, and sub-cultures? Particularly when they often tend towards hate and harm?

This last question is the most important. That is, if there are not commonly held concepts of respect, compassion, honesty, mutual good, and trust, how do we progress? How do “enemies” move toward peace without the currency of common values on how humans should behave towards one another?

Taken to its logical conclusion, this is how wars start and continue. We cannot find a common set of values and beliefs. We are bombing right now because we do not have an answer to this question.

Coming to this understanding of seemingly impossible divides was not easy. I was a committed advocate of deep listening and seeing myself in others but we must find new answers to what to do about evil in the world. Not everyone wants peace.

Given this, how do we or our nation or our ally nations neutralize evil – real or imagined – without becoming the monsters we think we are fighting? And then embrace the conscience-appeasing rationale that our actions are justified and it is our right to defend ourselves? No nation can kill with impunity and not harm their soul.

The “me” we see in the other becomes a circle of “others” who hate, and choose to destroy.

I don’t have the answers. But I do still believe the divide is “seemingly.” This hope is reinforced because I see good people rising everywhere for better lives. I trust the people on the ground more than the people running nations.

For my little issue, forgiveness for real or imagined injuries and moving on would seem to be an answer, but that’s not up to me. I hope some day it happens.

And, no, dear harasser, I will not post your comments to this blog. Know that in advance. This is all you get. I will write no more. You have to come to your own interior peace just like everyone else. Write me a new role in your movie, maybe that of a bit part bystander who walks away, wishing you well.