All the hits of the 50s the 70s and Today

Note: I wrote this article on Monday after mulling it over for a few weeks. After completing it, I learned that Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace had passed away that same day. Here is his obituary. Thank you for the gift of your book, Mr. Pirsig.


World War 2 had a massive impact on America. It’s been called the war to give war a good name. For us, it certainly worked out nicely. On the negative side, there were a lot of deaths. On the positive side, it gave us a model for how to be organized and mobilized. It gave us an economic boost right when we didn’t even know how to have an economy (aka The Depression.)

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of war. This is just me talking about the after-effects.

After the Great Depression, when none of the ideas were working, the war effort gave us a model. The prosperity of the 1950s was a lot about people agreeing to the new way of doing and being.

These new expectations worked! Look how much better off we are!

Until they didn’t. And in the 1960s the fissures became cracks and society started to pull apart. I watched the TV Show Mad Men and marveled at how separate people had become even from themselves.

But in the 1970s the cracks had been mapped. The word “antidisestablishmentarianism” came back into vogue.

As I child walking through the Eureka Library in Humboldt county, I found collected volumes of Doonesbury cartoons and felt how the many well-meaning characters in that comic had their points of view so different from each other, and how they were trying to reach out and make connections.
Real life was not quite as benign as a comic strip.

In the 2000s, I walked into a used bookstore in Pomona. I was exploring my new neighborhood, and had hear how Pomona had once been a brilliant downtown. But industry had moved on, and like the city of Detroit, Pomona was a shell of itself.

I went up to the clerk and asked him for a suggestion. He was delighted to be asked, and after a short conversation, he placed a pink paperback in my hands: “you will like this one.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance published in 1974

It was a book of philosophy. A paperback and a blue-collar title, this was not the way things were done. He wrote a narrative style that was perfect for the 1970 decade of recategorization. He was writing about something very basic: taking a motorcycle trip with your son to try to rebuild a relationship.

And the reason the relationship was broken? The narrator had had a nervous breakdown (as they were quaintly called then) because of an existential crisis.

He had taught science, and then realized that the scientific method was not scientific.

Let’s review. The scientific method goes like this: Take a hypothesis, set up an experiment to test the hypothesis, then observe the result.

Then come up with a new hypothesis and do it again.

The problem is, creating a hypothesis is not a scientific, logical process. Coming up with a hypothesis is gloriously human, non-scientific and illogical.

The system did not allow for glorious humanness. And yet it relied upon it, exploiting it really.
Yes. The system after the war was broken. And in the 1970s, it was undeniable.

I was talking with a co-worker. We had some manual labor to do, and so we made small talk. Until it got bigger. What did you study in college? What did you like best?

He has family ties in Thailand, and revealed that he was an ordained Buddhist monk.
“I really liked studying philosophy.”

Oh, I know just the book for you.

And as I was looking for my beloved copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I realized something.

My 20-something coworker is at another cracking of the system. Right here, right now, it’s happening again. We thought we had it figured out AGAIN. Here’s the thing that works. Don’t mess with it!

Until the fissures in the financial system and the social norms turns to cracks and it split.

Whatever we thought was so awesome in the 90s cracked in the 2000s and we are aware in the 2010s the borders of the new map of broken.

Just as the pieces that used to fit in the 50s, the 2010s are begging reinterpretation.

What is our new glorious humanness?

 

Everyday Rebirth

It was Easter last Sunday. This is still Easter week, so we can go around celebrating. I know we have enough Easter candy to last at least a month in our house.

Easter is many things, but it’s also about being with family. The holiday traditions that we enjoyed as kids, and that I get to prepare for my own child.

We all went to church. And my child was not at all pleased with how long church was taking. She made all kinds of noise, and when I asked her not to stop, but to whisper, she gave me a narrow eyed glare.

She wanted to do the egg hunt.

Foolish parents that we are, we did not do the egg hunt before church. It was not an egg hunt at all, really. We hid candy, because we didn’t want to have cheap plastics items bouncing around the house. We preferred consumable goods.

It was pretty great to be with my family, even though she was being a little pill. Veronica was excited about finding her candy, and very generous with sharing.

Chris and me like the peanut butter ones. She doesn’t.

It works nicely.

The thing about Easter is supposed to celebrate the birth part of the cycle of life. Eggs and baby bunnies and chickens.

But don’t forget the Christian story, which is more directly about death and rebirth.

The thing about Easter with family is that there is a range of ages. Some people are a lot further along the spectrum of life, so as to be closer to death.

And even though my daughter, as the youngest, was the focus of the holiday. Egg hunt for HER. New dress for HER.

It’s important for us to remember to celebrate the oldest, too. I miss Chris’s grandmother from our celebration. She was a dear woman, and she is not with us.

Her version of rebirth is not resurrection. It is us.

Veronica, who put on the pink bunny ears and complained both that the eggs were hidden too easy and then too hard, is grandmother’s rebirth.

It’s pretty good to be all together, and remember our traditions and who we are. We belong with each other. And that helps me remember that I also belong in the other less familiar parts of my life.

Brighter Than Anything

It was a weekend morning in my apartment in Sunnyvale, nearly 20 years ago. I was listening to A Prairie Home Companion at home. Garrison Keillor introduced a musician, who said “I am going to play a song for you. I was thinking of playing something else, but I changed my mind. This song is called Western Highway.”

He started playing, and when he sang I stopped whatever I was doing. This song:

I am a driver on a Western Highway
From the mountains to the sea
And there’s a song on the western highway
That’s saying I will be free

The sky is fading to the color of the valley
Dust of angels and dust of dreams
City lights will shine until tomorrow
And I will not be here

But your light is brighter
Than anything I’ve ever seen
I hear your voice on every station
Singing out of your dream

Here I am on the road again
The song began
And then in the end
I was standing by
I was standing by the sea

By the roadside the trees are shimmering
Black and silver in the cold night air
Under the moon the song is singing
Saying I will meet you there

And your light is brighter
Than anything I’ve ever seen
I hear your voice on every station
Singing out of your dream

Here I am on the road again
The Song began and then in the end
I was standing by
I was standing by the sea.

As soon as it was over I needed to hear it again. Why hadn’t I listened to the name of the artist?

I heard it later. Jerry O’bourne.

I searched online for him. Nowhere. The website for the show wasn’t updated until the next day, and then I finally found the correct spelling. Gerry  O’Beirne.

I used Yahoo to find the album and bought it off of CD baby. It took weeks to arrive.

And I listened to it again. And again.

Always and forever, the voice and the light in this was my own. The light of whatever it is my highest self is pulling me towards is so bright I am blinded. I cannot hear the song without weeping for nameless ambition of my highest hopes. I’m so in love with who I want to become.

Years later I moved to Los Angeles, and the line “dust of angels, dust of dreams” made perfect sense. At the peak of the Angels Crest highway, looking down on the city with its stories I know the color of the dust of dreams.

And how every station plays the song of the dream.

Their dream.

My Dream.

The Dream.

So Bright.

 

 

Poor Judge

I started this new eating plan. You could call it a diet, but I’m tired of that word. This plan calls for lots of veggies and whole unprocessed foods like grains and beans. As I was reading it and deciding to try it (again), in the fine print I saw that it recommends only eating three meals a day. The theory was, if you I am full of good nutritious food three times a day, my body will adjust and I won’t need snacks.

I started this eating plan in February. I was concerned about this no-snacking clause, so I ate huge portions of spinach lentils and kasha. I forced myself to finish, feeling sympathy for my daughter who I have often forced to “eat three more bites.”

It only took a couple days and I was experiencing the sensation of being truly full and satisfied after a meal. This was new. How had this feeling been so rare?

So a couple weeks ago I twisted my ankle. That threw me off the groove of preparing my food for the week. I went back to old habits of waiting to feel hungry to eat, then having a small amount of something (not usually spinach). I would be briefly satisfied and then feel hungry again rather quickly. Then I would repeat the pattern, eat a small something, and be hungry again.

I now know there is another way of sustaining myself. After my experience of stuffing myself to satisfaction three times a day, this way of eating—which had been my habit for years—was totally annoying.

It took me a week to realize it. My wounded ankle probably distracted me, but that is still a long time. Look at this! I am a terrible judge of my hungry. How come I underestimate the true depth of what it’s going to take to fuel me?

Instantly I realized that I do this with most things in my life. I underestimate the amount of effort it is could to take to do any creative project. I mean, anything that requires thought and orifinality.

And if I don’t put enough resources—time, energy, attention—into these creative projects, they are not nearly as satisfying as they could be.

Maybe I am scared of them. Like I am scared of food. The stories of what food is supposed to mean to me as an American woman makes me want to pretend I eat very little. And the creative projects that pull me—like hunger—are similar. I can hardly face what might be required of me to do these.

So I kind of hide from myself how much it’s REALLY going to take. Lord knows, if I had realized it was going to take 12 years to write The Russian American School of Tomorrow, I might have given up. But then again, I didn’t know how beautiful it was going to be.

I am already going back to the huge meals eating plan. I am not really sure what to do with the realization of how poor a judge of size of meal and projects I am. I suspect I will do better on anything with a full stomach.

 

Social Certainty

Veronica has been telling me lately that her school is full of enemies.

Apparently she takes it quite personally when people tell her to stop it. Or that she is wrong.

“They are my enemies when they don’t let me be who I am.”

I see her point. Choking back the laughter, I try to find a way to tell her that other people opinions are not as important as her own opinion of herself. And she doesn’t have to take other people’s words so seriously.

“Veronica, you tell the kitty to stop it sometimes, and the doesn’t mean you don’t love him…”

She does not look convinced.

“…the most important thing for you to remember is that you don’t have to agree with everyone. If someone doesn’t like your joke, you can know inside your heart that you don’t agree. But you can also know inside your heart that you are a lovable wonderful person.”

This is a tricky conversation. It is only rather recently that I’ve started to understand this concept. I can have a solid sense of self and have a bulwark against other’s opinions of me.

Self-esteem, self-compassion, self-love: these are some names for this idea. There are a lot of TED talks about it. Certainly I am not alone in my tendency to let other people’s remarks dictate my opinion of myself.

So, yeah. Cast off this burden of caring what other people think! Be satisfied, be glorious in my own self approval!

Except…

We humans are social animals. We suffer if we are entirely alone.

What can we do then? Is it possible to cloister ourselves with only the dearest friends and avoid all the rejection that “enemies” push on us?

Even the dearest friends will sometimes be in a bad mood.

And..

sometimes we SHOULD stop it.

Here’s one metaphor I find helpful. Think of a kitten’s social certitude.

My kitten is sure of his right to my attention at any moment he demands it.

Such confidence. Such unrelenting self-esteem from my little cat! When we yell at him, it rolls off as if it never happened.

Nothing shakes his belief in his right to be played with or given treats.

For me, he is a magnificent example of unrelenting focus on his desires.

What if I could be that sure of my needs and my desires? What if any rejection or setback were such an abberation, that I almost couldn’t see it?

I could ask like that.

I have greater nuance than a cat, which would help. But the confidence is worth emulating.

So much self-esteem, confidence and persistence. And I love him for it.

As I give this a try, asking for what I want, I realize I want something from you.

Yes, you, dear reader.

Help me out. As I am growing my audience I would like to understand what my present readers appreciate about me.

Please follow the link and share with me 3 good qualities you believe I have. Click here

It’s all anonymous. So don’t be shy. Here’s the link again. 

I love sharing my thoughts with you, and being part of this adventure together. Thanks for your help!

Oh, This Old Thing?

We bought a new couch. That meant re-arranging our living room. And when we put all our electronics in their new home, our TiVo would not boot.

WHAT?! All we did was move it. How could this device betray us so?

Humph. Maybe we didn’t even NEED TV anymore after all. Everyone is talking about cutting the cable. Maybe it’s time.

But…the reason we bought the couch is because I really wanted to relax on the couch and watch TV with my husband. And the TiVo was part of that dream.

A little research later uncovered that our TiVo was 8 years old.

oh.

That’s pretty old for technology. Even though it’s still fantastic that this technology does something that was unimaginable 15 years ago, this unit is old and broken.

We have gotten to the point where the unimaginable is outdated and surpassed.

We got a new TiVo, and it is much fancier. Which makes me realize the Wi-Fi signal in my bedroom is tired and needs a boost.

And there are fixes for that. Not ever that hard to implement.

My new job is going well, so I’m also buying a new car. It’s and electric car, the BMW i3. I love this car because the technology is beautiful and elegant.

Chris and I were watching a documentary of how the car is made. While the first part–which talks about how the carbon fiber is made–has a little narration, the second part has no human voices at all.

There are hardly any humans in this movie. Just these precise elegant and fluid robot machines that do exactly the same thing again and again and again.

I was mesmerized.

These grabby bits and welding bits, raising the body sections and twisting them into their new position for the next robot arm to do its operation.

These are real machines. They are doing a real thing. Those robots are making the car that I am going to drive.

I had a flash back to the huge robot transports in Star Wars. And al the droids. Those robot machines looked dirty and tired, and amazing.

We have surpassed science fiction now. Now a fully electric powered car is assembled by clean precise and elegant robot androids.

These are the droids you are looking for.

Until the next model comes out. And it will be even better.

On a celestial seasonings tea tag I saw this quote:
What the mind can conceive, it must also therefore achieve
– Margaret Fuller

I am beginning to rethink my amazedness at all the new technologies and possibilities, honestly. It’s a cliché to say, “It’s all so amazing!”

So I am looking at it even differently.
If what we conceive we achieve….
If the stuff of science fiction is become reality…

We need to imagine even harder!
I am earnestly working to expand my horizons of imagination.

I plan to achieve a bigger and broader vision every day. Just imagine.

What if I just Stopped?

It’s been a crazy couple of years. Life just keeps coming at you, you know? It’s really relentless.

But I’ve been trying on a new philosophy that’s been helping. Let me tell a story that explains it.

A few jobs ago I was responsible for a huge number of videoconference systems. I had to keep almost 200 of these systems spread over a 3000 square mile area working all the time.

Mostly, I asked the people nearest to the systems to go onsite and plug things in or reboot as needed. But sometimes there was nothing else to do but go there myself to fix a problem.

Almost all of the systems were one type. But there were 3 or 4 systems that were a different type, and I wasn’t so familiar with how to fix that different kind of system. My peers in the other region had dozens of this kind of system, and they were very good at fixing them.

Sometimes I would ask one of them for help. And sometimes my peers would sabotage me, by changing passwords and being unavailable to help me when I asked for help.

I had a lot of stress about what to do when THOSE systems broke. I just didn’t know how to fix them.

So one day, I was called to go fix the system there. I was so scared and nervous about how to fix it. I had no idea, and the people who I might call for help would just as likely lie to me as help me. I went into the system full of fear, with a customer leaning over me complaining about how it needed to work right now and it hadn’t worked for a long time.

I poked at it. I got to a certain level. Then I didn’t know what to do next.

I had been revving at the highest level, freaking myself out about how much I didn’t know these systems. I decided I needed a part from Radio Shack (remember those? They figured prominently in that particular job) and that was the only next step I could take.

I looked up what stores were in the area, and whether they would have the part I needed. I was very stressed about it, and was having some trouble finding a place that had it in stock.

And then I just got tired. I was so tired of drowning myself in panic over what might happen, I just decided that no matter what it would be ok.

I tried that on for a little bit. I drove to the first Radio Shack, and they had closed down. I held on to my peace–the idea that everything would be ok. I drove to the next Radio Shack, got there before they closed and bought the part.

I rode in the eye of a hurricane, with peace surrounding me because I just couldn’t sustain all that worry. The intimidation of the new technology; the hostile environment of my traitorous co-workers; the unreasonable expectation of the user on site–I let them all fall. I thought, “I am doing the best I can. There is nothing else I can do. If I stop freaking out, I will actually be able to think about solving the problem better. Let’s try that.”

So I did. And it wasn’t perfect, but I jerry-rigged the system into 99% functionality, got the users grudging approval and got the job done.

I’d like to say I changed my outlook after that. But really, for years to come I spent more time in the hurricane than the quiet eye.

Except for now. I’m trying it with more determination. What if I decisively choose to see the bright side?

It’s not like the dark side or the trouble isn’t’ there. But most of the troubles are in the future. What if I choose to imagine and see that things will work out?

I am trying it. I wake up every morning and write down the good things I want to have in my day. Things like peace, trust, playfulness, appreciation and accomplishment.

Then I look for it, and it seems to show up pretty often.

To be sure, when I woke up every morning and looked for frustration and failure I found that more reliably. Upon reflection, however, I would much rather have good things.

So I’m looking for those and I’m seldom disappointed.

Open fields

At that moment, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. As a sheltered girl, I married at age 21 and I divorced him at age 26.

Every single thing in my life pointed toward me not divorcing. Everyday I pictured myself climbing a sheer cliff by myself, hanging on with my fingernails, wind howling and me desperate to get to safety.

I did get past it.

As real as that picture of myself clinging to the side of a cliff, a new picture emerged. I had crested the sheer rock cliff. I was on a flat grassy plain.

I remember lying flat on the grass too exhausted to move, grateful as big as the world that I made it. That I didn’t have to strive for the moment. I could rest.

As the weeks went by, I rolled over and looked up for a path.

It was an obstacle-free swatch of green inviting grass. I didn’t have to go anywhere. I didn’t have to be anywhere.

It was a return-to-Eden feeling of peace, possibility and rest.

My life began to enter time again. Slowly. It took a while.

And while I was recovering, I reveled in the freedom to choose anything.

But I began to choose goals. To have things I held up as requirements. And after time I got really attached to those definitions of security and success.

The mists of time have fogged my memory. I am not sure that time remains the hardest thing I’ve done. A lot of life has happened since.

But I’ve been thinking about that grassy swath at the top of the cliff. How I didn’t have to choose anything.

And whatever I did choose would be the right choice.

I’m coming up with a new idea. That it doesn’t really matter which I choose–in any choice or specialty in my life. The critical factor is to choose a thing and stick with it until it’s complete or it’s clear it is not what I want anymore. In the years that followed, I found myself clinging to sheer cliffs again. And it’s often because I was convinced that no other choice was possible.

And

The grassy swatch could maybe have been achieved faster in those times if I had stopped clinging to a choice like it was my only hope.

In retrospect, the peaceful place was more about limitless choice than almost any other characteristic.

If I’m looking for the one and only super specific answer or key, that door is going to stay locked

But if I turn around,

Look at the open field,

I can see I have all the options.

I like to keep my options open.

Don’t you want flowers?

It was almost ten years ago, that I planted bulbs in my backyard. I’ve written about this before. Those bulbs grew every year and made my little patch of dirt radiant! I did nothing to help them, and yet they graced me with hyacinths and daffodils every spring.

What a return on the effort!

For the last few years, though, the flowers have been fewer. So, when my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said “Bulbs.”

I was thinking hyacinths, to fill in the ones that were fading. I figured that bulbs must have a lifespan, and my bulbs had done a great job for 10 years. Time to lay in a new crop.

I did get bulbs for Christmas. So many! However, none of them were hyacinth. I was glad to have new ones to try, but I really wanted more of the hyacinths that had entranced me so.

I went down to the local nursery, thinking I could find some hyacinths and plant them all at the same time. I did find the bulbs, which were half off (yay!). No hyacinths, though.

I asked the clerk, “Do you have hyacinth bulbs?”

“Oh no, those have to be planted earlier. We don’t have any now.”

First, I was totally dismissive in my mind of his assertion that hyacinths must be planted earlier. My ten years of blooms were planted in January so I knew something of how to be successful.

I explained to him that my bulbs were dying out. He nodded, and asked if they had shoots of leaves year-round, but no blossoms.

Huh. The daffodils did have that problem. A year or two after I planted the daffodils, I noticed that they didn’t die off like they used to. The flowers fell off, but the leaves remained. And they stayed up all year.

I respected him a bit more now.

He went on to explain that the bulbs were reproducing, and were crowding together. This resulted in leaves but no flowers. If I went in, dug up the bulbs and discarded, or broke up the bulbs and planted them with more room they could bloom.

So. I did just that. I bought the rest of the half-off bulbs, no hyacinths but I am willing to see what Freesia can do for me.

I planted them all, dug up the crowded daffodil bulbs and replanted what I could. 100 bulbs!

Now in February they are starting to bloom.

For the first time in years, I see a daffodil.

Somehow, I thought the daffodils were doing fine. The leaves looked perfectly healthy. And if all I wanted was leaves, they did a great job of being leaves.

I have done that. I have been in places in my life when I was almost what I wanted. Fine. No problems, not really. But something missing, not my full potential.

These bulbs needed room. They had been so successful that they had crowded themselves out of blooming.

My cousin said something to me a couple weeks ago. “You can’t use the same skills that got you here to take you forward.”

Daffodils had something to show me about that. It was horrifying for the daffodil to get the cure. I dug them up, tore off their leaves, ripped apart the roots and stuck them into a new patch of dirt to make of it what they would.

And for me to tear myself up and do whatever it is that will take me to the next level feels horrifying too.

And I see one has made a flower already.

It’s the season to bloom.

fiction

I started a new job three weeks ago. Three years ago, I was working in a job that lasted nine years. Then they laid me off. So in the last two and a half years, I’ve had six jobs.

I didn’t love that job that lasted for nine years. I wasn’t sorry to leave. But even though people there were mean to me, it was maybe 1% better than having no one notice me at all as I was looking for work.

Those old co-workers were horrible, but nobody can be as horrible to me as I can be to myself.

All alone, trying to figure out how to get the attention of these hiring managers, I struggled. Is this resume right? I read all the advice and all of it conflicted. As I doubted by job application’s worth, I doubted my own worth even more.

Maybe they were right to ignore me. Maybe I was a terrible worker and I would justifiably never work again.

So. I turned to my beloved Internet. I had been posting a little bit, and people wished me luck. But because I was so desperate for a light at the end of the tunnel, I invented a story.

If I worked to apply for 100 jobs, sometime before I hit 100, I would have an offer. I started to share this story with my Internet friends. Job application 1 submitted, 99 more to go. I even amped it with hashtags:

#jobsearchrockstar #diligencediva

I was acting like it would happen. I was not at all sure it was true, but I decided that believing it was true was better than thinking I would never work again. So when I started to think “I will never work again. I wonder if I will live in a tent in Nevada” I went to apply for another job, and did another post

job application #2

98 more to go

#jobsearchrockstar #diligencediva

It worked the first time. And then I got laid off, and it worked the second time. And then I was FIRED and it worked the third time and the fourth time.

There is a power in stories. I made up a story to comfort myself, and I gave it a happy ending before I got to the happy ending.

I made up a fiction where I was the victorious hero. And then I went and lived that story.

Maybe I need to make the story a little longer, flesh it out PAST the point where I get hired and into the part where I have a lovely experience with a boss that loves me and I can do enjoyable work that is valued.

I’m working on that. So far my new boss seems to like me. I better keep writing this story to stay ahead of the present.

The ending is going to be awesome.