Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Not born to succeed

If you want to make something, make cooking or crafts or home repair, and you are following the directions, and it says to use something you don't have, or to do something that's hard, just skip that part and do what you can.  That's how I was raised.  But the thing is, when you do it that way, it does not come out very well.  So, I was raised to do things wrong.  I was raised not to succeed.

Can I change that? The things I need to work on include:

  • Hands-on skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Doing a thorough job on whatever I undertake in the above two arenas.  I actually am more thorough when it comes to writing, which sometimes seems like the only thing I know how to do properly.
But I'm always thinking of new things to do.  Then I remember how overwhelmed I am by work and health problems.  I keep blithely adding self-improvements to my to do list, and then finding there is no time and energy in which to do them.  But I can start small.  Focus on how I approach the things I'm already doing.  How I approach washing dishes, doing laundry.

New Year's melancholy

A video that touched me today:

I feel honored that I know one of the creators of this video.  I have watched it three times so far today, and three times it has made me cry.  It touches the sadnesses of life: the people we've lost, and the fact that our life didn't turn out the way we expected or hoped.

I am not who I should be.

My values say to treat everyone with kindness and respect, and to reach out to those in need.  In reality, I am withdrawn, and I turn away from those in need.

My values say learn to create things yourself, and value that which is made locally.  In reality, if I need something, I order it from the internet.

My values say savor beauty, and dance with joy and silliness.  In reality, I curl up at home, feeling sick.

My values say earn your living doing something you believe in.  In reality, I earn my living doing things I think are wrong.

My values say spend time with family.  In reality, I do not live near anyone in my family.

I'm tired of the people who say, "So, change your life."  Sometimes you can't. I'm tired of people who say, "What do you mean, you can't? You can do anything if you set you mind to it."

That's why this video touches me.  Because it says sometimes we are just sad.  It doesn't say, "You have no right to be sad, because you ought to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and live your dreams."

The people who made this video, they have such skills --  making the puppets, manipulating the puppets, writing the script, singing, acting, filming, editing video, editing sound, etc.  What skills do I have? Is there anything I can offer the world?

Monday, December 23, 2013

The tribe

I've been reading a bit of The Apple Branch by Alexei Kontratiev.  I like the fact that he says that the Celts have been Christian for centuries, so it's kind of silly to be into Celtic stuff but be anti-Christian.  But then I don't like where he goes after that.  He defines Tribe as people who speak a common language.  Then he goes on to say therefore, if you are interested in Celtic stuff, you should learn a Celtic language.  I would think that the same logic he used with regard to Christianity would apply here --for many Celts, English is their native language now.

I don't like it when people get fixed in their mind that one particular moment in history is the correct one, that the people who lived in that place and time are the true natives of that land, and anyone who came after was an intruder.  The reality is that human history is a history of migration and cultural change.

Some of my ancestors came to North America from England.  Some take the attitude you English should not have come, you should go back where you came from.  But people from England, they had ancestors too, they had Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Celts, Romans, Normans.  Yes, at one time in history some of my ancestors lived in England, but they lived in other places before that, and they lived in New England after that.  Why pick on England as the place where my people are truly from?  That kind of thinking is a narrow view, that does not grasp the way cultures shift through history.

Wrapping Christmas presents

Wrapping Christmas presents.  Doing it the way my family has done it as long as I can remember.  We re-use the paper year after year.  To make it re-usable, we don't use tape, just ribbons, which of course are also re-used year after year.  Labels can also be re-used, or can be made from old Christmas cards.  You use a hole punch to make a hole in the label, and then you put the ribbon through it.

It was nice, wrapping with care something chosen for a particular person.

I've been so harried. It has been a long time since I've done anything like this.

I like to put attention into doing something for others.

I used to have people over for dinner sometimes.  That was the same sort of thing.

Also, it brought back to me that when I was a kid, I always liked to have on hand things like construction paper, glue, glitter, stickers, markers, crayons, and hole punches.  There always seemed to be a need for them.

Now I never use such things.  I think that at some point I learned that I am not good at that sort of thing.

It's a shame that we are not supposed to do things we aren't good at  -- crafts, drawing, cooking, singing, dancing.  People who do such things with no skill get scoffed at.  But the purpose of doing such things should not be to demonstrate skill.  The purpose of doing such things should be to spark joy and imagination in the person doing them.

My mother loves to sing, especially around Christmas.  She feels she can't sing around my brother and sister-in-law, because they are professional musicians.

It's sad, when singing is silenced.

After wrapping presents, I visited the computer.  On Facebook I saw a photo of presents which my brother and sister-in-law were wrapping for their kids.  I wrapped presents for their kids tonight.  My presents can never be as good as theirs, because they are with their kids all the time so know best what to get them.

I want to give gifts, prepared with care.  But it's sad to know that my gifts will always be inferior.

I think my parents at least will like the gifts I give to them.

Knowledge and practicality

I heard  the professors talking.  They know a lot, but it's esoteric. They just like to explore ideas.  They don't care that it has no practical value.

I heard the activists talking.  They are passionate about the state of the world.  They have strong opinions.  They think they know a lot about their issue, but they've just read a few books, just looked at it from one point of view.

Once in a while someone comes along who combines a professor's depth and breadth of knowledge with an activist's vision for what is important for the welfare of the world.

I would like that combination to come about more often.  That's one reason I'm interested in education and librarianship.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I need to learn to talk to strangers

They teach kids not to talk to strangers.  I've never un-learned that lesson.

Three of my siblings have significant others.  They are nice and I want to welcome them to the family.  But I don't talk to them.  I want to, but I don't know how.  So I just smile at them to make up for it, and say positive things about them in their presence when I'm talking to my sibling.

Talking to strangers is a skill I  need to develop.

Happy solstice

I re-posted one of the things going around Facebook that said don't be offended if someone says Merry Christmas and you aren't Christian, or if they say Happy Holidays and you are Christian, just appreciate that they are wishing you well.  I believe that.  But when people wished me happy solstice, I felt warm inside.  I felt like "how did they know?" since I don't talk about my druidry.  But I don't think it's that they knew.  I think it's that solstice is their holiday too.  So I don't think they really knew that solstice is the holiday closest to my heart, but it sill warmed my heart that they spoke the way they would speak if they did know.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I wish more people could live with imperfection

There is an attitude in our culture that you can have anything you want if you just pursue your dreams.  I detest that attitude.  If I mention any aspect of my life that is not fully perfect, people start lecturing me about what I should do to reform myself.

I have one friend I can talk to, someone who, having lived with much hardship, understands that life is not perfect.  With everyone else, I've learned to hold back on expressing my dissatisfactions.

Now, if you are, like most people, wanting to reform me, at this point, you will say that I just have to be better at communicating with others, telling them when I want sympathy rather than advice.  And if you are like most people, you say that without having any idea what attempts I have already made to communicate with people.  People try to oblige for a few minutes, but then they revert back to their instincts and start reforming me again.  And I get tired of trying to explain what I want over and over.

Leaders as gardeners

A good leader or teacher is like a gardener.  It's about finding the seed of potential within a person and nursing it into blossoming.  A bad leader or teacher treats people as blank slates, attempting to drill things into them and extract certain behaviors out of them.


On the Marketplace radio show on Monday, December 16, there was a story, "Young Greeks struggle with lack of work."  One of the people interviewed said, "You need to have the attitude of a winner."  Unaccustomed to his accent, I thought he said, "You need to have the attitude of a weiner."

New year's resolutions

I do tend to take stock of my life as December turns to January, but I don't believe in New Year's resolutions.  You can't change your life just by resolving something.  I resolve things all the time, but that doesn't mean I can do them.  The fact is, I have limited time and energy.  I spend my time on the things that are most important to me.  Resolving to do more of a particular thing is not going to create more time and energy.  The only way to do more of one thing is to do less of another, and the things I'm already doing are more important than the things I'm not doing.

Where I'm at as the solstice approaches: what I wish for, what I'm grateful for

Annoying things:
  • Doctors who diagnose you with "non-wheezing" asthma, and then at all future visits, when they check in to see how you are doing with your asthma, they say, "Have you had any wheezing?"
  • People who complain about something, but when you offer them the thing they are complaining about, they refuse it.  They'd rather keep complaining.
  • When you tell people you are not feeling well they just keep telling you that you should adopt their favorite remedy, and can't really grasp the fact that you have already tried it and it did not work.
  • Going to a meeting in an auditorium with three coworkers. I'm in the lead as we enter an aisle of seats.  I walk toward the middle of the aisle, when the coworker says in a demanding tone, "One two three."  She insists that I choose the third seat in, so that the three of us are on the end, and that anyone else who wants to sit in the row has to climb over us.
Now it might seem that the second and third things above are different sides of the same thing, but it's different.  The people who complain say exactly what they want and you offer that exact thing and they refuse it.  They say, "I wish someone would clear the snow out of my driveway," and I say, "I know someone who will do that for you." When I'm not feeling well, I don't say, "I wish someone would tell me their favorite remedy," I say, "I'm tired," and they say, "You should quit your job and move to the country," even though I have taken time off work and spent that time in the country, and felt just as tired when I did, and I have felt fine for months while going to my job and living in the city. 

Things I wish were different:
  • I wish I wasn't tired all the time.
  • I wish I could spend more time with my niece and nephew.  
  • I wish there were people in my life with whom I could express my playful, silly side.
What I'm grateful for:
  • That my job gives me enough money to live in an apartment I like, wear clothes I like, and have a car that works.  
  • That I live in walking distance of my job.  Last night it was snowy.  As I walked home from work, the cars were sliding all around, and I was especially glad to not be in a car.
  • Where I live.  It's not where I planned to end up, and still not necessarily where I plan to stay forever, but for a place where I landed by accident, I got pretty lucky.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

They turn away

I think about sustainable living. I think about building community. I think about how this time of solstice, Christmas, and new year is a time to appreciate what we have and reach out to others in love. I think about doing so many things. Reality does not match aspiration. I am ragged with fatigue and illness. I watch Buffy. In the episode, "I Only Have Eyes for You," a poltergeist keeps re-living a scene. A lovers' quarrel ended in violence in 1955. Now the spirit of James, the one who did the violence, inhabits others, and they act out the same scene. We see the scene acted out twice, as people are suddenly inhabited by the spirits. They re-enact the scene as if they are living it. You can see that they feel the feelings. The third time, it's Buffy's turn. The other ones felt the feelings, but Buffy dials it up a notch. She is not just feeling what James went through. She is also feeling the emotional devastation of what she has been through. Crying from the depth of her heart, she pleads, "A person doesn't just wake up and stop loving someone." It touched me. That's what is real. All this trying to make a better world, that's just trying to be someone I'm not. Who I am is sick. Who I am is alone. I saw it last weekend. A single man, taking note of the three single women in the group, trying to get to know them. Then one showed she was graceful and vivacious, while I was awkward and shy, and he was drawn to her. That has been the story of my life. They turn away from me. They want the vivacious ones.


What is  my culture? We Americans of English descent are discouraged from embracing our cultural identity.  Any thought in that direction is considered to be racist, supremacist.  We are encouraged to embrace cultural celebrations focused on cultures such as Native American, Latin American, African, African American, Irish, Italian, German, Polish, Ukrainian, and Armenian.  We are pressured to love such things. If we don't love them, we are considered racist.

We are told that as white Americans, one of the things that is wrong with us is that we see the way we are as the norm, rather than as one of many possible cultural expressions.  However, we aren't allowed to think otherwise, as we get called racist if we embrace our own cultural identity.

My sister lives in Brazil, and brought her Brazilian fiance to visit her family and friends in the northeastern United States.  He was eager to learn about our culture.  Do we even know what our culture is?

As we ate oatmeal for breakfast, she explained, "Oatmeal is a traditional New England breakfast.  Some people eat it every day.  It's good for the cold weather because it stays warm in your tummy until lunch."

What foods are associated with my culture?  The things that come to mind are associated with particular occasions or regions, foods like cranberry sauce, baked beans, pumpkin pie, Boston brown bread, and New England clam chowder.  But the things we eat every day, that's what our culture really eats.

Breakfast: cold cereal with milk; toast with butter or jelly; bagel with cream cheese; orange or grapefruit juice; half a grapefruit; eggs; bacon; muffins; coffee.

Lunch: sandwiches with cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, and tomato.

Supper: chicken, beef, fish, potatoes, rice, bread, rolls, pasta, vegetables.

Summer celebrations: barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers; potato chips; potato salad; soda; beer; cookies; brownies; corn on the cob; watermelon.

Fall, winter, and spring celebrations: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, squash, cranberry sauce, pie.

Many of these foods are not foods I like to eat.  That's because I'm describing the overall white American culture.  People in that culture do things I don't do, like watch television, go to malls, and play computer games.  I have always lived in this culture.  To some extent, it is my culture.  But I have also always lived in a subculture which is a better match for my preferences.  I'm not sure there's a good name for this subculture.  Many people around me identify as "folkies," but I don't think an interest in folk music is mandatory.  I think "crunchy granola" is a more encompassing term, though it is rather awkward and silly.

This subculture includes interests such as:
  • Folk music and folk dance, especially as a participant.
  • Food: legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, organic, locally grown, not overly processed, not too much sugar.  
  • Beverages: water, juice, tea (herbal and non-herbal), coffee, beer. No soda.
  • Sustainable living, permaculture, organic gardening, Transition movement, renewable energy, composting, bicycling.  
  • Low-tech outdoor recreation such as walking, kayaking, and cross country skiing.
  • Egalitarian ideals.
  • Books, learning, education, science.
  • Atheists, agnostics, humanists, pantheists, pagans, liberal Christians, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Jews, and Buddhists.
  • An aversion to large corporations, complex technology, and highly commercialized environments.  No eating at McDonald's or shopping at WalMart.
  • Alternative medicines, herbal remedies.  
My culture identity is a combination of different things.  My roots reach back to England and Ireland, so traditions from those places are a part of my past.  My ancestors came to New England from England in the 1600s and from Ireland in the 1800s, so my culture includes the traditions of New Englanders of Irish and English descent.  I have lived in the northeastern United States all my life, so that is the backdrop for everything I've learned and experienced.  I grew up in the "crunchy granola" subculture I've described, and have chosen to continue to live within this subculture.  

These are my roots, the traditions from which I come.  This is my culture. This is who I am.  These roots are to be honored and celebrated.  That does not mean my culture is better than any other.  It does not mean that people from my culture never did anything bad.  But being a druid means understanding yourself as connected to your land, your history, and your tribe.  

Druid plants and seasonal celebrations

Reading about trees, plants, and herbs in  The Path Through the Forest, I recognized names that often come up in druid-related books, names like vervain, meadowsweet,  mistletoe, oak, and holly.  Mistletoe was mentioned as associated with the winter solstice.  In my head flashed the thought of going to a store to buy some mistletoe for the winter solstice, which will soon be upon us.  That is totally wrong.  The point of druidry is to be in touch with the land.  If I want to include plants in seasonal celebrations, the way to do that is to go outside and see what the plants are doing this time of year.

The plants that are traditionally associated with druidry are those that are native to England.  For my own druidry, the plants sacred to me will be the ones in my landscape, such as sugar maple, Norway maple, red maple, apple, crabapple, white pine, clover, and peppermint.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Connecting and disconnecting

  • A song, "Janie," by Alien Folklife, touches me.  Tears stream down my cheeks.  It's a tale of a girl who always feel she's not good enough.  When she is little, her sister dies.  The mother grieves all her life, and the girl feels inadequate because she can't take away her mother's grief.  I don't know where it comes from for me.  I have no reason for it, but I have that feeling too, that I'm never good enough. 
  • They have social events at work.  I go because I know it's expected of me.  It seems like torture.  With bewilderment, I try to grasp that some people actually want to go.  The same bewilderment I feel that some people like going to the mall.
  • At parties, people say they are going to leave, and then they are just blah blah blah talking for the longest time.  When I leave, I leave.  
  • Outside of work, my group gathered for a meeting as another group's meeting was ending in the same room.  Happy to see the people from the other group, I went over and talked with them.
  • With a different group that I'm a part of, I like the people and they seem to be welcoming to me, and yet, I tend to feel out of place.  It comes out in my body language -- I move klunkily.
  • When I was six, I took ballet lessons.  I moved klunkily.  The teacher wrote a note saying that I should get out and play outside with other kids.  I could run around outside just fine, it was just ballet lessons that made me stiff.  People think I'm not comfortable in my body.  It's not my body that I'm uncomfortable with.  It's the people around me.
  • I had lunch with a friend.  I chatted readily with him.  It left me feeling energized and happy.  
In the song, Janie's mother's grief prevents her from taking delight in Janie.  When someone takes delight in who we are, we blossom.  When we spend too little time around people who are delighted by us, we wither.  All  my life, people have told me that I'm intelligent and wise.  That's not the same as delighting in who I am.  People treat me like an encyclopledia.  People talk to me, but they are just talking to the surface of me.  They make small talk.

Once in a while, someone looks at me and sees a soul within. When it happens, it is like a rare moment of sunlight in a land of darkness.

Why does it happen? What is it about certain people that makes me feel a connection with them? What is it about the vast majority of people that makes me feel out of place?  I think I feel comfortable with people who speak with directness.  I'm comfortable with people who are quirky.  I'm comfortable with people who assume that I have my own wishes, as opposed to people who try to reform me into what they have decided is for my own good.  I seem to connect with men, rarely with women.

I cherish those people who have seen past the encyclopedia that most people treat me as, who have spoken to my soul.  I am thankful for the people who have given room for my playful, silly side to emerge.

It's not what I need to feel whole.  I feel whole in solitude.  But connection with others is where I blossom into joy.