We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Life is a cabaret, old friend

Summer                                                                     New (Super) Moon

supermoon = closest new moon to Earth. See the tides go up. Bay of Fundy, watch out.

20180608_181820Skype yesterday with RJ Devick of Bond and Devick, our financial planners. We meet with him once a year to go over our portfolio, look at upcoming needs, see if we need to make any adjustments to the draw from our IRA. This session in particular may have changed our lives a bit. We’ll see. Maybe some more money available for travel or work around the house. That would be nice, put a bit of a skip in both our steps yesterday.

Mussar was a profound conversation about the nature of equanimity, turning into a discussion of the nature of chaos and how we can keep ourselves calm in the face of disorder.

Last night I went to bed about a half an hour before my usual time and got up early, 5 am. Still a little asleep. It’s 49 up here on Shadow Mountain, delightful.

Fear and Bitachon, trust

Summer                                                                     Woolly Mammoth Moon

article-new-ehow-images-a07-ti-j3-duties-literary-agent-800x800Spent most of yesterday on submissions. I revised School Spirit, taking 2.0 down to 2,700 words from 4,800, and submitted the revision to Mysterion. I developed a table in Word to track my submissions. It has these columns: submission, work, publisher, response, rejection, acceptance, contract, published. Later on today I’m going to begin revision of Superior Wolf, which I want to get out as soon as I can get it where I want it.

I now have an Evernote file for Novel and Short Story markets which contains 25 new markets and I will build that file. I need another log to track reading periods, periods when a particular market opens to submissions. They are often only a month long, so you have to both have work that fits their interests and know when to send it. Once I get a rhythm going here, I’ll get back to agent submissions, arguably more important than submissions to markets.

tumblr_mh1q88lsfr1s19s9xo1_500So, I’m facing my fear, not only that, I’m leaning into it, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and saying, “Come on, now. Message received. Stop already.” This is partly mussar driven, the practice I wrote about on July 6; but, it’s also driven by self talk that long preceded mussar, though ineffectually, and even a bit by the shame and embarrassment.

What, exactly, has the fear been doing for me? It’s tried to protect me, fence me off from disappointment and failure. It feels the pulse of shame before it rushes through me and says, go another way, that feels bad. Just keep your head down, don’t poke it up, make yourself visible. And, of course, in spite of that self-protective urge, the result has been that for 30 years I’ve felt disappointed and I’ve failed at publishing because I never took the risk.

Fear, like doubt, is good. To not fear the fall from a high cliff is stupid. Getting a flu shot makes sense because fear rightly says the flu is worse. Slowing down around a mountain curve? Sure, fear tells me I’d fly off into the void otherwise. But fear is pluriform, it responds to many things. When on the Savannah, a fear of vulnerability probably sensed a predator nearby, or an enemy. Pay attention. Hide. Be ready to defend yourself against death. Having a red light moment is adaptive, until it isn’t.

2011 05 06_0875Publishers and editors and agents, even critics and readers, are not lions or hyenas on the veldt. The fear I’ve allowed to rule me for the past three decades however has believed them so. The shame then is a complicated emotion which recognizes the self-deception and self-protection. It knows I’ve chosen the critique of intimates, why hasn’t Charlie ever published, to the critique of possible readers. That’s embarrassing, but it’s where I’ve been for a long, long time.

Now, however, a strange, new moment is on the rise. In part I got tired of the narrative I’d been telling myself, been telling others. “I’m just not good at marketing.” I call bullshit on that. In part I read this article about setting a rejections goal and this time it made sense to me, a sort of akido move, use the power of your adversary against them. In part it was this month’s mussar practice of facing fear in order to learn about trust.

Yesterday, for the first time I can ever recall, I felt like I was getting down to the business side of writing. Yes, I’ve made submissions before, but I have never made as organized and concerted an effort as now. It feels good.

But, if I’ve begun to push the fear, tried to educate it that this is not an arena where it’s helpful, which I have, I’ve begun to wonder about it, too, from the mussar perspective. If I face the fear, face it down, then does trust appear? If the student is ready…

CBE (1)I know that fear vitiates trust. If we’re afraid of another person’s motives, we’ll never get to know them well. If we’re afraid of public speaking, no one will hear us. If we’re afraid of our own motives, we’ll take few risks. In these cases, if we face the fear, listen to it, talk it down, choose to act differently, then we may find love, may discover that people want to know what we have to say, may open ourselves to the world’s rich opportunities.

I’m starting from the fear, however, not trust. If I eliminate the fear, if I continue (and I’m pretty sure I will) to organize, revise, submit, and create new work, will trust appear? In what? The question I’m asking is this, does eliminating or modulating fear create trust, always? If so, in what?

20180624_095408

seeing through the fear goggles on

In this instance, for example. If I have pushed back the fear, acknowledged the shame of constant wheedling about submitting my work, and have finally gotten somewhere with both, in what do I now have trust? That eco-system of publishing and readers will therefore embrace my work? Not really up to me beyond getting my work out there. That I’ll be a better person? Maybe. Since the fear has weighed heavily on my psyche for all these years, lifting it might have, probably will have, a positive effect on my sense of self. Perhaps I’ll trust life more, be less reticent. This would be huge, obviously.

Don’t think this is the heart of it though. Somehow the trust that emerges is, more importantly, in acceptance of vulnerability, trusting that when I’m afraid, or even ashamed, that I can still be in this world. We’ll see, of course, if this is true, but it feels right. Fear, then, can be seen as a tool, an important and necessary one, but one to pick up and then set down. It’s not a tool we want to always have to hand and when it is in hand, we need a plan to get it back in the toolbox after it’s done its work.

 

 

 

Sharpening Doubt

Summer                                                                         Woolly Mammoth Moon

Yehuda HaLevi

“Tis a Fearful Thing

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.”

Yehuda HaLevi

Venn Merging

Beltane                                                                                  Woolly Mammoth Moon

Yesterday two worlds came into contact, even if only briefly. The first was Kate and mine’s current world, the world of the Rocky Mountains and Reconstructionist Judaism, Evergreen and Shadow Mountain. The other was our old world, the world of the Land of Lakes and the Woolly Mammoths, Andover and the Twin Cities.

First, Ode showed up at mussar. Then, Tom and Paul. The middot of the week is grace and reading Rami Shapiro’s book, The Art of Loving Kindness, carried us into a discussion about shabbat as a “counter-cultural rebellion” which encourages living one day a week as if work and worry are not the point of life. Has always made sense to me, BTW, long before Beth Evergreen, but I’ve never acted on it, never observed a sabbath day.

Anyhow the context of the conversation made me realize what a grace-full moment it was for me when Tom, Paul and Mark showed up here in Colorado. It was, in one sense, perhaps even the best sense, ordinary. I knew they would find the conversation fascinating, because it was a conversation we’d been having for over thirty years. How do you live? What about life is important? How can we move ourselves into a more meaningful, graceful, gratitude filled existence?

So that moment at the synagogue smooshed together two venn diagrams, Minnesota and Colorado. And it felt really good. They met Rabbi Jamie. Debra referred to the four of us as the quadruplets, older white haired white guys of similar size and habitus and life.

Then the party moved over to Shadow Mountain. My slow cooker Irish stew was, well, partly there. The lamb was tender, but the potatoes were not. Neither Kate nor I, though she is much more able at it than me, are big on hosting events at our house. Too busy at one point, now a bit less able. But these were friends who would forgive an underdone potato for the  conversation around the table. And the occasional poking of Rigel’s head under their arms.

Kate went to bed, then got up, came out and said, “You have the best friends.” Indeed, I do.

This morning at 8:30 we’ll take off in the giant SUV that Tom has rented. First stop, the Crow Hill Cafe, then The Happy Camper. Maybe the Sasquatch Outpost? Certainly Kenosha Pass, South Park, Fairplay. On down through South Park. Maybe we’ll look at the Rocky Mountain Land Library, maybe we’ll stop in Pagosa Springs for a soak in the hot springs. Not sure. Doesn’t matter.

We’re headed to Durango in the southwest corner of the state. The 416 fire, north of Durango, as of yesterday:

“While residents in two areas were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, the 416 Fire grew to 32,076 acres with no update on containment.

The fire, burning just 13 miles north of Durango, is still being worked by over 1,000 firefighters who are battling this thing from the air and the ground. Burn out efforts, that is, efforts to burn up the fire’s potential fuel, continued throughout the day.” 9News, Denver.

Here’s a link to a Durango Herald article on fire analysts, very interesting.

Remember the Shark

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

  • I know how well you have succeeded in making your earthly life so rich and varied, that you no longer stand in need of an eternity. Having made a universe for yourselves, you are above the need of thinking of the universe that made you.
  • On every subject, however small and unimportant, you would most willingly be taught by those who have devoted to it their lives and their powers. … How then does it come about that, in matters of religion alone, you hold every thing the more dubious when it comes from those who are experts?
    • Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, 1799

AbrahamSacrificesIsaacIcon_smFaith. The middah of the month for Beth Evergreen. Emunah. Last night at MVP, the mussar vaad practice group, we talked about emunah. Rabbi Jamie and Marilyn said that in the early days of mussar classes at Beth Evergreen, some time ago, the middah that caused the most consternation was this one.

I can see why. Faith is a word often used, but little understood. Faith is also a word often abused both by religion’s adherents and by religion’s cultured despisers. (Friedrich Schleiermacher) Faith is a sine qua non inside any mega-church in America. Either you have faith or you don’t. Black and white. It was true for me as a clergyman in the Presbyterian church. When I could no longer claim with authenticity that I had faith in God (whatever conception of God I was using at the time), I could no longer serve in that role.

Religion’s cultured despisers, a term coined by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1799 in his book of the same name, often use faith as a straw concept with which to flog the irrational religious. Faith makes people blind. Faith makes people malleable to cult leaders. Faith makes people believe in a magical world. Faith blots out a person’s capacity to see the world as it is.

universe has your backOne of us in the group last night said, “The universe is for me.” I have other friends who believe the universe is a place of abundance, or, as author Gabrielle Bernstein titled her book, “The Universe has my back.” I don’t buy it. This abundant universe will kill you. It will kill you. This is not a matter of faith, but of oft repeated experience. The universe offers up all we need to live, then takes it all away.

I don’t believe the universe gives a damn. The problem for me is placing a value judgment on the actions of this vast context into which, thank you Heidegger, we were thrown. I don’t believe the universe is out to get me; nor do I believe it has my back. I’m a part of that universe and I can choose to live into my part, follow the tao as it manifests in my life, or I can resist it and struggle, but in either case the universe will keep on evolving and changing. Maybe what I’m saying here is that I’m not willing to shift the religious notion of God’s agency to the universe, no matter how construed.

If the universe is, as I believe it is, neutral to us and our lives, or, said another way, if we are no more privileged than any other part of the world, the cosmos, then what can faith mean? What is there in which to have faith?

nightdiving_titleTurns out quite a lot. Another of us last night told a story of night diving. A favorite activity of hers. She said she turns off her diving light and floats in the night dark ocean. While she’s in the dark, she imagines a shark behind her. The shark may kill her in the next moment, but until that moment she is keenly alive. This is, for me, a perfect metaphor for faith. Each day the shark is behind us. A car accident. A heart attack. A lightening bolt. A terminal diagnosis. Yet each day we float in the dark, suspended between this moment in which we live and the next one in which we are dead. And we rejoice in that moment. There is faith.

SharkThis is the existentialist abyss of which Nietzsche famously said, “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Living on in spite of its direct glare, that’s faith. This sort of faith requires no confidence in the good or ill will of the universe, it requires what Paul Tillich called the courage to be. I would challenge that formulation a bit by altering it to the courage to become, but the point is the same.

Here’s the interesting twist. Doubt and faith are partners. As a quote Rabbi Jamie offered last night says, they live in the same apartment building. Here’s the big learning I got last night. Doubt is the true sine qua non for faith. And to the extent that we have doubt, I would identify doubt with awareness of the shark, we have faith. There is, and this is the aha for me, a frisson between doubt and faith that makes life vital.

sacred tensionSo. My practice for this month involves, in Rabbi Jamie’s phrase, sharpening my doubt. I will remember the shark as often as I can. I will recognize the contingent nature of every action I take, of every aspect of my life. And live into those contingencies, act as if the shark will let me be right now. As if the uncertainty of driving, of interacting with others, of our dog’s lives will not manifest right now. That’s faith. Action in the face of contingency. Action in the face of uncertainty. Action in the face of doubt.

I want to sharpen doubt because I want to taste what it feels like to live into doubt, to choose life over death, to have the courage to become. If I only use the automatic responses, make money, achieve fame, watch television, play with my phone, immerse myself in the needs of another, or several others, then I blunt the bravery, the courage it takes to live. I do not want a life that’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. I do not want a life that is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5)

I want a life that flourishes not in spite of the uncertainties, the contingencies that are all to real, but because of them.

 

Get Ready

Beltane                                                                                 Sumi-e Moon

20180516_144714So. Couldn’t get the mower started. Last year’s fuel still in there. Don’t know how I missed that, but I did. Gonna have to siphon it out, didn’t feel like it yesterday. I did run the snowblower out of fuel last week, so that won’t be a problem come winter. I also got all the chairs and the table moved, the swinging chair and the yellow lounger, too. An outside space for eating, hanging out. Not happy with it yet. Also picked up a lot of loose wood, not all of it, but a good chunk. By the time I got to the chainsaw I was tired. And I don’t do the chainsaw when I’m tired. Too damned risky.

A good start. One thing writing novels has taught me is that even a big task can be accomplished if done through persistence. A big push often wears me out, makes me task phobic for a while. Small increments get progress and a feeling of accomplishment that keeps me engaged. Doesn’t always work, of course. Reimagining, for example. Guess I’ve never figured out the incremental steps.

bullfightIn writing the short story Jail Break yesterday, I found myself tapping memories of my day at the Plaza del Toros in Mexico City. Hadn’t expected that, but it is a good example of how much travel can offer to writing. That trip was in 1994, I think. Still clear and present.

Regression. Kate got eager on Saturday and helped me as I cleaned out the garage. She helped herself into a very sore shoulder, neck muscles and bursitis. A three vicodin day on Sunday. I saw it as a good thing. Not the pain of course, but that she’s healed enough to overdo it.

Jon and the kids are coming up this afternoon. They’ll spend the night, go hiking tomorrow.

bat mitzvahA big Beth Evergreen week. Tomorrow is an adult ed session on linguistics. On Wednesday afternoon Tara, Alan Rubin and I meet with Rabbi Jamie to discuss the curriculum for the 6th/7th grade religious school. Tara (director of religious ed) started her note to us with, “You brave men.” Oh, my. Turns out the curriculum focuses on bar/bat mitzvah preparation. I’m honored that they trust me. This rite of passage is important, though not universally observed. Wednesday night is the MVP, mussar vaad practice group, Thursday has mussar and qabbalah.

 

 

Generosity of the Heart, Nedivut ha-lev

Beltane                                                                             Mountain Moon

20180228_182023Another recovery hallmark. Kate drove yesterday, went out on her own for the first time since March 22nd! The bank, a few groceries, gas. When doing these errands feels routine, they can be mindless or even a nuisance; but, this sort of moment allows us a glimpse into the ordinary miracles that make up what we think of as normal, usual. We can get up from the chair, pick up the keys, start the car, drive to the grocery store, the gas station, the bank.

So different from not being able to get out of the chair, being unable to pick up the keys, being too physically impaired to drive. That milk, the bread, the full gas tank, the money in your pocket then become unobtainable. Not a nuisance, not something to go through as if by habit. No. These are vital, though small, increments of  life, necessary and significant in themselves. Worthy of attention, even celebration.

nedivut ha lev6Mussar Vaad Practice Group last night. Vaad = sharing without comments. Mussar = Jewish ethics focused on developing middah, character traits. This is a group, partly because of its nature, partly because of its members that has become a Woolly Mammoth equivalent for me, a place where I can be transparent, share, look inside, gain from the ancientrails that others walk.

Marilyn brought in an article about a child of pogrom survivors. This woman felt she had  to be perfect, show that she was worth saving, worth the sacrifices her parents made. An awful burden. She started her own company by the age of 30, then slowly fell apart in her thirties. Discovering compassion, nedivut ha lev, generosity of the heart, led her to a new way of life. In particular she talked about self-compassion. “Talk,” she said, “to yourself as you would to a good friend.”

Snowing here this morning, fat heavy flakes. Rained and snowed yesterday. All moisture good, welcome.

 

 

Experiencing Joy to Learn More About Joy

Imbolc                                                                           New Life Moon

joy chauvetBefore we got to Beth Evergreen yesterday, we stopped at Safeway. Kate had a fun idea. She would buy bite size Almond Joy candy bars and have them for everyone. While in the store, she also found some yellow roses and bought enough to give each person around the table a flower to take home. Though she had to settle for full size Almond Joys, the idea was still there and the flowers were a gentle, beautiful and fragrant memento of the time together.

Kate’s idea for teasing out experiences of joy over a lifetime worked well, too. After she began the afternoon with a chant/song of her own devising, Kate led us in a Hebrew blessing for torah study. She explained how to use her chart with single digit, adolescent, and adulthood as columns.

joy of cookingWe then spent an hour plus in an energetic sharing, each person picking one instance from each column. The responses were as varied as the people in the room and the time frames to which they returned while filling them out. “Getting my pilot’s license.” “Grandchildren.” “First kiss.” “Traveling alone, being alone in a strange place.” “Throwing rocks up so bats would follow them down.” “Playing hide and go seek.” “Having sex and finding out you’re not pregnant.” The general tone was joyful, celebratory as we both learned more about each other and got to share in each other’s joy.

When everybody had offered their experiences, I asked if we could use that content to try to define joy. How do we know joy when we see it, feel it?

flowcsikszentmihalyiHere are several words and phrases offered: Joy requires authenticity. It has a definite physiological, embodied component. Joy flows; you can’t hoard it; it’s contagious. Joy mixes awe and gratitude. Many people identified natural settings as joyful. Joy is transpersonal, often involving connection, (I would say intimacy.) with animals, other people, places. We get outside of ourselves, beyond ego, become one with whatever causes our joy. Being with children, especially grandchildren. Constant learning is a source of joy. Degas. Joy is transformative. Joy ignites gratitude. Joy is quiet and internal; happiness loud and external. Joy is a choice.

We skirted the issue, for this afternoon, of the links between joy and sadness, joy and gratitude, joy and generosity. For another time.

We ended with deciding on a practice. A few shared theirs. It was a bright moment and made more joyful for me by sharing the leadership with Kate.

 

Handout on Joy

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

This will be given out at Thursday mussar after we’ve completed Kate’s exercise about joy in three life stages and discussed how our experiences might help us define and seek out joy.

Joy   joy brown

Joy    joy brown

 

“Yesterday, Rich and I sat down and had a short chat about it. Is Joy a verb? Is Joy an emotion? Is it a state of mind or being? And it got me thinking.

What if joy is the energy of life? And what it if manifests as a persistent yet invisible glow or aura that emanates from us at all times… sometimes it’s bright and sometimes dim. The more mindful we are of it, the brighter the glow / aura becomes. We can certainly sense when someone is joyful without them telling us, right? We sense their joyfulness even if they don’t speak (is that charisma?) The Dalai Lama emanates joy. I’ve never met him but I imagine he is joyful even when he is sad or ill (which he must be sometimes, right?) But how can you be sad or ill and still be joyful?

Maybe joy is not a state of well-being, but simply the state of being, period. Not physical, not mental, not emotional, just the fact of being alive is joy. Life is joy. Do trees glow? Do animals glow? Do we feel joy in the forest or in the presence of others? I think so.

My practice is simply going to be to focus on life as joy. Living as joy. Separate from all other things… including pain, sorrow, anger, jealousy. Let me know if you see my glow… because I’ll be looking for yours.”      Ron Solomon, by permission

joy japanese ivory sculpture

In Everyday Holiness Alan Morinis discusses the middot of simplicity. He identifies three levels of simplicity: acquiring less, becoming happy with what you already have, and nothing more to need. This last level, he says, sets joy free in the heart. “Released from craving and the relentless pursuit of more material satisfactions, perfectly content with what is, the heart bubbles forth with joy that is its potential and natural inclination.”

Marilyn Saltzman found this quote by the Dali Lama: “We can experience happiness at the deeper level through our mind, such as through love, compassion and generosity. What characterizes happiness at this deeper level is the sense of fulfillment that you experience. While the joy of the senses is brief, the joy at the deeper level is much longer lasting. It is true joy.” “The Book of Joy” by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama

A few synonyms from Roget: delight, gladness, rapture, exaltation, exhilaration, transport, abandonment, ecstasy, rejoicing

OED: Joy, sb. (substantive), 1. A vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well-being, or satisfaction; the feeling or state of being highly please or delighted, exultation of spirit; gladness, delight.  2. A pleasurable state or condition; a state of happiness or felicity; esp. the perfect bliss or beatitude of heaven; hence, the place of bliss, paradise.  Joy, v. (verb), 1 To experience joy; to find or take pleasure; to enjoy oneself. 2. To feel or manifest joy; to be glad; to rejoice, exalt.  3. To fill with joy; gladden; delight

Presentation on Joy

Imbolc                                                                              New Life Moon

 utagawa hiroshige

utagawa hiroshige

Got it. Kate’s idea for eliciting instances of joy in three different life stages will start us out. Then, for those who are willing, we’ll share as many as possible. From that sharing we’ll see if we can define joy, how do we know it when we feel it, see it? Once we’ve done that we’ll try to discover how to incite, embrace, encourage joy as often as we can.

Goals. 1. identify joy in our lives, in the present and the past.  2. experience as much of the joy as we can again, through sharing our own and listening to others. 3. tease out the elements of joy. what is it? 4. Figure out a practice that will increase our joy in the coming month.

I’m also going to prepare a handout for the very end with other people’s thoughts on joy, including Ron’s, below.

joy-of-life matisse

joy-of-life matisse

“Yesterday, Rich and I sat down and had a short chat about it. Is Joy a verb? Is Joy an emotion? Is it a state of mind or being? And it got me thinking.

What if joy is the energy of life? And what it if manifests as a persistent yet invisible glow or aura that emanates from us at all times… sometimes it’s bright and sometimes dim. The more mindful we are of it, the brighter the glow / aura becomes. We can certainly sense when someone is joyful without them telling us, right? We sense their joyfulness even if they don’t speak (is that charisma?) The Dalai Lama emanates joy. I’ve never met him but I imagine he is joyful even when he is sad or ill (which he must be sometimes, right?) But how can you be sad or ill and still be joyful?

Maybe joy is not a state of well-being, but simply the state of being, period. Not physical, not mental, not emotional, just the fact of being alive is joy. Life is joy. Do trees glow? Do animals glow? Do we feel joy in the forest or in the presence of others? I think so.

My practice is simply going to be to focus on life as joy. Living as joy. Separate from all other things… including pain, sorrow, anger, jealousy. Let me know if you see my glow… because I’ll be looking for yours.”   Ron Solomon

 

 

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