Friday, July 30, 2010

Life Lessons from the Wheel: Part 1

I have been taking a pottery class this past month, learning how to use the wheel to create different vessels. Many of the steps involved in the creating of one of these vessels (aka crooked cups or bowls) remind me of the lessons I have been learning lately in this class called Living 101. Clay is prepared, molded, dried, baked and decorated before it's used as a receptacle for Grandma's keys or licorice candy. The next few mini essays will cover the steps in creating a vessel / creative life. As mine so far have been a little lumpy and bumpy, I expect the following entries will be filled with air pockets or fingerprints.

Step One: Prepare the Clay, or maybe even, Decide to Create a Vessel
Would you wish to make a mug, a bowl, plate or pitcher? How complex is this piece that you are trying to create? Depending on the size of the piece, a different amount of clay will be used. What direction do I wish to take today? If I decide to go back to school after a hiatus, I will need a greater amount of clay, the process will take a little more effort than deciding to have French vanilla over hazelnut (I do know that is a difficult choice, I feel your pain). The lump of clay is then wedged, or kneaded, to get out remaining air bubbles. Without this preparation you will pay further down the road when the gift for your mom explodes in the kiln. Just as applying blindly to a school can wreak havoc when you are admitted to an all female school, having the name Alex, short for Alexander. The preparation is not my favorite stage, I am always eager to dive right into the creating. But slowing down to make sure all the details have been mulled over is always a time/money saver in the end.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


On Wednesday my computer crashed, and my files, my writing, my photographs and music all went with it. I didn't handle the situation with grace. My initial reaction was to give up everything, my last year of school, my writing, and apply at McDonalds. When that didn't appeal my second reaction was to break up with my boyfriend, for no reason, just to make life worse. I spent a lot of time drivng back and forth to fix my computer and make the dreaded trip to Best Buy to browse. After many failed attempts at loading vista, I finally asked for extra help. It was scary but the answer Ireceived from the computer expert solved my problem. What did this teach me? I still have default settings, reactions that automatically rear their ugly heads when stress occurs. One is to leave, to give up, to take off, to stir up trouble. It was during this time that I needed a trusted friend to pull my head out of the sludge and look at things in a different way. Yes I ended up recovering many of the documents, including the novel I was writing (minus some pages). Yes I am in a healthy relationship with someone who truly loves me. Yes I have all I need right now to continue on my path. Gratitude kicks the ass of my unhealthy default setting. Today I will slow down, accept that I lost time, that I recovered my computer, that maybe just maybe I should look at attachments to earthy things, the attachments that cause me great distress when lost. Am I making a computer a power greater than myself? Does it act as a vehicle to numb myself, much as drugs or alcohol may have done in the past? I don't know.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Right to be Right

What is self-righteousness? I know the answer, I just don't want to admit that I indulge in it at times, or maybe frequently. Is it a human need to be right, to have the upper hand, or maybe to feel a tiny bit superior to his fellow man? I fooled around with the word "right" this morning as I was daydreaming. We can be righteous, or "morally right or justifiable" as the dictionary puts it. We can have a right (possibly access to healthcare!,) be right (you know I am,) right a wrong (white out please) or vote for the religious right (never.) We can turn right (some states on red,) turn the article in right now, you have the deadline right, right? By the end of my daydream I was thoroughly confused and the word appeared to be spelled wrong after writing (get it?) it so many times. All smoke and mirrors, because if you remember, I began with the word self-righteous, a deadly little personality trait that I wish to rid myself of. It rears its ugly head at inopportune moments and creates havoc with my serenity. After all I am not the center of the universe, and if someone cuts me off in traffic it is not personal. If Guidos charges 3$ more a pound for my tofu salad during tourist season it is not personal. Life has a way of evening the score (yes Mr. Guido you are wrong for price gauging, but I will refrain from posting it on facebook.) Again I must turn to the prayer of Saint Francis, in which the goal is to love rather than be loved. I must right my way of thinking if I am to have serenity, because I am not always write, I mean right. I am human, I make mistakes, I am not a mistake. Right?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Prayer of Saint Francis

Twenty minutes ago I was composing a post on responsibility. When is a person responsible for actions done to them? As I was writing blogger decided to erase, and I got the hint. I am not ready to give my opinion on a topic I clearly haven't a clue about. Yes, I took responsibility for my house, and for my happiness after leaving my marriage. But I still blame others for my emotional well being. And I was writing about someone who I felt didn't take responsibility for their own life. I do have a lot to learn. So for now I think I need to return to the prayer of Saint Francis for guidance.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

In Italiano:
Signore, fa di me
uno strumento della Tua Pace:

Dove è odio, fa ch'io porti l'Amore,
Dove è offesa, ch'io porti il Perdono,
Dove è discordia, ch'io porti l'Unione,
Dove è dubbio, ch'io porti la Fede,
Dove è errore, ch'io porti la Verità,
Dove è disperazione, ch'io porti la Speranza,
Dove è tristezza, ch'io porti la Gioia,
Dove sono le tenebre, ch'io porti la Luce.

Maestro, fa che io non cerchi tanto
Ad esser consolato, quanto a consolare;
Ad essere compreso, quanto a comprendere;
Ad essere amato, quanto ad amare.

Poiché, così è:
Dando, che si riceve;
Perdonando, che si è perdonati;
Morendo, che si risuscita a Vita Eterna.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Woman Cleans House: Country amazed

House Cleaning. Not my favorite way to pass the day, but I got to a point the other morning where I felt my life was truly unmanageable. Boxes were so precariously stacked in my storage area, a staircase leading to my neighbor’s apartment, that when the cat jumped upon the leaning tower of boxes, all came tumbling down, computer, care fresh pet bedding and Christmas ornaments which broke upon impact. I am not a fan of Christmas in July. I went through and purged, filling contractor bags with stuff I never knew I had, or never used and packing away the mementos, in an order (example: winter clothes where I can find them in the winter!). I still have areas to attend to, but the order, the space, the lack of crap scattered across the floor has brought me peace. I know that I need to do a spiritual housecleaning, taking an inventory of resentments and unsavory behavior and purging what doesn't bring me peace, but the physical housecleaning brought with it a sense of order, cleaning up the excess so that the next step will be more visible.

Yesterday, I stopped fighting the house. My cat has been punishing me for leaving on vacation by peeing all over the house (furniture, wood pile etc). I have been pulling hair trying to keep it cleaned amidst the loads of dust and dog hair. But instead of fighting with him (he would win) I bought outdoor furniture and placed a litter box filled with pine litter where the wood pile was. For a few moments I am jumping into the river and allowing myself to be carried downstream instead of trying to paddle upstream. And it feels really good, plus I have a clean house for approximately 24 hours. Anyone want to come over this afternoon!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Instrument of Thy Peace

The Saint Francis prayer, a favorite of mine, begins:
"Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace." For many years now, whenever I have heard the word instrument, I have thought of technical instruments, such as a compass or navigational equipment. The other day, someone spoke of an instrument as a musical instrument. I love the idea of becoming a musical instrument for my Creator's use. More than purely functional, an instrument is a thing of beauty, which with practice and hard work by the player can present us with melodious music. To become an instrument of peace is to come into harmony with God, to allow oneself to be played, yet be part of the process. When I allow God into my life I do more than just sit around and wait for miracles to happen. I take daily steps, I do the footwork, and God just pulls it all together into a tune. The Italians have at least two words for play, giocare, to play a sport or game, and suonare, to play an instrument. In English, there is one word but many meanings. Most involve another person to accomplish. It is the same when becoming an instrument of peace. In order to play, there has to be another, in my case I look toward my Creator as companion. I have learned from experience that when I allow God to make me into an instrument, the music turns out to be sweeter than if I had muddled through on my own. Now if I could only remember this next time I wake up in fear.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Spiritual Chemistry 101

There are a few things I know for sure.

1. Fear is the driving force behind many of my decisions and reactions.
2. When I surrender and allow God to take over, miracles occur.
3. The space in between the fear and the surrender is painful, uncomfortable and unnecessary.
4. All feelings pass when I do not numb them with chemicals, and or any other addictive substances / distractions.


The fear will pass and miracles will occur without unnecessary discomfort if I surrender situations immediately to God. If God (GoD) and gratitude (G2) is added to fear (F4) the chemical reaction and the end result, miracles and peace, is speeded up. The goal is to add the God and gratitude to the fear in a timely fashion in order to achieve the end product. F4 + (GoD + G2) = Serenity.

A word on miracles. Miracles are not burning bushes, diet coke turning to Coke classic or tofu and vegetables multiplying. A miracle is when one receives a phone call from someone looking for some extra help for cash after the electric company decides to shut off your power, or when a deer crosses the road, slowing you down so the officer has no excuse to pull you over in Egremont. I am noticing that the shorter the period of time that I spend trying to figure out how to make life work, and the longer I spend listening to God and taking the next right action, the less time I spend in Fear. Fear and Faith really cannot exist at the exact same time. It's just a little fact of chemistry.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Power of Words

There is just something powerful about words, written and spoken. While in Italy, at the Basilica of Saint Francis, I attended a mass, the prayers spoken in Italian. Even though I am not a religious person, and didn't know what was even being said, I felt the power of the words as first the priest spoke, then the congregation. Closer to home I am reminded of the power of three important words, "please" and "thank you," as I work with children and feel the result of the absence of those words. A friend of mine printed up prayer cards, the "Third Step Prayer," which reads:

God, I offer myself to Thee -to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always.

On the back of that prayer card I wrote a few little areas I needed help with. The first was fear. Writing that four letter word onto the back of the prayer card felt right. I felt as if, by writing what I was experiencing on the back of the words to a prayer that ultimately asks for help, made my request "official." The words, mine and another's, came together.

What is it about words, the sound, the beauty, the meaning that attracts me so? A toddler that first learns the word "no," a speech by Martin Luther King Junior, prayer, insults, or utterings of love. How can words, when read 40 years after spoken, still move us to tears? As I write this I am looking through scraps of paper with notes I scribble throughout the day, single words, words that will hopefully grow into essays, and hopefully those essays will be written with love and respect. Today I am in awe of the power of words.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mean Girl Part 1

Someone shared a story the other day about how he would allow pedestrians to cross in the crosswalk, but he couldn't allow them if they weren't between those magic lines. Something about this anecdote  jarred me into an aha moment, or a realization about myself, a very uncomfortable, painful realization. I can be a meanie sometimes. Sure I have been working very hard over the last ten years to become a better person, a woman of dignity, honor and grace. But there is still a mean girl stuck inside, and she not only jabs others, but herself as well. I have been working as a teacher's aide this past week, to see if it is a field I should even be considering as I head into my senior year of college, 20 years late mind you, but better than never. One of the students wasn't focusing on her project after repeated reminders. I thought she should find out the hard way what happens to little ones who go off into never never land, she would learn the hard way. The teacher, however, came up with a different solution, to move her seat so she wouldn't get distracted. The teacher's solution was the way of compassion. I tend to have this attitude, let em learn the hard way, and today I know that it is only because I myself had to learn the hard way. It is the only way I know. Baby at 19, divorce at 30, school at 35, I have worked my ass off to get to this point in my life, a point where I feel comfortable in my own skin. But not everyone needs to experience life that way. I don't have to experience life that way. Now my baby is going into his senior year of high school, maybe just maybe that is part of the plan. I will be "free" of child rearing responsibilities (read that lightly) by the time I am 40. I will be able to travel, take courses, get married, who knows what else, and do it all while still young, or at least before I enter a nursing home. I haven't had a drink or drug since August of 2000, and yes, it took a lot of work, but maybe that work was just a little mental exercise to prepare me for a full and exciting life. Who but God knows? What I know right now is that I have a mean streak and something needs to be done about it. That is what part 2 will bring!