Pushing the Envelope – again

I”ve spent years encouraging people to write their stories (A current funded residency is called Our Stories are Yours)

Now the tables are being turned on me and I have been challenged to do new things and push out of my comfort zone.

Consequently I will soon be telling a story in front of an audience in a theater along with younger and professional actors and writers. (Not without a great deal of premature angst!)

The theme is A Delicate Balance  (and there is a strict word limit). Here is a glimpse of my unusual childhood.

I grew up on a sugar plantation on the banks of the Demerara River in Guiana. My father was hired to mechanize sugar-production, from clearing the wilderness for planting to transporting the ripe sugar-cane to the factory for transformation into sugar and very potent rum. Before that, most everything was done with manual labor and a few antiquated machines, so wild and beautiful nature was very close to us. Birds sneaked in the windows to plunder unguarded fruit-bowls; snakes, alligators, piranha lived in the nearby waterways; and resident house lizards kept the abundant insects at bay. In those early days, Dad’s “company car” was Tulip, a big Texas mule.

I was a curious child, to my parents’ chagrin, and often gave my nanny the slip to go climbing and exploring. The inevitable scrapes and stings were treated by Seamba, our gardener, with his magical potions from greens and spit. He taught me about the creatures and the plants we lived with and I moved through this glorious world watchfully. I surveyed trees before climbing and looked inside flowers before picking. I learned to see the patterns in our natural surroundings and how everything was connected and it all made sense. I didn’t notice anything strange about my childhood.

What confused me, however, were the different stories that adults told about the forces in the world. Each adult was convinced that their particular explanation was “The Only Way”. Some would warn me to avoid certain places because of the jumbies, or ghosts of the long-dead Dutch settlers. Others invoked different gods with many arms and goddesses festooned with human skulls for protection. However the nuns at my infant-school in town taught us (reinforced with canings) that there is only one stern Father-God with 3 different names. Then, we all prayed to a statue of a woman, a mother, and curiously the nuns were called “mother,” even though none had children.

Hearing the contradictions in the many “One Right Ways” I often turned to my parents – who weren’t much help. My father said that obeah and jumbies don’t work unless you believe them. At occasional meetings with his hundred employees, called after an epidemic of spells laid on big tractors and sometimes on his desk, he explained that the spells were a waste of their money because they didn’t affect him or the machines.

My mother, mildly interested in the different stories, preferred to read about Sikkhism, Baha’I and Buddhism, unlike the other mothers whose taste ran to romances. My parents told me that one day I’d find the right story for me. They didn’t go to church either, although we technically belonged to the High Church of England. I liked going with our cook, Mena, to her country church because of the enthusiastic singing and where sometimes people spoke “in tongues” and even fell to the ground.

Meanwhile, as politeness was the closest thing to religion in our house, I must listen respectfully and never take advantage of my white privilege (which they also explained in detail). Although I was encouraged to ask questions at home, I learned it was a terrible idea to bring these conflicting stories to the nuns at school.  I discovered that agreeing with whichever adult was declaiming the “Truth” seemed to settle my confusion and worked well —until I was about 8.

That year, Guiana was chosen for a visit by Our Lady of Fatima, a very important Catholic icon. The whole religious community was aflame with excitement and festivities were planned all over Georgetown, the capital. The nuns were in a dither and couldn’t stop talking about it. Our Lady was being flown into the airport inland from Georgetown and would travel the road alongside our compound.

Her arrival-day dawned, the excitement was palpable. I swung between curiosity and anticipation at seeing the procession up close from our compound-gate. Hundreds of cars containing the faithful, horns honking, music blaring, escorted her from the airport along the dusty, potholed road.

Crowds of the curious and the reverent, dressed in their best, lined the road, sweating in the tropical sun. They cheered when news came that the motorcade had crossed the old draw-bridge by the factory, which regularly caused jams because it had to be opened and closed by hand-crank. In the compound, the mule-boys hurriedly tethered the huge animals by the gate and excitedly ran to see the spectacle. I ran behind them, searching for the best viewing place.

I heard the mule, rather than saw it, felt the impact as everything went black. Texas mules are built like cart-horses and the spooked animal trampled me face-first in the gravel. My limp, unconscious body was covered with a mixture of red dust and blood. People ran for my parents.

Several hundred yards down the one-laned road, my father was demonstrating to his drivers how to get the new bulldozer and its mighty blade out of a much narrower factory-gate. However, the halted motorcade now blocked the road. Dad, used to the Guyanese laissez-faire, settled in the driver’s seat to watch the noisy spectacle. Not for long!

People ran to him screaming and wailing that I was dead. “The mule done mash she! She na breathin’!”“Nooo, she gaspin’!”   “She bleedin’ bad!”  He realized that there’d been an accident and even though he knew the country people’s heightened sense of drama, he must hurry to see what really had happened. But he couldn’t leave the huge machine where it was.

He dashed to the cars blocking his exit, urgently explained to the drivers that his daughter had a serious accident and would they please move their cars so he could get through. The drivers, apparently imbued with a great sense of importance from Our Lady, and truthfully, probably tired and impatient at the many hold-ups, refused. Normally easy-going, my father yelled that he would give them 3 seconds and then he would “shift the bloody lot of you!” Later, he loved to describe how he jumped back on the machine and arms high, bellowed “three – two – ONE!” dropped the massive blade, revved the engine and roared forward. Screaming drivers and panicked bystanders scrambled to escape his fury!

When I came to later– Daddy, my hero – assured me that he would take me to hospital soon. Because he was worried that I would be incurably scarred by the infectious dust caking my wounds, Mum called SeaAmba in to apply his magic herbs.  I faded peacefully away, protected by my parents and and reassured that SeaAmba would bring relief as he always had, even from scorching bites of angy marabuntahs.

Weeks later, with broken ribs mended and thrilled by my heroic father’s rescue, I returned to school. I felt excited and pleased to be back. I soon discovered that the nuns were furious. I was marched to the most feared nun of all, Mother de Sales.  She informed me that Dad had dared to interrupt the Procession of Our Lady of Fatima. It was doubly insulting because he wasn’t a Catholic nor a churchgoer.  She then announced that his soul would burn in everlasting Hell-Fires. Only I, with the nuns’ guidance, could save him.

I was terrified! I knew what Hell-Fires were like because every harvest, the cane-fields were set alight and I couldn’t help watching, mesmerized by a sea of flames from horizon to horizon. Horrified, I could hear the agonized shrieks of creatures caught in the fire. Even though Dad would reassure me that our house was safe, I couldn’t wait for the fires to end.

Now, I had to prevent that from happening to him – but how?

Mother de Sales explained how I must say special prayers for him, very often. I had to bring money to her for particular miraculous medals. These were to be hidden on and around him, BUT – I could never tell my parents or it wouldn’t work.

I carefully followed her instructions over the weeks with mounting anxiety. Had I prayed enough? Was it the right prayer at the right time? Did I put enough medals in his shoes, his pockets, his wallet? Should I have hidden more medals in his office? I was frantic. I stole money to buy more medals and lied when asked if I had planted them. The delicate balance of trying to appear normal while tortured by panic and fear, disintegrated..

I began to faint often- on the way to school,- when the school-bus was late, – if I hadn’t finished my homework. Finally my parents discovered the cause of my distress. They announced that I was going to have an extra-long summer vacation starting immediately.

That first vacation day, feeling lonely, I watched the school-bus leave without me. But the other kids were envious and Daddy emphasized that, not only did obeah not work on him, but he wasn’t going to Hell. Knowing that he could protect me from Mother de Sales and create a vacation in the middle of school, helped balance the internal see-sawing that had haunted me night and day.

After that, I contentedly waved the school-bus goodbye —-and went off for the day’s adventure.

 

A Gift of Hope for a Brave New Year

A gift of hope and encouragement from Future Crunch – https://medium.com/future-crunch/99-reasons-2017-was-a-good-year-d119d0c32d19

Take a breath between them. Re-read. Celebrate and savor each one!(my bolding)

Happy New Year and be Brave in 2018.

“Here are 99 of the best stories from this year that you probably missed.

  1. This year, the World Health Organisation unveiled a new vaccine that’s cheap and effective enough to end cholera, one of humanity’s greatest ever killers. New York Times
  2. Cancer deaths have dropped by 25% in the United States since 1991, saving more than 2 million lives. Breast cancer deaths have fallen by 39%, saving the lives of 322,600 women. Time 
  3. Zika all but disappeared in 2017. Cases plummeted in Latin America and the Caribbean, and most people in those places are now immune. Science Mag
  4. A new report showed that the world’s assault on tropical diseases is working. A massive, five year international effort has saved millions of lives, and countries are now signing up for more. STAT
  5. Soft drink sales in the United States dropped for the 12th year in a row, thanks to consumer education and new sugar taxes aimed at stemming obesity and diabetes. Reuters
  6. Trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, was eliminated as a public health problem in Oman and Morocco, and Mexico became the first country in the Americas to eliminate it. NBC
  7. Meet Sanduk Ruit and Geoff Tabin, two eye doctors responsible for helping restore sight to 4 million people in two dozen countries, including North Korea and Ethiopia. CBS
  8. Premature deaths for the world’s four biggest noncommunicable diseases­ — cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory — have declined by 16% since 2000. World Bank
  9. Global abortion rates have fallen from around 40 procedures per 1,000 women in the early 1990s, to 35 procedures per 1,000 women today. In the United States, abortion rates have reached their lowest level since 1973. Vox
  10. In July, UNAIDS, revealed that for the first time in history, half of all people on the planet with HIV are now getting treatment, and that AIDS deaths have dropped by half since 2005. Science Mag
  11. There were only 26 cases of Guinea worm in 2017, down from 3.5 million cases in 21 countries in Africa and Asia in 1986. Devex
  12. The United Kingdom announced a 20% fall in the incidence of dementia over the past two decades, meaning 40,000 fewer people are being affected every year. iNews
  13. Thanks to better access to clean water and sanitation, the number of children around the world who are dying from diarrhoea has fallen by a third since 2005. BBC
  14. Leprosy is now easily treatable. The number of worldwide cases has dropped by 97% since 1985, and a new plan has set 2020 as the target for the end of the disease. New York Times
  15. In October, new research from the Center for Disease Control revealed that between 2000 and 2016, the measles vaccine saved 20.4 million lives.
  16. And on the 17th November, the WHO said that global deaths from tuberculosis have fallen by 37% since 2000, saving an estimated 53 million lives. These astonishing achievements were of course, reported by every media outlet on the planet.
  17. Chile set aside 11 million acres of land for national parks in Patagonia, following the largest ever private land donation from a private entity to a country. Smithsonian
  18. China invested more than $100 billion into treating and preventing water pollution, and launched nearly 8,000 water clean-up projects in the first half of 2017. Reuters
  19. The United States, Russia, China and the European Union reached a deal to make the Arctic off-limits to commercial fishers for the next 16 years. Science Mag
  20. In July, 1.5 million people in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh set a new Guinness record for reforestation by planting more than 67 million trees in a 12 hour period. RT
  21. A province in Pakistan announced it has planted 1 billion trees in two years, in response to the terrible floods of 2015. Independent
  22. In August, the Canadian government and Inuit groups signed a deal to create the Serengeti of the Arctic’ by far the largest marine reserve in the country’s history. Globe & Mail
  23. A month later, one of the world’s largest marine parks was created off the coast of Easter Island, and will protect 142 species, including 27 threatened with extinction. Guardian
  24. The EU imposed new, stricter limits on pollutants such as nitrogen, sulphur, mercury and particulates that will apply to all 2,900 of Europe’s large power plants. Reuters
  25. China carried out its largest ever crackdown on pollution, reprimanding, fining or jailing officials in 80,000 factories, 40% of the country’s total. NPR
  26. Indonesia pledged $1 billion to clean up its seas from plastic, Kenya announced a ban on plastic bags, and Chile said it will ban them in its coastal cities (30 countries now have existing or impending bans in place). ABC
  27. Eleven countries continued their plan to build a wall of trees from east to west across Africa in order to push back the desert. In Senegal, it’s already working. BBC World Hacks
  28. Cameroon committed to restoring over 12 million hectares of forest in the Congo Basin, and Brazil started a project to plan 73 million trees, the largest tropical reforestation project in history. Fast Co.
  29. In November, Mexico’s government created a new 148,000 square kilometer ocean reserve,the Galapagos of North America’ for the conservation of hundreds of species, including rays, humpback whales, sea turtles, lizards and migratory birds. Reuters
  30. In 2017, the ozone hole shrunk to its smallest size since 1988, the year Bobby McFerrin topped the charts with ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy.’ CNET
  31. The International Energy Agency announced that nearly 1.2 billion people around the world have gained access to electricity in the last 16 years.
  32. In February, the World Bank published new figures showing that 20 years ago, the average malnourished person on planet Earth consumed 155 fewer calories per day than they needed. Today, that number is down to 88.
  33. Since 2000, life expectancy in Rwanda is up from 49 to 64, child mortality is down more than two-thirds, maternal mortality is down nearly 80%, and HIV/AIDS prevalence is down from 13% to 3%. Mail & Guardian
  34. In the last three years, the number of people in China living below the poverty line decreased from 99 million to 43.4 million. And since 2010, income inequality has been falling steadily. Quartz
  35. 275 million Indians gained access to proper sanitation between 2014 and 2017. Gates Notes
  36. In 1991 more than 40% of Bangladesh lived in extreme poverty. The World Bank said this year that the number has now dropped to 14% (equating to 50 million fewer people). Quartz
  37. The United States’ official poverty rate reached 12.7%, the lowest level since the end of the global financial crisis. And the child-poverty rate reached an all time low, dropping to 15.6%. The Atlantic
  38. Between 2005 and 2017, Afghanistan built 16,000 schools, the nation-wide literacy rate increased by 5%, and the youth literacy rate increased by more than 16%. USAID
  39. In October, a new report by the International Labour Organisation revealed that global child labour has plummeted. In 2016, there were 98 million fewer boys and girls being exploited than in 2000. CS Monitor
  40. Sweden committed to phasing out all carbon emissions by 2045, and the country’s largest pension fund divested from six companies that violate the Paris Agreement, including Exxon, Gazprom and TransCanada. CleanTechnica
  41. New figures at the beginning of the year showed that the global coal industry is taking a hammering. A 48% drop in pre-construction activity, a 62% drop in construction starts and a 19% drop in ongoing construction. CoalSwarm
  42. In May, a shareholder rebellion forced ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, to start reporting on the effect of preventing climate change on its bottom line. Washington Post
  43. France stopped granting all licences for oil and gas exploration, and said it will phase out all production by 2040, a major transition towards clean energy being driven by the new Macron government. Bloomberg
  44. Deutsche Bank, one of the coal industry’s biggest financiers, announced it would stop financing all new coal projects. Ouch. Mining.com
  45. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the largest pile of money on the planet, announced they were officially divesting from all fossil fuels, and the global insurance industry has pulled $20 billion. Telegraph
  46. In 2017, the United Kingdom, France and Finland all agreed to ban the sale of any new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
  47. China continued its all out war on coal, stopping construction on more than 150GW of coal plants, and laying off more than 700,000 coal workers since 2014. CleanTechnica
  48. In one of the great climate change victories of our time, TransCanada terminated its tar sands pipeline, triggering a $1 billion loss and ending an epic 4 year battle between politicians, big oil, environmentalists and indigenous communities. Calgary Herald
  49. On the eve of one of their major feast days, 40 Catholic institutions on five different continents announced the largest ever religious divestment from fossil fuels. Catholic Reporter
  50. In the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, carbon emissions fell to the lowest levels since 1894, and on the 21st of April the country did not burn coal for the first time in 140 years. Independent UK
  51. In November, a new global alliance of more than 20 countries, including the UK, France, Mexico, Canada and Finland, committed to ending their use of coal before 2030. BBC
  52. The cost of solar and wind plummeted by more than 25% in 2017, shifting the global clean energy industry on its axis. Think Progress
  53. The cost of solar plants in the United States dropped by 30% in one year and in the United Kingdom, the price of offshore wind dropped by half in less than two years.
  54. Solar energy is now responsible for one in every 50 new jobs created in the United States, and the clean energy sector is growing at 12 times the rate of the rest of the economy. CNBC
  55. In June, South Korea announced a major U-turn on energy, shifting one of the world’s staunchest supporters of coal and nuclear power toward natural gas and renewables. Reuters
  56. JP Morgan Chase said it will source 100% of its energy from renewables by 2020 and will facilitate $200 billion in clean financing through 2025. PV Tech
  57. General Motors believes “the future is all-electricVolkswagen announced it’s investing 70 billion euros and “putting its full force behind a shift into electric cars” and Volvo said that starting in 2019 it will only make fully electric or hybrid cars the end of the combustion engine-powered car.Atlantic
  58. China is going to install 54GW of solar by the end of 2017, more than any country has ever previously deployed in a single year, and doubled their 2020 goal to 213 GW. PV Magazine
  59. The world’s largest carbon emitter also announced that their Paris Agreement pledges will now be met a decade ahead of schedule, with emissions forecast to peak in 2018. Australian Financial Review
  60. Following in China’s footsteps, India more than doubled its solar installations in 2017, accounting for more than 40% of new capacity, the largest addition to the grid of any energy source. Quartz
  61. A new report from the European Union said that between 1990 and 2016 the continent cut its carbon emissions by 23% while the economy grew by 53%. So much for the propaganda of fossil fuel lobbyists… CleanTechnica
  62. On the 21st January 2017, the Women’s March became the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history. Washington Post
  63. On International Women’s Day 2017, Iceland became the first country in the world to make equal pay compulsory by law. Two days later, India passed a bill giving every working woman in the country 26 weeks of compulsory maternity leave. Economic Times
  64. Thanks to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, suicide attempts by LGBT teenagers have decreased by 14% in US high schools since 2014. Guardian
  65. In May, Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled in favour of allowing same-sex marriage, becoming the first Asian country to do so. SCMP
  66. Saudi Arabia said women would no longer need male permission to travel or study. A few months later, women received the right to drive. BBC
  67. New figures showed that the gender pay gap in the United States has narrowed from 36% in 1980 to 17% today. For young women the gap has narrowed even further, and now stands at 10%. Pew Research
  68. Women now occupy 23% of parliamentary seats around the world, up from 12% in 1997. The Middle East and North Africa have seen a fourfold increase in that time. World Bank
  69. As plunging crime closed prisons across the Netherlands, the government started turning them into housing and cultural hubs for ten of thousands of refugees instead. Fast Company
  70. New data showed that young people are officially less racist than old people. The worldwide trend is towards towards less discrimination on the grounds of skin tone or caste. Quartz
  71. 17% of newlyweds in the United States now marry someone of a different race or ethnicity, a fivefold increase since 1967, when interracial marriage was legalised. Pew Research
  72. The immigrant population of the US (people born in another country) has now reached 43.7 million people, one out of every eight residents, the highest proportion in 106 years. CIS
  73. Canada became the 9th country to allow a third gender, rather than male or female, on passports and government documents. That came two months after country number 8, Pakistan. Vox
  74. India’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling confirming the right of the country’s LGBTQ people to express their sexuality without discrimination. Independent UK
  75. California became the first US state to legally recognise nonbinary genders, and Germany’s top court ruled that lawmakers must legally recognise a third gender from birth. CNN
  76. In December, Australia became the 26th country to legalise same sex marriage. A wonderful victory, hard fought for by so many brave people. About bloody time. ABC
  77. Global deaths from terrorism dropped by 22% from their peak in 2014, thanks to significant declines in four of the five countries most impacted: Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. ReliefWeb
  78. After quintupling between 1974 and 2007, the imprisonment rate in the United States is now dropping in a majority of states. New York Times
  79. The number of executions recorded worldwide fell by 37% since 2015. The decline was largely driven by fewer deaths recorded in Iran and Pakistan. BBC
  80. You didn’t see this story in the evening news — in June, we heard that the homicide rate in Australia has dropped to one victim per 100,000 people, the lowest ever recorded. Guardian
  81. Rates of violent crime and property crime have dropped by around 50% in the United States since 1990, yet a majority of people still believe it’s gotten worse. Pew Research
  82. A new report showed that incidents of bullying and the number of violent attacks in American public schools have decreased significantly since 2010. Associated Press
  83. The European Union passed fresh rules that make it more difficult for armed groups to finance their activities through the sale of conflict minerals. Mining.com
  84. Heckler & Koch, the world’s deadliest arms manufacturer, announced it would end gun sales to countries falling short of corruption and democracy standards. Deutsche Welle
  85. Nepal passed a law criminalising an ancient Hindu practice called chhaupadi that banishes women from the home during menstruation and after childbirth. Al Jazeera
  86. Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon repealed provisions in their penal codes that allow rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. Al Jazeera
  87. India’s Supreme Court outlawed non-consensual marital sex with child brides, and raised the age of sexual consent for all women to 18. CNN
  88. Snow leopards have been on the endangered list since 1972. In 2017, they were taken off, as the wild population has now increased to more than 10,000 animals. BBC
  89. In March, in a big win for two of the world’s most endangered big cats, the Amur leopard and tiger, China approved a national park 60% larger than Yellowstone. HuffPost
  90. Taiwan became the first Asian country to ban the eating of cats and dogs, with new laws imposing fines for consumption and jail time for killing and cruelty. National Geographic
  91. A decrease in pollution in the Ganges brought Gangetic dolphins, one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world, back from the brink of extinction. Hindustan Times
  92. Germany banned fur farming. This followed similar decisions by Japan and Croatia within the last year. A victory that was two decades in the making. Well done PETA.
  93. Vietnam agreed to end bear farming, and said it would work with Animals Asia to rescue 1,000 remaining caged animals.
  94. The British government unveiled new plans to require compulsory CCTV cameras in all slaughterhouses, in order to enforce laws against animal cruelty. Guardian
  95. In more than 60 regions across the globe, more populations of large sea turtles are improving than declining, a big change from a decade or two ago. Associated Press
  96. China agreed to ban the domestic ivory trade in 2017. By mid year, the price of raw ivory in Asia had fallen by around half. And in October, the UK government banned the sale and export of all ivory items. BBC
  97. Gucci announced it would go fur-free in 2018 and auction off all remaining fur items. It follows in the footsteps of Armani, which went fur free in 2016. Harper’s Bazaar
  98. One of China’s richest women, He Qiaonv, announced a $2 billion donation for wildlife conservation, the largest environmental philanthropic pledge of all time. Bloomberg
  99. The Indian government officially banned the use of all wild animals in circus performances. One month later, the Italian parliament did the same. 40 nations now have animal circus bans in place. Inhabit

If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we need to change the stories we tell ourselves.

Our newsletter is a great place to start.

You can also catch us on Facebook and Twitter.”

 

A Boxing Day Tradition Reflected in Poetry, Purposeful Proaction and Painting.

December 26th 2017.

After the momentousness of 2017, it was a relief to hunker down with my family and once again to ground myself in important Life ingredients: fun, laughter, compassion, generosity of spirit and love in all its funny little forms. As becomes an older family member, I was part tourist and part-contributor. Tourist, as I observed and sampled the rituals and events (and dishes) that had become important to my children and grandchildren; some were outgrowths of my traditions and some were completely unrelated to the ways I used to manage Christmas Celebrations. I found that setting aside my habitual expectations was a relief and also made the time we spent together much more enjoyable.

Now it is Boxing Day, and, in English tradition, time to consider the needs of others. (some would note that it is a massive sporting day!) Sports aside, I reflect on large scale needs and how I might act in relation to them.

For these last few months my email inboxes and house mailbox have been jammed with warnings and pleas for contributions – much, much more than I could reasonably respond to – and also with cries of ALARM, DESPAIR, and calls to Resist, (all in CAPS accompanied by exclamation points!!!!!!) There were so many that I often felt bruised and depressed. What world, what country are my grandsons growing into?

I am not one just to sit in denial for long– although it is very tempting – I decided to work out some coping strategies for myself. These constitute framing how I can offer just a “widow’s mite” to everything that needs to be done and understanding that there are, by no means, magic bullets or ”one right way to save everything”. It helps to  know that there are many more people like me out there with humble but important contributions.

Long ago I was often encouraged by John Seed, a Rainforest activist from Australia, who was fond of saying “We are not looking to persuade everyone. We just need to reach tipping point. And you never know,  the next person you talk to may be the tipping point.”

Years ago I drew a portrait of the remaining members of a few species thinking that the drawing would help people see their beauty and help to stop their disappearance. I have not had the courage since to see if any of

the creatures depicted have made a comeback or even survived. I had high hopes then that we humans woul

d soon reach a tipping point and the destruction would stop. But I forget that it takes a long time to recover from centuries of damage and it requires patience and concerted effort to reverse the processes our ancestors put in place. (Except of course for the indigenous people on every continent)

 

This post is dedicated to Tipping Points!

Having settled on the scale of my own modest possibilities for proactive participation, I needed to contemplate the direction of my path. In doing so, I started to build my coping and my strategies. My reflections often  connect 2 images, which are deeply embedded in my felt memory.

One is of the dense jungle (The Bush) of Guyana, my childhood home, and the other a newly clear-cut area in Mendocino County, California, where I lived for a time as an adult. I still remember the pain when I saw the silent, desolate clear-cut and how I wept long and hard. It was such a sad contrast to the vibrant Bush, of which I had written the following:

“…..when it rains in the tropics after a long, dry season, it feels like a miracle.……The drumming of huge warm drops on every surface breaks the spell of quiet, drowsy waiting.  In response, a frenzied dance of wild growing begins. To be on the edge of the Bush after a downpour, is to be caught up by the stir, body buzzing in rhythm with all the strivings of surrounding growth. Each plant and tree, it seems, is birthing whole new generations with such energy that the air vibrates. Birds and monkeys scream with joy, accompanied by the sounds from orchestras of insects. I feel the life inside me, and outside. I know that Nature is alive and much bigger than I am. “ (1995) 1

The juxtaposition of these two memories continues to give impetus to my project. I have to decide where my efforts are going to be made. One of my needs is to be involved in something that inspires me and gives me hope. Funnily enough I note that when I am protecting and nurturing, I feel protected and nurtured.

I read that there are places on the planet that are like cradles – nurseries for huge number of diverse species. In the name of enlightened self-interest, I want to help protect these nurseries so that they thrive and eventually spill over into areas that we have turned into cemeteries for millions of other life-forms.

One of these nurseries is the Amazon Headwaters. There are others to be protected as “No-Take” reserves in the oceans. An oceanographer inspires when he says that if we made 20% of the oceans into no-take reserves there would be a great chance for healthy oceans.

These give me hope. Researching the protectors is easy online. I am thrilled to find that there are a number of organizations at work to protect these bio-diversity “nurseries”. (2  and 3)

During my reflection process, where I typically use images, in paint, I find myself  I returning to my own habitat – my garden. I discover that bees are flying into my paintings. My attention also becomes focused on the precious bee. Consequently I am making my garden a welcoming place for them. And petitioning against the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture and gardens. I am encouraged to hear in the November news that Europe is banning their use.

The painting that follows is an homage to bees – it incorporates a poem by Mary Oliver, which is on The Honeybee Conservancy web page (http://thehoneybeeconservancy.org)

Mary Oliver has a way of opening up language to expand experience.

HUM

BY MARY OLIVER

What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They’re small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness? The little
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing. I have found them-haven’t you?—
stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings
a little tattered-so much flying about, to the hive,
then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,
should the task be to be a scout- sweet, dancing bee.
I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t
admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I
haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,
and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and
read books, I have to
take them off and bend close to study and
understand what is happening. It’s not hard, it’s in fact
as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,
it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.

 

bees 2

Discovering the sweet joy in little things.

Notes

  1. From “Mindscapes into Landscapes” M.Kellen-Taylor, p85
  2. Several Amazon Headwaters Protection Organizations; Pachamama Alliance; WWF; Blue Moon Fund; Wyss Foundation; Upper Amazon Conservancy and more
  3. Enric Sala’s Ted Talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/enric_sala/transcript

 

 

After a long absence

Events of the last few months have made it so easy to feel powerless!

Seeing news footage of the ocean pouring over the Malecon in Havana, floods in the streets of New Orleans, fires raging through Santa Rosa, I walk through these familiar places in my memory, grieving. I worry about the safety of friends and try to quell horrific images of fleeing people, animals, birds. We inhale the smoke from the ever-encroaching Los Angeles fires. As I read about the reckless short- sighted cupidity of government law-makers, a feeling of mounting hopelessness for the fate of the world that I love, and was certain would endure, overcomes me. I long to hide my head under the blankets.

                                                …and then I think of Jay.

 I had the great good fortune to meet him when I recently co-led an art/collage group on expressing cultural values for low-income seniors. He rolled into the class in his electric wheelchair, his beaming smile lighting a pathway into the group.  I looked from his deformed hands to his smiling face filled with expectancy and I resolved that, if this man wants to create something, we would make it happen. The project – to collage a box that would not only remind people they are creative and to express their values but it would be a box to store special objects.

The first week when I was getting signed photo releases from everyone, he refused.

Jay and I settled at our own table. The first challenge was how to communicate because he is deaf and mute and I don’t know how to sign.  I quickly learned that he can force a pen between two fingers and write, so with the aid of a small whiteboard, we conversed.  In answer to my written question about what is important to him, he wrote the names of the Los Angeles basketball and baseball teams. This is where my learning began.

I noted how he painstakingly picked up sheets of paper, forced his working fingers (two on each hand) into the handles of scissors and cut out his collage materials. He carefully looked at each of 35 pages of photographs I downloaded from his team’s webpage and selected those he wanted to use.

On week 3 he wrote “take my photo!” and on Week 4, I presented him with several copies of his infectiously, good-humored face.

Over the series of classes he assembled, cut, composed and glued the pictures in place. I steadied the paper sometimes, took the top off the glue, brought in an exacto tool and cutting board and marveled at his focus and determination. The box became an object of art that was meaningful to him and I must confess, to me and everyone else in the group working at another table. My encouragement was transmitted with gestures, smiles and a few words scrawled on the board. In turn, I never left the classroom without being uplifted by his enthusiastic attitude.

winning box

I wanted to know more about this important bond between his team and his feelings about himself. The obvious connection was Jay absorbing the images of strong, lithe, powerful and successful African-American men. I remembered a practice where Zen painting teachers tell their students to sit with their subjects – be it rock or a tree-  “until their souls intertwined”. It seemed to be so here. Jay could become one of these magnificent athletes and heroes for a short and glorious time. (As an aside, Social Psychologists understand that identity is social and that if an individual is proud of the group to which he or she belongs, their sense of self is strengthened. They also know that belonging is one of the top psychological needs and motivators. (Harre, psych.aukland.ac.nz/Psychologyforabetterworld)

Every week Jay wheeled in, beaming and waving his arm like a stick. Every week he settled into his labors. Every week he progressed towards completion.

I asked him to point out words from a list of values to incorporate into his work. He chose Education, Winning, Fun, Belonging, Beauty, Collaboration and I continued my learning. And yes, sports are all of those and Life too!

The highlight of his art-making was to place a picture of a poster in his box as the first thing to see when the lid comes off. His motto and that of his team……

Motto

And if this man can feel this as he deals with enormous challenges – every day and up close – I ask myself “who am I to give up??”

yes

 

(photos- M.Kellen-Taylor 2017)

OWLS Poetry

singing ink

Poetry is just the evidence of life – Leonard Cohen

“I just don’t read poetry!” the young mother said, as she watched her toddler drawing in the shade of a tree with obvious delight.

After a moment’s reflection, she continued, “There was some poetry in a high school class – but I didn’t get it.

It was too hard to understand!”

 

 

 

I thought of the OWLS**, a group of women in their seventies, and their poetry teacher, Oshea Luja. How they all revel in poetry! And I silently wished something similar for the mother when she reached “retirement age”.

One of an enthralled audience last weekend,  I watched the OWLS speaking their poetry with tenderness, passion and joy.  It was the long-awaited launch of their exciting first anthology “Singing Ink”.

Every Wednesday, in the library of their senior apartment building, they meet with their guides and teachers, Oshea and Melanie Luja.  Oshea and his Muse, Melanie, are talented and acclaimed Spoken Word Artists (Food4Thot and Queen Socks) and to this community of poets, they are also gently encouraging and greatly inspiring guides.

What does poetry mean to the OWLs?  Obviously discipline, but also commitment, and community, — yet there’s more!  In their own words from “Singing Ink “:

Kit, who never ever seems to stop writing, “Poetry is my bliss/The cosmos whirling inside my bones/The hard work of plucking the miraculous/ From thistles”

Dolly, who now laughs at how often she has incredulously asked if her writing is poetry, answers “Translucence of words/becomes a mirror reflecting my life/embodying forgotten memories”

Felicia, who asks many questions in her poems, including those about the process of poetry “What walls have I hit?/ What is standing in my way?/ I see my shadow standing in my way./Dare I push her aside to meet my creative needs?”

Abigail writes “To my surprise/ I bleed joy/ I was waiting for pain and sorrow and rage/and here is joy.”

Jo-Lynda, after a lifetime of writing, affirms that “a poem/will gush forth/becoming a stream/a river, the sea/pressed down/and overflowing/covering the planet/with verse.”

Oshea describes the meetings where “a word orchestra took place. Readings were shared and the fabric of this group’s melody began to sing beautiful ink across the fabric of these pages…..while we’re here, we have decided to play every note, every sound, chord, piano key, and sing our beautiful song like no one’s listening, watching or judging.”

For my part, I see you, poets!

I believe in you!

And I gratefully hold you as inspiration to create fulfilling lives as you age.

(Who knows, I may even write a poem or two one day! Until then, yours is there to savor.)

Singing Ink by Felicia Soissons-Segal, Kit Harper, Dolly Brittan, Abigail Howard and Jo Lynda Blake is available on Amazon Books.

(** as you will discover in the introduction, OWLS initially called themselves “Old White Women” but, after processing in their group some of the racial divisiveness afflicting the country, and experiencing together the universality of being human, they are now Oshea’s Wise Ladies.)

 

Learning to Love: Crossing the Generation Divide

Published in HowlRound “a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community,” based at Emerson College. A description of the Mentoring program that I used to design and direct during my employment by a non-profit that serves seniors in Southern California. 

http://howlround.com/learning-to-love-crossing-the-generational-divide

 

I humorously call theatre “the family curse” because I have grandparents, great-grandparents, a daughter, and a grandson all marked by a passion for the theatre. Therefore, I am not surprised when many of the seniors with whom I work fall under its spell. The residents at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, their appetites whetted by acting and writing classes, formed their own theatre company to write, direct, and act. They continue to receive coaching from professionals and play to full houses for their neighbors. They experience the alchemy that exists between actor and audience.

Through our programming, people who initially were sure they were audience members find themselves onstage performing, converted by the magic, challenged by the complexity, and expanded by the process. They write from their own lives and by acting the roles, they deepen their understanding of family members, friends, and even archenemies. They worry about forgetting lines; they rehearse, argue with the director, and form new connections, but when the curtain opens, they are on!

It is interesting to see how theatre has permeated EngAGE’s Mentoring program. Each semester for the last five years, high school students are selected to work with EngAGE Mentors at the Artists Colony on different arts projects. Many of these students have fallen out of the school system for various reasons and are at risk of dropping out. Their last chance is to attend Burbank Community Day School. There they work with Principal Chris Krohn and her talented team of teachers who are dedicated to enabling students to succeed. Working with the residents of the Artists Colony is an important component of this work.

The project involves a sequence of arts programs, some involving theatre, each with their own finale. For example:

  • Making one-minute Claymation movies
  • Creating a rap video
  • Designing video games about life
  • Making a twelve-minute film

A Cast shot of the students who wrote, acted in, and crewed the short black and white film, “Time After Time,” through EngAGE’s Mentoring program. Their Mentors provided inspiration and encouragement behind the camera.

During one finale, we watched a short black and white film on a big screen in the Colony clubhouse. The audience was composed of the students, their families and friends, school district administrators, and the fiercely proud mentors. The film was about a boy dreaming of his grandfather who loved to play baseball, and the big game that his team won. It was a sweet tribute to the relationship between boy and man. The ripple effect beyond the seniors and mentors became apparent when the writer’s father said, “I never thought my son could do that—write a screenplay for such a good film!” I saw him struggle to change his perception of his son as a “problem” and was encouraged by the mentor’s pride in the boy’s talents.

Mentor and student construct models for their Claymation movie. Each pairing wrote, directed, and captured their own one-minute film.

Another project called “Walk in our Shoes” was with Stacy Sims, a Mid-western writer/performer. Her project encouraged students and seniors to write stories that began with the prompt: “If you have never walked in my shoes, you will not know…” The goal was to perform the stories. Over time trust grew, and both mentors and students wrote and shared heartbreaking and heart-warming stories. That finale was a powerful performance of the stories, in which the actors, connected by long red strings, stepped out of a tableau vivant to perform their work. I recall one heart-wrenching moment when one of the girls started her monologue about living with serial abuse. Two seventy-year old women moved downstage to stand with her, conveying their solidarity, powerfully and wordlessly.

The group was amazed when a quiet eighty-year old gentleman, who retired from a successful business, revealed that he had been labeled a problem kid and sent to a special school. These were important life lessons for the young people as they witnessed their elder partners’ resilience and ability to survive. The students learned that it is possible to survive awful experiences and still go on to live successful, happy lives.

The power of theatre is its ability to amplify storytelling into a visceral experience. The grief, anger, and resolution in the stories drew in the audience and connected the actors. Some mentors better appreciated their own capacities through revisiting events in their lives.

The cast of the rap video project. Students learned that rap is poetry and mentors learned they can rap well into their 70s and 80s.

There is now a palpable change of attitude for many of the people living in the Burbank Senior Arts Colony. When the school first opened next door, residents looked down on the playground at recess and discussed with fear the “gang-bangers” that had become their neighbors. Now they talk about “our kids next door,” and the two groups wave to each other.

Mentors themselves understand that they are contributing something of great value. Students, who graduated from the school and went on to college, have returned to share their accomplishments. They write letters to the mentors, or run up to them in stores and give them bear hugs.

Each semester a different group of students join the mentors; however, the mentors remain the same. One mentor said, “We learn to love the kids in a short time and working with them is the most meaningful thing I do.” A student explained that he learned that “old people are not smelly and boring.”

I once heard an educator say that a student needs only a few adults to believe in them to have a chance at success. The Burbank Mentors quickly come to believe in the students. The invisibility that cloaks seniors and divides them from younger generations begins to melt away, and nowhere more so than through the arts.

 

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. (Maya Angelou)

The stories swirl and wind/
wind in the changing light
Seeping from the seven-gated body; flowing
Through family/tribe/district, through the teeming,
Milling city streets.

 

In the course of my explorations of creating a new map of aging, and inevitably writing a new story of aging for myself, I find people talking about recreating stories in a number of important areas including politics, environment, racial and cultural identity. Of course, there are many more but these are where my path takes me. And they are all interconnected. It seems that, at least in my part of the world, this is the era of stories to increase understanding and, by providing visions, to improve the quality of living for the individuals of human and other species and of the planet as a whole. It is this feeling of being interconnected with everything and everybody that brings all the efforts together and somehow makes the contribution of each one of us important. So I am encouraged in my work to write a different story about aging that empowers people and contradicts the ageist propaganda.

I feel heartened by knowing that the people working in many different fields and countries who attend Fritjof Capra’ s class on the Systems View of Life (http://www.capracourse.net/about/), as I did, are just as dedicated in their efforts to make our world liveable as those working with the Frameworks Institute (http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/), and with George Lakoff (1) (https://georgelakoff.com/blog) to re-invent language and improve communication. The Pachamama Alliance (2) (https://www.pachamama.org) training activists who are working towards preserving the beautiful bio-diversity,as well as honoring indigenous rights, in this world are as dedicated as the Arts and Ecology practitioners in Europe (https://www.facebook.com/groups/artsbasedenvironmentaleducation), and the artists at the California African-American Museum of Art (www.caamuseum.org) who are exploring their racial and cultural identity through their creative processes. I am hopeful because even though the individuals in these organizations might not even know about the others, their efforts eventually will come together to create a transition to the new world we so desperately need.

My bias towards the arts as useful tools for all of these endeavors runs through all of these posts. It is my desire and belief that it is now time for the arts to be spread around society where they can do a great deal of good.

Shelagh Wright (Mission Models Money) in her introduction to PROVOCATION  by Tim Kasser Ph.D.**writes:

“Arts as cultural practices are some of the most participative, dynamic and social forms of human behaviour,(sic) are, in our view, integral to this process of transition. The capacity to trigger reflection, generate empathy, create dialogue and foster new ideas and relationships offers a powerful and democratic way of expressing, sharing and shaping values.”

I visited my local African-American Art Museum yesterday to hear Dominique Moody speak. (She and her work have been featured in earlier posts and she is always an inspiration to me (dominiquemoody.com). As I wandered through the exhibits I saw how different artists’ explorations of their racial and cultural identities inspired the museum visitors and encouraged some deep conversations. With a small epiphany, I learned the name for the work – Art as Social Practice- and now have a name for my own work of 35 or more years to change aging with the help of the arts.

My latest work is with a local university on a couple of arts and culture projects. Our team hopes to contribute to the new story of aging and also to strengthen cultures and increase respect for the many cultures in our area, which even though they enrich our society, it is a time when they are under attack in some places.

One of our projects uses storytelling and visual art to connect young people with their grandparents’ generation. The stories are a way of passing on a legacy of experience that is often dismissed as irrelevant in this highly technologized age where we tend to judge others and ourselves by familiarity with the “latest tools”. The truth is that human behavior lies behind all the technological tools now available and influencing young people in particular.

When I was a very small child of 3 or 4 my grandfather introduced me to gardening. We planted seeds together and he described all the wonderful things that were going to happen. The next day he was amused to find me digging up the seeds to see if they had grown yet. I don’t remember what he said exactly but it has remained with me as a truth “It takes time for good things to grow.”

 

It may have been my first step in valuing process as much as end result. I am sure it acted as a magnet for other similar experiences. But I don’t remember any of those – I remember my grandfather, pipe in mouth, smelling of wood shavings from his workshop, kneeling and looking with me at the place where the seeds would mysteriously grow in their own time.

 

 

In the same way, the stories we are now gathering from older adults are about human behavior, life and what they have found useful for living.

The young students illustrate the stories and, by using various non-verbal ways of learning, gain a different kind of understanding. In making the pictures and developing a relationship with the stories, the students will also take ownership in their own way.

 

The second project uses the tools of storytelling to explore and illustrate cultural values. The stories come from a group of older people of different cultural backgrounds. They may perform their stories or in pictures show values that have strengthened their cultural identities. Their stories will be videoed, the pictures displayed and shown to the public. Through the processes of reflecting either verbally, or visually, we will give them the opportunity and encouragement to appreciate the importance of their legacy of experience. To be approached by a team from a well-known university to tell these stories because they are important to younger people, we hope will increase their pride in their own heritage and perhaps also see the values that they hold in common with people of other cultures.

Reflecting on these projects I am aware that I too am acting out of my family and cultural values and at the same time bringing a sense of purpose to my own life.

**Tim Kasser, Ph.D. Professor & Chair of Psychology, Knox College, Illinois, USA (http://faculty.knox.edu/tkasser/) writes about the potential of engagement in arts & culture to encourage values that support well-being, social justice, and ecological sustainability.

photos by m.Kellen-Taylor