Our perspective on our present and future

I just realized this past week my new life theme: “Quit trying so hard!” After struggling my whole life for more, I find great relief in simple contentment, my own version of living in the present.

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is!

If you pay attention to the messages from our culture, you find a constant barrage of: You can do better. You SHOULD be better. The sky is the limit. No matter what your age, do more! To that I say, why? Yes, I understand why younger folks might benefit from hearing that theme, but get real. With my lung and brain limitations, this is as good as it gets, and I would like to feel good about that.

Another theme I hear all around me these day is the comfort so many of my friends find in their families, especially their grandkids. That is wonderful for them. Mike and I have never been big on family and neither one of us were into kids. Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw in Denver ages ago: “Thank you for not breeding.” I remember thinking, “Wow, nobody ever thanked me before!”

Mike and I have been environmentalists forever. We believe in building native gardens and solar homes, using fewer natural resources and living a simple life. We find daily meaning and satisfaction living close to nature and we each have our own ongoing creative projects.

The one desire that keeps coming up for me, is a strong ‘need’ to spend some time on a beach somewhere near the ocean before I die. I have spent a few of my most glorious days on earth on the beaches of Cane Garden Bay, Tortola (BVI), on the Kona Coast of Hawaii and at Pattaya in southern Thailand back in the 1970s. So I say, take me away now to any isolated, beautiful beach! I have some purely intuitive urge to go back to where we all came from.

Winter Solstice & Gratitude

In the cool darkness of the early morning, my thoughts turn to the billions of people who have come before me. How difficult must their lives have been. I am reminded of the quote from Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679), considered to be one of the founders of modern philosophy. Back then, he described human life as ‘nasty, brutish and short,’ which serves to remind us of what a good time and place we were born into.

In spite of my own very human problems, I feel fabulously lucky to have lived the life I have been given. Living in a time with access to nutritional food, heat in our homes, nice clothes, vaccines, comfortable transportation to almost anywhere and access to an excellent education, books, media, wonderful music, we must be some of the most fortunate humans in history! And yet, all we do is complain… We seem to lack perspective.

The Shortest Day

The Winter Solstice in Human History

The winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle for most ancient cultures back to the neolithic. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter food reserves. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.

This is attested to by physical remains in the layouts of some ancient archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and ceremonial structures in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. The primary axis of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge.

To the Ancient ones, the winter solstice was immensely important. They were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months.” In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most domestic animals were slaughtered because they could not be fed during the winter, so it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready to drink at this time.

I have found this day to be a good time to count my many blessings and perhaps error on the side of the positive. The sun will return to bring spring and summer to warm the earth and make my sky garden bloom again. So yes, we do have much to look forward to. Let us drink and rejoice!

A pilgrimage into my past…

A pilgrimage is a journey where a person goes in search of new meaning about their Self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life

When Mike first suggested that we drive to Manhattan Kansas to visit his older sister, I thought he was kidding. Neither one of us is crazy about Kansas, him less than me. You see, I was raised in Emporia, Kansas until age 11, when we moved to Boulder, Colorado. Talk about a culture shock as I entered my teens! But we always drove back to Kansas City at Christmas to see our grandparents on both sides, so this drive east felt somehow familiar to me. It was mostly uneventful until a truck pulling a long trailer almost changed lanes into us! Grrrrrrr…

To make up for it, we witnessed an AMAZING orange sunset behind us at the end of our day!

We rented a beautiful Airbnb apartment on Tuttle Creek Reservoir north of Manhattan and it was lovely. So well-appointed and comfortable, our home away from home. Mike got to spend some quality time with his sister, who suffers from a number of disabilities, and I had lots of time to relax and read.

This was our view of the lake from our apartment.

Then we experienced quite the adventure when we were in town having dinner on Wednesday. A tornado came right over us! We were at an Olive Garden when the storm hit. At first they said they couldn’t serve us and then they did because where else were we going to go? When our food came they told us to run in the kitchen if they called us, but the storm blew over eventually. It was quite the memorable Kansas dinner and the staff was so protective and friendly to us…

Yesterday we started east on I-70. Along the way we saw so many highway signs bent over backwards or completely destroyed by that storm! The wind was so fierce on Wednesday, but by Friday is was a beautiful sunny day with almost no wind. We decided to head south at Oakley, Kansas on the backroads, and I’m glad we did.

We observed hundreds of miles of tiny towns, silos everywhere, and Eastern Colorado farmland…

I was surprised to find how this trip east affected me emotionally. It brought back many memories of my father, who died last year. I felt his presence at various points in the trip and missed and mourned his passing over and over again. He loved collecting plants and birding along Kansas backroads.

Kansas was home to him…

One of my favorite movies EVER!

Raised in small towns in Iowa and Kansas, my first memories of Asia were greeting my Dad when he returned from his regular journeys to India. He always brought back beautiful souvenirs and slides to show us. As a child, the strangeness of this very different culture halfway around the world, fascinated me. I was also introduced to Indian music and food very early. To this day they are my favorites!

This is all to show you why I fell in love with the film “The Namesake” at first sight this week. The music, from the very beginning, with Tabu’s incredible voice(!), is exquisite. I couldn’t help but wish that this experience came with a lovely, big Indian meal. Mira Nair is my new favorite director. I must see more of her films! But what struck me the most was the emotional depth of her style of storytelling and the beauty of the people of India. That and how much I was drawn to the actor Irrfan Khan, who died this year at 53. He was truly “distinguished and charismatic” and “an enormously valuable bridge between South Asian and Hollywood cinema,” according to Peter Bradshaw of the “The Guardian.” I also loved him in the film “Puzzle” from 2018.

Coming to America….

The story is quite simple. The Namesake depicts the struggles of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, first-generation immigrants from West Bengal to the United States, and their American-born children Gogol and Sonia. The film takes place primarily in Kolkata India and the New York City area. I was constantly reminded of generational differences in my own family growing up, as this first generation American family struggled with the different cultures of India and America. And we thought our Dad didn’t understand our generation! Imagine what is must be like if your parents are from a culture a world away.

The film is also an excellent example of the contrasts between Eastern and Western cultures. The East is far more family and community oriented. They find Americans self-centered and even selfish. In the West we do what we please, especially when we are young. Family may become important later for us. I found this film to be a commentary on the toxic loneliness of American society today.

Northern Thailand, 1973

Ever since I lived in Bangkok in 1973-74, I have found Asia to be so different and yet so fascinating. As a teenager I felt almost like I had gone to the moon, everything was just so different compared to Kansas and Colorado. In college, graduate school and in my career as a librarian, I worked to bring these two worlds closer together in the eyes of Americans…

but now I can see that movies like this do the most for us all to truly understand and appreciate our own shared humanity. There is no world that needs this more now than the human race. I found this film so soothing…

See “The Cotton Club” Encore Edition!

I don’t know how I missed it, but this old movie from 1984 is fabulous, especially if you love 1930s music and watching Gregory Hines dance! Come to think of it, I didn’t even have a TV or go see films much in the 1980s. I was busy learning Chinese and getting degrees I would never use… But this film was so much fun for me yesterday!

For me, the most interesting aspect of this movie was the way it called attention to extreme early racism in Harlem and how those with power drew the line between black and white. Opened in 1923, the Cotton Club on 142nd St & Lenox Ave in the heart of Harlem, was operated by white gangster Owney Madden. Madden used the Cotton Club as an outlet to sell his “#1 Beer” to the prohibition crowd.

The Club was decorated with the idea of creating a “stylish plantation environment” for its entirely white clientele. As with many New York City clubs of the time period, that meant the upper class of the city. The Cotton Club at first excluded all but white patrons although the entertainers and most of staff were African American. Dancers at the Cotton Club were held to strict standards; they had to be at least 5’6” tall, light skinned with only a slight tan, and under twenty-one years of age.

The oppressive segregation of the Cotton Club was reinforced by its depiction of the African American employees as exotic savages or plantation residents and the music was often orchestrated to bring to mind a jungle atmosphere. By transforming the club into this plantation atmosphere and bringing in celebrities, Owney Madden created a demand for the Cotton Club while also helping to perpetuate widely held negative stereotypes about African Americans.

This film also got a lot of relatively new actors noticed like Bob Hoskins, Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, Nicholas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, and Tom Waits(!) to name a few. I loved the music, the dancing, and the story, plus I learned quite a bit about how racism worked in Harlem in the 1930s!

A personal note: I have been noticing the age difference between the romantic lead actors in older movies lately. In this case the age difference between Richard Gere and Diane Lane is 16 years! Talk about robbing the cradle…

Do you ever write anything personal any more?

I was astounded by this statistic on CBS Sunday Morning today:

22% of Americans under age 45 have never written a personal letter

When I think back to the many personal, intimate exchanges I had with past friends and lovers, I simply cannot believe that we no longer communicate on that level and in that way. I still have and treasure letters from old boyfriends in my twenties and thirties. It makes me sad, but also amazes me that this no longer happens.

“In the future old ‘love letters’ may not be found in boxes in the attic but rather circulating through the Internet, if people care to look for them,” said Webster Newbold, a professor of English at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Consider this, we are experiencing a loss in what people in the future will know about us. The loss is incalculable. In earlier times the “art” of letter writing was formally taught, explained Newbold. In fact, in old China a person’s character was judged by the strength of their letter writing abilities.

“Letters were the prime medium of communication among individuals and even important in communities as letters were shared, read aloud and published,” he said. “Letters did the cultural work that academic journals, book reviews, magazines, legal documents, business memos, diplomatic cables, etc. do now. They were also obviously important in more intimate senses, among family, close friends, lovers, and suitors in initiating and preserving personal relationships and holding things together when distance was a real and unsurmountable obstacle.”

Aaron Sachs, a professor of American Studies and History at Cornell University, said, “One of the ironies for me is that everyone talks about electronic media bringing people closer together, and I think this is a way we wind up more separate. We don’t have the intimacy that we have when we go to the attic and read grandma’s letters.”

I have found through the years that writing helps me realize more clearly how I feel, and what I really need to say to those I love. The process allows me to crystallize my thoughts, and then tell the other my most intimate feelings. Is that practice also gone? Will there be no physical record of any of this in our future? This more than most changes to our culture makes me glad that my days on earth are minimal.