A letter from the future written in the past

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My novel’s heroine was going to be a time traveler from fifty years in the future. I liked the idea of a Cassandra figure, someone who lived in the everyday hell of an unstable climate gifted to her generation by ours. She arrives in New York City in December of 2009, just in time for the Copenhagen climate summit. I had fun with implanted nanotechnology merging powerful databases and communications with her organic brain. And with what she would think of the quaint, primitive technologies we have now. (Actual cell phones! Power cords! ATMs!) Or the things we take for granted that they no longer have in 2059, like sushi, cars, coastlines and forests.

In 2013, I dispensed with the future-world scenario when I realized that we don’t need someone from the future to tell us what climate change does to the planet. We are living it already. My first draft from 2011 has plenty of rookie writing mistakes, but it also has this letter that my heroine writes on her second day in 2009. Despite all the changes this novel has been through, it still forms the DNA of my story. Enjoy this letter from the future written in the past. Continue reading

On stopping time and help arriving just when you need it

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I am one of those cautious people who resist speed. I harden up in fear and can’t relax into it, let alone feel the thrill and joy of being on the edge or out of control. I had a flash of insight this morning after a heart-opening yoga class that my problem with speed extends to a wish to stop time from passing so quickly. The correlation drew me in and showed me something surprising.

I had had a late night, one of those unavoidable parenting experiences that at first I resisted. Once I acquiesced, the night was quite revealing. Our 13-year-old son had taken the light rail with a friend downtown, to attend the Orioles game. The O’s (who’ve been in a long downhill slide since July) scored ten runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. That’s two grand slams and a couple more homers just for good measure. All those at-bats take a lot of time. My son’s friend had already fielded his own father’s warning that they must leave after the seventh inning or find another way home. The friend volunteered me; they stayed, and were rewarded with a spectacular homer-fest. Continue reading

Owning the story: the seduction of illusion and the power of dreams

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I am fascinated by the power of story to sell or derail an idea. Sometimes I think of storytelling, that ancient and most connecting of arts, like The Force in “Star Wars.” Story can be used for good or for evil. Even with good intentions, it tends to be used as mindless entertainment, or for selling products or launching a mission-driven campaign. A fine example of the Dark Side of Story is found in the documentary, “Merchants of Doubt,” which jumps off from the 2010 book of the same name by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

These are the players who sow doubt in the public’s mind about the credibility or consensus of the scientific community around a specific topic. They do this to stall or scuttle environmental and health regulations. They started with tobacco, then moved on to toxic chemicals like flame retardants, and now are using the same proven techniques on climate change. The film employs imagery in creative ways. A sleight-of-hand magician demonstrates misdirection and murky banks of hidden files signify the “playbook” of confusion and lies. Archival footage of experts is intercut with contemporary interviews of the same people, to dramatize the passage of decades, the sweep of lives dedicated either to scientific study or to its obfuscation. Continue reading

Mirroring the courage to speak up and tell new stories

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I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that my inner and outer worlds mirror each other. Even way back in college, I somehow knew that annoying people are reflecting something in me that I don’t like. I’m devoted to dream work and my morning journaling for the insights and clarity that often come, and to writing in this blog for the same reason. I tend to regard this reciprocal conversation as a way to diagnose what’s wrong from the inside out, more so than to notice and appreciate what’s right outside, and how it reflects goodness on the inside.

Yet it does work both ways, and it’s going on all the time. When someone I respect questions or refuses to encourage my latest grand scheme, that is showing me the degree to which I am not on board with it myself. But it’s also true that if I look around at my comfortable home, good health, lovely neighbors, engaging work, responsible husband, and yummy food in the fridge—all that is reflecting an inner world that is safe, healthy, and full of good companionship, worthiness, love, creativity, intelligence, security, and nourishment. Continue reading

The constant invitation of the eternal

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It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

There is a literal way of seeing this that comes out of my Catholic upbringing. How fitting that I should finally be considering this final verse of St. Francis’ prayer on Easter weekend. The literal story is that Christ came to live among us as a man. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. . . .” So the verse goes. I was taught that Christ gave his life so that humans may have eternal life—in a place called Heaven.

It requires a certain effort to pan out to see a bigger picture. The story can be a lens through which to view an individual life (mine), in the context of a culture and, beyond that, ecosystems and planet and universe. And, zooming in the other direction, inspired by the great short film, “Powers of Ten” by Charles and Ray Eames, to see what goes on beneath the surface of my skin, in those interior realms of thought and belief and intuition, and deeper still to shadow and unconscious, into the place before thought and individuality. Continue reading

Giving and receiving bind us to each other

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For it is in giving that we receive

This phrase is familiar to most of us. The joy of giving is greater than the pleasure of receiving. Yet giving carries risk and requires courage. Whatever we are giving may indeed be ignored or refused. If it’s something sourced from deep inside, an intimate, heartfelt gift, refusal can be devastating, even shaming. Giving makes us vulnerable. It’s no wonder that many of us hold in our generosity, especially if we have been burned in the past.

St. Francis doesn’t specify what we receive when we give, only that we receive. We may at times receive a harsh lesson in humility or in the importance of detaching from outcomes. I have been known to give with a certain expectation of how the recipient would react, only to be crushed by their indifference or dislike. The lesson is not to refrain from giving. If anything, it is that giving without expectation is like the graduate school course in generosity. It’s not for the recipient’s reaction that we give; it’s to experience reciprocity. Continue reading

Doubt and faith and nihilism, oh my!

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Where there is doubt, faith;

Faith must be the most written-about subject in human experience. Faith asks us to trust in the unseen, and we may see it as a hallmark of holy people, too rarified for most of us. And yet, faith is both cause and effect. It flows from the willingness to be an instrument of the divine, while at the same time, is a way of courting that willingness. It’s easier to be faithful when rewards come and also turn to it in times of great crisis and despair. And what about all the other, more quotidian, times in between?

“Faith is not a cushion for me to fall back on. It is my working energy.” ~ Helen Keller, from Let Us Have Faith

While faith is an active choice, it is also a passive outcome of devotion. In Helen Keller’s words, it is fuel. Energy. All energy on Earth comes from the sun; everything alive draws sustenance from it. Faith, at its most primal level, then, is knowing that the sun will rise each morning. Trusting that this spaceship we’re riding on will once again turn its face to the great star that powers all life. Continue reading

Prayer is an expression of reciprocity

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I’m beginning a daily consideration of the Prayer of St. Francis, going line by line. Reciting this prayer out loud every morning is a wonderful practice to open to the mystery of opposites and experience being a threshold of both/and. Though I’ve gotten out of the habit, I was doing this a few years ago during what I would soon discover were my father’s last months. Since I’d never experienced the death of a parent till then, I can only intuit that this prayer worked quite a bit of magic on me. It certainly helped me to be present to the paradox and profound mystery of life and death, love and loss.

Although I was raised Catholic, my mother—who had the most influence on me as a child—was not a practicing Catholic, so we didn’t do much prayer around our house. In fact, other than saying a pretty rote grace before dinner, we prayed not at all. My self-consciousness about prayer is tempered with a fascination for people who do pray, especially those to whom it’s like breathing: just as natural and just as necessary. Continue reading

Cultivating our ability to balance opposites and heal separation

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This wonderful five-minute talk by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee about women and the mystery of creation appeals to the great potential of the sacred feminine to help shift our cultural stories. When you think about it, how miraculous it is that women have this ability to bring a new person into the world, to give a soul the experience of this physical plane. Spirit and matter are literally united within a woman’s body.

Throughout most of human history, women, therefore, were the guardians of the spiritual life of the people. Their connection to the earth’s cycles and seasons, as well as its great Creative power, made this connection natural and enduring. Anything we can do to align with the cyclical and the non-linear, the intuitive and the more-than-rational, will feed into this connection. Continue reading

A daily practice to experience and live in abundance

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I’ve been researching the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay, particularly the residents of Smith Island, one of only two inhabited islands in the Bay. These men toil long hours — 3:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the height of summer — doing backbreaking work for what we in cities might call a subsistence living. They work six days a week and attend church meetings and services on Sunday. Their only time off is the month of April, after the oyster season and before the crabs return. That’s the month when they get to sleep in till dawn, overhaul their boats and swap stories at the general store.

People like this, who work the water or the land, have profound and hard-won knowledge of the cycles of the seasons, of weather, of periods of abundance and of scarcity. They’ve been around long enough to recognize patterns and trends, and also to hold such insights lightly, because nature always surprises you. One thing is certain: these people know what it feels like to do a good day’s work. Continue reading