Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I've mentioned that I need to spend more time doing research on my chosen spiritual path. The very idea of that sort of research is somewhat of a conundrum, as I thoroughly believe that one's spiritual journey is unique to oneself, and needs to be honored as such. Still, human beings throughout history have steeped themselves in spirituality; embarked on the journeys; seen and experienced marvelous mystical things. (And some…not so much.) The challenge is to tap into those whose journeys and discoveries speak to my own spirit, without adopting someone else's experience in toto as THE One And Only Way. In my humble opinion, that is where the human race has consistently gotten itself into big trouble.

In response to my need, my dear friend Jackie offered to send me some reading material. She asked me what I was interested in researching, and I, having no idea where to start, said "Pick something!" A few days later, a copy of Tom Cowan's Yearning for the Wind arrived on my front doorstep. It describes itself as "Celtic reflections on nature and the soul." So that is where I have started.

Though the book is a bit simpler and…what's the word I'm looking for? Shallower? …than I would have hoped, it does contain one or two interesting concepts. The one I'm particularly attracted to is Cowan's (and, I assume, ancient Celts' before him) definition of "the soul." Or, perhaps not so much a definition (for who can define that?) as a description.

Cowan makes an assertion that is altogether new to me, and yet, when I think about it, it makes perfect sense. He claims that our bodies live inside our souls, rather than the other way around. That our souls are actually part of what I will call the Universal Soul. Part of The All. And we, for the time we exist as humans, live inside of that.

I describe it lamely. Here is what he has to say:

It seems we have a choice. To believe that our souls are hidden inside our bodies where, we hope, they will be protected until we die and they are whisked away to heavenly safety. Or to believe that our bodies, minds, egos, and personalities are temporarily living within the soul, and that this soul exists to fill the entire universe. The first alternative usually implies that God is transcendent, somewhere in the heavenly realms, and we are in exile here on Earth, waiting to be released from this valley of tears. The second implies that God is right here, in the wind, sea, stars, flowers, storms—and the arm of God is around us. God walks in our footprints even as we step into God's. We are already with God, and God is with us.

What a liberating concept this is, to someone who not only grew up with that first alternative an unquestioned "fact" of life, but who spends much of her time feeling trapped inside her own head! Imagine that your soul surrounds you. That it goes before and stretches behind you. That it is the first to arrive and the last to leave wherever you go. That it touches everything you touch before your hand or your foot or your head gets there.

I have tried—and I can only do it for short periods of time—to walk around feeling my soul surrounding me. Knowing that it touches people and things before I physically do. It's difficult to describe the expansiveness, the acute awareness that this brings about how we not only affect other people and things, we are part of them, and they are part of us. It's almost too much to comprehend; and certainly daunting for a person as introverted and solitary as myself. Even so, it feels right. And it calls me, on a visceral level, to understand it and live it.

Another really fascinating aspect of this theory is the answer to the question of where does your soul go when you die? The answer to that being, "Nowhere…because it never left."

"As for death, I can't wait to be the hummingbird, can you?" *



*Mary Oliver: "Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond." See my sidebar.

Monday, March 28, 2011


As “The End” (of the Café) draws near, I have to admit, it’s getting easier to deal with. The Universe seems to be guiding me, dropping blessings, small and large, when my resolve falters. I don’t think I’m meant to slink away from the place and go hide under a rock, as I first thought. In the past few weeks, the victories and failures of the venture have been highlighted for me in such a way that I’ve been able to digest the information, identify some lessons learned, and begin to plot a path beyond the experience. I’m not feeling nearly as wounded and defeated as I did when I decided to walk away from what I thought was the fulfillment of my fondest dream. And for that, I am grateful.

Oddly enough, the internet—this forum with which I have conducted an intense love/hate relationship since the early days of AOL—had a hand in despoiling the thing for which I had yearned for so many years. The freedom and anonymity of the internet have presented 21st-century business owners with an entirely new challenge. What could, in a society that maintained any understanding or respect for the concepts of courtesy or fairness, be a valuable tool for service businesses, has turned into a vile cesspool of “you don’t want to go there if you value your sanity.”

The presence of an anonymous forum for public criticism has completely poisoned the customer service dynamic. Disgruntled patrons no longer need to express their dissatisfaction in person to a server or to management. They don’t write letters of concern to business owners. They instead have embraced the internet with a vengeance, and use it to trash any business that has not met their every expectation. The goal here is not to resolve a problem…not to give a business an opportunity to make amends to an offended client. It’s all about revenge; all about punishing a business that is perceived to have fallen short. Today’s businesses must learn to Be Very Afraid of the guest who has had a bad day and walks through the front door itching for a fight.

Bad internet reviews are routinely snarky, rude and laden with just plain meanness. And often personal. After stumbling upon a couple of reviews that attacked me personally, I was beyond ready to lock the doors and swallow the key. I was mortified by that level of very public humiliation, against which I had no opportunity to defend myself.

It translated to double failure for me: Apparently, I did not possess the skills (personality?) needed for success in customer service; AND I was not tough enough to deal with negative feedback. This was a major factor in my decision not to sign up for another five years of fun and games.

It bothered me most, I think, that I was not tough enough. I thought that I was probably over-reacting to something that was not as big a deal as my stressed-out, chronically exhausted psyche was making it out to be. I had, after all, not heard other business owners complain about how the Bad Internet Review situation was causing them to lose sleep.

Recently, though, it has come to my attention that it IS a problem, for all businesses, large and small. In fact, I discovered there is a service called “Reputation.com” that (for a fee, of course) assists businesses in removing poisonous reviews from the internet.

I picked up a thread in an “Ask Amy” column in last Friday’s Oregonian that actually made me feel better. Justified. Relieved that the issue is not all in my head. Apparently, an earlier letter to Amy had dealt with an instance where a company had terminated an employee based on a negative “Tweet” posted by a disgruntled customer. The letter I read was written by a customer service manager of another company in response to that situation ; and it expresses all the horror and frustration I have been feeling. (And made me understand that perhaps I don’t have it as bad as I thought….) You can find the entire letter here: Ask Amy March 25, 2011. But here are a few of my favorite highlights:

I am a customer service manager, and I have noticed in recent years that angry customers have become increasingly more confrontational, militant and aggressive…
Bad customer service certainly exists and shouldn't be tolerated, but more and more I am seeing customers who come in looking for a fight, wanting to post that scathing review, wanting retribution for an unknown or yet-to-occur transgression…
My co-workers and I have had angry customers take our pictures with their camera phones, threatening to have us fired, and some people will post those photos with hateful commentary — and even our names — on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

Thank god no one has pulled the picture-posting thing on us. Yet.

But it’s probably just a matter of time.

However, I now understand that this situation, this development, this new obstacle in the service business landscape is not necessarily proof that I suck at what I do. It’s not going to chase me away, convinced I’ve failed at something I believed was my fondest dream. It’s simply a part of doing business that, being the mid-century relic I am, I had not foreseen when I finally got the chance to live my dream.

And, here’s the thing: This is a battleground of 21st century culture upon which I choose not to engage. It is not a positive or life-affirming place for me (or anyone, for that matter), and I need to walk away from it, shaking the dust from my hands and feet as I go.

And I won’t feel the least bit ashamed or defeated in the doing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


There is one thing that worries me about the conclusion of the "Café" Chapter in my life... One thing among many, really; but this one thing hangs a little more heavily than some of the others. It's the unsettling prospect of falling back into my own head.

Though I have been in the midst of what would seem a necessarily social occupation, I have, nevertheless, been isolated. Neither fish nor fowl in my own pond…not on a level with anyone with whom I rub elbows every day. A servant to the customers; and somewhere hopelessly outside the scope of the girls who work for me. (And yoked to a partner more prone to leave me to my own devices than to steady me when I stumbled…) Nevertheless, I have had to socialize; had to truck with a myriad of people and things out in the wide world. It was at once frightening, frustrating, and very good for me.

Because I know what it is to disappear inside my own head. To have no one to share, not only my deepest thoughts and desires, but any thoughts, no matter how mundane or frustratingly shallow. Better, I think, to feel maddened by a moderately unsatisfactory level of interaction than to be relegated to no interaction at all. I have been there, splashing silently in those dark waters.

Ten years ago, I began the long, slow journey out of that place. Starting and stopping, casting about for hand- and footholds that disappeared or didn't exist at all, climbing up three feet to fall back ten. And then I stumbled, quite by accident, upon a community I hadn't dreamed existed; experienced an acceptance and a level of sharing for which I would never have ventured to yearn. It was late 2003, and on a clueless whim, I floated my first email to the general ether. Two hundred twenty-three words posted at a new site created by America Online: the infant AOL "Journal Land."

There followed five years full of experiences that, at my advanced age (I was 48 years old when I penned my first journal entry) I would have thought were well behind me. I made "friends" all over the country. I discovered that I still could—and did—grow as a writer. I took the chance, crawled outside my own head, and was richly rewarded with friendship, interaction, growth—community.

Unfortunately, that community suffered the faddish fate of most landmarks in our ever-shifting, schizophrenic pop culture landscape: It burned brightly for a short time, then fizzled and disappeared when the "members" of the community abandoned it for the Next Big Thing. That "thing" being social networks like MySpace and Facebook, then Twitter and beyond. It seems that the public opted for quantity of social interaction over depth. So much better to have three hundred "friends" with which to share what you ate for breakfast, rather than a dozen or two with whom you could bare the secrets of your soul.

I was left behind by the mass exodus. And here I am, still, because there are yet some good things about writing in this place, and I am not inclined to quit. Occasionally, I will be rewarded by a thread of interaction reminiscent of the halcyon j-land days. I look upon those as a side benefit, now, to my residence here in the Land of Blog. They would be meager rewards, indeed, if they were the only reason I wrote here.

Facebook? Oh, yes…I have a page. I opened one, closed it, and then opened another. I planned it as a way to keep tabs on the "j-land" friends about whom I still care, but who no longer blog. And also as a tie to far-flung family members. In the end, I have concluded that Facebook has not adequately fulfilled either of those needs. Because, I suppose, that is not its function. I admit, I'm a bit mystified as to what its primary function truly is. But I understand that I am hopelessly on the outside of…whatever that is.

In a way, my absorption into the world of running a business helped me to weather the demise of my other world, the other place that provided all the connection, interaction, frustration and reward that my quirky, introspective soul could handle. Now, with the café going away as well, I know for a certainty that the platform from which I launched myself into that venture longer exists. Where am I going to land?



Sunday, March 13, 2011


I was a Catholic school brat. We learned "Church" right alongside reading, writing and 'rithmetic. As tiny first-graders, with the barest grasp of those secular subjects, we sat on hard pews, knelt on lumpy kneelers, steeping in the various rituals and dogma attached to our parents' religion.

Lent was a particularly long and somber season. We were subjected to story after story about Our Lord's suffering and death. (Stations of the Cross, anyone?) A few months earlier, Christ had been a sweet baby wrapped in white cloth snuggled into a box of hay; armies of angels had crowded the skies to sing about him; important Kings had traveled far to visit and lavish him with gifts. Now he was a grown man trudging morosely toward his grisly death. Whipped and stripped and crowned with thorns; beaten and derided, skewered and stabbed. It was a lot for a little tyke to absorb. But absorb it we did, dutiful little sponges that we were.

There was one aspect of the Passion Story that, even as I grew from that overwhelmed six-year-old to a much more worldly-wise adolescent, never quite resonated with me. How could it be that Jesus had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem to cries of "Hosanna!" and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" and a week later, stood before the Roman governor while the crowds in the streets roared "Crucify him!"

It made no sense. People do not act like that. But, hey…it was a long time ago. The people were ancients. Savages. Nearly Neanderthals. They didn't know how to act in a civilized manner. Not like we do now. This was the only possible explanation. So the story got filed into my mind somewhere between "ancient history" and "fairy tale."

I'm fifty-five years old, now. Much as I often cannot believe it myself, I've lived a lot of years. Seen a lot of things, in comparison to people twenty or thirty years my junior (yet, on a scale of all there is to see…hardly a glimpse of anything.) Some of the things I have seen I would rather not have seen. They have caused me to understand things I would rather not know. But they are what they are.

Just being a witness to the level to which human interaction has sunk over the past decade…seeing what we can, will, and do say and do to one another, I can say without reservation that human beings are still every bit the "savages" we might have been two thousand years ago. Perhaps more so, because we have had two millennia to observe and learn from our abhorrent behavior; yet we deliberately choose hysteria and mindless violence time after time.

I can almost hear those words resounding from every television, radio, computer, i-phone…name your media device. And in every hall of every local, state and national house of government. As loud and as chilling as in the dusty streets of an ancient city.

Crucify him!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


After a couple of weeks where the best things got was "bearable," and the worst was nearly …not, I seem to have arrived in a better place. Actually, it's more like the better place arrived on ME. I certainly haven't done anything special. I just feel like the Universe has dumped a ladle of grace over my head.

Sunday, we catered a 60th-anniversary party at the restaurant. I had taken the reservation back in January, SO against my will. The holidays were over, Valentine's Day was soon to be a memory, and I had my mind on grabbing a scalpel and beginning to cut, carefully, one by one, the physical and emotional ties binding me to the café. Trying to get as much of that separation accomplished and possibly even on the way to healing before the actual event. I did not want that process interrupted by the care and attention it takes to pull off one of these big parties.

But as much as I wanted to, I could not manufacture a good reason to turn it down. It was nothing we couldn't DO, and why not bank a few more dollars before the end? So we took the gig, and I filed it into the back of my mind, determined not to worry about it. Fat chance. Though Valentine's Day took Stress Out Priority over it, I know the anxiety of this event has been simmering on the front burner ever since the morning of February 15th.

Well, it's over now. And it was a great success. Mostly because the people were probably the nicest group of folks I have ever met in my life. That in itself was a bucketful of grace. I have so given up on the public. Daily, I am smacked in the face with how selfish, demanding, high maintenance and just plain rude the American consumer has become. To have the restaurant full to bursting with people who were just NICE, was a blessing, almost a cleansing. It literally drove away the dark cloud that has hung over me and my restaurant for so long. I could not be more grateful for that.

Monday afternoon, I stopped at the café (it was supposed to be my R & R day after the big party) and ended up having to work an hour to help them out of a jam. I took a lady's food out to her and she said to me, "I have to tell you, you do such a good job decorating this place. It just looks great…" What? Someone was actually saying something nice to me? I couldn't really believe my ears. "Well, thank you!" I managed to sputter through my shock. But she went on:

"I'm so glad you guys are doing well. We really need a place like this around here…"

I thanked her again, a thank-you tinged with the slightest mixture of guilt and "too late!" The thought occurred to me that it would be very nice indeed if I could feel like I was leaving the café somewhere near the top of my game, rather than slinking away in disgrace with my tail between my legs.

And then, yesterday, I had two squirrels in my back yard. And I went shopping and found some cute clothes for the body I have now (losing those lately-attained stress pounds can wait a few more months—until I'm safely on the other side of this transition.)

All in all, a more than satisfactory first couple of days…of the rest of my life.