Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Onward and Outward

For the first time in many months, I’m allowing myself to get ever-so-guardedly stoked about something having to do with getting off my butt and making a living.
And it is NOT the Bird Shop job (I have not heard back from the guy, and I don’t expect to…)
Thinking about it long and hard, I had to allow that working for someone else, no matter how close the job might brush up against one of my passions, was simply a non-starter.  After all these years (the last time I punched a clock for someone else was 2004) there is just no way I could re-insert myself into that employer/employee dynamic.  I cannot see setting myself up to fail.  Again.
The out-of-the-blue job call-back did do me one favor, though.  It made me realize that I am done waiting around for the Universe to drop a livelihood in my lap.  I HAVE a livelihood—my concession business—which, luckily, I never abandoned. 
For the past twenty months, I’ve been trying to puzzle out a way to arrange my life around my spiritual direction.  I believe I’ve finally come to realize that is just not going to happen.  Yes, I’m an introspective sort of person.  But I am also a person who needs to be active.  If my body is not moving, everything freezes up.  I just go into stasis.  Completely.  Body, mind, creativity, emotions all just stop.  I have to make a life which includes spirituality, not make spirituality my life.  I’d make a terrible contemplative. 
Now is the time to prime the motor, rev it up and get it going forward.  It seems I am truly unable to function any other way. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Back Yard Birds


I possess a finely-honed ability to second-guess myself.  You might even say it borders on the obsessive.  It's one of the things that makes me run away screaming at the mere thought of a job interview.   After the fact, I will literally make myself ill going over the instant replays in my mind, and looking for an adequately sized rock under which to crawl.

I have never been one for practicing interview responses in front of a mirror, have never been really gung-ho about anticipating the questions and having a well-rehearsed response on the tip of my tongue for each and every one of them.  So this morning's off the cuff, say-anything phone interview has provided me with plenty of willow sticks with which to flagellate myself.  But there is one exchange that has turned out to be kind of funny; and has ultimately served to drag me out from under that rock and give me some hope that I am not as ridiculous as I allow myself to believe.

Toward the end of the conversation, the guy asked me, "So, what do you know about backyard birds?" (This being an interview for a position at the Backyard Bird Shops...)  And I proceeded to regale him with the story of how we had just returned from Klamath, where we had gone to see the eagles. 

Reviewing this later, I thought, "Idiot!  Eagles are not backyard birds!  Duh. Now he thinks I'm a dork."

Later in the afternoon, I decided to take a glass of wine, go sit on my back deck and be with my birds.  I was thinking juncos and hummers, maybe a woodpecker and certainly the little posse of chickadees that hits the feeders a couple of times a day.  As I sat, I heard a telltale squeaky chatter over my head, and looked up to see an eagle soaring low into view, wings spread wide, wheeling a bit and talking to him(her)self.  It made for a tall Doug fir at the end of the block and disappeared into the topmost branches.  In the course of the next half hour, it left the tree and made several low passes over the neighborhood, chattering quietly to itself, obviously on some kind of mission (hunting for a mate?) 

Now, I have seen eagles  soaring over my yard, usually high up, on their way to or from their nightly roosts up on the ridge west of town.  But I've never seen one so cozily make itself at home in one of the neighborhood trees. 

And the Universe said, "What was that  you were thinking about eagles not being back yard birds?"

So maybe the interview didn't go as badly as I thought.

Out of the Blue

So, out of the blue I get a call back on a resume I emailed out four months ago. 

Hard to know how to feel about this, how to act on it.

The Universe finally got me to concede that perhaps a job—any job—is NOT what I need to be pursuing right now.  I cannot forget how slowly “idleness” burned in my Solstice fire.  I truly felt that the Almighty was telling me that it was not just okay that I had nothing to “do”, but that is was actually specifically prescribed for me.  Kind of like, “Don’t DO anything right now.  I’ll let you know when I have something for you to do.

Is this it? 

The job is with a company called “Backyard Bird Shops.”  It’s a small string of local Portland-area stores that deals in birding paraphernalia, conducts birding outings, pretty much concerns itself with all things birder.  It is NOT food and it does pertain to what has brought me most of the joy I’ve experienced in the past twenty months.  It definitely has something going for it.

Of course, I have only done one telephone interview, and I was not inclined to get all geared up and try to say All The Right Things.  I wasn’t a jerk or anything…but I was not going out of my way to impress.  (That rarely ends well, anyway…)  I was just ME having a conversation with someone I don’t know about birding and health insurance and commutes in the PDX metro area.

I admit:  I’m confused.  I had thought the Universe just wanted me to hang tight for a while longer.  But something in the out-of-the-blueness of this indicated that it was probably something the Universe wanted me to pursue.  It will probably come to nothing—I imagine I’ll never hear from the guy again.  But I made the call, and now we’ll just have to see what happens.

The thing that bugs me about this is, I’m starting to feel like the folks in my old, long-ago Pentecostal church.  The ones who wouldn’t make a move without “making sure” it was what God wanted them to do.  (This usually meant that if they really loved the idea, or desired it beyond reason, then it was what God wanted for them.)  And the ones who had to dissect every event in their lives to determine what God wanted them to learn from it, or what God wanted them to tell other people THEY should learn from it.

I need to get out of this mode.  I need to quit starting and stopping, dodging sideways and hanging back, hesitating and second-guessing.

I need to just walk.  And trust.

It’s hard.  It’s still hard.     

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let the Voting Begin

I’m sorry, folks.  I didn’t get much response for my little contest.  I guess there are not too many other people (besides you and me, Mary Ellen) who got such a kick out of coming up with new words to fit the acronym.  Honestly, I chewed on it for hours.  Better than a crossword puzzle!

Anyway, for those of you who DID play, here are the entries.  Please vote for your favorite, and the author of the winning moniker gets a prize (which I still have not determined, but there WILL be a prize!)

Nim Rod A$$holes

Nasty Reticulan Aliens

Nefarious Reactionary Assassins.
No Reasonable Approach.
Nasty Redneck Assholes.

Nefarious raving aggressors

Not Really Accountable

Non Realist Association

And, my personal creative endeavor:  (feel free to vote for it if you like it!):

Nutjobs Recruiting Assassins

We’ll tally the votes and announce the winner one week from now in this space.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Asked and Answered

I have a love/hate relationship with prayer, deeply rooted in my Catholic upbringing, dented and dinged by my days as a Pentecostal Christian, and beat to snot by the public ranting of American evangelicals of the past twenty years.  I don’t like to pray FOR things.  I am convinced the Almighty knows what I need, so I don’t need to ask.  And I firmly believe that some of the things for which I would petition would NOT be, in the end, things that I need, or that would even be good for me.  I don’t like the idea of playing the game of “Be Careful What You Wish (Pray) For.”  I prefer to believe that the Creator is not petty or capricious enough to give us bad or unhelpful things when we point at them and whine, just to teach us a lesson. 

So it came as a surprise when, some time before Christmas, a shamanist friend exhorted me to boldly ask the Universe for what I want when I perform a fire ceremony.  “Be very specific,” she said.  This was at a time when I was wubbiting about wanting/needing a job, and running around in circles trying to find something to DO with myself. 

I very well could have asked for a job, or an inspiration for a business, or some unmistakable sign pointing to the right path out of my confusion.  As I sat staring into my fire, I thought about these things, and it just did not feel right to request specific help in that direction.  Hell, I wasn’t sure in my own mind what I wanted to do, what I had the capacity to do, or even  whether I was at all ready to pronounce myself regenerated and ready to go on to the next thing.  So I was pretty sure the Universe was not going to plant its foot on my butt and launch me in some new direction for which I was in no way prepared. 

Still, I thought I should ask for something, since I had been advised to do so.  I thought about it for a bit, lifted my eyes to the moon, to the sky, where my friendly spirits tend to soar and sail.  I thought about the bird spirits I had met over the past year.  Pelican.  Kingfisher.  Heron.  Woodpecker.  Eagle.  Hummingbird.  And the one I had not seen, but wanted to very badly.  The one I had little hope of meeting, because I had no idea where to look.


That was it.  And I said as much to the Universe, very calmly and specifically.  “I want to see an owl.”  Then my ceremony moved on to the next thing.  And, frankly, I forgot completely about my request.

Now, when I asked to “see” an owl, the best I could imagine was to catch a glimpse of one soaring across the road in the near-dark of evening.  And that would have been enough for me—as long as I could see it sufficiently well to positively identify it as an owl.  When we made plans to travel south to Klamath, the objective was to see the “hundreds” of eagles wintering there—the stuff of birding legend.  In the end, there were no flocks of eagles.  In fact, I didn’t see any more eagles there than I might have on an afternoon trip across the channel to Sauvie Island. 

But let’s just say I was not disappointed.

Because the Universe gave me two gifts.  Owls.  And the understanding that the Almighty does indeed hear and grant specific requests.  Abundantly and in ways you would not venture to dream.

If you know what to ask for.

great owl pic

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On the "Sport" of Hunting (Repost from Oct. 2008)

This morning, I left for work just after dawn. I poked my head out my front door, and was greeted by the staccato pop! pop! pop! of shotgun fire from across the channel: Sportsmen taking potshots into the great flocks of game birds wintering in the wetlands on and surrounding Sauvie Island. That sound never fails to grip my heart and squeeze.

I hate guns.

My dad owned a pair of pistols and a rifle. They weren’t loaded, they weren’t kept at the ready in case some hoodlum broke into the house in the middle of the night intent on murdering us in our beds. In fact, the pistols were locked up in a metal strongbox.

Dad was brought up with guns; he grew up in a small town in Oregon where guns and hunting were part of the culture. He spoke proudly of earning enough money on his paper route to buy his first rifle when he was twelve years old. He treasured his guns as a connection to his roots, a memento of a time and place far away and fondly remembered.

But he respected their potential to create mayhem in the wrong hands…knew they really had no place in the sleepy, mid-century exurbs of Chicago. Dad’s guns lived in the back corner of my parents’ bedroom closet. We girls were sternly threatened never, ever to touch, look at, or interact with those guns in any way. Ever. So sternly that I don’t remember even being tempted to burrow into their hiding place to look at them. So began my hate affair with guns.

I’m no longer that frightened little girl, totally cowed by the demonic presence hiding in the dark reaches of her parents’ closet. But even in adulthood I have not acquired any love for or acceptance of the role of firearms in 21st century society. “Guns don’t kill. People kill.” Small comfort, really, when you think about it.

Today, with the sound of shotgun fire echoing in my ears, I wondered about mankind’s fascination with guns. And with killing.

Killing the animals over which, the Bible says, we were given dominion. And killing each other. For the hell of it.

What is wrong with us? Why must we kill? Why are we the only species on earth that has constructed such an elaborate ritual around the senseless killing of other animals? We call it “hunting.” We do it for sport. Not because we need the food. Not because these animals are capable of, or interested in, killing us if we don’t kill them. They don’t come looking for us. We take it to them.

We kill because we can. Because we want to. Because it gives us some kind of perverted feeling of power.

How sick is that?

Fall is my favorite time of year to walk on the dike. I go to see those stunningly huge flocks of birds flying in shifting waves across the marshes to the island. I go to hear their chaotic barking and honking. That sound always stirs up something wild and restless in me.

And when I think of some idiot dressed in camo with his designer dog at his heel, pointing a blunderbuss into those great wild flocks and blowing the life out of bird after bird for sport…for the fun of it…

I wonder where to hand in my resignation from this race that is truly beyond hope.

Here is the link to the original post so that you may read the comment thread that followed it, if you like...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Defining the NRA

I will admit, birding wasn’t the only thing I did while I was in Klamath Falls.  One of the upsides (or downsides, depending how you look at it) of staying in a motel instead of a campground is the presence of on-demand wi-fi.  I didn’t have to pack up my ‘puter and set up on a picnic table as close as possilbe to the nearest dwelling with an unprotected wireless internet connection, like I did last September at Big Eddy.  When I hit the room after a day on the Refuge, all I had to do was dump my camera stuff on the bed, open up my laptop and voila—the world was at my fingertips.

Lately, “the world” has included an embarrassing addiction to NPR stories covering the gun control debate, and the comment spaces provided below them.  What’s the allure?  I don’t know.  It’s like being hooked on a really bad serial drama.  You cringe and facepalm and beat your head on the desk at the inanity of it all, but you just can’t change the channel.  Those guys are hardcore.  They have their well-rehearsed list of talking points and rebuttals.  I’ve waged some toe-to-toe comment throwdowns with some of the worst offenders, but I don’t know why I bother.   They never color outside the lines of their collection of  “facts,” and if a pointed reasonable comment to which they have NOT got a rehearsed answer is presented by someone in the opposition, it’s treated like dead air   

Kind of reminds me of the presidential debates.

So there I sat, in the singularly uncomfortable motel chair with my feet on the identically uncomfortable motel ottoman, my Compaq in my lap, thrusting and parrying with gun lovers from across the US.  I wouldn’t call it entertaining.  It was more like the fast-track to a peptic ulcer.  The only good thing to come of it is that I have become familiar with the 21st-century gun lobby catechism.  And if you give too much weight to this very vocal minority (as is the wont of our intrepid American media) it will absolutely make you fear for the president, the Republic, the Constitution, and your own life.  Even put in the proper perspective, the most rabid gun-rights activists constitute an alarmingly well-indoctrinated group of fanatics who have no fear of throwing around threats that range from sedition to treason and all points in between.  I’m all for freedom of speech, but when it comes armed with an AR-15 and a 30-round magazine, something is distinctly out of whack.

I could go for pages and pages with diatribes against the gun lobby in general and the NRA in particular.  And I think I might just do that, in future posts.  But the reason I signed on here today was to issue a little challenge to my friends/readers/commenters.  I didn’t want to post this directly on Facebook, because…well, I have friends who, shall we say, wouldn’t appreciate the humor.  Anyway, as I sat contemplating the idea of a series of posts on gun control, I got to fooling around with the letters “N R A”, attempting to assign those letters to words which more truthfully, to my mind, described the mission of the organization bearing that acronym. 

I chewed on this for quite awhile this morning, came up with things like “Nutty Raving Anarchists” and “New Ridiculous Accusations.”  Neither of which is particularly noteworthy, but you get the picture.  Eventually I came up with one I really, really liked, but I’m keeping that a secret until the end of the challenge.

Post a comment with YOUR alternate meaning of NRA.  Then we’ll take a vote for the favorite.  Winner gets a prize TBD.  AND anyone guessing or independently matching MY personal brainstorm will get a prize as well.  Put your thinking caps on, now.  Ready?  Go! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


On a cold, clear evening in December a year ago, I conducted my first Solstice Celebration.  I lit my fire, meditated on the things that no longer served in my life, skewered them on a plum branch and torched them.  I sang to the spirits of my parents and scanned the sky for a messenger from the Almighty to give me some direction for the coming year.  It was a right satisfactory ceremony, in the manner of my newly divined spiritual direction.  So much so that I naturally decided to do it again for Solstice 2012. 
Circumstances were a little different this time around.  The day was not clear and crisp; it was soggy and misty, if not actively raining.  And instead of scribbling my “no longer serves” on paper and then igniting them, I wrote each thing on a scrap of cedar plank (left over from a “Cedar-plank salmon” special at the restaurant for a long-forgotten Valentine’s Day…), tossed it on the coals and watched it disappear—a slower and much more measured incineration than was provided by last year’s paper scraps.  Perhaps more symbolic, too, as the cedar planks could also represent the last remnants of cafĂ©-angst meeting extinction in the flames. 
The paper-to-wood conversion slowed down the process enough to allow me more consideration and rumination about the individual baggage as it burned.  Some burst into quick, cleansing flames.  Others lingered, and smoked, and eroded inch by inch.  It was impossible not to read too much into the manner or speed with which an individual plank was consumed.  Things like “fear” and “resentment” dutifully flared and blackened almost immediately.  “Idleness,” however, took a particularly long time to disappear; I couldn’t help but think that perhaps the Universe was not in complete agreement with me that “idleness” was a thing that no longer served.
Last year. I was confounded by the total absence of avian life present at my fire, even as I hoped that the almighty would send a special bird spirit to share some wisdom.  Eventually, Kingfisher executed a quick but meaningful fly-by, promising me success (in a project I never did determine); and exhorting me to indulge in daily physical exercise (for which I did develop some mojo along about September.) 
This time around, all my garden birds returned, one by one, to keep me company as soon as they determined that my fire was no threat to them.  I had juncos and starlings, sparrows, chickadees and little siskins.  But one particular bird had never shied away from my preparations.  He sat in the tree above my head and serenaded me with his squeaky-wheel aria for nearly every minute of my two-hour ceremony.  Just as I was beginning to sigh, “Well, I guess I’m not going to get a special visit from a bird-spirit this time around,” I got a “Pay Attention!!!” message from…somewhere.  “Listen!  What do you hear?  What have you been hearing for the past two hours?” 
Hummingbird.  In the tree.  Right above my head.  Tiny and ubiquitous, he had to sing his little heart out before I finally got The Message.
So…what is the message?  What does Hummingbird want me to know?  In what direction is he pointing me for the future?
This year, among my friends, it’s fashionable to choose a concept, or maybe just one word, to focus upon during the coming year, rather than make a list of New Year’s resolutions.  I think this idea has merit; aided by Hummingbird and the one word that appears to be associated with that spirit in every piece of reference material I have managed to unearth on the subject. 
The Almighty wants me to cultivate joy in my life.   
I am well into my second half-century on the planet.  As such, I think I have a pretty good idea of what makes me tick; where my buttons are and who or what I can count on to push them; who I am and who I probably will never be.  And I can attest to a remarkable lack of JOY in my life.
Not that I’ve been unhappy or feel that life has been unusually cruel to me.  But with my personality that leans toward the depressive and the negative, while I’ve had plenty of opportunity to plumb the depths of despair, I’ve rarely been able to put enough distance between myself and those depths to reach a height that could be described accurately as “joy.”  I’ve been happy; I’ve been content.  I’ve felt accomplished, and satisfied, and even playful.  But joy?  “Feelings of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind” (Encarta Dictionary)?  Not so much.
So the message, while on the surface seems all kinds of encouraging and positive, is as much a challenge to me as losing forty pounds or training for a marathon.  For starters, I have to really think about what gives me joy—not so easy for someone who has spent fifty-plus years believing that “not unhappy” might be as good as it gets. 
Where do I find joy in my life?  Music gives me joy.  Beauty gives me joy.  Creating something beautiful gives me joy.  Animals—my own animal family and whatever creatures I encounter out in the world—give me joy.  And of course, birds.  Birds give me joy. 
And somehow, I need to begin arranging my life to encompass way more of those things that bring me joy every day, every hour…rather than saving joy only as some kind of reward to be meted out after hard journeys through bleak circumstances.  Joy needs to become less the dessert and more the main course of my daily feast.  I confess—I have absolutely no idea how to go about this.    
This should be an interesting year.