Waking Up

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The post-election Supermoon of 2016.

The morning after the US election, I woke up strangely calm. I didn’t expect that reaction. And then I remembered; I’ve been through this rodeo before. On a personal level. Ironically, or maybe fortuitously, I’d been studying our president-elect’s particular personality disorder during the months leading up to our national November surprise, trying to get a handle on the kind of panic and physical paralysis I experience every time I hear him speak on TV.

His rhetoric throws me back to my old childhood and even recent adult showdowns with family members who exhibit the same traits. In or out of therapy, I’ve used all the tactics that have played out on the national stage in social media and comment threads. Anger, denial, defensiveness, sarcasm, blame, finger-pointing, compliance, withdrawal, pleading, compromise, escape, negotiation, a blind eye, even an occasional proactive offensive — you name it, I’ve tried it. Some of them seemed to work, at first. But in the end, what little gains I’d thought I’d made were just illusions, part of the narcissist’s great charm in promising you the moon but vanishing before you come to collect at sunrise.

I have neither solutions nor cures to offer. As long as the narcissist is getting what he or she wants, there is no motivation to change. It’s a very hard addiction to break. But what I do know is this: that hunger for the spotlight can never be satiated. The more attention (negative or positive) that is fed, the hungrier the appetite. I can only imagine that the gnawing search for more must be a form of hell on earth. And while I must forgive in order to be set free from the vicious dance I participate in as a narcissist’s compliant partner or even adversary, I will not forget.

What’s at stake is the sanctity of life for all of us, narcissists included. The ones in my life have taught me the hard way that no matter what I do or sacrifice for them, it’s never enough. Instead of beaming all our attention on the insatiable ones, I vote that we focus on ourselves, the stars of our own reality shows. We may not determine our outcomes, but we can control our outlooks. Do we sustain healthy boundaries? Do we care too much about what others think of us? Are we doing what’s important or just marking time, filling up space? Are we aware of the lessons being taught to us, supporting us, warning us? Are we awake?

I, for one, have seen the enemy, and behind all the bluster and bravado, they look just like us. In fact, they are us. We all play our parts in this tango, whether we lead or not. And if one partner changes the steps, the other must react, one way or another. Sometimes we follow, sometimes we break apart. And maybe, just maybe, we find a new rhythm, a new dance.

It’s time to get to work.

Leap Day


On this extra day of 2016, I have taken the leap, plunging into a brave new world of creative expression. I’ve pulled out my painting equipment from winter’s closet, and brushed off the brushes. Palettes have been scraped clean of old doubts and crusty fears, big ideas packed for the move and my muses notified of my new location.

My calling cards come in the form of a new blog, a fresh Instagram account and a different email address. Like the proud new owner of a second home, I will split my time between the original writer’s cottage of Suburban Satsangs and a recently acquired rustic artist’s cabin called Paints in the Parks.

As with any major move, I’m sure that adjustments will be made in this transition. The mental furniture may need to be rearranged and ego expectations repainted. But I find that there’s nothing that a summer’s worth of fresh forest and field of flowers won’t fix. I look forward to flinging my door wide in welcome to babbling brooks, gushing waterfalls, stoic cliffs and mysterious caves.

And of course, my door is always open to you, dear reader. I hope you’ll make the leap with me and that I’ll see you soon at my new digs.

Writing for Art

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My tradition the last few years has been to choose a “word” for the year, starting in January. My word for 2015 was “Write,” and while I confess that I did write a fair bit, my greatest efforts weren’t in the form I’d imagined last year. Instead of the usual creative outlets like journal entries, poetry or even that book I keep promising to self-publish, I spent a huge chunk of my time in the throes of the hardest writing of my life — along with the blinking cursor of an online grant application that I filled out last fall.

As a grizzled veteran of numerous English research papers and an agonizingly procrastinated Master’s thesis, this is no small claim. The precise language and focused nuances required in proposing my project and asking for funding threw me into a strange new world, since I struggled to accurately portray a vision that would benefit the public as well as my own personal pursuits. You see, this particular grant focuses on creating art outside in state parks, and in my case, that art will be visual rather than verbal.

That’s right, my battles with the written page have been transferred to the terrors of a blank canvas, all in the name of celebrating art in nature. And I will gladly take on that challenge if I can convert even one person to the joys of spending artistic time outdoors, whether it’s to write a poem, compose a song, dance a jig, or set up an easel to paint.

Plus, I’ll be able to travel to some of the most beautiful natural settings that Indiana has to offer with a trusty assistant (my husband), and invite the great outdoors to be my personal work space. In the weeks to come, you’ll see a new WordPress blog called Paints in the Parks detailing my journey as I paint scenic landscapes in six state parks while I research my painting subjects and interact with the park visitors who stop by my easel. I hope you’ll join me on this artistic ride, either by blog or in person.

I believe that in our modern society, we spend too much time cooped up in homes or offices that can become self-made prison cells, preoccupied with the flickering screens of fake connections and false avatars, while a sentient world lies just outside our doors, at the bus stop, on the bike trails, in the parks, and under the shade trees in our backyards; all waiting to be celebrated through ART — my word for 2016.

The Art in Earth

Day 31: My Word For 2016
Day 31: My Word For 2016

My word for 2016 is ART; the art of living well, the art of compassionate coexistence, the art of intuitive creation, the art of health and healing, of joy and humor as well as grief and letting go. One of our greatest gifts is to see the art in life, since after all, there would be no Earth without Art. Happy New Year of photographic and literary art to all who read here. May there be plenty of art in your future.

Thanks so much to Susannah Conway for her December Reflections  photo prompts again this year. During this hectic and stressful season, she has prompted the art of mindful reflection from life’s photographic window seats with contemplative comments that helped me process the world with hope and love for all.

The Latest Word

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I could come up with a lot of excuses why I didn’t write much last year: surviving a polar vortex without power, the resulting major downsize and move, over 4000 miles of family-related travel, technology updating, complete lifestyle and dietary overhauls, not to mention my forays into choral singing, Instagram and meditative art projects. But I won’t go there. Okay, I just did, but it all added up to an open invitation, apparently, to forsake my pen, paper and laptop.

This is my fourth year of One Little Word, and I’ve learned by this time around that, like wishes, you have to be careful what word you choose. Case in point, my pick for last year sure turned out to be a doozy. And still going strong because I find the momentum unstoppable. In fact, just putting a single word down on the un-erasable paper of your psyche can have a profound impact. Saying it out loud is even better. And physically writing it out, well now, that can have the biggest punch of all.

Despite deceptively simple instructions, careful consideration must always be taken in making your choice. Forever looking for an easy way out, I’d hoped it would be a breeze to actually write my Word for 2015, because it is WRITE. But as you can see, I’ve taken half of January to get the guts to announce this here on the blog. And even longer to sit my derrière down and do the work. (Steven Pressfield is my writing guru at the moment.)

So, I’m starting the year with a fresh journal, a new blog template and much resistance. Plus knowledge that the simplest word can be the hardest.

Huh. Go figure.

And while you’re at it, go figure out what yours is. Trust me. Word.

The Downsizing Dozen: Case of the Missing Mac

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Well, this has been an interesting October. While one would hardly call me a Luddite, I was reduced to a smart phone, some stolen moments with my husband’s computer, and the throwback of pen upon paper, while my ancient five-year-old laptop was away for updates.

I admit that I was one of the lingering Mac users who still clung to the old Snow Leopard pride in operating systems while the rest of the world marched on to bigger cats, and eventually became mavericks reaching new heights in Yosemite. When links failed to open, secured sites became insecure, and social media lambasted me to change my browser with such frequency that I could’t ignore the situation any longer, I reluctantly scheduled surgery that would require wiping my laptop and restoring its information.

What caused such fear of change? Not so long ago, I eagerly embraced the latest operating system or newfangled gadget that would supposedly enhance my life. In a word, it is “digital,” a battle cry for minimalism, and the blessing and bane of my life. During my Great Downsizing Purge of 2014, and even before, I extolled its virtues while digitizing music, photos and documents, and backing them up in various formats.

The problem with updates and interconnecting devices, however, is that sometimes you are locked out of older program versions after updating, or your phone, computer and tablet can gang up on you in the Cloud these days, deciding to delete everything in your best interests. This, along with the realization that I’ve digitized nearly all my meaningful music, writing and photos since 2003, is enough to give me pause.

So, in October I spent an inordinate amount of time googling worst-case scenarios and possible options while waiting for my beloved word processor to return from Apple’s latest mountaintop, wondering if it could even survive the thin air of progress much less work properly. I’m happy to report that it’s running well with a fresh outlook under the lid, although my old friend came home to find a new grandchild added to the family, a tiny tablet with better retinal vision and response time than its elder.

For now, we’re progressing cautiously, with a bigger backup arsenal, a variety of devices to do the job, and a little more confidence.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, and Following Your Feet in September.

The Goodbye Girl

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Since my office/bedroom window faces west above the driveway, if I’m lucky there’s a gorgeous sunset to spotlight the exits of important people in my life, as they drive off to perform other enterprising roles.

I, on the other hand, remain offstage in shadowy self-employed uncertainty, waiting for all that is churning inside of me to appear on the written page.

Meanwhile, those snowy prima donna piles have disappeared, a budding chorus is ready to burst its buttons, and soon novice tips of palest green should timidly reach out to test a line that is just passing through.

Despite changes in scenery, no doubt I will stay at my post as chief cook and window waver, listening for a cue.

The Chopped Wood Blogiversary

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Five years ago this week, emboldened by some success on BlogHer, I hit the publish button to a maiden post on my first blog. I had a vague idea about what my subject matter would be, and of course, posting actual photos for each entry wouldn’t occur to me for another six months or more, but I gradually learned my widgets and minded my stats.

Since then, I have not looked back, but you can in the archives to the right. Considering the variety of categories listed over there, Suburban Satsangs has covered some eclectic ground over the years, and helped me to reconcile the many hats I’ve worn as wife, mother, empty-nester, librarian, gardener, cook, minimalist, photographer, poet, knitter and squirrel wrangler.

And what about those lofty notions from the muddled muse, temperamental truth seeker and lazy New Ager? Well, that my friends will always be a work in progress. With the stars as my guide and nature for my teacher, I’ll never run out of lessons. Or busywork for that matter–you know, the daily act of getting out of bed to fetch water, chop wood.

Ah, but the path to enlightenment is never smooth, particularly when trying to post during a Mercury Retrograde (yes, we’re having another one right now). Still, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The gratifying part about exposing your foibles to the world in a blog, comes from great folks you meet in the comments and WordPress readers. I am very honored that all of you who stop by, choose to spend precious time reading my wordy whimsies. Thank you so much.

In a few weeks, I hope to show my gratitude by offering to faithful readers a collection of the most popular posts from Suburban Satsangs (preferably after Mercury is on its merry way forward again). Stay tuned, my friends and keep an eye peeled.

The best is yet to come.

The Year of Movement

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My garage door won’t close. When I lower it automatically, the bottom hits the concrete of our driveway raised by frost heave and sensing obstruction, heads back up. If I don’t pay attention closely enough, I might drive away with my house gaping to the world, my interior exposed for scrutiny.

Like some kind of door wrangler, I’ve become adept at hitting my opener at the precise moment to keep the door down and the seal as tight as possible. We’ve stuffed towels in gaps along the sides to prevent another polar vortex from bursting our pipes. And still, when I enter my garage, I feel a frigid breeze on the inside and realize how futile it is to deny the winds of change.

Not wanting to undo our elaborate barricades, the whole family’s been stuck for days. Our cars are imprisoned in the so-called protection of our attached garage, and it’s too dangerously cold to walk anywhere. We each have our own way of dealing with solitary confinement. I look out my dirty windows and judge what goes on outside through the customary glass and filters. Weather forecasts grow bleaker each time I obsessively check my smartphone and supposed friends on impersonal social networks thank lucky stars that their “reality” isn’t mine.

Even a large batch of silly robins who never left are stuck, hunkered down in windbreaks with their pale red breasts puffed out and deathly quiet, hoping for a whiff of spring. Their presence in January mocks my sense of timing. What am I waiting for? Vocation, health, dreams and dinner choices — all glued in frozen molasses to my fears of what might be.

Reflected in the grimy winter window, I recognize my parents’ and grandparents’ reluctance to leave their cold misery for unknown sunnier climes, and realize I am hovering perilously close to that ice age of stagnation.

So, my word for 2014 is MOVEMENT. It starts right now. First, I clean the windows. Then, I develop an exit strategy from all the mental impediments I have carefully crafted over past decades. Road map in hand (my mind doesn’t hear the voices of GPS), I can finally pull away the insulating tape and draft guards against an overactive imagination, freeing my way out to a different future with no guarantees.

And I will not look back to see if the door has reopened or the latch didn’t quite catch, revealing shameful tales of entrapment inside my old interiors. Perhaps someone else can learn from the fearful furniture and ruined reservations I’ve left behind.

There Will Be Chalk Dust

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I’m a big-time smudger. Ever since I was a child who proudly wore her grubby cuffs ringed with graphite, I’ve avoided the crisp-edged side of reality, preferring my world pushed into impressionistic blur across a page.

I like to use my fingers, really get into the grain, smoothing out wrinkles on those foreheads of landscape and still life. And while my sketch pencils need to have sharp wits about them, the pastels should lay out soft as new love.

I favor big sheets of textured paper and a long enough ruler to start out straight before a rip tide of color takes me off to faraway lands, where petals move on a slight breeze and flesh glows with every shade other than the wax of its crayola namesake.

There is no better bliss than the suggestive tint from warm afternoon windows, tunes cranked up a little too loud, a wineglass full of ruby, and time stopping to take a look at what flows from under this dusty hand. Why do I always forget how good this feels once underway, counting back the years I’ve been stalled like some stubborn old man with too many regrets in his pocket to begin again.

None of those sinkholes from the past matter when it is just for you.