Friday, August 28, 2015

What do we value?

Traveling for work, stepping from plane to shuttle to rental life and back I feel like an interloper from another world.

Excess surrounds me. Have a lot of money? Indulge in novelty like matching accessories or unnecessary doodads that I'm sure will look stunning in a landfill someday.

The buzz of conversation, boasts of spending money on frivolous things while whining about inability to pay one's own rent, and let's politely ignore that person layered up in stained shame outside sets me on edge.

What do we value? Cheap, novel goods overpriced and advertised in ways to feed our already oversized egos? Is this really who we've become? Toddlers with expense accounts in adult bodies?

Do we value each other or do we look at each other as steps to stand on and grind down with sharp judgements?

If we valued ourselves then we wouldn't choose to buy into a shallow, narcistic, self absorbed culture. Wouldn't we care more about appearances beyond the layers of makeup and tedious pop songs about getting screwed up and fucked?

It is hard to listen to boasts of waste, couched in immature terms when I see the faces of those living in another America. The voices of those who stand at the edge holding onto what others consider outdated moral codes are loud but to the multitude they are static, to some politicians they are silent. They are helping, feeding, caring. They are Americans I am honored to be proud of.  Roll down your window, you'll hear them. I share a post on homelessness and two people acknowledge it, I see posts on time wasting, ego feeding garbage and it's been shared thousands of times. Those two people, they're giants of amazing beauty in my world. Those people trying to support those without, those humans- they are incredible. You should aspire to be one or if you are one, you know how uch I appreciate you. Thank you.

I'm tired. Language is gagging me. You're beautiful. No, let's be honest. You look like you. Sometimes you look great, sometimes you don't. You're amazing. Let's be honest. Amazing is climbing Everest. I'm not even amazing. I'm tenacious, stubborn, blunt, aggressive and outgoing. I'm as gregarious as a summer day with the potential of storms or beauty or both. I'm unique. You're unique. Just like everyone else and there's millions of us. We've got to get over our need to be the special snowflake. Reality is there are millions and in the end they all melt away leaving a brief memory if that. It's harsh. It's true and it's past time we face it.

What do we value? Do we really value each other? Are we really caring or only when it's easy or there's publicity? Are we truly parasites feeding off each other, choosing to inflate prices and profits to become rich? Why do we put the rich on pedestals when many got there by stepping on and ruining others as well as traumatically wounding our environment?

We claim to love puppies and kitties but we don't get our fixed and thousands are inhumanly killed at shelters every day. Out of sight, out of our mind, and someone else's problem because "OMG did you see the new ******"  A friend died this year because of a treatable infection. I have months of dialogue, trying to connect him with help. Him falling through holes. Him in pain. Him alone. In pain. Posting from another friend that he was dying, dying, gone. It's unreal. Talk about something you don't need but dropped hundreds on. I see his dead face. You should too. Remember being human and caring for each other first?

What kind of world are we shaping?

I live in two world. I step out of an airplane among Elloi then walk back around the corner among the morlocks. My face doesn't change. I'm in the same skin. Both acknowledge me as if I were kin.

A shuttle driver warned me last night I was staying in a dangerous hotel. I thanked him and told him good. When someone needs help, I'll be in the right place. He actually paused at the next intersection and looked at me. He said I was right and more people should. I told him, it's a choice I make to be human not ruled by money or appearances. It's about doing what's right and taking it with you where you go. It's not always easy and it's not glamorous. It is the American I choose to be.

So I'll ask again, what do you value? If you stepped outside yourself and heard yourself would you be proud or embarrassed? Why are we so bent on being shallow. Beauty isn't the packaging, it's what is inside and how we choose to live.

Next time you get a chance step into another world, a world that exists in this one. One that's real and ugly. One that reminds you you are normal, average, one of millions. Unremarkable and soon forgotten. Now go forward. Become something more through your actions not your purchases or peacocking.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Life is a River

Currents bring us together and pull at us trying to move us along to an unknown ocean. We find ourselves marveling at brief moments of connection and inspiration, wading through the tedium of traffic and glamorless to do lists.

Last week held a visit to the Chicago Botanical gardens, seeing the corpse flower preparing for ten years to bloom. The flower will reek of rotting meat and last less than a day. I went to meditate at King Sauna in Chicago, only to find it a sad, small version of the Dallas one. I went into different rooms to clear my mind, but there was a constant loud urban buzz of conversation even in the midnight hour that penetrated the tranquil mineral lined walls of the sauna rooms. Several local ladies mentioned the noise, warning me with their frustrated conversation. They noted they prefer to go to the Russian Banya in town, the Red Door.

In my mind, I was ready to step into peaceful meditation. To become a puddle of thought, intention and release. To take the time to think on all of my friends, to picture each and send them positive thoughts and love. I was mentally prepared for Dallas King Sauna, with its quiet and serene atmosphere. I wasn't ready for the irritating buzz that made my mind feel like I was standing on a mild electrical current like some strange sad bug.

I left.

I may try Red Door I may let it pass.

We went out in the canoe on Bush Lake in Minnesota, playing with the theory of using wind power by holding an umbrella but that did not quite work as an effective sail.

This week I'm watching time slide through my fingers quicker than my grasp. Next week will be here faster than a nice, long hot shower. Time and its variable pace seem determined to watch me dance, amused at my two left feet. Many companies profit off our desperate battle to conserve time, knowing we will pick a known mediocre over a potential excellent exerpience because we've got an idea of what to expect.

Today, I voted with my wallet. I went to a local shop and had the best sub sandwich I've had in years. I read reviews of area eateries in Antioch, Wisconsin. Sadly, Taco Bell had one of the highest reviews. Restaurant owners, cooks have you forgotten that the consumer wants food you prepare not food you slop out of a can? We can all open cans and make push button microwave meals. Serve real food! Seeing some of the local options with canned cheese food product poured in a pudding textured clump on my baked potato has become the best appetite killer I've found. I miss Tres Banderas, cooking the sauces from scratch, chopping the vegetables fresh, and making healthy food.

What we buy and what we share is what there becomes more of. No excuses, let's try to choose wisely. Let's pick our vitamins based on their absorption rather than price, marketing slogan or company name. Let's consider that choosing wisely conserves more quality time for the future.

Life is a River. If you pour garbage in, you get garbage. Your river may pollute others or end up in a nasty muck pool where it stagnated until the sun dries it up. How you choose to live effects more than you. If you tend the waters, the environment around you, your river is lovely and healthy. Your river could become an ocean.

This week I'm moving fast but I will still take time for the sunsets. I will still vote with my dollar. I will eat wisely. How about you?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Where would you go? Chicago

Earlier this week I found myself paying what seemed like endless tolls to enter Chicago. Several contracts made a journey into downtown necessary.

I thought about the city. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. I'm exaggerating, that was a couple miles down the road. I always have to brace myself for a trip into the heart of a large metropolis. The cities are everything I find repugnant wrapped around hidden gems of culture, art, and humanity. I consider a trip into the city like wading into a sewer to see priceless artworks, constantly being pushed by a faceless mob of moving people as dehumanizing as the scent of sewage and asphalt makes breathing require effort. It was easier to breathe at fourteen thousand feet in Colorado.

What would I see, where would I go to make it worthwhile? What jewel could lure me and raise my spirits?

Long ago I read a fictional book about the 1893 World Fair held in Jackson Park. Great minds, incredible people all came together there for an event that drew over twenty seven million people from all corners of the globe. I found my purpose. Most traces of the event have been reclaimed by time, but a few hints are there. I wanted to walk where Buffalo Bill performed, where inventors pitched ideas that are now well recognized products we use every day.

I worked my way south. I found Lincoln Park first, only familiar with it because of a band who took it's name as their own. Ironically, the park is nothing like the alternative metal band. Lincoln Park had a diverse farmers market closing as I arrived. I snagged a reasonably priced raspberry smoothie and wandered the nature boardwalk. There is a free Zoo in the park and I enjoyed seeing the animals in large, well designed areas set up to meet their needs. I wondered if the animals think they are at a place where they observe odd human behavior every day. One of the seals cruised by me on his back, but he didn't give me any answer when I asked.

I had seen a Conservatory as I had driven along the park, looking for parking. I thought it charged admission, but was willing to pay for the visit. I was delighted to walk in and find it was as free as the boardwalk and zoo. I petted the leaves of a coffee plant, smiled at the face of a bat flower and admired gorgeous orchids I'd never even dreamed could exist.

Between appointments I went to Millennium Park. I walked across the winding ribbon of the BP Bridge wishing the company would be as considerate of the environment as they are of city pedestrians. I marveled at the new climbing walls and children's play areas. I caught a picture of myself in the mirror egg, wondering why everyone else stood with their backs to the mirrored surface while they mugged for selfies.

Work pulled my from the lovely parks, I walked the sidewalks with many people who all carefully did not look at each other. Somehow it seemed like they each walked alone in separate empty streets even though they walked shoulder to shoulder. I smiled, made eye contact and said hello to the brave and gregarious. I passed dejected folks in stained clothing with cardboard signs, drummers snapping out rhythms on snare drums and an incredible jazz band lost in a song at a congested intersection. I caught waves of asphalt and sewage city stink.

I found myself back in the throngs working my way to my car so I could go to the place I sought the most. Jackson Park. Parking at Millennium park and Lincoln Park was expensive, it ran about twenty dollars.

Jackson Park was different. Parking was three dollars and fifty cents for a couple of hours instead of twenty three. I walked around the whole park. Most people looked at me, I like to think it was because of my hat. There was a golf course, basketball courts, soccer fields, and the Osaka gardens I'd come to explore. I stood at the base of the approximately twenty foot tall statue that was gifted to Chicago, after the sixty foot tall original Statue of the Republic was destroyed in a fire. I sat underneath trees and enjoyed visualizing how different it was in 1893. No smartphone, no cars, most clothing handmade or natural fiber, electricity was still pretty new. No fast food or gas stations. Are you starting to picture it too? Gas lights on the corners and horses pulling carriages down streets.

I found a stone honoring Fredrick Douglass as he'd dedicated the first gazebo in the park. It wasn't large, I almost missed it. The park is being renovated to bring back native plants and animals so the gardens were closed. I walked the Bobolink trail, watching a comorant spread and stretch its wings before diving into the water.

I walked around the Science museum and met several friendly locals, who politely discussed the beauty of the day and the history of the park. The botanical gardens were recommended. Yvonne and I talked for almost an hour at my car. Jackson park might have historical significance, but it's low income area. My skin color stood out when I'd first walk up, but my smile and excited nerd babble found a warm welcome and my color quickly faded from thought.

Chicago, Jackson Park is your history, it is the spirit of your city. Take as good care of it as you do Lincoln Park. Do you know, the folks I met, who go to Jackson park often were unaware of it's history. They found it delightful that someone would come to the city just to see their park, they enjoyed learning about the park. It was a wonderful experience.

I have several more ventures into the city ahead of me. The botanical gardens and King Sauna are my motivations.

Where would you go? My journey was directed by history, literature, innovation, and music. Lincoln park, Millennium Park and Jackson Park.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Chance Of Sun

Fifty years ago, the world was different. Technology was not so advanced. We live in a temperature controlled world where the only exposure to weather might be the race to and from a vehicle, and for the few agonizing moments until the vehicle blasts us with our desired warming or cooling air.
We have water proof boots, waterproof coats, cloaks, pants and shirts. We have washers and dryers that can take a soaked item of clothing and dry it in less than an hour.
No longer are we pawns being shuffled around on a chessboard between weather and time. Somehow, we forget that. We do not prepare for weather or like small children with terrified eyes we race for shelter rather than embracing the power we have.
In this modern day, it is possible to prepare and enjoy events in an outdoor venue without getting sick, without risking our lives like we might have centuries ago. I marvel when I am walking in the lanes at a festival storytelling, when I feel a single drop of rain land like a gentle butterfly on my arm only to look up and see a large throng of people politely walk racing to their cars. One drop. I struggle against my imagination which considers that perhaps these rushing folk are made of spun sugar, perhaps they all have dental appointments they forgot and now they're racing there belatedly. Perhaps it is a secret race they plotted in the morning, like musical chairs with cars played in the parking lot?
Once the throng is gone my heart leaps with delight to see the wise and brave folk who stay to play and shop. Gradually, their numbers grow as they tell their stories of personal interactions, excellent customer service, sometimes even occasions where they have gotten private shows instead of fighting for elbow room in vast crowds.
When I see a picture of rain in the forecast with a chance of rain below fifty percent I still wonder why the picture is rain. Less than even odds it will happen, yet the picture is pessimistic and nudges people in the historical direction of staying inside to avoid catching a cold.

Haven't we learned to dress for the weather? Haven't we learned hand washing? Haven't we learned to eat healthy and take our vitamins?

Technology has changed, today there is a chance of Sun.

Several years ago I was storytelling on a rainy day at Minnesota Renaissance Festival. I told people all day, rainbows are magnetic. Paint rainbows on my dress and enough of them would create a strong pull. Strong enough to pull the sun out and stop the rain. Folks laughed, painted and enjoyed the stories I gave them. We did not really pay attention to the rain, everyone was dressed for it. Everyone had fun. Late in the day, a woman came back. She had a look of tragic shock on her face. A friend offered assistance, she declined. She caught my attention. She pointed at the sky. She pointed at the golden sun. "How? I mean, how could you? There's no way. I thought you were joking. I don't know how you did it." I gave her a smile.

Her world is now a different one. It is a world where the impossible can happen and sometimes does. In her world a woman genuinely calling for rainbows to be painted in the hundreds on her clothing can pull the sunlight through the clouds and nudge the rain away, at least for a while on a festival day. Perhaps more of us should believe in the chance of Sun, more of us should bravely prepare and explore the world on gray days.

Pessimism is easy, negativity is like gravity drawing water down a hillside. Optimism takes effort but should not. Curious that auto correct did not even realize it was a word, while pessimism popped right up.

I tell people every day in the streets, we often remember to say what is wrong. We rarely say the things we know are true, the things that are good. You are beautiful. The weather is perfect. Lines are short. Service was excellent. Sincerity is appreciated.

We shape the world with choices. We choose often from our mood. What mood do you carry with you? Do you carry a rainbow or a storm?

Today I carry a chance of Sun, come and add to my dress. The more rainbows there are, the more it will draw the sun. Rainbows cannot be without rain and Sun, we can work together to shift the world. We can be magnetic. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Study of Life as as Jigsaw Puzzle

Each weekend brings huge crowds, festive spirits and stories bubble out as I am inspired by those painting me at Bristol Renaissance Festival. It is a marvelous place, full of excitement, joy, and magic. It is an honor to be perform at such a wonderful show. If you have never been, it is excellent. It is about the same size historically as Bristol in England was back in the 1500s. It is mapped out like a real town, with streets and cross streets as well as several ponds on site. Talented musicians, skilled crafters, and gifted entertainers are everywhere you look; from wonderful braids to Birds of Prey- you can find the best at Bristol. One of my friends told me I was walking on clouds, wondering why I was so happy. I thought about it. Lively imaginations of patrons, playful hearts, and new friends to be made. Being in a place where I am appreciated and nurtured by festival and public makes a world of difference. I feel like I fill my paint bottles and slip into another world on the weekends.
Author, storytelling at a festival as "The Painted Lady" while children paint. 

On sunday night I shower off and step back into this one. Where to this week? This week I am visiting the Minneapolis area. When I arrived we immediately left to visit Minnehaha Falls and to have Red Snapper at a Mexican Restaurant on Lake St. Minnehaha Falls is a beautiful waterfall in a park in the middle of Minneapolis, with trails along the river and a restaurant serving fish and homemade ice cream. No one rushes around there, music always seems to fill the air from buskers outside the restaurant.
Minnehaha Falls after sunset. 

Looking down the trail at Danny Lord, it looks like we left Minnesota and stepped into a tropical paradise. 

Behind the Falls. 

Author at Minnehaha Falls, Minnesota

Yesterday found us napping on benches overlooking the city at Prospect park. Rumor has it that Dylan was inspired to write "All Along The Watchtower" there, but Dylan has never resolved the question by identifying his muse. Was it an inspiring place? Possibly, it was a comfortable spot to doze off in the sun.
The Witches Hat Water Tower that Might have Inspired Dylan

Heron painted near the door of the Water Tower.

Truly an inspiring view. 

Realizing we had hours until sunset, we decided to visit Fort Snelling as well. We were greeted by staff dressed as if they were back in the 1800s at the Fort. They shared history but were not historical characters. I enjoyed a music lesson on a gourd banjo and watching the black smith strike steel and flint, which is a little trickier than you'd think.

Dinner at A&Js was the best walleye in the Twin Cities, then we made our way to Lake Harriet for sunset. We listened to polkas and tangos played in the bandshell by talented local musicians as couples danced. We sat at the water's edge and watched ducks try to mooch snacks from onlookers who might give in to their cuteness. I was relieved to see that most respected the duck's normal diet and did not give treats to encourage unhealthy eating habits in wildlife. If you want to feed them, they do not naturally eat bread or sweets so please refrain from human food for wildlife. The sky went pink, reflecting on the water amidst the resting sailboats.

Sunset at Lake Harriet, Minnesota

Today brings clouds and the potential for rain, we'd had plans of going out in canoes and kayaks on Lake Calhoun. Instead we're looking at indoors options for fun. We've been doing a few mundane responsible chores in-between our adventures. Picking up medications, filling out forms, updating vehicle registration, and standing in lines.  Plotting the next few weeks in travel.

I have a list of places to go from Michigan to Ohio, St. Louis to Indianapolis. I have several places to go in Chicago. Time, cost, and travel expenses as well as scheduling need to be brought together in an effective way. I will be pulling maps and plotting routes, enjoying the adventure but missing the time with my loved ones while work carries me into the wind for another race through the states. I am looking forward to the chance of seeing and hugging friends whose voices I have not heard in months or years. I am looking forward to taking the time to stop and see some of the beautiful places, to inspire me to return for longer visits in the future. On occasions like this, I think how much I live like an old time Scout. Ahead of the group, taking care of myself and exploring to report back to everyone on the wonders and experiences I have found so that others might walk the best and brightest paths to appreciate them as well.

Safe travels to you, if you follow in my footsteps; give hugs to my friends. Share my greetings from afar and know that as I stood, walked, sat at these places I thought of the day that you might do the same in those very places where you find yourself.

Life is always a jigsaw puzzle, sometimes we think all the pieces are together only to have them spill to the floor. Sometimes pieces are lost, while new pieces from other puzzles may fit and make unpredictable changes to the whole. When I travel frequently I feel like I am holding random pieces in my hand. I think they fit, I find that reality changes their form as events unfold. In the end they may turn out to be a handful of dust or a handful of gold; a lot depends on chance. Good luck!