31. How To Learn How

December 30, 2017

When I was much younger than I am now, I wanted to become a firefighter.* Never mind why; it’s a long story. I was small compared to the male firefighter Wanna-Bes I was competing with. I went to the gym and pumped a whole lot of iron and didn’t get much bigger but I did get hecka-strong. (It took a while.) I applied at every fire department hiring opportunity that came up and took the tests. First is the written – easy enough if you study hard. (You should study really hard.) Next, if you pass the written, you get to take the physical agility test.

I failed the physical agility tests of the first three departments I tried for, at first by a mile, and then by inches, and finally by 2/10 of a second. I went back to the gym. I put in an application at another fire department, and took another test. I failed another one. Maybe two. I forget now, because  once I passed, It didn’t matter, I would pass some more…

I had to fail, to learn how. I had never encountered those kinds of challenges, or even those kinds of objects, lifting and carrying heavy rolls of fire-hose, climbing the 100-foot aerial ladder, dragging the 160-pound dummy through the tunnel. (In the beginning, I only weighed 112 pounds myself.) Very early I learned two Essential Truths, and I’ll share them with you in a minute.

There are wonderful things you can learn from books, that’s one of the reasons I love them so much. But there are some things you cannot learn that way. You can’t learn how to play home-run baseball… out of a book. You can’t learn how to downhill ski… out of a book. And you can’t learn how to be a firefighter and perform the skills a firefighter must do extremely well, very quickly, and absolutely reliably… out of a book. Here comes one of those Essential Truths I mentioned:

Essential Truth #1: The only way to learn how to do it is to do it.

Take downhill skiing, for example. The first day when you go out to the bunny hill with big awkward boots and slats for feet, what’s going to happen? Right! You fall on your butt. Not once, but many times. There will be people around who will see you fall on your butt. Little kids will laugh. Some adults will smile smugly. Others will be annoyed because you’re messing up the good snow with your sit-splats, and getting in everybody’s way. “She shouldn’t even be here! She doesn’t know how to ski at all.”

The next day, you will again fall on your butt in front of everybody. A lot. But probably you will be doing a little bit better, and there will be thrilling moments when just for short distances, you get it, and miraculously, it works. It feels like flying! Your heart, for sure, is flying. Now when you fall, you get up quicker, you want some more of that good feeling.

By the third or fourth day,  your spirits soar. You get that feeling more times, for longer moments, right before each time you crash clumsily again. But now you will be up more of the time than down, and though not exactly smoothly or elegantly, you are skiing!

And pretty much like that, in spite of a very steep learning curve, I had to learn how to be a firefighter by doing the things a firefighter does. There was no other way. That meant falling on my butt in front of people a lot, and getting up again.

We who aspire to be writers, like anyone learning any skill, must expect the same process.  In the beginning, it’s the beginning. While the first levels of success in skiing may take a few days, writing more likely will take a few years. We’re learning how to express our gift. For every great writer, there was a beginning. Thus, Essential Truth #1 about writing: The only way you can learn how to do it is to do it. But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself. Oh, and the skiing is fun too.

Essential Truth #2: Failure is a necessary part of success.

Falling down is one of the first things we all do in life. For a new-born person, this is necessary, inherent, and totally valuable. Failure is how we learn what to do and what not to do. There is no other way. 

We never learn as much from success as we do from failure. Therefore, allow yourself this part of the path. Expect to not be brilliant at anything right away. Expect a cartload of disappointments and possibly humiliations along the way. These do not prove you are un-brilliant. They only mark your serious commitment to the truest and best expression of whatever is your unique personal gift. It may be different from most people. Many people live their whole lives without expressing their truth, not because they don’t have any gifts, but because they don’t have the enormous courage it takes to do it.

Don’t be one of those. Fly down the snowtrails, again and again. Fall on your butt with joy if possible, or with determination if not, and then with embarrassed, wounded, but unconquerable pride, Get up.  Fall down, get up, keep going. Fall down, get up, keep going. Fall down, get up, keep going. You can do this,  if you want it bad enough. Because if it truly is your path, you will do it.

*I did become a firefighter and served eight years with Alameda County OES Fire Department as a line firefighter and officer.
ofcr me w2w

30. The Path: Life After Life

December 18, 2017

When my dearest, nearly-lifelong best friend Lynn developed Alzheimer’s and left us all behind, it was so hard, so painful for all of us who loved her. We were many, and we loved her so much. She lingered here for years physically, but gone from us in every other way. When she passed away gently in her sleep, in a way it was a sweet relief, and even though we cried for ourselves, we didn’t cry for Lynn. She was free again. Free to explore other adventures and discover new trails, as she had always loved to do. She was always the one out ahead of us, a joyful trailblazer in life. She still is, just on a trail we can’t follow as closely now, but someday will. Vaya con Dios, Amada, hermana de mi corazón.

Along my way I have learned that God/ Spirit/ Universal Consciousness doesn’t like Why-questions. But there are some things that even though I can’t understand, still I have begun to make some sense of, and stop my struggling to figure everything out.

I believe there are some things we simply are not given to know. God knows, and watches out for us, I can see the proof of this in my own life. But God, whatever that is, also allows us to blunder if we choose to, and wander off the path, and stumble, and even sometimes fall hard as we are learning to run, but never lets us stray too far. If we lose our way, or if we hunger for a greater challenge than this life holds, God can always call us home. Then in the morning, we begin again.

29. Not For Women Only

December 14, 2017

An unexpected and historic upsurge – women speaking up and taking action, the ME TOO movement has exploded one of the critical issues of our time into full view, with firm demands for legal consequences. These women won’t shut up and “just take it” anymore. The victimization of “the weaker sex” and the ignoring of it by the Good Old Boys clubs in every profession, starting at the top, are being called to account. These women are kicking butt & taking names, and toppling giants from their thrones like dominoes in a row.

As more women claim their right to power and choice, we discover that women do have power. In the past we fell for the standard lie that women should not have power and choice, and were wrong to want any. Women should always defer to men in important matters. This and all the other lies we were taught in childhood, for boys and girls alike, will continue to hold us hostage unless and until we see the truth, claim it for ourselves, and go for it. That is what’s happening now, at a time when humanity desperately needs a new paradigm.

Wars don’t work. (Look at the history of humankind and get a clue.) We profoundly need a different way of problem-solving, instead of just endlessly problem-bashing with bombs and weapons of destruction. The abuse, rape, and exploitation of the Earth’s environment are the result of this same principle, the bully boss, who feels entitled to take more than his share of everything. This is a leadership style which has reached the end of its usefulness and crossed the line from abuse to destruction. We now know that we MUST go another way, or else commit suicide/murder of our planet, and along with it, put an end to God’s experiment with the creature of free will.

All of this distills down to a few individual and societal choices: between responsibility or careless greed, ethical leadership or abuse of power, divisiveness/isolationism or compassionate partnership/relationship worldwide. This shows up in every area of life, from temp-jobs, to the presidency. What you do, and what you say, matters more than you know.

For women, the greatest breakthrough in history is emerging right now, the discovery of a rigorously concealed truth: we have a choice. We don’t have to be what our parents taught us, we don’t have to believe what they believed. We can and must weigh for ourselves the value of ideas, decide what is true for us, today, now, then choose the best ones and discard the lies. Because in this life, what we believe is what we receive.

When we change what we believe, we will change the world. It is changing now, but there are still millions of people still swallowing the flood of lies coming from the entrenched Powerful Few, and because the lies are so frequent and so loud, the brainwashing has been effective even on otherwise normally intelligent people, subconsciously. They actually consider the most ridiculous lies, simply because, as my own sister put it, “Everybody in town does,” in her tiny Texas town. Unless we think deeper and more awake than that,  we are being unknowingly influenced and controlled, and the cost of not-thinking is becoming more than the earth or humanity can pay.

If you have been bullied or wronged without defense or recourse by the-powers-that-be in your world, woman or man, if you have been physically or psychologically or sexually abused, intimidated, shamed, or taken advantage of, belittled, or taught to believe you were not good enough, whether by a parent or stranger, that was a lie.  

We can tell the truth now. Nobody needs to be afraid or ashamed to stand to say it: Me Too. For so many years, in so many ways, but not anymore, and never again.

The mind that lives in any size, color, or kind of body can have the skills and talents of an NFL running back: maybe not the biggest, but smart, strong, quick, and agile, which is pretty much the quintessential definition of the female mind, with the bonus X-factors of extraordinary perception and intuition. Why not USE those valuable resources to get some respect and integrity back for ourselves and our country?

A huge step has been taken. Follow it. Don’t just buy-into the loudest lies. Don’t quietly allow the powerful to drain your individual strengths away, or nullify them, or forbid your voice to be heard. Trust your own mind. Trust your own heart— it knows what’s right for you. Stepping out of the shadows will be scary at first, but do it anyway. We are all here with you.

28. I Don’t Know A Thing About Love

November 9, 2017

We turn to love like sunflowers.
— Anne Lamott, from Small Victories

I don’t know a thing about love. Never did. Nobody does really. We imagine something unimaginably wonderful, and then when something even more wonderful than that happens, we call it love. We are beyond ourselves with joy, and we want that feeling to last forever. But usually it doesn’t.

Once in a while, it does, and all the rest of us sigh in awe of those two rare people in our world who actually did find that kind of love. The kind where both are loving and both are loved, and they cherish each other all the rest of their lives. My mother and father had that, and maybe my teenage girlfriend Mary Frances Butler’s mother and dad had that, I don’t know for sure, but maybe.

I know something about lovemaking. I have both given and received some of that, very sincerely and lovingly. I had a beautiful love once that lasted seven years. But then it shattered like one of those pretty crystal orbs from near the top of the Christmas tree, fallen onto a hard stone floor. Shattered in a quiet explosion that everyone else hardly noticed, into bits so finely fragmented that they could never be put back together. A poof of dust almost. Simply gone. I had wanted it to last forever. It didn’t. It couldn’t. But it tried.

The only thing I know for sure is, love is still the best feeling in the whole wide world. I have never felt so happy, so joyous, ever in my life as I did when I was loved. And giving never feels so good as it does when you’re giving from love. The pain of losing that love was immense, overwhelming. It took a long time for me to heal, and it left scars. But if I had it all to do over, I would still do it.

We learn, or don’t learn, how to love from our parents. That is their greatest gift to us, but sometimes they don’t have that themselves. They can’t give us what they don’t have, though they would if they could. That makes it harder for some of us, maybe most of us– we have to figure it out for ourselves. It’s a good thing, to love, and it’s good thing to be loved, and because of who we are, human beings, we will always seek for some kind of love the same way flowers always lean toward the sunlight. It’s our nature.

If you can get some love, you should. If you can give some love, you should. Even if the two things don’t come at the same time. If you can have both at the same time, then you are the two most blessed beings on the whole Earth. Don’t expect it to last forever, don’t require it to, but always believe it might. Then cherish every day, every little moment of it.

My mother and dad are gone now and they are out there in the cosmos somewhere, but they’re together, and still loving each other. Truly, forever.

It is not impossible.

27. Step Into the Light

October 31, 2017

Most of us live our lives invisibly, floating like a dust mote in the air, unseen until the light catches it drifting through a sunshaft, golden for an instant, then gone again.

Life is short. Spend as much of it as you can in the sunshaft. Be willing to be seen. It’s actually not as scary as you think. Step into the light and let life shine on you.

Try something different. Do something more. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Step out of the shadows and onto the water.

Miracles happen every day, but it’s like my granny used to say, “You’ve got to walk out under the sky and let the blessings fall on you. They’re not going to come find you hiding under the bed.”

We don’t exactly hide under the bed, except figuratively speaking. But technology has removed many of the necessities of ever having to speak to each other, or look at each other, or God knows, touch each other. This is not really a good thing.

Consider getting old-fashioned now and then. Openly care about somebody, and don’t worry if they know it. Maybe even, tell them you care. What a radical idea!

Try it. You might like it. What have you got to lose,  except a little loneliness? And really you don’t need that anyway. Love is better. Friends are better. Neighbors are better.

Go ahead, try it. And get back to me with how it worked out for you.