Tuesday, September 19, 2017

50 for 50 day 13: The world through my eyes

This is the 13th of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

Yesterday I told you that I lost a bunch of photos I had wanted to share with you. Here are some others. They will never be as luminous as the ones we can now never see, because what we have never shimmers like what we have lost, but they are still worth seeing.

The world through my eyes. Some of the things I've noticed in the last few months. All images (c) Laura Packer, licensed through Creative Commons.

Before the storm
Persistent (taken on the shores of Lake Superior)
Everyone comes to the fair (MN State Fair)
Backyard neighbor
I'm sure one more will fit
(With thanks to my hand model, Charley)
Cooper's Hawk in the backyard
The moon is always full
This is what 50 looks like. Still watching the world.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, September 18, 2017

50 for 50, day 12: Mistakes

I had the best post planned for today. I've done a few posts in the past where I share photos I've taken so you can see the world through my eyes. I like those because they break up the walls of text I tend towards and they help me see my own photography in a new light.

That was what I was going to do.

I spent yesterday at the arboretum and it was one of those crystal clear autumn days. I took pictures of butterflies, of shadows on petals, of textures, all kinds of things. In the last few months I went to the Minnesota State Fair, saw some neat birds, had some other adventures, and all of it was captured in my camera. I was excited about sharing them with you.

I got home and transferred everything to my photo storage drive and started sorting through them, picking out the best ones. I put the memory card back in my camera and erased it, so I'd have plenty of room for the next round of photos.

You know what I was going to do.
And you know what I did.

I failed to transfer the images from yesterday, maybe 300 pictures, and I didn't notice. I erased the card. They are gone. I still have some of the others, but those fleeting colors and shadows? Lost. It rained last night. Even were I to go back to the arboretum, those blooms are likely gone.

I. Am. SO. Annoyed. It was a stupid mistake and made me stomp around like a three year old. I didn't sleep well because of it and have been gnawing on it ever since.

All things considered, I've made worse mistakes, but this rankles. They all do, don't they. Mistakes. And we all make them. Some are minor and easy to forget, others are catastrophic. On the grand scale of things, this isn't that big a deal though it is disappointing.

As I've grown older I've started trying to welcome mistakes or at least acknowledge them as part of the work of living. I make mistakes all the time, most less irksome than this one. I try to think of mistakes as evidence that I'm still trying new things, still learning. This one, of course, is evidence of carelessness because I thought I knew what I was doing and I've learned from it, but they aren't all like that. I'm not trying to say it feels good, making a mistake, nor am I suggesting that some aren't truly horrific but... we all do it. We may as well learn to live with it.

If we stop making mistakes we have ceased acting. Mistakes are inevitable. All we can do is try to learn from them, not beat ourselves up too much, apologize as necessary, and keep moving on so we can make more mistakes.

I'm trying to do all of that. I still wish I had those photos to share with you though.

This is what 50 looks like. Still screwing up. Still trying again. Fail again, fail better.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, September 17, 2017

50 for 50, day 11: A film I love

There are a few films, books, and other kinds of art that changed me the first time I saw them. You have those too, I'm sure. I revisit some from time to time, and I thought I might share a few of them with you, as I move through this blog series.

I was a freshman in college. That alone should tell you something about my state of mind; I was primed for transformation. It was a transformational time in many ways (among other things, that was when I met Brother Blue) and there were many people who helped. Ned was one of them. He was also a freshman and we met (I think) in an Anthropology 101 class. Or maybe the dining hall. Or somewhere else, it doesn't really matter. Anyway, Ned was one of those friends that you find in college, the ones with whom you stay up into the wee hours, talking philosophy and music and solving world problems with the assurance of a person just stepping into adulthood. If the world was run by people in their late teens to early twenties we might be in much better shape than we are now, because at that age I had much more certainty than I do now. I don't know.

Anyway, Ned and I were talking about something and this movie came up. He told me it was amazing and strange and Australian and I needed to see it, so we trundled down to the local video store, rented a VCR and the tape. Remember those?

I watched Bliss with rapt fascination and indeed, I did need to see it. It's become one of those movies I revisit every few years. I've shared it with a variety of people and the reaction is predictable: They either love it and are fascinated, finding themselves in it, or they are bored. I've learned to not be judgey about it, but really, how can the story of living in hell be boring? I went on to read the book, written by Peter Carey and well worth the time. I picked it up during my first solo overseas trip and I have crisp, clear memories of reading it in a tiny cafe while it poured outside, drinking strong tea, and being aware that I was in the same kind of transformational moment that the protagonist finds himself in.

It's not a terribly original storyline. Honestly, how many stories of transformation are, but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that we need those kinds of stories because they help us remember that we are not alone in our quest (conscious or not) for a more fully lived life.

American Beauty is basically a Bliss remake; both tell the story of someone living a life they don't know is killing them. They have a revelatory experience and are different from there on out, which turns out to be terribly disruptive. Transformation is like that. It may not be particularly original but it speaks to me. Bliss is more effective for me than the American version, maybe because it's more magical, maybe because the protagonist is just a little less skeevy, maybe because I saw it at the right time. It doesn't real matter. What does matter is that it works for me.

The preview, like most, doesn't do the film justice, but here it is anyway. If you want to watch the movie in whole, you can find it in three parts on youtube. The first is here.

I'd love to know what movies hit you in exactly the right way at exactly the right time and why. Maybe I'll watch a few of them.

This is what 50 looks like. Continuing to be transformed.

Creative Commons License

Saturday, September 16, 2017

50 for 50, day 10: Rest

This is the tenth of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

Today's post will be brief. Of the many things I am learning as I age, the need for rest is one of the most important. It used to be that I could short myself of rest for extended periods of time and think I was still okay. Not so now. Not so then, either, but I was better at fooling myself.

Today I am resting. I read a book this morning (Gods Behaving Badly, if you're interested. It was a fun, quick read), had several cups of tea and a leisurely breakfast. I'm about to go run errands. All of these constitute a kind of rest I used to undervalue. Rest isn't just sleeping. It can be an active state.

I hope you have a wonderful day, with a good balance of activity and rest.

This is what 50 looks like. Smart enough to know when to shut up and rest.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, September 15, 2017

50 for 50, day nine: Love is the easiest thing in the world

This is the ninth of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

I was talking with a friend recently and ended the conversation by telling her, "I love you." She hesitated for a minute, then replied that she loved me, too. We hung up. It was a mildly awkward moment but one that I soon forgot, until I got an email from her, telling me how my declaration made her feel. A little bit uncomfortable, was this some kind of come on? Then warm and comforted. Loved. And of course she loved me, too. She wondered why friends didn't say that kind of thing to each other more often.

I do. I tell my friends, family, and even many acquaintances that I love them. I wasn't always like this, it was a conscious choice and one I don't regret at all.

I grew up in a family where saying "I love you" was weighted and infrequent. (Mom, I'm sorry that this paragraph will be hard to read. I love you.) It was sometimes a weapon, with implications of I love you, how can you do this to me. Sometimes it was an expression of power. Occasionally it was offered as a bit of comfort and, every once in a while, as a declaration of affection, but that was rare. It was never said without the expectation of being returned and gratefully so. It was often said in a ponderous tone. It was never simple.

As I grew older and developed other relationships, I went through a phase in my teens where I needed to tell people I loved them, but it wasn't easy. It felt terribly vulnerable and was always uncomfortable. Sometimes it was badly misunderstood, which led to even more discomfort. My first few romantic relationships drove my understanding of love, so I had some trouble differentiating between "loving someone" and "being in love" with them. Now I understand those as very different things.

It was once I was involved with Kevin that I began to understand love as something essential and easy. He regularly told his kids that he loved them and heard it in return. By seeing the way he loved I began to be better at loving, both in a romantic context and beyond it. I began to tell my parents that I loved them. For quite some time I remember their surprise and then the worried response. Was this somehow transactional? Was something wrong? Did I have terrible news? As they got used to my casual declaration of love, they began to relax. Soon it was a more regular part of our dialogue, ending easy conversations with "I love you."

I found myself starting to do the same with my friends. Do I not love them? Should it not be an acknowledged and comfortable part of our relationship? And it grew from there.

I don't want to suggest that I am one of those people who tells everyone that I love them, thus cheapening the idea of love. I'm not. Instead I have become one of those people who has discovered just how easy it is to love. I start from the assumption of offering respect and love, then see what happens from there. Love is the only thing I know of that grows the more you give it away. The more I love and the more broadly, the easier it is to do. I can love my friend, my partner, my parents, my neighbor, my colleague and more, with still more love inside of me. It's not a sappy, flower-scented, blind-to-flaws kind of things. It is a love that encompasses and celebrates our very human-ness. Our flawed nature. Our ability to try again and try a little better next time.

It is the easiest thing in the world.

Sure, love requires some vulnerability, but I can choose how I respond to that. I can close myself up and dole out love like a miser, or I can offer more knowing that I am more likely to receive it when I give it away.

I'm not saying that you need to do this. I'm telling you that I have found, as I near 50, that I would rather love than not. Sure, there are some whom I would be hard pressed to love. But if I allow myself to feel compassion I can, at least, start down that path. And I'd rather not hate or fear anyone if I can avoid it.

Here are some things I have learned as I practice loving the world:

  • Love does not beget, obligate, or require love in return. It is not transactional.
  • Love without attachment helps me be more compassionate, patient, and set better boundaries.
  • Love is the responsibility of the lover. I own my own feelings and responses. Just because I love someone that doesn't mean we have a relationship or anything beyond my willingness to celebrate their being.
  • There are big differences between love and in love.
  • I am much more likely to expect and receive kindness, compassion, and help if I assume that starting from love is the answer. I get what I receive most of the time.
  • I can love the chipmunks in my back yard knowing all they care about is the peanuts I provide. Why can't I offer that same kind of gift to the world? Sure, it may backfire (and certainly has), but I'd rather start with the open hand and the snack.
  • Happily ever after is a great deal of work and is an extension of love. I love my neighbor but don't expect anything back from him. I love my friend and want a lengthy friendship (a kind of happily ever after) so we work at it. I love my lover and want happily ever after there, too, so we must love each other with great forgiveness and resilience. 

How does love work for you? When did you last say "I love you" and what was it like? I'd love to know.

Oh. I love you.
Thanks for reading this.

This is what 50 looks like. Loving the world fiercely.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, September 14, 2017

50 for 50 day 8: Barking against the dark

This is the eighth of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

I don't remember the first time I stood up for someone else. It might have been when I was eleven or twelve and in summer camp, though I expect it was earlier. Two of the girls in my bunk were refugees from Vietnam and had been sent to the camp by a charitable organization. They were teased by some of the other campers for looking different, for not speaking English, for whatever the reason of the day might have been. The girls had arrived at camp excited and happy; now they flinched and were silent. Their joy had been stolen.

I spoke up. I yelled at the mean kids and eventually publicly confronted the camp manager so he couldn't pretend it wasn't happening. The bullies backed off, the girls began to smile again, and I had two loyal companions who tried to teach me Vietnamese while the rest of my bunk ignored me. I didn't think of it as a big deal, it was just the right thing to do. I still don't think of it as a big deal, it was just the right thing to do, though now I can see that this may not have been usual behavior for an eleven year old.

I have always believed in barking against the dark. When we are silent in the face of evil we become complicit. (Your definition of evil and mine may differ, and that's part of why I support freedom of speech, but that's another post.) I don't practice this perfectly, consistently, or particularly effectively most of the time, but I try.

Have you ever been in a situation where you've seen something upsetting and thought someone should do something about that! I am someone. You are, too. We have voices and can choose how to use them. It may sometimes put us at risk but, personally, there are times when I'd rather be at risk and know I did something than have to live with the knowledge that I shrank back. Much of the time all barking requires is a willingness to not close your eyes and pretend you don't see. It requires not being that camp manager.

I bark in all kinds of ways. Some are direct and confrontational; others are the subtle acknowledgements that yes, there are terrible things, and yes, there are things worth fighting for. Sometimes a bark is momentary break from the friction. It might be a moment of compassion, choosing to listen instead of argue, donating to a cause I believe in, or as simple as pointing out that something makes me uncomfortable. And sometimes I am too tired to bark, so I give myself permission to rest today and bark more tomorrow. I fail all the time. Then I try again when I can.

As I approach 50 I find myself more willing to bark and more willing to not bark, because I know there will be new opportunities tomorrow. I certainly cannot save the world alone, but the world will never move towards justice if we all choose to be silent instead.

How do you bark against the dark? How do you give yourself permission to rest? When did you first speak up? I'd love to know.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

50 for 50 day 7: Self Care

This is the 7th of 50 posts leading up to my 50th birthday. You can see them all here.

Someone told me recently that I am a model for good self care. I was stunned. I feel as though I often fail at self care, that you need only look at me to know. Her comment led me to think about how important it is to take care of ourselves and, equally, how part of self care is forgiving ourselves for doing the best we can.

As I approach 50 I hope that I have learned that I must care for myself before I can effectively care for others. This lesson doesn't always hold true - sometimes my own care must come second - but in general I know I will be better able to write, tell, create, love, live if I take care of myself. I've also learned that sometimes self-care means not trying to engage in self care. After Kevin died I watched hundreds of hours of River Monsters. That may not have looked like self care from the outside, but it was the best I could do.

Self care is more than pedicures and baths. It's knowing when to say "no" and knowing when to ask again. It's knowing how I respond to difficult situations and taking steps for recovery afterwards. It's asking for accepting help, even when I don't want to. Sometimes it's Godzilla movies. And sometimes it's just taking a deep breath before moving onto the next thing.

There is a lot of jargon and privilege-speak around self care. All we can do is the best we can.

I'd love to know how you care for yourself and what pitfalls you know to watch out for. Maybe we can help each other be a little more tenderly cared for.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

50 for 50 day six: oh, my aching back

Oh, the arrogance of youth! I remember when I was younger not really getting what it was like for people with aches and pains. Sure, my knees hurt sometimes and I got migraines, but nothing like what grown ups had to contend with. I tried to be sympathetic, but I didn't really get it.

Now I do.

My back hurts today (I'm writing this at an improvised standing desk). I still get migraines though not as often. I have arthritis in my feet, occasional stomach issues and did I mention the asthma? I'm sure there are more complaints I could mention, but really, who wants to read a shopping list of aches and pains? I'm annoyed and bored writing this, it must be worse for you.

All of this leads me to two thoughts that I hope are more interesting and certainly more useful than my whining.
  1. Your pain is real and so is mine. What is painful to one person may not be painful to another, so I can't tell you that your aching back doesn't really hurt, just as you can't tell me that my back isn't as bad as yours. My younger self would sometimes question the validity of another's experience. I'm sure I still do this. I wish I didn't. All I can do is try to remember that yes, my back does hurt even if I look fine. Yours might, too. This can, of course, be extended to other experiences. Subjective experience is valid.
  2. I am grateful for the body I have. There are a lot of things I can (and maybe will) say about my body and my relationship with it as I blog to 50, but for the purposes of this post what I want to remember is that my body is doing the best it can. It will respond appropriately to how I treat it. If I do things to encourage healing, it will try to heal. If I ignore it by (for example) forgetting to stretch when undertaking a three-day drive across country, it will let me know that it needs attention. 
As I age, as most of us age, we will encounter more aches and pains. We won't heal as readily and will eventually have to contend with the breakdowns that accompany a longer a life. That's perhaps what I'm really grateful for. I have lived long enough now that I need to care for my body differently. I am old enough that I can no longer take good health for granted. This realization is a huge gift as I walk towards 50. Achey and with care, but still walking. Being here that long is a gift.

This is what 50 looks like. A bit sore but still upright. And 50 smells like Icy Hot patches apparently.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, September 11, 2017

50 for 50, Day five: History

Today is September 11th. It is (among other things) the birthdays of several people I love and others with cultural weight including O Henry, DH Lawrence and Harry Connick Jr.; the anniversary of Krushchev's death; and the date upon which "The Star Spangled Banner" was first sung at a baseball game. It is also the anniversary of the September 11th attacks in the United States. This date has become a kind of secular holy day. The president will say something about it that will be broadcast on tv. If you knew people who died in those attacks, you'll think of them. If you were in any way affected by it, at some point today you will pause and remember. I cannot help but remember where I was when I heard. You'll probably think about that, too.

That's the thing about living long enough. You have personal memories linked to larger events. You have personal context.

I remember when I was little, asking my mother where she was when JFK was killed, how she found out. I asked about King's assassination, the moon landing, the bombing at Hiroshima, on and on. Every time I learned about a new 20th century historical event I would ask her where she was, what it was like and how she felt. I think I was hungry for both a sense of history as something in living memory, and some understanding of the personal impact.

I was a year old when humans first walked on the moon. I don't remember it. I have vague memories of the Vietnam war, Nixon and Watergate, and the Iran Contra scandal. The first moment that I know I can tell you where I was, what it was like and how I felt was when Elvis died. I was ten years old and in summer camp. The flag was at half-mast and we were told, "Mr. Elvis Presley died last night." I remember this date not because Elvis mattered to me but because I didn't know who Elvis was. I remember being mocked and feeling the shame of not being in the know. Later, when John Lennon was killed, I reacted personally and immediately (my mother told me as I was eating breakfast before going to school. I remember the cereal spoon pausing on its way to my mouth). Lennon meant something to me. I had learned to care at least a little about pop culture and this time it hurt. These memories are visceral, personal, and offer some context for my life and the larger moment.

The next broad cultural moment I remember is when the Challenger exploded. I was in the vegetarian dining hall during my freshman year in college. Someone had a transistor radio that we huddled around. I ran back to my dorm because I knew my friend, who was studying to be a rocket engineer, would be devastated. I spent the afternoon sitting with him, missing all our classes and not caring. We watched the coverage on a crummy black and white television. I had to hold the antenna for reception.

It didn't stop there, of course. Other memories, other where were you moments have layered themselves into me. Some were big and global (the start of the first Gulf War, for example) while others are smaller but no less important (my first email account and my first computer). Some have had a greater influence than others but they all are part of my personal history and context as well as the more general ones. Each moment has turned into a kind of litmus test, a shorthand I can use with others to place each of us into time and memory.

All of this helps me know who I am, where I have been, and gives me the tiniest bit of a path to follow when the next big moment happens. If nothing else, I know that the next big moment will happen.

I am old enough now to be part of history and to tell the where was I when stories. I think this is one of the gifts of getting older; personal meaning and context to broader histories. When we tell these stories we make the global personal, and we are able to say I am here. I am part of the world. You are, too.

So where was I on September 11, 2001? At work. In the kitchen, chatting with Clara. As I watched the news play out I remember thinking everything is going to change now. Nothing will ever be the same. I remember knowing at some point I would have to choose how I would react to people, events and the world. So it is, over and over again through history. Where were you. What was it like. How did it feel. We live through these moments and can choose to learn about ourselves and the world, or choose to forget.

This is what 50 looks like. Old enough to remember.

 (c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Sunday, September 10, 2017

50 for 50, day four: Be the fox

I have posted this poem at least three times. It's worth posting again, especially at this age, in this era.
This is what 50 looks like: Unashamed to go in the wrong direction. With thanks to Elsa who introduced me to this poem.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage
Copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.laurapacker.com.
Related Posts with Thumbnails