A Pilgrimage Home

These wintry days in the northern hemisphere mean layers of clothes even inside and more darkness, too.

winter darkness
flickr.com

As someone who likes to wear as little as possible as often as possible–barefoot is always my desire, and nakedness often a delight–this is not good news.

And yet the darkness can be a joy. I appreciate slowing down as dusk descends, preparing for dinner and an evening of quiet at home. Also, I most definitely enjoy morning darkness in which to meditate before dawn, and even to go walking in the winter grayness, seeing the tree limbs arched gracefully against the sky.

But more in these days of angry talk about people from other places and locking up more of our own citizens–usually people whose skin is darker than mine–I am cherishing even more darkness. I mean the darkness that actually expands our awareness of life, the beauty of cultures and lands and people and beliefs that have their own integrity, and challenge and enrich my own.

light shines in the darkness John 1-5
pinterest.com

It seems no accident that in a nation built from the ground up on the architecture of white supremacy there is little valorizing of darkness. Of course, this is in line with so much Christian theologizing that turns to light to overcome darkness. I have not done sufficient research to determine the intertwining history of all this, but clearly neo-platonic dualisms, Euro-American colonialism, manifest destiny, theological paeans for light over dark, all help produce an ideology of dark/black/native as less worthy than its “opposites,” and even downright bad or evil.

A key element in the work of those of us not dark–by whatever definition–to heal our nation is to begin to celebrate what is dark. It is right to oppose the targeting of immigrants and the mass incarceration of black men, and many other policies and attitudes built on negative views of darkness, because we believe in justice and equality, but we must go further: we must valorize, we must celebrate that which we have ignored, belittled, and oppressed and tried to kill. Even more, we must let darkness change us.

We must claim our own darkness.

Stanton MI map
simonhoyt.com

I have written elsewhere about how my mother and my aunt repeated many times to me that my grandmother was “the first white child born in Stanton, Michigan.” (map left) Somehow that was seen as a mark of distinction for her, for us, a heritage of which I was to be proud.

As a child, I suppose I did see it that way. But along the way I began to think about all the babies born there before her, and after, who did not, do not, meet the definition of “white.” There were, are, beautiful babies, too.

africa-flag-map
potentash.com

And more to the point, our ancient heritage, black, white, native, brown, is rooted in Africa. We are all, at base, African.

Perhaps it is time go home, not as missionaries, to change people there, but as pilgrims on a spiritual journey to be changed, to come into our own deep, dark selves.

And absent the opportunity for that, we can open our borders, our minds, our hearts, to those who have much to teach us right here, right now.

I Am a Writer. Repeat. I Am a Writer. Repeat . . .

Getting organized, and staying organized, are probably the greatest challenges of my life.

Robin Study desk chaosI do not seem to know how to organize even my desk, let alone myself. I manage to keep our over-crowded home (we didn’t downsize enough when we moved here in the summer and we are struggling to do so now) in fairly good order–with Jonathan’s help–but my study is simply chaotic (see picture).

Some of this is due to my still trying to figure out how to live my new life as a writer. This is the first time in almost 50 years of working that I have worked for myself by myself. Perhaps this is part of finally growing up!

Maybe also I am having trouble accepting my newfound call to write, still doubting that I have the capacity to pull it off. I know I carry around some sense yet that I am a fraud, that I don’t really know how to write, that if I really pour myself into this I will stumble and fall.

I am a writerOf course, I have more to learn about my new profession–it would be sad if I thought otherwise, even had I been writing all my life–and yes I may stumble and fall. But I have done that before and have always picked myself up, with God’s help and my friends and family. I can do that again.

But a fraud? How can I be a fraud when the call on my soul is so clear? It would not be the first time I doubt God, but if the past is any indication that is a losing proposition! If there is one thing I have learned it is that trusting God is the way forward in life.

Of course, that does not mean I cannot or should not argue with God. I agree with those interpreters of the Book of Job who say that the reason God rewards Job and chastises his friends is because Job cared enough, believed enough, to argue with God while they counseled him to simply give in.

Job and friends
blogs.thegospelcoalition.org

But I don’t feel like arguing with God. I think, I believe, God is right. Or to put it even more clearly, I believe God (something that is far more vital than simply believing in God, good though that is).

And I believe, I feel certain, that I heard God correctly through the voice of the trees in Yosemite a year ago (see “And The Writing Keeps Crying Out”). My call feels genuine and powerful.

So, to get back to organization. A writer needs a good space for writing. I need a good space for writing.

soul tree side view 2Today, I will do some sorting and sifting and concentrate on how to begin to make this space work for me. No more being overwhelmed by chaos. I will at least begin to tame it.

Stay tuned for progress reports. And feel free to share tips and ideas you have for conquering the Disorganizing Syndrome.

Flushing at Least Some of the C–p

counterpunch.org
counterpunch.org

Black Lives Matter, Palestine/Israel, the U.S. Presidential race, Syria, refugees, Native American Lives Matter, health care, immigration reform–all these and more capture my attention, and are deserving of yours. There is so much bad, or at least difficult, news…..some might even say c–p, every day (Donald Trump’s latest, whatever it might be, is in a category all by itself).

youtube.com (not our Cocoa!)
youtube.com (not our Cocoa!)

But some of you, like me, have other more prosaic matters, other c–p, to deal with as well. Such as dog poop, AKA dog s–t (yes, I know, at times it seems like the label fits some of the big categories above, but that might be considered offensive by dogs).

A vital question is, what do we do with it?

Flush puppies doodie bagsJonathan and I have found what we think is simply the best solution for the dog . . . . er . . . version . . . . offered through an excellent product, “Flush Puppies Flushable & Certified Compostable Doodie Bags for Dogs.”

Here’s what the manufacturer says on their website:

Flush Puppies™ doodie bags are Certified Compostable in industrial compost facilities that accept pet waste, where they will disintegrate and biodegrade swiftly.*  (Sorry, home composters, they’re not suitable for backyard composting!)

Flush Puppies™ are flushable, too.  Yes, really…flushable.  Made from Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) – a water-soluble alternative to regular plastic – Flush Puppies™ are specifically made to be flushed down the toilet along with your pet’s waste.  (It’s science – not voodoo!)  Unlike regular plastic bags or other so-called “biodegradable” poop bags, Flush Puppies™ actually break down in water.

freerepublic.com
freerepublic.com

What you do with the bags is completely up to you — compost ‘em, flush ‘em or trash ‘em.   But we call them FlushPuppies™ because we think there’s enough crap going on in the environment without adding more to landfills, where your dog’s “business” (and the bag it’s wrapped in) will likely mummify and not biodegrade for thousands of years, if ever.  (click here for more)

For us, it’s simple. No more filling the trash can with poop bags (either ones you buy or the newspaper delivery bag), knowing the bags and their contents will not decompose any time soon and will actually contaminate the ground. Now, we bring the bag home (meaning you have to carry it with you) and flush it down the toilet (you do have to leave the bag untied or untie before flushing). The wastewater treatment facility in our town takes it from there.

Pet Smart corporate logo
phx.corporate-ir.net

You can buy them online, and at Pet Smart, and other local stores (click here to find one near you).

When a product comes along that seems just about perfect, friends share the good news. No need to thank me. Just thank the folks at Pawsome Pet Products LLC.

Help question markI am thinking about writing them a letter–asking them to design a product so we can take some of the other c–p we face each day (e.g., pronouncements from some Presidential candidates) and flush it, too.

That would take c–p and its disposal to a whole new level!

Getting Started

2D SouthwaySettling into a new home is not easy, perhaps especially upon discovering that the downsizing you did is not enough–and when your husband’s office furniture needs to take up home space until he has office space.

green beans canned KrogerStill, this process has its rewards. For one thing, I realize that formerly relatively unimportant things now are much more vital, even building new relationships with old things. Some plastic storage containers are assuming centrality in a smaller kitchen where before they were tucked away out of sight. Figuring out what to do with the mountains of cans of green beans (our dog, Cocoa, eats 3-4 cans each day) with much less storage space requires ingenuity. Right now, in hot weather, we are keeping quite a few in the refrigerator, thinking maybe he likes them cold.

And then there is the yard. We had .4 acres before. Now, I doubt we have .1. Still, it feels like enough. And it is beautiful, in a wild, sort-of-overgrown way. The previous owner IMG_4019

spent almost 20 years loading up the space, mostly with foliage plants and trees and rock-filled areas and walkways. I will be clearing some of that  to introduce more flowers. But this will be a challenge, due to heavy shade in much of the area. The trees are beautiful, and the shade is welcome in hot weather, but I want more flowers, both perennial and annual.

study August 14 2015My study is smaller, too, and still pretty congested, but slowly I am making a way for myself. The rocking chair and candles and other related items are more or less set up for morning (and other times) meditation. Most books are somewhat organized–meaning with some searching I can find the volume I seek.

We are functional in all areas of the house now, although there is much to be done, including hanging family photographs and art. I tried to drive a small nail in a kitchen wall to hang a calendar, only to realize that these Depression-era plaster walls are for real–no driving nails in them! [More later about the co-op community in which we live.]

The bottom line is that I no longer have any excuse to avoid writing. My husband JonathPC keyboard and screen August 14 2015an came here to develop a new therapy practice and to expand his network of psychoanalytic and group therapy colleagues. He is doing that very well.

I came here to write. It is time to get started!

A Sad Hatter’s Delicious Birthday

Aging is a process. Of course. And like any life process, there are aspects we like and others that bother and surprise.

Image
I only had one!

I had a delightful 67th birthday yesterday–hearing from family, leafletting for Obamacare on Cary Street (politics never leaves my blood), a Reiki session with JR Adams, dinner with Jonathan (in his office so we could do the next thing), laughing my way through a fabulous performance of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Richmond Triangle Players, a delicious gluten-free cupcake and Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” frozen yogurt, and the gift from Jonathan of a volume of poetry by Mark Nepo, Surviving Has Made Me Crazy. And somewhere around 200 of my Facebook friends–folks from my youth in Michigan, and in Virginia, and all the other places I have lived, and some folks from far away–shared good wishes (one of the joys of Facebook and other social media).

What’s not to like about all that? And oh yes, tossing the ball with Cocoa and feeling his delight–and in some ways, the true high point: being sung to by my 2-year-old granddaughter, Juna, and her beautiful parents, on FaceTime on the iPhone!

Juna and Papa
Juna Gorsline Knox and her adoring Papa

And later today, October 11,  the day after my birthday which always is National Coming Out Day, we drive to Williamsburg for an overnight and a daytime stroll around historic Jamestown. I am feeling very blessed.

But, the inevitable “but,” something happened yesterday that reminded me that things keep changing. The stream moves on, and sometimes, just sometimes, it does not feel good. Or right. Or at least it creates, or touches, some sadness. And offers a challenge.

I have this hat, a black fedora. I bought it years ago on West Fourth Street in the Village (that’s Greeenwich Village for non-New Yorkers and non-LGBT folks–actually, the store may have been too far east to qualify as being in the the village, but I always think of it that way). I paid $175 for it, an extravagant sum for me to spend on much of anything, let alone a hat.

But it is good quality, a Dobbs hat, and it serves me well. I wear it pretty much whenever I go out into the world from October until April or May (whenever the warmer weather feels right to trade it for a straw hat for the warmer months).

For the past two years, I have known it needed to be cleaned and blocked (shaped). This constant wear had caused it to look a bit shabby and the back was curling up rather more than I liked.

So my personal birthday present to myself was to arrange to take the hat to a shop in downtown Richmond whose sign I had seen over the years. They advertised cleaning and blocking hats.

Now you may have an inkling of the rest of the story. But here it is

I called the shop (Chic Chateau in some listings, Chic Chapeau in others) to find out their hours and to be sure of their location (I had noted a “We’ve Moved” sign in the window last year). No answer, in fact, no business message, just one of those impersonal, machine-generated “invitations” to leave my message after the tone. A woman called back a couple of hours later. “No, we don’t do that any more.”

I asked, “Do you know of another place I can take my hat?” She answered, rather curtly I felt, “No.”

Robin wearing fedoraI checked online. Lots of places sell hats–well, mostly caps with logos and pictures and the like. I like caps. I have quite a few of them. Wear them in the yard, walking with Jonathan and Cocoa, going to the fitness center. But in my 67-year-old-brain, they are not hats.

One business consistently came up in web searches as the place to call. “No, we don’t do that anymore.”

“Do you know……?’ “No, I don’t.”

It that moment, I realized something: An age has passed. A place as sophisticated as Richmond no longer seems to have a place to care for hats, real hats.

The old curmudgeon in me wants to flail about, in “high dudgeon” as my mother used to say. But really I am just sad.

I cherish my hat. I like the way I look in it. I feel a bit dashing. Yes, I have noticed that few men wear hats, at least fedoras and the like, anymore. Which makes me all the more happy to wear it. It is a trademark of Robin Gorsline. And I enjoy seeing other men in hats. We often notice each other, complement the other on his hat. It is a sort of fraternity.

So, I will find a place to care for my hat. In the meantime, I bought a brush to clean it up a bit. I realized that I am one of the few people who can see the soiled spot on the top of it–still, I care about my hat, and don’t want it to feel neglected.

So I will wear it this season, and then I will send it somewhere, in time for a good cleaning and blocking before next October 10. Somewhere in the world is a place to take care of my hat. Or maybe I will buy a cheap imitation now and send it away for “treatment.” I don’t know if I can bear that. But my hat might feel better.

An age has passed. I am a year older. So is my hat. I too could use some cleaning and blocking–that’s partly why I work out at Snap Fitness.

We, my hat and I, shall carry on, of course. I have miles to go, I hope many of them. I am just getting started.

Robin holding fedoraI want my hat to go with me, preferably cleaned and blocked. But, either way, don’t count us out. There’s plenty of life left in both of us. Surviving has made me crazy, as the poet Mark Nepo (a cancer survivor) has discovered (see reference above).

For me, and if I read Nepo correctly he would agree, it is the craziness that makes it possible to do more than survive, to thrive and change and shine and meet the challenges of living.

So I thrive. And my hat is going to thrive, too. Oh yes, my hat is going to thrive. We’re in this together.

A Pilgrim’s Progress–2

So today is this tenth anniversary of Jonathan and I arriving in Richmond. It has been an amazing ten years. We came so I could pastor a community gathered in faith (he gave up his good career in New York and came with me to start a new life, even learning to drive).

I came not knowing very much about pastoring a church, but thinking because I had a seminary degree (and indeed a Ph.D. in theology in addition) and had been deeply involved in church most of my life and had been ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches–well . . .  thinking because of all that I knew a lot. And lots of folks, because of those same credentials, thought so, too.

It took me longer than it should to get on my knees, admitting how little I knew, and beg for mercy. But eventually, after a couple of years of troubles and failures and way too many stupid mistakes, I did.

praying on kneesThat’s when life got really interesting. And even good. There were still troubles and failures and stupid mistakes, of course–I did not become the perfect pastor even by the time I left the pastorate (there is no such a thing anyway)–but getting on my knees and paying more attention to what God was saying made a huge difference in how I dealt with all that, and indeed how I dealt with the successes and joys and brilliant moves that also happened.

Trusting God is the best antidote to whatever ails us. I am still learning this, day by day.

As I wrote recently, I am a pilgrim. And what a pilgrim must know, as Richard Rohr writes, is that “as long as we think happiness is around the corner, we have not grasped happiness. Happiness is given in this moment.”

The pilgrimage is here, wherever you are. I came to Richmond to learn that. I could have learned it in New York, but God had other plans. God called me home to Richmond. To Virginia.

So now I continue learning in Richmond, my hometown. Oh, I was not born here, so some natives would deny my use of the word “hometown.”

richmond VA on mapBut if home is where your heart is, I am home.

And as Rohr also says, ” . . .  if you can’t find Jesus in your hometown, you probably aren’t going to find him in Jerusalem” either.

Thanks, Lord, I’m grateful to be home, and to share it with You, and Jonathan, and Cocoa, and a whole host of really fine folks (and more every day).

When Loss Is a Gain

A couple of days ago, my scale said I weighed 190 pounds. I have been trying to get to that weight for months now–my goal when I started out at 238 in September 2011.

Of course, my weight did not stay at 190; it was up at 192 this morning. That is how it goes.

But the truth is that once I consistently weighed 195 or less I was pretty sure I could go the rest of the way. And I am pretty confident that I will get to 190 as my new base weight.

weight-loss-3
Not me, but what has been happening (I am not quite to the right image yet!)

I would expect this loss to make me jump for joy. I am pleased, yes, but not ecstatic. I almost forgot to tell Jonathan. What’s going on here?

After some thought, I think I know what’s happening.

I was ecstatic when I broke 200. That was a big deal. Even getting to 195 was pretty big.

But now, I know getting there is possible–I could probably go to 185, although I doubt I will. So it does not feel like such earth shattering news. Ho hum,that’s good, I weigh 190.

Besides, losing the weight was only one part of my plan to be more healthy and to change my life in some pretty significant ways. Now I need to get going on other fronts. For one thing, now I need to tone up my muscles. Thanks to going off wheat a few months ago, my “spare tire” around my middle is shrinking. But I need to tighten it with sit ups (ugh). That’s one example, but there are more muscles than that needing a tune up.

Even more importantly, I need to spend more time sleeping, and time working in my yard and garden, and reading. My soul needs some attention, too.

So I am happy to see 190 not far off, and I am sure I will arrive in that promised land. But the big news is not the weight so much as the knowledge I now have about what it takes to eat right to keep the weight from returning.

Even bigger than that is the reality that I have a changed relationship with food.

That is the biggest gain from losing the weight. It is not the weight loss so much as it is a new way of eating, a new way to relate to food. That is the big news here. Food and I are friends now, in a truly mutual relationship. I use food to fuel my body and my brain, not to bury my feelings or to bribe myself or reward myself.

That means the number is not so important as the relationship. Besides, I can’t measure the strength of a relationship on a scale exactly, but I do know that 190, or 195, or 200, all signal the same thing: food and I are no longer in a dysfunctional relationship.

And that loss is a huge gain.