26 - 207I’m doing a lot of contemplating on the concepts of power. Not the kind you get when you plug-in the device you’re reading this on, but the kind human beings wield upon the world and in our own lives. Decisions, actions, our preconceptions, our assumptions, our ideas and the sources of our inspiration can be weighted and leaden with fear, guilt and hate, or not. We all “get” that on a gut level, but I don’t think much of the world really understands what the “not” part of that sentence really means. I don’t think I always know what it means either for that matter.

I was reading today about the power of compassionate action means. There’s a passage in a book called “The Sufi Book of Life: 99 Pathways of the Heart for the Modern Dervish” by Neil Douglas-Klotz that I keep coming back to. On pages 192-3, Douglas-Klotz shares a couple of stories, one old and one modern and personal about taking compassionate action. In both stories the actions taken are not always understood, but what’s crucial in the mind of Douglas-Klotz is that what moves us to embody sacred power should never been colored by our own assumptions that we know what is best, or to be a hero or to make the world work in our own image of “right,” but rather embodied power and compassionate action, must be selfless. The action, when inspired by genuine compassion includes the natural understanding that comes with true wisdom.

I have been studying this passage for years now. I am not sure I have ever fully comprehended it. The clearest moment I have felt myself acting from anything approaching inspired compassion was at a park one day years ago now. There was a group of teens there clumped together, shouting. I was trying to carry on a conversation while walking with a friend, so I was trying to ignore them. As I drew closer, I realized they were having an argument and that a seagull’s squawking was in the middle of it. I turned to look. I saw some of the boys in the group hitting and kicking the bird while it stood stunned on the ground, not seeing any way out of the sea of legs around it. Its eyes were a bit glazed with terror. Before I realized what I was doing, I walked toward the group of shouting teens, my eyes on that poor bird. When I got close, The teens turned to see me and I parted the crowd without even looking at them. I quietly asked them, “What are you doing to that bird?” There was no judgment in my voice, just the rhetorical question behind it. I kept walking toward the bird, and began murmuring to it, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” The teens moved out of our way and some of the group began to chastise the offenders again. Apparently that was what the shouting had been about. Some wanted the abusers to stop hurting the bird, others thought it was funny. No one was laughing about the bird’s distress by the time the bird and I began walking together through the center of the group. Out of the corner of my eye, one of the boys looked ashamed at himself for hurting the bird, but I ignored all of them. I had eyes only for the bird. It was so distressed and my heart was right there with it, trying to help it get away. It back away from me, watching me and finally we were out of the crowd of legs and feet. When it realized it was safe finally, its eyes cleared of fear and it really saw me. We looked at each other for a long moment before it flew away. I saw its relief, its gratitude and its recognition of me as it’s helper. I watched it fly off, feeling I had a friend. Then I remembered the friend I’d wandered away from and realized that the teens had moved away, still bickering. No one had bothered me for interrupting their fun. I suppose they could have, but there was something about the power of my compassion. It didn’t feel like only mine. It felt like something outside myself moved my body and everything around me got with the program, so to speak. It was a moment I go back to as a measure for my actions in recent years.

Since 9/11 and the world and American politics that have followed, I’ve been pissed off. Not so much at what has happened when terrorists act or when politicians or citizens act   hatefully. I mostly feel a keening sorrow about the stupidity and vengeance that keeps leading us to a far darker future than I can readily accept. No, my anger seems consistently reserved for how we as a society are responding together about moments like 9/11 or the shootings of black men by police or….

The bottom line is we aren’t responding with any sort of inspired or wise compassion. We are lashing out. At best, we begin shouting unforgivable things into already wounded ears. At worst, we kill. We want our way, we want others to stop, we want it to be better, but we don’t want to change anything inside ourselves, we just want others to do what we want right this minute or damn them all to hell.

As for me, I mostly I just feel overwhelmed, if I’m honest. My life is so very often consumed with the hurdles of my health and poverty, there’s just so little energy left over for compassionate action in the world. Nevertheless, I feel an urgent sense of responsibility to act for the benefit of my children and grandchildren. I want the people I love to inherit the world I have experienced, but in a better version. I know that my concept of that is deeply personal and that I can’t have it all my way. I’m fairly sure I don’t want to be left in charge of all the details of making that happen anyway, but I feel an instinct rise in me when I read the news or when I look at my Facebook feed. My gut scrolls along with my finger…nope, nope, nope again, and nope yet again. Most days I never read a word that tells me anyone’s actions are moved by a divine spark of wise compassion. Mostly it is hubris of the worst kind in action, inspired by bigotry, dunk on supposed-power, fear and hate. I can hear my own blithering too. I sputter about 45, or about this or that “idiot” in charge and it’s just fouling me with anger and hatred. It’s doing me no good. Yet I can’t help but feel so angry and powerless.

I don’t know how we “get it.”

For me, that’s the real question of the day. The rest is just the details. Granted those details will result in consequences that might be as harsh has nuclear war, and a ruined ecology, such that we can’t survive as a species, but they are details that we can’t change at all until we understand how to embody inspired, wise compassion and let it guide our actions.

Compassion isn’t about making someone feel better for now. It’s about the kind of justice and peace that comes of not hating each other or feeling entitled to anything that you’d grab out of someone else’s hands just so you can be better than them or so that you don’t have to suffer in some way. Inspired compassion has vision that is colorless, lawless, race-less, genderless, and not the least religious or bound by government, family ties,…

I know what “it” is instinctively, but I don’t know how to impart it to others really. I think that Prot said it best in “KPax” when he said that “every being in the universe knows right from wrong.” I agree with Prot. We are equal. We are all connected. We have something to learn from each other. We have the capacity to love each other without having to define it or confine anyone else to what we find acceptable for ourselves. We just have to do it. It is really just that simple. Really.


Uncle Ted

bounty imageAt some point during grammar school (attended at Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth NH) I learned about the first Thanksgiving. I learned that pilgrims arrived starving in the very late fall. They were met with welcome, generosity and kindness. They were given a feast and help to survive the winter. I thought that was an admirable action.

Right after this lesson, I was taught that the second fall feast these pilgrims shared with the indigenous population went very differently. I learned that distrust arose between European settlers and indigenous people in the interim year. The settlers, whose habits were to lay claim, own and defend their “property” with violence were suspicious. Native people were confused and angry with the pilgrims’ behavior. There were scuffles and people died. Still, when  the settlers invited them to a reciprocal feast, the indigenous people attended in hopes of working through disagreements. The indigenous people who attended were ambushed and killed. This was what I was taught—that Europeans took and were violent in the face of kindness. I was taught this in the military school system. I learned an honest version of European behavior and these lessons came at Thanksgiving time with the admonition that Thanksgiving ought to mean what indigenous people taught white Europeans to begin with—that generosity is a crucial principle to live by. I took away the idea that Thanksgiving is not a European concept, but an indigenous one. We Europeans used that kindness horribly once upon a time, but the sharing of feasts in gratitude and friendship cannot be tarnished by anyone’s wrongdoing. It is a quintessential human activity that keeps us seeing others as friends, neighbors and chosen family. It can be the difference between life and death. It was for the pilgrims and it is just as crucial a concept today in these times of ISIS and other human cruelty.

Many years later, in my forties, I met Uncle Ted Andrews, a Tuscarora sachem chief of the Turtle Clan. When I was introduced to this delightful man, he was one among nearly a hundred people I’d been met in a short few days, all of them amazing, bright spirits each. Overwhelmed, I smiled and said hello and listened to him joking with one of his oldest friends during lunch. Afterward, I got up and got busy helping put luncheon away and lost track of him until he spoke that night around the fire. When he spoke, his speech took on a lilting, poetic pattern and suddenly, I felt my heart and mind in direct, loving communion with his. He spoke slowly of various humble creatures of the earth and all they give to our lives each day, just by being exactly as they are, doing just what comes naturally. He thanked them with all his being for what they gave to his life. Then he taught that gratitude has power, the most perfect, most tremendous human power. Uncle Ted believed that this essential power is able to heal everything and everyone…perfectly. Here again, was another indigenous instruction about what Thanksgiving means. I cannot find words for how that changed me.

Excited about what he taught me, I spoke of it later. One of his students shared with me a tiny booklet called “The Thanksgiving Address.” It is a poetic and short written representative version of the Tuscarora ritual by that name in which all the creatures local to the homes of the Tuscarora tribe are thanked. I understand it takes six hours to complete this ritual, which Uncle Ted performed regularly for his people. That he spoke a small bit of the ritual there that day, with European people present, was a great gift. After listening to Uncle Ted, I am sure it is the most powerful ritual I could ever witness. I wish I’d had the chance to listen and see him perform the “Address” in full, but alas Uncle Ted passed away during the winter after I met him. Nevertheless, I carry what he shared in my heart.

Many people, even indigenous people, complain of the Thanksgiving holiday, saying that it is not right. I do not share their viewpoint. I think it is exactly what we need. It helps us to remember the principles of generosity, which is the substance of what indigenous people taught. We, the people of this planet, need to share a feast with others, and to take genuinely thankful actions. We need to embrace all that gratitude which Uncle Ted spoke so passionately about and spent his life in reverence to.  The intimate experience of gratitude helps us to connect with the goodness in the world and in ourselves. In a world full of hatred, cruelty and fear, that’s what we need the most, I say. More than that, we need to remember the second fall feast of thanksgiving, because it teaches us of what not to do. That second shared feast, and all its betrayal and violence, would be forgotten if we neglected to hold Thanksgiving and that would indeed be a tragic betrayal of the indigenous people of North America. I intentionally remember and honor all this feast means. I especially try to remember the Tuscarora people, who teach of the healing, magical power of gratitude. It is the only holiday of the year that I find crucial to hold for many reasons, not the least of which is to honor Uncle Ted’s memory. Nyeah-weh Uncle…

More On Workflow

I spent the last two days getting organized for writing. I decided to join the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) forum and make use of its word count application. I will be working on a variety of projects, but the ones I am most excited about is a short story I’m tentatively calling the “Oligo Dynamic Effect.” The second project is tentatively called “Earth Ship” and is a saga, likely several novels in length. In addition to this, I’ll be continuing my blogging posts, including the new Vergennes Lion’s Club blog which the club just started and keeping up with my own blogging projects. Then there’s my book of poetry which will continue to be edited and the submissions of poetry to various literary magazines. For all of these projects, my writing goals are quite modest: 500 words a day. I am sure I’ll do far more, but I want to give myself the satisfaction of succeeding at my goals consistently for a while. I’ve usually chafed at arbitrary writing goals like this in the past, feeling a need to resist and defy the disciplined approach. It may not be useful to me to have this goal, but I’d like to see how this impacts my writing practice.

In the last two years, I learned that I had made things hard on myself using MS Word to start a novel. It was unwieldy to use for a variety of reasons. While MS Word is a fabulous work horse for many kinds of writing and publishing, it is unwieldy for novel-writing because it is not made to be a database for a folder or binder of mini-files that include character information, novel outlines, chapter outlines, scene settings, and sample chapters that may or may not end up in a final chapter or the novel altogether, and so on. MS Word cannot intuitively group files and it will not let you move whole scenes around in a linear workflow as you experiment with the sequence of a storyline. There’s no story boarding aspects to the MS Word software, and there’s no handy way to find sets of files via tags, characters, timelines, scenes or any other fashion, except the file titles you would find in your pc file explorer without waiting for both the pc file explorer and the Word software to boot up. You can’t view the contents of groups of files together without changing the size of each text field and arranging them on the screen. Only one is viewable at a time unless you’ve got more than one monitor. Even then, only one file may be edited at a time, which means that if you change a name, a date, a scene (or whatever) in one file, you’ve got to open every single file in the book project, one after another, and change all that information by hand. Oy! With MS Word, only those files most recently accessed are left handy after booting the software up. As I said, you can write an essay, keep a great bibliography or works cited and you can make a newsletter and resume, but when making a multi chapter book or a multi book story it is nightmarish to organize. I know that lots of famous writers do their all their novel-writing very well with MS Word. I certainly did a fine job with making a book of poetry with it, but I want something more intuitive for novel-writing, because contending with all these issues causes too much fiddling and not enough producing and that certainly distracts creative flow significantly.

I would love to use Final Draft, a very popular novel writing software. I understand it’s the most intuitive for the functionality I outlined above, and its certainly highly recommended by my writing buddies. Only thing is, it’s a bit out of my reach financially just now. Even with my Amazon Prime discount, it’s still $129 (which is certainly a steal!). Final Draft is on my wish list, but I won’t be getting it this year.

Last year, I bought a copy of Scrivener, which is in easy financial reach at just $40. Scrivener has all those features I want that MS Word doesn’t have. It seems to quite complex though, so I have to study its use. That’s always a bummer, because I can’t just dive into writing that easily. In any case, I’ll be testing Scrivener in the coming weeks to find out whether it suits me. If not, another possibility I will investigate is Celtx, an online writing studio suited to writing novels, screenplays and plays. From what I can tell, it is most suitable for plays and screen plays and for collaborative writing online. It is available for less than $8 a month.

Regardless, I will go back to MS Word for editing text after I’ve compiled the story and got it in the final phases. It has the best editing software of anything I’ve found to date and I’ve already paid for it.

My other new tool is Evernote. I love so much about it. What I don’t love is that its nosey, taking many authorizations which gets it into sensitive files and utilities in my devices. I have resisted using it for years. I researched and tested dozens of apps for note taking on the go with my phone. Most of the time, I think they are suitable just for grocery lists and keeping track of the latest movies I want to watch and games I’d like to get.

Recently, I decided to check it out again. I found it does just what I need. I want an app that will insert my spontaneous thoughts easily into a workflow when I wake up in the night. I want to pick up my phone, open the app and just start typing. I want to be able to then easily transfer that information into my Scrivener workflow. I have tried Google Keep, Colornote and some other note apps. They just don’t do what I want with organization/sharing. While Evernote has many downfalls in terms of security, its saving grace is that I can lock the app from my phone. I have adopted it reluctantly, but I am loving how easy it is to use.

Dropbox is another service that has faulty security. I once put a file on it with some security codes. It got hacked. The same happened with Google Drive, so Google’s increased security is no proof against hacking. Thankfully, I never put the most crucial codes on a cloud and it was easy to change the insignificant ones, but it was frustrating to note that I can’t trust my files with Dropbox or Google Drive if they are sensitive.

What decided me to do my writing backups with Dropbox over Google Drive or another cloud application is that Google Drive has issues with frequently edited files. Slow, but sure, errors crept in and instead of keeping my local file the dominant file (which is being edited), it kept a mish-mash of my edited local file and some previous online backup version from earlier in the editing process. I wasted a great deal of time reediting things and making my advisor annoyed that I hadn’t done my editing job before submitting to her. Gah! What a pain in the neck that was with my senior project‼

Nope, not doing that again! Google Drive is perfect for files that aren’t updated frequently or for those files for which you used Google Docs to compose and edit. This is really too bad, because not everyone likes the Docs software. I want Word + a cloud and that’s it usually. I suppose I’ll have to do something more secure when I’m famous enough to warrant hacking to steal stories, but until then, Dropbox is conveniently available across devices and easy to use. More importantly, my local file is the dominant file. When a back up posts to Dropbox.com, that new version is the only version. That means it is not at all something you can use to track changes! If I want that utility, I have to use some local method for back ups. If I don’t care about tracking changes, I need only save a Scrivener or other file-type into folders made in the Dropbox “binder” which Dropbox is instructed to sync. Backups are automatically taken care of whenever my laptop has internet access. Using this method, I generally use “save as” to track changes. I can always clean out versions I don’t want later.

Using these new apps and software with other applications which I shared about earlier is working great. Just one last thing to note. I have begun using the inside cover of my hand-written journals to note what’s of significant interest within its pages. That helps me find things in hundreds of pages of journaling. I am also using post-it notes to bookmark important pages. That’s just as helpful for my retreat journals and dream journals, as it is for my writing journals. I am even using post-it notes on my books of poetry and writing craft books to notate inspiring thoughts— both mine and the authors’.

Years ago, when I first started writing I had no organization at all and didn’t want any. I just grabbed a journal and wrote. Then I made a single file on a pc with my story. Invariably, I wouldn’t be able to find something when I wanted to refresh my memory or pick up where I left off. I would frustrate myself and stifle my creative ideas. A few times, entire files and journals, even entire books were lost.

Post college and post poetry chapbook, I feel ready to try writing fiction again. I am trying to make it all as easy as possible. I hope this helps me finish projects of great length. I’ve yet to do that. I have dozens of fledgling sagas that haven’t seen the light of day. They languish in a desk drawer and in a badly labeled folder on my pc. Hopefully I won’t find this time and effort has been wasted. Wish me luck!