...is a time to relax enjoy the warm weather (finally). It's also a time to plan ahead. This Fall I'll be giving some workshops you may be interested in. • On September 11, 18, and 25 I'll be giving a series of talks about the Grimm Brothers' Tales - and revealing that the original versions are very different from the ones Disney fed us. What do the earlier versions tell us? Could it be that they have deeper lessons than Disney dreamed of? This will be at Fox Hill retirement community, Westwood, MA. The talks starts at 2:30. • On November 5th at St. Susanna's church, Dedham, from 7 to 9pm I'll be leading a discussion about Dante's Divine Comedy - the poem everyone's heard of but few of us have read. The emphasis will be on the psychological insights the poem provides. • On November 10 stating at 2pm I'll be in Marblehead at 80 Main Street, where I'll be running a workshop and encouraging writers of all kinds to use writing prompts and visualization techniques to liberate their creativity. More details will follow. But this way you can mark your calendars in advance. Other activities haven't been finalized yet.
Tuning Out the Noise A while back we were at a neighborhood party with Zoe (5). It was a pretty noisy gathering, with all the adults jabbering away in a room with a decided echo to it. I could barely comprehend what the woman in front of me was saying, and she had the voice of a parade ground sergeant-major. As I turned to see what Zoe was up to I noticed that she was sitting on a chair talking quietly, with absolute clarity, with a small boy who was holding a stuffed toy squirrel. They seemed to be discussing different types of toys. I leaned down and discovered that they were actually speaking very softly, and yet they had no trouble hearing and being heard. How did they manage it? I asked my chatty lady if she knew, and she laughed and said something about ‘selective attention’. And that set me thinking. How is it that these children had the gift of tuning out all the noise, all the stuff that meant nothing to them? I would have expected them to be yelling too, under the circumstances, but they weren’t. Not at all. Perhaps we all need to learn how to tune out more of the ‘noise’ in our lives so we can concentrate on the real communication. Perhaps we once had that ability but we forgot about it, or ignored it. Perhaps we might want to learn how to find those quiet moments in the heart of our days. Reprinted from Inspiredworldmagazine.com
As I walked back from the Anti-ICE rally on Boston Common I came across seven young men, wearing face masks, dressed in black, being shouted at by two women who had no hesitation in pronouncing them fascists. They seemed eager to get away. Around the corner were about 50,000 peace-loving anti-fascists. So I had to ask: what makes a fascist? The answer is, as with most things, rather basic. People become what they are taught to be. Raise a child in an intolerant, negative, disempowered household and what do you get? An intolerant, destructive kid who yearns to have some tiny scrap of power. In fact, a budding far right kid. It's almost always as simple as that. We know that abused kids grow up to be abusers. We also know how hard it can be to change that mind set. And this is where the right wing gets it so wrong. More prisons and draconian laws do not make us "safe". Investing in children, with love, care, decent housing, and good education really does make for a safe society. But to do that requires social services, support for mothers, health care, social security and above all education. These are all things the present government has attacked. The current inhumane and revolting policy of separating immigrant families is simply the logical continuation of the ideology already in place within the rule-makers. Kids don't matter. Families don't matter. I say to those rule-makers, have you thought about what this will mean for your own children's world?
I don't know about you, but every day my news feed and Facebook pages seem deluged with the bad news about our governing party's cruel and callous actions. This is good - it keeps me and people like me aware. This is also bad - it makes us angry, nervous and irritable. But what do we do? Protests are planned for this Saturday to resist the immigration madness we seem to have descended into, but I can't see that joining a lot of angry people will actually do much good, aside from creating more anger. This president doesn't seem to listen. In fact he loves angry responses. It gives him the opportunity to tell everyone how right and good he thinks he is. Perhaps the best we can do is non-violent quiet protest. Alas, it didn't work for the Dalai Lama when he had to flee Tibet, and when his followers were massacred. This, my friends, looks as if it'll be a long, slow, ghastly campaign to restore democracy.
The other day I reconnected with a friend I’d not heard from in years. It was a great pleasure to chat, and we began to compare notes on people we’d known and what they’d been up to. Several acquaintances had moved on to impressive careers. Some were prominent in government, some in professional spheres. But, we said – think of the strain of that kind of life! Some had written books. A couple had written books but, alas, not had them published. Well, it’s a tough world, being a writer. One was a prolific poet. How wonderful – but there’s no money in that life. One had thrown over a promising academic career to be a used car salesman. One had suffered a nervous collapse; one had given it all up in disgust, which could have been the same thing. Several had died in various ways that were unexpected and vaguely shocking. One claimed by drugs, one killed while reporting in Iraq. And so on. And as we talked I began to see that we all, every single one of us, tend to have many conflicting needs as we think about our friends. We want them to have done well, but not so well that we feel diminished. We’d like them to excel, but are much happier if they do so in ways we expect, so we can say, “Yes, she was always going to do something good in that arena”. That way it feels as if we predicted it, and so we’re just as wise and important as they are, even if we’re not quite so much in the public eye. The ones who fell by the wayside we can pity – and yet that’s not the same as compassion. Pity lets us feel slightly superior as we survey the failings of others. So, some have no children (what a pity!) and some have too many (What a stress! What a difficulty! How do they manage?) It allows us to feel that no one got it right – except perhaps ourselves. And yet, that’s not a selfish thought. Perhaps we have, in fact, got it “right” or right enough for who we are. There’s no point in being a huge success if it leaves you feeling empty. And there’s no value in a life of privation if it doesn’t allow you whatever it is you need and are willing to sacrifice physical well-being to get. Comparisons are never easy, and sometimes not helpful. We don’t all have to be heroes, let alone Superheroes. We need to be who we are. And we need to love others, no matter how well or poorly we think they’re doing.
I've been relatively quiet here recently. And there's a reason. I've been publishing stories on Inspiredworldmagazine.com Take a look and see what you think. You can search me by name. If you were ever in one of my Therapeutic Uses of Writing classes (you know who you are!) you could take a look at my longer story: "So" published in 12 parts in the same magazine. It could help to jump start your creative energies! I copied that one to this site as well. Just scroll down. The other pieces are very short 'flash fiction' which you're sure to enjoy. My aim in all this is to get word out to those who might need to hear what I have to say, so please forgive me any redundancies.
Lessons Learned by Allan Hunter Gardens I’m not much of a gardener. I have a small slightly scruffy yard – which is a step up from the place I lived previously. There the yard was overshadowed by a large, sprawling locust tree under which nothing would grow. When the tree had to be taken down I discovered that, in fact, nothing at all could grow on that barren urban soil – except Locust trees. So you can imagine my delight when spring came along and my present garden erupted in patches of blue flowers I had not planted, and a neglected Azalea produced vast quantities of blossoms. The kids (aged 3 and 5) also enjoyed it. And they showed their enthusiasm by wanting to pick as many of the blue flowers as they could, so they could make ‘flower soup’ as they called it, in a pink plastic pail. I could feel myself wince. This was the garden, for goodness sakes, this was Nature doing its thing and we should not be picking it or trampling it. I wanted to tell them to leave the flowers alone. I was surprised by the strength of my reaction. So I took a deep breath. It was then that I recalled my own feelings about gardens and flowers. I remembered going on a walk with my parents when I was quite young and finding a huge field entirely full of what I think were cowslips, bright yellow flowers on stems about eight inches tall. I picked them freely and presented them, proudly, to my mother. What she was going to do with an armful of yellow flowers I did not consider. We were a long walk from home, and the cowslips wilted badly along the way. I don’t think any of them made it back to the vase on the dining room table. I recalled another memory, of the bike track we kids had made among the trees of Mrs. Hobdell’s garden. Her woodland paradise became a racetrack, and the daffodils probably never recovered. Or the time we drove a go-kart around my uncle Roger’s field where he and his service buddies played soccer every Sunday in Fall. We tore up the turf with our wild side-ways skids. No one had told us not to. No one punished us. We were just being kids. And that was when I looked up at the girls, picking flowers and reaching up for the azalea blossoms, stepping in all the muddiest parts of the garden, and saw the beauty of the moment. As far as I’m concerned from now on they can pick all the flowers they want. [from: Inspiredworldmagazine.com]
Tea Break Read I’d spent the whole day, a rainy bleak kind of day with gusting winds, waiting for my muse to arrive. That’s what I called it, or her, or whatever that thing is that makes me write. My muse. By which I meant inspiration; an idea for a new piece. An insight, a flash of… something. And nothing had arrived. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been just the one day, but it had been over six weeks since I’d sent off my last piece of writing, and closer to six months since I’d felt that deep glow of enthusiasm that could keep me at the keyboard way past any reasonable person’s bed time. I was in a slump. Actually it was worse than that. You know how people talk about writer’s block? And how there are a million books out there telling you how to overcome it? Yes. That. I should know. I’ve read a whole lot of those books. A couple of years back I even wrote one. It seems I was having trouble taking my own advice. Although… that’s not entirely accurate. I had done the things that normally would spark some creative energy. I’d meditated. I’m not much good at it, so I also tried long walks in the country – until the weather got too awful. I watched movies, read, thought, pondered. Nothing seemed to work. I went down to my local coffee place, Mary-Anne’s, and sat surveying the other customers, most of whom seemed to be sitting looking as vacant as I felt. And I began to turn over idea for stories. What would it be like to wait tables there? What sorts of people went for that job? Who would their friends be? Would that be an idea for a story? What would be the dramas of such a life? I couldn’t get into it. All rather tired material, I felt. I needed new ideas. I scanned the papers heaped up by the cash desk. Nothing much there. Was I blocked, empty of ideas? Or was I depressed? No ideas came. Or if they did I couldn’t register them. So I walked home. The rain had eased off. And then, as I walked down a suburban street, I saw it. A rabbit. One of those black and white pet-shop rabbits they used to call Dutch rabbits. It was wet and cowering by the front wheels of a parked car. I bent down, and I could see it was shivering, so moving gently, I reached out and picked it up. It struggled a little, but was clearly used to being held. Wet as it was I held it to my chest to warm it up, and pretty soon I could feel it snuggle into my sweater. It didn’t seem to be hurt. I looked around. I rang the door of the nearest house. They must have thought I was completely nuts – I mean, wouldn’t you, if someone came to the door holding a rabbit? Anyway, it wasn’t theirs. Neither did it seem to belong to anyone else I rousted out of their Sunday night torpor. So I took it home. I used to have a rabbit when I was a kid so I put this little chap in a cardboard box and got some lettuce and stuff from the fridge. I put him? her? I decided it had to be a she, on an old towel and tried to do a bit more thorough job of drying her fur. She didn’t object. We looked at each other for a while. Then I thought I’d better put out a few ads saying ‘lost a rabbit?’ Over the next few days I had not a single reply. So I put up a notice near where I’d found her, pinning it to a phone pole. No replies. After a week I decided I’d better give her a name. Obviously it had to be Cynthia, after my childhood rabbit, and I moved her to a bigger cardboard box well lined with newspaper while I figured out what sort of hutch I could put in the garden. And at some point during all this I began to feel again the joy I’d had as an eight year old, with my first pet. I began to sing little songs to Cynthia as I’d clean her box or feed her lettuce. I found myself picking the leaves of any dandelions I saw on my way to the shops, because rabbits really seem to like dandelions, and Cynthia was no exception. In the evenings she’d scrabble on the side of her box, asking to be held. So I’d pick her up and she’d sit on my lap, perfectly content, for hours, twitching her nose and sometimes nuzzling my hand. I fell in love all over again, my eight-year-old self standing beside me, smiling, no, beaming at me. Since I was at my desk, the computer before me, I started to type out a few thoughts that came along with the warm feeling of knowing Cynthia was there. And that’s when I knew that the muse doesn’t respond to us by giving us ideas for stories. Ideas come from the head and they’re rather cold and calculated. What the muse responds to are emotions. It’s the heart the muse engages. Anything else is not important. At some point during that first week I knew that my job was to write from my heart. Cynthia has the run of the house now. She goes to her cardboard box as a litter tray, only, and she loves to sit on the couch. She doesn’t like TV much (too noisy), but she loves to follow me round the kitchen. She sits on my lap when I type. I think she approves of what I’m doing. She is extraordinarily loving. And everything I write is filled with that knowledge. Everything is a love note to this astonishing, magnificent, ordinary world I so often used to take for granted.
Some of my regular correspondents have asked about my stories, and whether this site will now be given over to creative writing. The answer is yes, and no. I've been posting my creative work here and in magazines (which then get copied to Facebook) because what I do best, it seems to me, is enable others to liberate their creativity, to come to deeper awareness as a result. I felt it was time to say that I don't just talk the talk, but I walk the walk, too. Writing for self discovery is not a closet activity, after all. Don't ever think that. We are not on this earth to hide who we are.
So A serialised short story Three Years Later I’ve kept this diary for a couple of years since I stopped writing, right at the end of the semester. I kept the file on my laptop, and I transferred it to the new laptop, too. I haven’t had to do much more writing like this, and looking at it now I’m not sure why I stopped. I think I just got to a place where I’d moved through all that old stuff. I mean, my dad’s still a problem and my mum’s still being treated for her cancer, and I’ve graduated. So I guess this was what I needed to do right then, at that time, and when I’d done it I didn’t need to do it anymore. I mean, I still write stuff out when I’m upset or confused, and that seems to help, but I’m not doing it regularly. I probably don’t go as deep, either. Sometimes I surprise myself, though. I think what happened was I wrote my way to a place of peace and freedom. The stuff is still there, but it doesn’t wig me out the same way it used to. Perhaps that’d have happened anyway as I got a bit older. I don’t know. That’s probably why I sometimes go back to the exercises and do them again. And sometimes I get results that surprise me, even though I know what’s happening and what’s going to happen. And I kept the text books for this course, too. Most courses I sell back to the bookstore after the first few weeks of class because I know I won’t need them. But I kept these. A couple of times I’ve done the exercises with friends and that usually brings up some important stuff, too. I don’t know what happened, but I’m glad it did. Malcolm left teaching about the time I graduated and I suppose I should have kept in contact with him. But perhaps not. He was what I needed then, and once he’d helped me over the mountain I didn’t need him any more. I’m studying for my Master’s in Psychology. I volunteer at a women’s shelter doing some counseling. I’ve got a good gig waitressing a couple of nights a week to pay the bills. I’m making my life.