And now it's Christmas

First I thought it couldn't be September, now I think it can't possibly be Christmas - but the day after tomorrow really is Christmas.

It's been quite a fall-in September on a writer's retreat in Cambridge, Massachusetts with DiLoPi - Patti Digh, Jennifer Louden, and Susan Piver, "Walking Into Fire" and in October (the weekend of the Halloween snowstorm) on retreat wiith Pema Chodron and Meg Wheatley at Omega.

Me with Patti Digh
All of this retreating has been great for my meditation practice-I bought the MP3's of the Pema Chodron retreat (Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change) and I heard Meg say that the purpose of meditation is to notice that you are thinking-I love that.  My brain is a little thought factory-it just keeps right on thinking.  Susan Piver and the Open Heart Project has helped me to direct all that thought to my breath-not easy but it does bring me a modicum of peace.

So what do I wish for in 2012?  World peace, the end of poverty, the end of AIDS and of all disease and oppression.  What, that can't happen in 2012?  Not even one of those things?

Well my second choice is that I become one who doesn't add to the fear and aggression in the world.  That I claim my "spiritual warriorship" as Pema puts it and become one who truly leaves this world a better place than she found it.

My dear Aunt Mary kept St Francis of Assissi's prayer on her bulletin board at work-Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.  And on those days when I want to scream, when it feels as though everything has gone wrong, from simple things like spilling tea all over me and the car, or being tailgated on Route 9 by someone who clearly thinks that the speed limit is a guideline and doesn't apply to him (or her),  to bigger things like not making goals I've set, or watching friends suffering with illness, or loss, I must remember that I can choose not to give up.

And that's my intention for 2012-not to give up.  To figure out how to take what I've learned and use it to serve others.

Wait-it can't be September!

I have absolutely no idea where the summer went, that's for sure.

I worked, we went to Asheville, NC, I worked some more, we went to P'town and hurried back to avoid Irene, and I worked some more.

Oh, I see, I worked all summer, that's where it went!

How I miss the 16 weeks of vacation that I got as a faculty member! I used those vacations well, learning new things, writing morning pages, getting to the gym, doing yoga. Now I hardly ever write morning pages, I don't get to the gym as often as I would like, and sometimes I'm not sure that I'm learning anything, on this ever turning treadmill that being a dean is.

But I am doing yoga, thanks to Peggy Cappy's workshop at Kripalu this past spring. Ten sun salutations every single morning, even if it means getting up at 5:45 AM as it did this morning.

And now it's the first day of class, and the race is on!

Good luck to all of us, students, teachers, parents, all of us.

Day #2

Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. The force of character is cumulative. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

If ‘the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks,’ then it is more genuine to be present today than to recount yesterdays. How would you describe today using only one sentence? Tell today’s sentence to one other person. Repeat each day.

I am overwhelmed by my responsibilities and feel that I'm not up to the tasks that face me.

15 minutes to live? Trust 30 Challenge

I’m participating in the Trust 30 Challenge in honor of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 208th birthday-you can learn more here.

Here’s today’s prompt and my response:

We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. Write the story that has to be written.

I just learned that I have fifteen minutes to live-fifteen minutes! What’s my story? First I tell Anne how much I love her and how my life has been enriched just by being around her, and how lucky I am that she has chosen to spend the last almost 28 years with me-that I am a totally different person because of her, more creative, looser and more "myself” than I ever would have been without her.

Then I call my father and thank him for all the gifts he has given me; my persistence (some might call it stubbornness), my ability to take whatever life hands me, get knocked down, and get up and start all over again (I need to remember this tomorrow when I go back to work and get knocked down again), and my brains-I’m sure that my “smarts” comes from him. He’s the one who taught me to do what I think is right, whatever the consequences.

Then I speak to my 14 years dead mom, and tell her how I didn’t appreciate her enough when she was alive, how I have much more empathy for her life and her situation, and that the older I get the more like her I believe I am becoming, in a good way (although I wish that I could hand off the worry, the fretting, and the fear of being disappointed).

I speak to my two years dead aunt, and tell her how much she meant to me, how much like a second mother she was and how much of a role model she was to me.

Then I grab Anne, we go to King Kone, have the biggest messiest ice cream sundae, fudge, nuts and cherries, even if they have red dye #2, and I ask her to make sure to tell all my friends how much I love them, how much each of them has meant to me, and I want all of the students I’ve taught over the last almost 30 years to know how each of them as touched me as I hope I’ve touched them.

I have 10 minutes left to enjoy the ice cream, to study Anne’s face, to remember this moment forever (of course my forever is about to come to an end) and I try to think about what Anne needs to know before I leave her-practical things like the passwords to all my accounts, how to get in touch with my university, stuff that she will need to know in the next months. I tell her I want my funeral to be a party, to spend whatever it takes to make sure that everyone enjoys themselves, that everyone laughs, play a lot of The Boss, I tell her, and Roseanne Cash and Holly Near and Joan Baez.

I think about those who won’t necessarily be unhappy to know that I’m dead and I wish them well-I pray the Buddhist prayer, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be peaceful, may I live with ease, may they be happy, may they be healthy, may they be peaceful, may they live with ease.

And I reflect, finally, on my full life-full of love, and friends, and accomplishments beyond what I ever thought I could accomplish, experiences, trips, people, knowledge, meals, prayers, church services, rainy days, sunny days, days in India, China and Nicaragua, days in Brooklyn and Manhattan, days of sorrow and drunkenness and days of clarity and pure joy. All the days that make up my life, and I am grateful for every single one of them, even the lowest days, because without those days I wouldn’t have lived, and now I have lived, for 63 years, four months, and six days, a full and satisfying life. I have served and been served, loved and been loved, forgiven and been forgiven.

And while I would wish for 63 more years of this wonderful life, I always knew it would come to an end, and now it has, and I wouldn’t change one minute of this life, even the ones that at the time I wanted to change-I know that they were important and made me who I am, who I became, and they are all part of the wonder that is my life.

How lucky I am, how lucky I’ve been, and how lucky I continue to be, in knowing that I have these last fifteen minutes to tell the story that needs to be told, a life of love, joy, gratitude and wonder.

What more is there to say? And now my fifteen minutes are up, my bell chimes, and my story comes to an end. Thank you God.

Basic Technology Made Easier: Volume 1

Just when I thought I knew "everything" David Pogue proves me wrong. My favorite trick from his Thursday column is the ability to create a web receipts file and a pdf from an on-line receipt --who knew? Certainly not me!

Popular Culture

I've been on a bit of a movie jag lately. Saw "The Fighter" this past weekend, and "True Grit" the weekend before that.

Two excellent movies, and I'm listening to Arcade Fire's The Suburbs-aren't I hip?

Now playing: Arcade Fire - Modern Man
via FoxyTunes

I'm preparing for the Academy Awards, I even have my very own ballot! And unlike other years, I've seen 70% of the movies nominated for best movie. I don't think I can sit through Black Swan, no matter how good Natalie Portman is, just give her the Oscar and be done with it.

I didn't like Winter's Bone-too slow, too sad, too bleak for me.

And Toy Story 3 might be a Netflix Instant Play one of these nights.

Hey, I think I like Arcade Fire, and if I bought the mp3 from them, instead of Amazon, I'd saved $1.50! Oh well, it's only money.

See you at the movies!

Emily Dickinson's House

We took a trip up to Amherst this December with Vicki and Kristine to visit Emily Dickinson's house, on the occasion of her birthday. Since we were celebrating her birthday, I thought it would be fitting to also visit her grave, so we did that, too.

Unfortunately this would be the last birthday celebration of this type at the house, since the anonymous benefactor has decided to reveal himself and stop handing out roses. Here's an article from December 19, 2010 from The Boston Globe:
For the love of Dickinson

A young man’s love of Emily Dickinson’s poetry blossomed into a tradition almost as mysterious as the woman herself. Now the anonymous donor of roses to celebrate the poet’s birthday has unmasked himself.

For the past 13 years, James Fraser, a retired physicist living in Acton, has bought roses to commemorate the poet’s birth on Dec. 10, 1830. During the open house at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst held on the Saturday closest to her birthday, roses have been handed out — one for every year since her birth. On Dec. 11 the first 180 visitors received a rose.

In a recent phone interview, Fraser said that he wasn’t a particularly serious student as a teenager, but he was drawn to Dickinson’s work. “There was something about her poems that was a little different,” he said. Then he turned to physics, earning a PhD.

Decades later he acquired Cynthia Griffin Wolff’s biography of Dickinson, but it sat on his shelf for years before he opened it. “By reading the book, I got a much better understanding of how she [Dickinson] put words and ideas together. My interest just sort of snowballed from there,” he said. He visited the Dickinson house, joined the Emily Dickinson International Society, and initiated the annual gift. This month’s open house and gift of roses was the last of its kind. Times change and so should birthday celebrations, Fraser said. Next year’s observance is a mystery for now.

We had a beautiful day to be in Amherst, as you can see from this photo taken of the silhouettes of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Emily never spent much time away from Amherst, and Frost taught at Amherst College for 16 years off and on between 1916 and 1938.

There's a lovely inscription next to the silhouette of Emily, a little hard to read here but basically telling her story-my favorite line from this inscription is this one: "Sitting here in Amherst, close to her home, she carries on a quiet, private poetic dialogue with her fellow poet [Frost] and the world."

And standing next to this silhouette/statue it almost felt that way.

I'd love to come back when the gardens are in bloom. Here's a link to a blog and some photos of the gardens when they are in bloom-you'll have to scroll down to see them.