The House with the Orchard Lawn

I decided to try something different today. I was initially inspired by this beautiful article written by one of my heroes. I wanted to write about the idea that it’s better to be a real flower and be beautiful as a part of a living plant- something that smells sweet, is of service to nature, with medicinal value, something that absorbs carbon while emitting oxygen, is regenerative; than a fake flower that is of no value other than beauty, which inevitably fades. I also read the Lorax to my little girl last night (which always brings a tear to my eye), so that was definitely an influence as well. My husband says it reads like a children’s story, which is ok with me. I love the rich metaphors in the storytelling of Women Who Run With Wolves, so much so that I wanted to try my hand at it as well. I hope you enjoy it.

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The House with the Orchard Lawn

There was once a house on a quiet little street in middle America. It was a safe street where American flags hung like dewdrops in the sun, and each house was lined up so perfectly just like square monopoly houses. One little house on the street had the most beautiful array of flowers from around the world in their yard. There were sunflowers, lilies, daffodils, tulips and million bells. It was an anomaly how they got all those many flowers looking so beautiful all the time. The house also had the most perfect lawn. It was emerald green year round and no weeds ever snuck their head up, no patches of clover sprawled across it.

The house next door, though it was the same exact model of house, built at the same time with the same materials, didn’t look quite so nice. The yard was just dirt- not even rich chocolaty earth but the gritty, rocky, dry, tan mud- the sunburnt skin of the earth. Weeds crept up along all the cracks in the ground by the sidewalk and driveway. They were tall, skinny, awkward looking weeds with no colorful flowers, and only grew bigger and more gruesome looking over time. The neighbors knew an old man lived there, but that he suffered from a disease that made him feeble and sensitive to sunlight. One day, his niece moved in. The neighbors breathed a sigh of relief because finally, someone was going to deal with the climbing vines and spiky blackberry bushes that were reaching their way rudely across the border to their immaculate yard. But the girl didn’t do anything about it. She just let the front yard become wilder and wilder. Glaring at her as she got out of her car did nothing. The neighbors grew exasperated that the insane, out of yard was not being kept under control. They were about to march over with the president of the neighborhood committee when they saw her come out of her house with gardening gloves and a shovel. They bickered with one another as they saw her dig holes and build a maze of pvc pipe all around the yard. They were agitated because the yard was still ugly, but at the same time very curious because they didn’t know what she was up to over there.

After several months there were small sprouts. The girl came out to pull weeds, and to apply a woody mulch around them. She covered them in winter, and pruned once a year. They submitted to the fact that the yard next door would always be ugly, and did their best not to look at it. At the very least it gave them something to complain about. They enjoyed bickering about their speculations over what on earth she was doing. Over the next few years the sprouts had grown into trees. There were all kinds of trees; apple, peach, pear, plum, cherry. Birds chirped happily from their nests built of twigs and mud in the springtime. The bees whizzed all over, making quick pit stops at the delicate blossoms. The palette of trees spanned the scope of the rainbow- there were all shades of green from grasshopper to deep emerald, to dark fir. There were yellows and purples and the brightest reds and oranges you ever saw would glow under the brewing grey skies in the fall.

Then the trees began to bear fruit! The fruit would grow so heavy and fat that the girl would catch them in baskets and go around the block offering them to anyone that was sitting on their porch or mowing their lawn dozens of the glistening fruits. Of course everyone accepted her gift, breathing the fresh fragrance deeply as they ushered the bounty in through the front door. Never had anyone tasted anything sweeter than the fruit from the orchard growing on their neighbor’s lawn. Over the years, the next door neighbors grew older and so did their perfect lawn and the perfect flowers that never lost their petals. Their vivid colors began to fade, and muddy pools of stagnant water gathered in the middle of the dull green grass. When people walked by, they smiled and pointed at the house with the orchard lawn, but their faces fell and they averted their gaze when their eyes fell upon the house with the astroturf and the old silk flowers.

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Breaking the Tradition of Gift Giving and Recieving

We can go out into the woods, into a field, into the back yard to lay down on the lawn and fix our gaze up at the clouds rolling under the sky, we can still the mind just enough to hear the tiny whisper coming from the heart. This solitary stillness is important as a regular practice if we are to lead the lives we were meant to. There is too much business and external messages in the space of our regular lives of tasks and routines.

If we listen carefully, we will know what our heart is saying to us.

Sometimes what the heart tells is difficult to truly know. Often it just begins with an urging, or a reluctance, a joy or a sadness. This is to be expected- this is the language of the heart.

Once we receive its message, the next task is to hold it in our conscious mind and give ourselves the time and space to process it. We can always picture the message as we lay down to bed and request some guidance through our dreams or in our waking lives.

I heard something from my heart recently, and I recognized that it was a struggle that seemed silly, could be perceived as selfish and at the same time difficult to resolve. There are always matters which arise that present a challenge for us to reconcile.

My message was: I’m stressed about the upcoming slew of birthdays and Christmas that’s coming upon me. Why? I asked again. This time the answer came to me immediately. The presents. Presents are supposed to bring joy for both the gift giver and the receiver. There’s a whole slew of etiquette around gifts, and millions of entire issues of magazines dedicated to the tradition. There’s also enormous social pressure to comply with this practice.

I thought about calling this post Breaking Free from Expectations or Bowing Out of Obligation Gracefully, but the decision to decide to stop giving and receiving presents is really kind of a radical way of doing those things. It’s definitely not a simple decision to make, and unlike going vegan it’s not an easy thing to read about online. I personally am the only person I know to do this. Here is my reasoning.

I believe at a time long ago, when people didn’t have much, gifts were often desperately needed or perhaps were items that were handmade with love in a way that made them family heirlooms. The items gifted were used carefully and passed down, allowing a few to several generations of practical use. These days, most everything you can go out and buy was made in a factory or a sweatshop in China for very little pay, with cheap materials in a fast process that makes the item completely disposable and likely unsafe. This modern process has allowed people to buy many items for many people, for many occasions. What happens as a result of this? We have more stuff that we likely have no use for, we throw more of it away, more ends up in landfills, and we support cruel industries that cause destruction to the planet.

At first I thought of alternatives to this pattern. I could make everyone handmade gifts, yes, but not everyone can benefit from the same thing. Sending out little gift baskets filled with soaps and lotions made with organic ingredients and recyclable packaging would be very pleasing and useful to me, but probably would only be useful to a handful of my family members. Because of modern conveniences, people become attached to their particular brand or product for self-care, for food, for most everything that is consumed. Even their tastes in décor and fashion has become highly specific and individualized. There’s always Amazon wish lists so that you can be sure to get the person exactly what they need, or gift cards so they can pick for themselves exactly what they would like. But I had to ask myself, how is this any different than giving someone an envelope of cash in exchange for them giving you an envelope of cash? It’s completely soulless. On this level of monetary exchange I would always be the weaker party, as I have no income besides what I make from selling random things on EBay which puts me at the lowest income level of anyone else in my entire family or friend group.

Other solutions are donating to each other’s charities which is wonderful, or asking to only receive “experience gifts.” At first I thought that would be a wonderful solution, but so many “experiences” that I would want for my family had only one gift-type option: the gift of membership. These memberships to places like museums and parks were upwards of $75. I just didn’t feel comfortable asking for these in lieu of physical presents, as I realistically would only visit these places once or twice a year due to geographical distance.

“But it’s the thought that counts.” Yes I agree. So here is my thought on the practice. What I would honestly love to receive is a letter, or more preferably a phone call from anyone who cares about me on my birthday. Ditto for Christmas although I’m not Christian in the least and the holiday causes a lot of grief for me (the consumerism, hustle and bustle, going here and there and all the dang traditions that it forces). So to be honest I could care less about Christmas. In turn, I will make a commitment to calling ALL close friends and family on their birthday and Christmas to have a real conversation with them, to connect with them. If by any chance some of them are physically with me visiting, then going out and doing an activity they enjoy while we spend time together is what I will give. To me this is what is important and meaningful, the most precious gift.

So I’m announcing to everyone that I’m bowing out of the traditional form of gift receiving and giving. Not all of my family knows yet, some that do are understanding (let’s be honest- I’m already kind of weird so it’s not a huge surprise, I’m just getting more “out there” than I already was). Some are in complete denial and insist that they give me gifts anyway. That is fine. I will receive the gifts with a recognition that this person is in their own way trying to please me (though it’s strange that they would do what I asked them not to do to accomplish this) and they will get donated to a charity where they will be of use to others less fortunate than me. This may sound harsh but I know that I don’t want to add any more objects to my home, as I’ve only become happier in making the decision to let more and more items go.

From what little I could find online of people that have made this lifestyle choice, it seems like this takes a few years for your family to get used to. For me, that’s ok as I’m not trying to shove my ideas down everyone’s throat, I’m just making a change that will make my life more in line with my personal values.

As for my daughter, that’s something my husband and I will need to discuss further. I’m loving the idea of “Something they want, something they need; Something to wear, something to read” from us and a limit of one gift per family member.

This blog post has turned into a guide for bowing out of gift giving and receiving, but could also be useful as encouragement to bow out of anything that doesn’t make the heart happy. So let us continue to reflect, consider and take action to live a life filled with joy and peace.

Letter to a Former Vegan

Dear Friend,

I’m not here to pass judgement, I’m not here to lecture or go into detail about how the factory farming industries are hurting everyone and everything. I’m assuming you already know (if you don’t know, there are plenty of documentaries you can watch to enlighten you). What others do is their choice and I’m just here on my own journey with enough of its own hurdles and hardships. Recently going vegan was not a choice that I made out of compassion (although it was the first time I made the choice over a decade ago). It was not a choice I made for the environment, it was not a choice I made for humanity. It was a choice I made for my own health. Naturally when I decided to become vegan, I reached out to other people on the same path. Most vegans arrive at veganism through the avenue of choosing to face the truth about the horrors and atrocities suffered by animals in the factory farming industry, and they honestly just cannot bring themselves to eat meat without thinking about who it was, where it came from and what it experienced there. But more and more vegans are stepping up their diet choices to battle health problems that are exacerbated by the traditional American diet. This is awesome and I’m pleased this is happening more and more. But similarly to vegetarians trying to subsist on vegetables and rice, it’s not sustainable for the majority of us on this path.

Going vegan for our own health is enormously hard, because we’re only accountable to ourselves, we are only motivated by the benefits we reap. We have to say “no” to foods that would make our taste buds scream YES!, we can’t eat at certain restaurants or shop conveniently at some grocery stores. We can’t make the same meals at home as we used to. We have to get used to things tasting differently, and used to the fact that we will be the odd man out in many a social gathering, even facing stigma and occasionally ridicule. After struggling with all of it and still feeling the craving for meat, it can seem that abstinence from animal products is not worth the personal health rewards. We start to lose sight of what it was within us that made us make the switch in the first place as we feel the guilt of having these carnivorous feelings becoming too heavy to bear. But there’s a way to lighten that burden.

It becomes much easier and simpler if we remember that with every single vegan choice we make, we are saving not just ourselves, but our fellow creatures, the planet, and our fellow humans as well. We’re being the change, even when we can’t immediately see the change. Veganism needs us as much as vegans of all motivations need each other for strength of conviction in a world where we are immersed in a culture that deliberately creates vehicles designed only to get us to make choices in what we consume that support violence and destruction of our natural resources, our animal friends and even ourselves in the name of profit.

Making the decision to give up veganism to eat meat because there are just too many other problems with humanity and the world that need fixing first is merely looking too closely at just one small piece to a huge puzzle.

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Of course, we can continue to fight for what it is we believe in while being vegan. Being vegan does not mean we are willing to die to save the life of an animal- it just means we’re willing to make different choices with our diet than most- we’re willing to be just one part of the force for good in the world. It is not as complex as it seems. It actually requires no effort other than choosing food and consuming food, an activity that we’re already obligated as humans to be doing no matter what  particular cause we were fighting for. All that is required is choosing food that is vegan over food that is not. It cannot be over emphasized how amazing just this simple act of non-violence is for the planet. Even more than that, all of the problems in this world do not exist in a vacuum. They are interrelated and influenced by one another. The way we treat animals reflects the way we treat each other, the way we treat mother earth reflects the way we treat ourselves. It is all related on a spiritual level. Having compassion for IT ALL (including ourselves) is the solution.

Given that, we of course cannot devote our lives as one individual to every single cause that is deserving of our attentions- it is simply not humanly possible with time limitations of hours in a day and days on earth. But we can all make this simple decision at every meal and with every purchase. In fact, I’d argue that we should all make the best passive decisions (that is choose the more sustainable option whenever we have to do something anyway) we can. Toss it in the recycling bin instead of the trash. Buy the organic version. Buy the natural version. Buy from the mom and pop shop instead of Amazon. Go to the wildlife sanctuary instead of the theme park. Adopt a pet instead of buying from a breeder. If you do choose to eat meat, buy from a local small family farm. The power we have as individuals just passively consuming is substantial when it all adds up.

If you decide to stop being vegan, I will still be your friend. I still love my husband, my family and my country, my world even if I don’t agree with the choices that everybody makes. I’m just one person, and I do my personal best to make a difference with who I am and what I have. Consider this open letter to you, and everyone who reads it as more of an open invitation to joining (or re-joining!) the vegan movement, to joining the green movement, to joining the local movement, to joining ANY and ALL movements for good. Even just making positive actions in the world as often as you can helps- any intentional action at all helps. We mustn’t lose sight of the big picture, we mustn’t forget that we’re not alone. Let’s make a pact to follow our hearts and our passions, make steps toward our big dreams through our small decisions. Let’s shine our light in every place we can reach from our own little corners, and slowly but surely we’ll make change happen.

 

Claiming A Creative Life

“Remember to stay inside the lines” said the spinsterly teacher abruptly, making me jump in my short plastic chair. Looking up, I saw the black pits of her nostrils as she peered down at my work through the  impossibly small glasses propped on the end of her nose. Sitting there under the fluorescent lights, at the woodgrain laminate table with my peeled and broken crayons scattered around my stark white Xeroxed worksheet, I felt a hot flash of anger rush straight up from my stomach to the skin of my cheeks. As I burned with the rage of an angry boar, I swallowed hard, gritted my teeth and forced my head to jerk down in a quick nod, dismissing the intruder that interfered with my artistic flow.

That was the beginning of my rebellion. I was in second grade summer school because I couldn’t pass math. I remember sobbing over my miniature primary colored counting bears as my Dad would try to demonstrate the simple concepts over and over and over. I was able to pass, and eventually went on to take all the math that was required to get into college, and miraculously, to cobble together enough algebra and statistics courses to get a bachelor’s degree. At each and every gradual level, I struggled and worried and sweated over my assignments and exams. At the end of each semester, I sighed in relief when my grades confirmed I had made it by the skin of my teeth.

Of course it isn’t remotely uncommon to struggle with math in an academic setting, but I’ve really never been cut out for any type of activity that depends on exact and precise maneuvers. When a very strict process of completion is required I become extremely tense and agitated. After second grade, I slowly began to detest school more and more as the years went on. Art class, and art activities offered a space where I found peace. I also took respite in a few other places at school- anywhere that granted me freedom- to write, to cut wood, to play music, to perform a poem, to do anything the way I wanted to do it, really.

a chalk drawing from high school.
a chalk drawing from high school.

Sierra gasps in surprise and points, shouting happily, “Look, Mooom, an American Flag!” every time she discovers one when driving through town. Our city, being home to the biggest army post in the country, is extremely patriotic, and somehow at the age of 2 she is already buying into the concept that that piece of fabric is revered and celebrated by everyone. Despite all the pitfalls of this country- my biggest gripe being over-consumption (by our citizens AND our government), I love this freedom that has been granted to us. I have an understanding and gratitude for how precious and protected this freedom is and must be. But what good is this freedom that we have if as a society we are put in a position where we aren’t encouraged, or even allowed in some cases, to use it the way we want to, the way our souls were meant to?

A little over ten years later, I found myself once again under the fluorescent lights of a public school classroom, this time standing next to a professor peering at my art work through her black frame glasses.

“The composition of your piece on the right is much better” she asserted.

“I kind of prefer the left one’s composition, myself.”

“Why are you here? Why do you come to class if you don’t want to learn?” she snapped. She continued on a diatribe about art theory that I again forced myself to nod along too. She never again approached me to critique my work.

It is extremely easy for conscious and creative people like us to stumble upon and conjure up thoughts, ideas, plans and dreams throughout our waking and sleeping hours. But how can we stake a claim outwardly in our practical lives so that these stirrings and impulses can become a full expression, a living fruition?

We do it by ignoring the critics, the naysayers, the “professionals,” the detractors, and most frequently, those who use the excuse of “having our best interest at heart.” We must block the negative energies and the poison arrows from flying into the camp of our deeper feeling. We must look out for the trojan horses- the advice that on the surface promises safety and comfort, but inside is full of all manner of chains and cages designed to cripple our creative forces. We fight for the time, the space, the resources to do our creative work- not just for a a half hour on Sundays but as a regular routine in our lives. We must consider our creative work with the same non negotiable priority that we apply to practicing personal hygiene and eating regular meals. Going to work, keeping clothes on our backs and a roof over our head allows us to survive in this world, no doubt about it. But what good is survival for the human body when the soul of the person is suppressed, banished and exiled?

Of course many of us are completely happy with the types of lifestyles and activities that can effortlessly be acquired and maintained in our society- for some of us the choices we wish to make happen to be those that are widely agreed upon by the popular culture, and we will face little to no adversity. But if you’re reading this blog, it’s more than likely that you are like me. We aren’t made to color inside the lines. We weren’t made to blindly be lead by people that happen to assume positions of authority. We were made with eyes that see beauty and light, with ears that hear to the call of the wild, with hearts that feel the pang of deep emotion, with instincts that smell the rancid breath of those that use fancy words to attempt to manipulate us into submission. I promise you that we have the power within ourselves to overcome anyone who would try and stand between us and our creative work. All that’s needed is a recognition that the power is there, and the conscious awareness to use that power.

When we begin to express our innermost soul urgings outwardly, people start to spot us from a mile away. We begin to stand out like a beet stuck in a bundle of carrots. We probably won’t fit in so well, if at all, and people will innocently start to ask us to please just maybe be a little less red, a little more orange, less rough, a little thinner, a little sweeter. It is then and there that we must immediately use that power, that trust and strength of conviction that courses through our veins. All that is left is to keep doing the work that we’re doing, the work that we’re loving- the way only we can do it, and not stop until WE are satisfied- when we know we have successfully brought our soul baby from the ovaries of our spirit into the earthly realm.

I can assure you, it won’t be easy to do. but I promise that for the artists, the musicians, the writers, the activists, the philosophers, the poets, the witches, the dancers, the builders, the designers, the gardeners, the scholars, the cooks, the adventurers that we are- it’s as essential to our soul lives as oxygen is to our physical bodies.