The Light Gets In

Ring the bells that can still ring.

Forget your perfect opening.

There is a crack in everything. 

That’s how the light gets in. 

Leonard Cohen

Sometimes life hurts, sometimes life hurts a lot, and sometimes the hurt is unbearable, but we bear it in the moment and the next moment….  A baby is born, perfect only in a parent’s eyes. It’s only purpose to grow and thrive, and to love and  be loved. I think this is our purpose   throughout our life span, no matter how short or how long. Doing this “perfectly” is not possible. We all get broken by life in some way, there are no exceptions. The longer I live, the more scars I get. I have been beat up, but I’ve thrown some good punches too.

So what are my “…bells that can still ring?” I have an old electronic piano keyboard that has a few keys that are not perfectly in tune. I still play and enjoy it and work around the imperfect keys. My brain seems to fill in the note for me, and I still hear it in tune. I’ve adapted to this limitation because there is so much that is good about making music. I don’t always come up with the best word while I am writing, but that’s what a thesaurus is for. I have to say “no” more often, so I can say “yes” to what is most important to me. I have less people that I tell “ Call me day or night or 3 a.m. and I’ll be there if you need me.” I need my sleep. I have seen and felt horrible things and my soul and body will carry them everyday. Bad things happen to good and bad people. Not all wounds heal. My presence, my love, my friendship are bells I can still ring.

At times, I’ve actually believed that if I was perfect, or tried hard enough, I could make things happen. This makes me laugh now! There is no “perfect”, and if there were I suspect we would all be a bit bored. I now realize my desire to be perfect before I could act was a “perfect” excuse! What I see now is that going for this unattainable state before I acted meant I could avoid my fear, stay safe and avoid failure. There is nothing noble in avoiding life out of fear of failure no matter the reason. “Fake it till you make it.”sounds much more real and possible. It says to me “Just keep moving!” and “Now!”

We all know what a “broken” heart is. It’s not visible on an x-ray, but we’ve all felt it if we are human. The image is of a heart fractured, like a crack in a vase, a heart no longer whole. I am heartbroken. The losses I have experienced have cleaved my heart. My heart is still beating and although I am heartbroken by life I am not in despair. Most days I am happy and hopeful.  I call this courage and perseverance . Leather is softest when it is worn and cracked. My favorite shoes don’t look the same as when I took them out of the box, I’ve broken them in and they fit my foot very well. I am worn and broken in, soft, pliable and teachable.

A closed mind or a closed heart may block pain, but the light is also blocked. A closed heart blocks love, and a closed mind blocks the truth. So the light gets in when there is an opening or crack. It is impossible to navigate in complete darkness, or to see the beauty in my or my loved one’s soul. The light gets in to make me more compassionate towards myself and others. The words of Leonard Cohen and others others teach me and light my path:

Light is the symbol of truth.– James Russell Lowell. 

If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.  Rumi 

There’s a sorrow and pain in everyone’s life, but every now and then there’s a ray of light that melts the loneliness in your heart and brings comfort….  – Hubert Selby, Jr.

So light a candle and pray for the people of Ukraine.

Been There, Done That

When we’ve had an experience we don’t want to repeat, we might say, “Been There, Done That”. The reasons we may not want to repeat an experience range from “It was boring, I don’t want to do it again”, to “I tried that before and it didn’t work out or it was painful.” It’s shorthand for my personal story, my history: a chronological record of significant events often including an explanation of their causes. Do I sometimes feel “uncomfortable” when I think about some of the things I have done? Absolutely!  For fun, or at least for my edification I’d like to pick apart this definition because “history” seems to be quite the controversial topic lately. 

Chronological: arranged in the order that things happened or came to be . We often think of history as looking backwards, but history is actually created by going forward in time from one event forward to the next. As I lick the spoon, I think this chocolate sundae is really good, but what’s the history behind this sundae? If I made this sundae, the very first event in the sundaes’ history is my thought, “A sundae sounds good, I think I’ll make one.”  And then I got the ice cream out of the freezer and the chocolate sauce …. One action led to another and Bam! a chocolate sundae! I wanted a caramel sundae, but I settled for a chocolate sundae, because I was out of caramel sauce. This explains why the sundae was chocolate, but who would know this other than myself. Much of the controversy  around historical  events often centers on the question of causation. Of course, my example is simplistic, but worth considering when we look at the causes of significant historical events like the Civil War.  What came first? Just remember the last time you tried to explain the plot of a movie to a friend, and you had to backtrack many times to keep things in order and making sense.

Record : to write (something) down so that it can be used or seen again in the future; : to produce a record of (something). First, remember not all history is recorded in writing. People record what they perceive and experience, and of course, people differ on what they perceive due to physical, cultural, and social factors. Obviously a slave would write a different history of slavery than a wealthy plantation owner. Neither record alone tells the whole history, but each record is an equally important point of view. Are the lashes on the slaves back any less relevant than the slave owners “papers” of slave ownership?  Are you uncomfortable yet? I can spin my personal stories so I come out smelling like a rose, and may get away with it unless someone from my past speaks out and questions the truth of my story. On a larger cultural basis the powerful can spin history as well. Who do we believe?  Whose record is most valid? To pretend that all voices are treated as equal is folly. We tend to believe the stories we hear from people most like us. We also disagree on what is “significant”. Women feel differently than men about the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. In fact, often women have been left out of the history of  significant  events  because much of history was written by men with blinders on. What matters to an individual determines what significance to give an event.

What a mess we make when we attempt to record history, but the biggest morass is created when we attempt to explain the causes of historical events. It is so much easier to assert that the War of 1812 happened in 1812, than to explain what caused the war itself. It turns out cold hard facts aren’t so cold and hard . For myself, it is so important I know who is writing a piece of history so I can factor in bias. It is just as important that I know my own bias. Am I hearing from all the parties involved? Whose voices are the loudest? History is very, very complicated and nuanced. The story is never as simple as we wish it were. I have to remain open to adding new understanding of historical events. Perhaps if more adults understood how to face the facts and truths of history, our children could too. Denial of historical facts and the depths of causation means accountability and culpability are not addressed. If we and our children can no longer learn from our history, aren’t we “doomed “ to repeat it. Going forward, what history will we write?

Read a Banned Book

Do you remember English Composition in high school? It was basically a class on how to write. Here is my brief summary. I remember we had to write descriptive pieces; i.e., “The big yellow, fuzzy, slow-moving caterpillar crawled onto the tall, bright, blue flower.” Think adjectives! Then we learned about persuasive writing, i.e. “You should do this because it will help save the planet, the air will be easier to breathe, the water will be cleaner and if you don’t we will all die!’  Soon, we heard about plots and protagonists and antagonists. Protagonists being the good guys and antagonists being the bad guys. We were taught that stories needed plots which have beginnings, middles and ends. To our dismay, we also had to write some poetry which has iambic pentameter! Who the hell remembers what that is?  My summary is complete, as we were taught all summaries needed to be.

The written word. Your writing is your property. It is your creation, whether a grocery list, a 500 page novel, an article in the New York Times or notably, a page in your diary. I come from a family of writers. There would be a very tall pile of books, journals and diaries if we stacked them all together. This began with my Mother, who has written in many diaries and journals, and a lot of us have continued this tradition for ourselves. Recently there has been a rush to ban books, being proposed by “authorities” like parent groups and school boards. These books are controversial because they deal with racial issues, violence, and those who are perceived as “others”, primarily LGBTQ people. I saw a woman on a news show actually declaring, “We don’t want our children sexualized.” Yikes! Unless, of course, they are straight, white and conforming. It is laughable to think that our young people aren’t already quite knowledgeable about sex and race. Social media takes care of that! Certainly parents have a responsibility to care for and protect their children from harm, but is teaching children to be hateful and Intolerant responsible parenting?

Full disclosure, I worked for over 15 years in a book store. I was surrounded by a world of books. It was not my job to tell people that a book sucked, had tons of swear words or hot sex scenes, or was full of misinformation or lies.  If they wanted “Huckleberry Finn” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”, both of which have been banned at one time or another, I found it for them. I shelved “The Joy of Sex” and “The Joy of Gay Sex”. The teenagers that were furtively looking at either of  these books were not bad kids, they were curious kids. The book that I had a few qualms about ordering was  “The Anarchist Cookbook”, a book giving “recipes” for bomb making and explosives, but I ordered it without commentary. We did not stock it but ordered it if someone wanted it. Mark Twain said he wrote “Huckleberry Finn” as a statement against slavery and he used the “n” word because it was the vernacular of the time, but his American classic was often banned. His quote is one of the best I have ever read on censorship: “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

Little Red Riding Hood was banned at one point because there was wine in her basket! “The Catcher in the Rye” has been banned more than any other single book, but it is considered the best book on the adolescence experience ever written. Read it if you haven’t read it, your palms won’t grow hair…. Remember that Isaac Asimov believed “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.”

In summary, (English Comp. 100 -this is how you end essays), today, it seems  the push to ban books is an overt attempt to “whitewash” our society and demonize those whose sexuality does not “fit “ into a heterosexual box. I believe  Alex Ponomarenko said it best: Despite insensitive and downright explicit themes that these banned books hold, they are mirrors to bitter and uncomfortable realities which we cannot simply censor or hide away. In fact, doing so will only cause more harm than good. A mind manipulated to think of only good things or see the world as simply black and white seriously threatens humanity’s survival.   


It’s the end of January and the snow is dirty and pushed up in the corners of parking lots. Perfect for playing “King of the Mountain”, but the adult in me says I’d get hurt somehow. There’s just enough snow and ice on sidewalks and streets to make running  treacherous. And there’s a new variant called “Stealth Omicron”, sounds like a bad science fiction movie, but its not. There’s a feeling nipping at the edges of my psyche, but I can’t catch it in the shadows and bring it out into the light. It’s all just dirty snow.

I’m writing, hoping I may get this feeling to reveal itself. Shadow boxing and a dog chasing its tail describe the futility I feel now. Why aren’t we grateful that Trump is not president and the horror that would be? I can complain, but brainstorming solutions draws a blank. My brain is not storming, its just drizzling. I know that looking backwards, or into the future, doesn’t bear any fruit, but standing still in the moment is uncomfortable. In this moment, I itch and squirm.  Tears might work to release tension, but I have no tears. What do I call this but ‘blah”?

Aha! Deja vu! I’m “in-between”. I’ve felt this feeling before and I put a name to it. I must have survived it because I’m still here! So I should be able to draw on my past experience with this feeling, but this time, I tell myself, it’s different. It’s not, I just want to wallow for awhile. This is part of in-between, sitting and feeling feelings. I don’t chase my tail, I sit and feel. Age seems to be slamming doors in my face—no you can’t do that, no you can’t have that, and don’t be a fool, that ship has sailed. I haven’t been questioning these assumptions. Maybe “no” doesn’t always mean “no” if it really means “I don’t deserve this”. I don’t deserve to do, have or be  “a, b or c”. My crisis of low self-esteem is based in large part on the limits I have placed on myself because I’m “too” old for whatever. I need to look at what I am thinking and question my own authority. Is what I am thinking true? 

As we know “Thinking does not make it so.” So I can confront my feelings and change my thoughts, but can I make the leap to acting differently? I doubt there will be a big leap, more like baby steps and falling on my butt.. and getting back up again and again. I cut bangs to change my hairstyle. I “like” more people on Our Time and Match, and yes it does take two dating sites! I write to reveal myself to myself. I make walking and spending time with good friends a priority. I test new behaviors and see how it goes. I do things that I may not feel like doing in the moment, but I’ve decided it is what I really want to do. I’m working on a book that is based in part on aging, so I’m taking the bull by the horns on this topic. 

We’re under a winter storm warning for today, February 1st, and it is snowing now. At least the dirty snow will be covered up with fresh, clean white snow for today. I feel a shift in my “blah” feeling,  more excited and hopeful. Though you will find me whining when its time to  shovel this new white stuff….