There’s Really Isn’t Much As Lovely As a Tree

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The Green Curtain, Ferndale

The Green Curtain, Ferndale

The prognosis was in. It wasn’t good. General health decline and evidence of weakening structure. There’s nothing anyone can do. The third alder’s comin’ down.

All I can say is, dammit, there goes the forest

Well, our forest, the little one we’ve got wrapped around our yard in Ferndale, CA, that mélange of trees, bushes, ferns, bamboo, and more stinging nettle than anyone should have to wrangle. It’s a hodge-podge I’ve grown to love and I’m not pleased about its seemingly inexorable thinning.

It started a while ago. A towering alder that bordered our back fence (the one you see in the background of the photo above) suddenly crashed down, rupturing the green curtain that comprised our view. My husband reminded me that we’d been told from the get-go that this particular tree was not long for life and my tree-grief should be modified accordingly.

So I moved on; planted a couple of willows; wrapped potato vines around the split-rail; put in another round of drought-resistant whatevers in the front patch, and hoped for the best. The potato vines didn’t make it, but I’m encouraged that the willows are still straggling along (though considering my ideal is the willows of Central Park, odds are good I’m being a bit delusional!).

The Willows of Central Park

The Willows of Central Park

Then, like a thunderbolt from Artemis, Dionysus, or whichever tree deity handles alders, the second one tumbled not long after the first, and this one had not come with a terminal diagnosis. No telltale pockmarks, no tilting weaknesses; its leaves seemed plentiful; there was nothing to portend its cruel and unceremonious demise. Now, instead of two auspicious alders bookmarking our backyard, there are wide open spaces and lots more sky.

I love sky. I love wide open spaces. I loved my trees more.

What is it with alders? Their life expectancy is 60-100 years, so I can only assume ours were in the winter of their lives. Old. Clearly not as old as the grand conifers that abound, but old enough for both to die within a relatively short period of time. Maybe they’re like swans, mating for life, and it was a soul mate thing.

I checked an article by David D. Mortimer of the Simi Valley Acorn titled, Ask the Arborist—Death of the Alders, and here’s what he had to say:

“Why are so many alders dying? Could it be bugs? Some nefarious disease? Global warming? Hardly. How about this: They are just being alder trees, doing what alder trees do. That is pretty much the story. Alder trees have a comparatively short lifespan, especially when they’re not in their native habitat. They’re definitely not a drought-tolerant tree.”

Maybe it is the drought. Or maybe they were just old (and God knows I have respect for that state of being!).

Big Yosemite Tree_sm

Big Yosemite Tree

I’ll admit: I’m a bit of a tree-hugger. I wept openly decades ago (scaring my then-toddler son) when a misguided gardener hacked the life out of a majestic conifer outside our picture window. I practically caused internecine crisis years back when I stomped off a friend’s property after they described the house that’d be going up after the old-growth cedar came down… the one I’d just been hugging (yes, literally hugging). So it’s a thing with me, that’s seems clear.

Obviously in forested territory like Humboldt County tree-love has to find balance with the essential and job-providing lumber industry. And let’s face it, who doesn’t love a wood house, gorgeous hardwood floors, the warmth of beams and rugged fence work. Balance is the key, and I figure as long as everyone involved is a responsible steward—thinning, replanting, selective harvesting in lieu of full scale annihilation—one can hardly raise a ruckus. But given the essential role trees play in the holistic health of our planet—balancing carbon dioxide, providing habitat, preventing erosion, and so on—protective and proactive attitudes and actions are always a wise investment.

In fact, I recently stumbled on a GoodNewsNetwork.com story about an ex-NASA engineer who plans to use drones to plant one billion trees a year. Really.

Drones will fly two or three meters above the ground and fire out pods containing pre-germinated seeds that are covered in a nutritious hydrogel. The company’s CEO, who might be called ‘Johnny Apple Drone’, thinks it should be possible to plant up to 36,000 trees a day, and at around 15% of the cost of traditional methods. And they aren’t just looking to create plantations of trees, but full ecosystems.

“Together with tree seeds, we hope to seed in other species including micro-organisms and fungi to improve the soil quality and ensure long-term sustainability of our efforts.”

I’d say that’s not only dedication, but a far better use of drones than blowing up things!

All this matters to me because, on a global scale, I want to see the integral value of all trees honored and protected worldwide. On a local scale, I’m mourning the loss of that third alder on our property. (See, my scope is both macro and micro!) Though, actually, it’s not on our property; it’s on city property, a stately specimen that not only contributes to our personal forest, but is precariously perched so that if/when it goes, its sheer size will bring the fall trajectory not only onto our property, but our roof. Not good, clearly.

We’re told the tree may have some time left, so it’s possible just topping it will deliver us from danger and give us all a few more years. I hope so. I want the tree around a bit longer. I also want my roof.

Peg's Tree

Peg’s Tree

But I have discovered a brilliant assuagement for tree loss, particularly those that have fallen worldwide for one reason or another. There’s a site called StandForTrees.org, where contributing just $10 “keeps one tonne of CO2 from entering the atmosphere by supporting local and indigenous communities protecting forest in developing countries.” That’s right; you get to pick your forest. I love the idea. So far I’ve bought three tonnes and I plan to buy more. If you love trees, or you just want to take part in helping the planet, you don’t have to be a tree-hugger; you just have to buy a tonne. Or two or three. I urge you to visit the site and learn more about it; it’s a very innovative business model. And it’s saving trees.

So as I mourn the imminent thinning of my forest, I’ll take solace in managing my metric tonnes and getting out there to see what else can be salvaged in the yard. The magnolia is looking good and it’s certainly time for those willows to start flourishing…

Adapted from article originally published @ The Ferndale Enterprise on May 7, 2015.

Peg’s Tree, Willows of Central Park, Big Yosemite Tree, & The Green Curtain photos by LDW


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Mother’s Day Celebrates Life, It’s Not An Act of Exclusion

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Passing Down BelowAs I was doing research for my recent piece at The Huffington Post, I Don’t Care If You Don’t Want Children…Really, I became increasingly dismayed by the bitterness and resentment bubbling under the surface of our current parent vs. non-parent wars. As some in my circle remarked upon reading my article: “Who knew?”

Indeed, who knew that the procreation-imperative, imprinted in humans since the beginning of man, had unleashed such competitive envy, defensiveness, judgment, and self-pity? But it seems it has. Reams have been—and continue to be—written on the topic (my article above has links to the latest), to the point that even the sweet tradition of Mother’s Day has been put under the gun by cultural flamethrowers:

“I did not raise my son, Sam, to celebrate Mother’s Day. I didn’t want him to feel some obligation to buy me pricey lunches or flowers, some annual display of gratitude that you have to grit your teeth and endure.”

* * *

“Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha!”

* * *

“I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure.”

Think those lines were uttered by one of the curmudgeons at Fox News? A churlish blogger with generalized anger issues? Some embittered naysayer who rains on the parade of any holiday celebration? You’d be wrong. They were all part of very gifted writer Anne Lamott’s recent takedown on the matter of Mother’s Daya surprisingly bitter rant that seems out-of-character for the usually wise and compassionate author. Not only is Ms. Lamott put off by the singling out of mothers on this special day, she goes so far as to assert that 98% of parents not only feel themselves superior, that same percent believes non-parents simply cannot know the level of love they know. To which I sigh, “Really?? I have not met those parents. Apparently the people I know are in the other, more rarified, 2%.”

COME ON, PEOPLE!!

happy coupleThe fact is, yes: while everyone has been a non-parent at some point in their life, no one who has not had children can know what it feels like to have children. Fact; not judgment. Just as I cannot know what it feels like to climb Mt. Everest, go hand-gliding, or bungie jump off a bridge. People can tell me the attendant exhilaration is like no other, and I believe them; but I wouldn’t know. That they’ve had that experience does not make them superior; it just means they’ve had an experience I have not.

Maybe it’s a lame analogy, but the same applies to parenting. Whatever that experience is for anyone, it doesn’t make them superior. But let me also add: no one I know feels superior simply because they’re a parent. They may feel superior because of other things, God knows, but the mere fact and act of procreating is not something I see anyone hoist as a measure of personal value or worth. It’s just part of who they are and how they’re living their life. Like being a teacher, a doctor, lawyer, or landscape artist.

If those who are childless-by-choice, who have lost, or who cannot have children, feel minimized and/or dismissed by the parents in their circle, either they’re hanging out with the wrong people (who likely act superior and callous about a great many other things as well), or they need to look inward to see why their pain and heartache, or their choice, compels them to judge others so negatively. It’s one thing to step away from a Mother’s Day celebration because it’s difficult to be reminded of what you can’t have, don’t have, lost, didn’t want, or had an unpleasant version of; it’s another to slime the holiday and denigrate the people celebrating it.

Me & dill b-daysI don’t usually get involved in social media hot-topics these day, but frankly, as a mother, a woman, and an optimistic human who believes we each have the power to manage our joys and sorrows, I was stunned by both Lamott’s thesis and the vitriol of some of those commenting. The language of this seemingly metastasizing conflict is counter-productive and presumptuous enough that, ultimately, I felt a need to respond on the thread:

I usually agree with your wonderful posts, Anne Lamott, but find this one sad and oddly cynical. Celebrating mothers is not, in any way, a dismissal of the myriad roles men and women play in making this world go around. Nor is it about “pricey lunches or flowers, some annual display of gratitude that you have to grit your teeth and endure.” That WOULD be a sad thing, and if that’s what the holiday means to you, I can understand why you never celebrate it with your son!

I cannot help but hear a certain victim tone in your assertion that by celebrating one set of people, “superiority” is being asserted over another set, the non-parent people in our midst. Not only is that not true, there is narcissism and bitterness in the idea that makes ME sad…that somehow you feel the universe doesn’t provide enough joy for us all, to begrudge the celebration of others. In fact, the day is NOT another faux-separation of women-who’ve-had-kids vs. women-who-haven’t, a construct that seems rampant these days. ANY woman who has been a mentor, a leader, a caregiver, a teacher; a nurturer is honored on this one little day. Not at the exclusion of ANYone else. We’ve got days to celebrate fathers, our God-figures, the birth of the nation, hell, even secretaries; we can surely spare one day for the mother/nurturers in our midst.

Nor do most of us approach the day with a presumption of “guilt” being the driving force behind our children’s cards, our family’s emails of love; our colleagues’ and friends’ hoots of “happy day!” For many of us, Mother’s Day is simply a day to give a nod to the women in our lives who’ve provided nurturance and compassion, whoever they may be and regardless of their parental status. It can be done with a simple hug, a card, a phone call, a warm smile, an “I love you”; maybe a homemade breakfast, a walk on the beach, or shared space on the couch watching a movie. No money has to be spent; no endurance required.

But to say “Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path” is SUCH a sadly negative and ungenerous perception! I don’t know where you get that “98% of people think….” negatively about non-parents, but Anne, none of the parents I know believe celebrating mother/nurturers makes ANY such statement! Dear Lord, we cannot live our lives so afraid of offending someone or making someone feel left out that we eschew honest, joyful celebration. Even the women who are not mothers were born of mothers, have strong female role models, etc… how about turning the day into a celebration of them!?

Maybe you feel your stance on this is democratizing, but I’d ask that you look at the edge in your philosophy and consider that you might have made some presumptions about those us who have had children that simply don’t ring true.

For now, I’m going to go leave for a walk on the beach with my family, to celebrate me, our children, our mothers, our mentors; our nurturing friends (some of whom are not parents!). And it will be a great day. I hope somehow you have one too.

That pretty much says it all. For me, anyway.

Rikki w-Maritza & familyLook, life is short, obstacles are many, and most of us are focused on living meaningful lives infused with as much joy and happiness as possible. When a holiday represents an opportunity to celebrate the essence of love and compassion as symbolized by the life-giving role of “mother”—a title and role that can be applied to any person who nurtures and mentors—the wiser person acknowledges that intent and either joins in, or steps aside to allow others to join in. The person less wise and considerate makes it about them, about less, about what they don’t have that others might; what they don’t wish to celebrate that others do. Let’s not do that. Let’s rise above, let’s exude generosity of spirit; let’s allow that each one of us is having our experience and one does not negate the other.

So to my friends and family celebrating: Happy Mother’s Day… said with all my authentic, guilt-free, non-superior, all-inclusive, openhearted love and good-will!

All photos by or by permission of me.


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HAVE I Arrived?

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Have I Arrived?

It was a valid question. “Do you feel that you have arrived?” It was asked of me the other day by a thoughtful interviewer, Johnny Tan of “From My Mama’s Kitchen” BlogTalk Radio, as we neared the end of the hour we’d spent discussing my new book, my old book, my music, writing process, and the long and winding road of my particular creative journey. He posed the question and my usual quippy self took a pause; I had to really think before I answered.

Had I arrived? It was clear he meant in the context of my career, but given my penchant for deeper analysis, could any answer not take into account the full spectrum of my life? Mine couldn’t. And it made me ponder: what was the status of my ETA?

Here’s the thing: until the day we die, we are all in the process of little arrivals—the fruition of life-plan elements (the job[s], marriage[s], kids, the vacation to Sydney; a house with the nice back yard); the transcension of injuries, obstacles, and barriers thrown in our path; the fulfillment of chapters and milestones; the accomplishment of incremental goals; sometimes just the courage and wherewithal to get to the end of the day! We have plans, thoughts, dreams, even of the smallest kind, that keep us in a state of constant arrival, and that’s good. It means we’re still up, moving, vibrant and engaged, still embracing life and looking ahead to our next steps, wherever they may lead. That keeps the blood pumping, keeps us from the inertia and apathy of life deferred, life over…and that is a very good thing. Since we’re living life, we may as well stay in it.

But beyond philosophizing, heartfelt and authentic though it may be, there remained the intent of Johnny’s question: have I arrived?

That can only be answered in two parts…because my life has always been, for better or worse, divided into two essential and very different entities: my personal life and my creative life. I’m quite certain Johnny was referring to my creative life, so let me focus first through that particular filter:

Lorrie 80sNO. Let’s be blunt. I have not arrived. If I had, more people would be reading this blog, more of my books would be flying off shelves, my Tweets would get LOTS more attention than they do, my pithy offerings would get viraled all over the Internet, there’d be lines at my book store signings, and I would not feel like I’m still auditioning in some areas of my life. So, candidly? ETA undetermined.

I’m getting there, at least I think I’m getting there, but since I’m framing the word to mean “reached my goals, summited the peak, hit the mark, bullseyed the target,” I have definitely not yet accomplished all that. Some of it, certainly. And I remain indefatigable. I still believe I can fly. But for whatever reasons—voracious appetite, unbounded ambition; desire to have impact—my targets, peaks, and goals have always been BIG ones, high ones, the hard ones that don’t make themselves particularly easy, for me or anyone, really, to summit. So I’m still climbing…still on my way. It may be true that there ain’t no mountain high enough, but damn if this one ain’t giving the saw a run for its money!

And, hey, I’ve had some significant “smaller arrivals” worth mentioning: bands that were pure and utter exhilaration; productions that sparked creativity-highs; songs that came together like Muse-magic; records that soundtrack each glorious moment of their creation; books that pulled me in while writing every single chapter. The list goes on. I’ve had, so far, a great, exciting, well-traveled, and brilliantly collaborative creative journey, and I’m not done yet. But I’m also not there yet, to that place where my platform is high enough, my reach far enough, my voice loud enough to touch as many lives, as many ears; create as much change, inspire as much inspiration, and have enough resources to get done what I want to get done before I arrive at the end of my particular journey. I intend to get there. I will holler far and wide when I do. You’ll hear me; I tend to be loud. For now, I’ll keep climbing.

Walking with our pursesBut where I have arrived? At that other side of my life, my personal life. A place that for many years was a struggle for me, both internally and within the realm of relationships: partner, wife, friend, mother, daughter, aunt, cousin, mentor; lady next door. There I have arrived. 

However it happened—and believe me, I am not only grateful to the many mentors involved, but take full responsibility for my part in getting myself to those hard-won benefits—after years of crashing and burning, countless missteps, dubious detours, bad behaviors, selective judgment, pink hair, and some really fucking stupid decisions along the way, I have found peace, and created and surrounded myself with the most spectacular network of people I could possibly have imagined. A beautiful, loving, supportive husband, an absolutely stellar son, a lovely stepdaughter who’s created her own lovely family; ten incredible sibs who are all creative and fierce in their own right; a circle of extended family setting the world on fire in their various ways; so many friends of so many personalities, talents, historical attachments, and unbelievable contributions to my life I couldn’t possible list them all, and a bevy of warm, supportive, talented peers in my artistic circle, far and wide, who make that other side of my life feel connected to this one.

I am lucky. Because there I have arrived.

And since life never ceases to surprise us, never ceases to change—the plans, the players, the ground beneath our feet; the rules of the game—I will take stock of this particular arrival with great awareness, knowing my time in this precious place is finite and worthy of my most attentive appreciation. I will revel in it, enjoy it, nurture it, and keep moving forward to that other “arrival” up ahead where my Muse beckons, knowing that really, in the ways most important to me, I’m already there.

Top photograph by James Johnson Photography; second by Tina Romanus; third by Jennie Willens.


LDW w glasses_rTo leave a comment, click the “dialogue bubble” to the right of the title, or the comment box below individual article pages.

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The New Novel Is Here! HYSTERICAL LOVE Hits The Book Shelves

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HL on the rocks

Like a gestating, beloved baby, Hysterical Love has been nurtured, polished, fed well, spit-shined, and lovingly led to glorious life in the last many months, coming to full creative fruition, and finally, right on time, stepping onto the stage:

HYSTERICAL LOVE now available for purchase!  

For those who’ve asked, it is, in some ways, a bookend to my debut novel, After The Sucker Punch. Though very different stories told from very different points of view, both books involve adult children reading the written words of a father and being propelled onto a journey of a personal and/or transformative nature as a result. In the case of Hysterical Love, the story is told from the first-person perspective of Dan McDowell, a man knee-deep in a burgeoning existential crises:

Dan McDowell, a thirty-three-year-old portrait photographer happily set to marry his beloved Jane, is stunned when a slip of the tongue about an “ex-girlfriend overlap” of years earlier throws their pending marriage into doubt and him onto the street. Or at least into the second bedroom of their next-door neighbor, Bob, where Dan is sure it won’t be long. It’s long.

His sister, Lucy, further confuses matters with her “soul mate theory” and its suggestion that Jane might not be his… soul mate, that is. But the tipping point comes when his father is struck ill, sparking a chain of events in which Dan discovers a story written by this man he doesn’t readily understand, but who, it seems, has long harbored an unrequited love from decades earlier.

Incapable of fixing his own romantic dilemma, Dan becomes fixated on finding this woman of his father’s dreams and sets off for Oakland, California, on a mission fraught with detours and semi-hilarious peril. Along the way he meets the beautiful Fiona, herbalist and flower child, who assists in his quest while quietly and erotically shaking up his world. When, against all odds, he finds the elusive woman from the past, the ultimate discovery of how she truly fit into his father’s life leaves him staggered, as does the reality of what’s been stirred up with Fiona. But it’s when he returns home to yet another set of unexpected truths that he’s shaken to the core, ultimately forced to face who he is and just whom he might be able to love.

Hysterical Love infuses a deft mix of humor and drama into a whip-smart narrative told from the point of view of its male protagonist, exploring themes of family, commitment, balancing creativity, facing adulthood, and digging deep to understand the beating heart of true love.

I realize these are wild times in the book industry, traditional, independent and everything in between. Hundreds of thousands of titles are published each year and it’s a challenge for readers to know what to buy, what books will engage them, and which authors they want to explore and follow. As a reader myself, I know it’s hard to ferret through the tsunami of supply to find the work that resonates with you. Given that, I hope you will take a look at this new book of mine. I guarantee you will find something within it to engage you, make you laugh, pique a thought or two, and, hey, there’s much mention of ice cream and pie… that can only be good! :) 

Pick up a copy…and ENJOY! I’ll be most appreciative, I promise.    

Hysterical Love on Amazon
Hysterical Love on Smashwords

Photograph of Hysterical Love by Julie Schoerke @ JKSCommunications.


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Follow LDW via links at sidebar or visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.comFind her books at Amazon and Smashwords, and be sure to stay current with her adventures in publishing at AfterTheSuckerPunch.com. Don’t forget to FOLLOW THE BLOG (box above/left)!

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The Weight of Words and What I’m Doing With Mine

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QUIET DOWN AND THINK

I can’t write anymore.

Actually, that’s not true. I write constantly. I just finished my second novel and spent enough hours a day, over enough months, to get it done in about a third of the time I’d have expected… or it took to write my last novel. Of course, my left eye exploded in the process, making me look like a pugilist in service to my Muse, but dammit, I met the publicist’s deadline, I love what I’ve wrangled into being, and we all know burst blood vessels look way worse than they feel.

What I can’t seem to write? Articles. Opinion pieces. Analyses of the world around us.

Which is odd. Because I used to. I used to put out two to four articles a day during my Addicting Info “all politics/crime/current events all the time” phase. Now the last piece I wrote at Huff Post has been up for over two months (although it is a very cool piece about Lisa Schultz of The Peace Project!) and even here I barely manage more than one or two posts a month (if I’m lucky!).

What gives?

Clearly some of this has to do with getting the aforementioned novel to its deadline. But, to be completely honest, that wasn’t it. The real reason: I lost my jones. And I had an epiphany.

I used to be compelled to write articles. Things would happen in the world, in my life, and I had to say something for my own sanity; I had to organize my swirling thoughts on the topic to help me frame it, make it make more sense to me, then try to make it make more sense to readers. It was a form of therapy. I also felt like I was providing a service, “giving voice,” as one reader said, to things others felt and believed but couldn’t put into words. I felt like a thought crusader, noble, in a way.

Then it changed. I started feeling less like a thought crusader and more like part of the screaming mob at the gladiator pit. A fist-pumping, blood-lusting, click-baiting mouthpiece for the worst of the world. Not pretty. And I never looked good in togas.

pitchforksThe process of throwing in on stories already being written about, talked about, screamed about by millions of voices—social media users, pundits, talk show hosts, cable news anchors, commenters, your next door neighbor, newspaper writers, web journalists, bloggers, that guy on the corner, and everyone in your Facebook circle—simply lost its glow. Our 2.0 world of “all media of all kinds at all times” has, yes, democratized commentary and opinion writing across the board—meaning anyone anywhere has access and a platform to share their own…and pretty much everyone does. Which has led to a media crush of biblical proportion. It’s also led to redundancy and oversaturation, misinformation and ugliness, and loads of ALL CAPS and exclamation points (!!!!!), often drowning out, or at least neutralizing, the best of opinion and commentary from our most seasoned, experienced writers.

And I admire the best of those writers, figuring Nicholas Kristof, Michael Tomasky, Frank Bruni, and others doing the job with aplomb have got it covered. I’m not needed. There’s too much noise anyway.

Maybe it’s because I’m one of eleven children, but I learned early on that jumping up and down, screaming and waving your hands to be heard over the din is not necessarily effective or particularly useful. When things get too cacophonous and out of control, it’s sometimes better to go off to your own stillness to sort out how best to get a point across or affect change where you believe change is needed. That’s where I am… in my stillness. It’s quiet in here, there are no screaming commenters, and it’s amazing how much more insight and direction one finds with the news off.

Certainly I’m flattered that readers have commented that “we miss your voice,” or have written asking when/if I might write about Ferguson, grand juries, racial politics, NYC cops, Charlie Hedbo, Nigeria, Keystone, Mitt Romney, even Bill Cosby. But this is where the second part comes in. My epiphany.

Beyond losing my jones, beyond figuring there were enough voices already covering the news, I simply stopped wanting to focus my readers’ attention on the darkest corners of our world, whether events, people, or bad behavior. Instead, I wanted to focus their attention in another direction. Towards positive thought and action. Which is not easy. Not as interesting. Not as buzzworthy. Not as virally. But still, epiphanies are rare and not to be ignored.

See, about eighteen months ago I realized I needed to reassess my life, my priorities, the ways in which I framed my world. I went off by myself for six weeks and spent a great deal of time exploring, researching, reading, meditating; did a workshop, learned about forgiveness, talked to wise people and insightful guides, and one of them asked me, out of the blue, without even knowing I was a writer: “What are you going to write about? What do you want to write about? Ponder that. See it as change.” And that struck me.

I had already decided to pull out of the click-bait world of sensationalized political reporting, but this seemed to push me even further. I began exploring the subject of how what we think and verbalize tangibly impacts our lives, and that brought me to something I already knew but had forgotten in more recent years:

The World We See

Thoughts matter. Particularly persistent thoughts. Words matter. The words we think, the words we say, the words we read and share publicly, both verbally and in writing. We create the world (certainly our own world) by how and where we focus our attention, by what we consistently think about and talk about; by what we believe, hold on to, and put forth about ourselves, our lives, and the world in which we live. And I realized that by spending so much of my time on the negative—skewering, critiquing, exposing, and analyzing the very worst of the world, the very least admirable people, the most egregious crimes and misdemeanors—I was adding energy to a great many things, events, and people I did not want to add energy to. And I was putting my readers’ attention on those very same things.

I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I stopped.

You can say that’s all a bunch of new-agey hooey; you can accuse me of going soft, of abdicating responsibility to illuminate the dark corners of humanity; you can even dismiss me as an “old woman who just doesn’t want to deal with conflict,” as one pissant writer I used to edit said to me. You can say whatever you want about me and my perspective, that’s okay. You’re free to think, do, have your own experiences, even about me. But my life—particularly in the last eighteen months—has unequivocally demonstrated to me that I’m on to something.

When I see people with their cable news on all day, see them spending hours in scream fests on Facebook, immersed in the recyling click-bait of the moment, it’s clear to me that modern society has been fed a bill of goods about the value of “staying informed.” It’s been misled by the way media “illuminates the dark corners of humanity.” Media is doing that, certainly, but why do we think we need that? Why have we been led to believe that being a responsible, caring, proactive citizen requires this immersion? Especially when news all too often skews reality rather than just reports it. When it misinforms, distorts, propagandizes, repeats to the point of indoctrination, and regularly spins life in its most despairing of hues. We can barely breath for the day-to-day onslaught of horrific events, fear and anxiety are mongered in epidemic doses, and the primitive, teeth-gnashing battlegrounds of those who take to the threads to “debate” have become positively neanderthal. Yet, what most us don’t realize (or believe) is that by putting our attention, our thoughts, our words, so firmly on the very things we don’t want in our lives, in our world, we are participating in keeping them energized into being.

Hope Never DiesI can feel some rolling their eyes. I can hear others hollering that “activism is sparked by rage!!” (someone’s justification to me for, both, the Ferguson riots and the tendency of people to scream at each other on social media). I can imagine some claiming righteous indignation at the notion that righteous indignation may not, actually, be all that effective… or righteous. I’ve lost “friends” and readers because I’ve chosen to climb out of the mosh pit and put my attention elsewhere. All of which is fine. We each gotta do what we gotta do. But if I’m going to spend the precious time of my life doing something, it better be of true value, of considerable use, and I’ve come to believe that consistently focusing on, verbalizing about, and angsting over the worst of life is counterproductive. At least for me. And likely for you, too. Noise is not always power. Sometimes, as Francis Bacon said, “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

So what do we do instead, those of us who care about what’s happening, who want to see the world and the people in it become better, more evolved, less hateful? It’s a fair question. Because the ubiquity and ease with which we receive horrifying news has created a painful conundrum for compassionate people. It’s caused us to hear and know about some of the most egregious acts humans can commit upon one another, while having very little real, true power to do much about it. Once we’ve signed our petitions, written the letters we might, marched when and where we can, joined whatever groups make sense, or decided where we’ll put our charitable giving, there is a limit to our power to intervene in matters beyond our control. So what do we do?

We embody and exemplify what we want the world to be. We become the best versions of ourselves. We make every single thing we do, think, intend, create, touch, say in this world a moment, a creation, of grace and enlightenment. As parents, we do our best to exude love and exemplify honor, raising smart, loving, compassionate, tolerant children. As artists, we seek to inspire, reflect, provoke thought, and share meaning, passion and joy. As family members and friends, we allow others to have their own experiences without judgment and interference, being there and getting involved as invited, as is compassionate, and when we can. As members of our communities, our towns, our countries, our human race, we embody ethics and ideals that hold to the highest standards of human behavior, and we apply that ancient—yet completely perfect—Golden Rule: do unto others as we’d have them do unto us. We live good lives, think good thoughts, intend good things and, even while making note of the many tragedies around us, keep our attention focused on positive forward motion in the lives we each are living.

As for me, when I pondered what I wanted to write about, as I was asked to do, I made the decision to write about what inspires and interests me, click-bait be damned. I consider it part of my job to stay optimistic and uplifted, even in the midst of madness, because I can. Because I’ve discovered life gets better when I do that. And my energy, my thoughts, and my creativity, are best used toward that goal: making life better. Activism comes in a great many varieties… that’s one of mine. I hope you’ll turn off the news and find your own.

Feel free to let me know in the comments your own thoughts on these matters.

Photos by Lorraine Devon Wilke


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