Thursday, May 28, 2009

Voggy, Voggy Night

The Big Island of Hawaii is a unique and wondrous place. There are lush, tropical forests, fiery rivers of molten lava, barren deserts, as well as beautiful pastures of verdant grass.. However, one thing that took me by surprise was something called Vog. It looks like fog, or an overcast day, but unfortunately there is more to it than that. A new vent for Kilauea opened up east of Pu 'u 'O o' , and the volcanic ash that is discharged creates a hazy atmosphere with some deleterious consequences.

The Voggy air quality is causing respiratory problems. It also creates an acid rain that fouls the water and kills off some of the plant life. For those who collect rainwater to drink, their bodies can become spoisoned and ill. Fortunately, trade winds can disperse the Vog. Even in paradise there are factors that can have a serious effect on health and happiness. In this case, it is an air and water pollution problem that is not caused by humankind. Of course this is the exception and not the rule when it comes to pollution. But I digress.

It is not my intent to diss Hawaii. I love the Hawaiian islands. The beauty of both the land and the people are unforgettable. I have lived here in the past, and I will return again and again to visit. Once my Voggy headache disappeared, it occurred to me how Vog is an example of our connectedness with nature, its creatures, and one another. Being a strong-minded woman with an individualistic spirit, the notion of how humankind and our environment are connected, was a bit of a stretch when I first heard of the concept some 20 years ago. I believe in personal responsibility and had a hard time believing that my actions, or the actions of others had a domino effect on the planet, as well as the universe. However, with our education and awareness of the effects of pollution, we know better than to think we live in a vacuum.

From a spiritual standpoint, air and water pollution help bring home the illustrative point of our connectedness and interdependence to one another. Let’s imagine the earth as a big bottle of water. Draw a circle the glass to designate the country where you live. Then make a small dot to represent you. Everything in your area is nice and clean. Now take a few drops of food coloring from the top of the bottle and add a little wind and wave action by stirring things up a bit. Before you know it, the little country you drew, and your little life, have taken on the hue of the food coloring. Whether we like it or not, we are connected and share each other’s pain and happiness.

It has always amazed me how the human body is so much a microcosm of our planet earth. Like Earth, our body is mostly water. Our blood vessels work much the same way as the rivers and streams that flow across the landscape. And when things become toxic, things get sick and die. It is as if we are cells in the living organism we call Earth. And of course Earth is like a cell within the universe. All the more reason we need to be conscious of our actions. Of course most of us are trying to reduce pollution. And while we have a long way to go, we are making some important strides for the better.

However, there is another pollution that is totally under our control, yet it continues to wreck havoc on so many of us. That pollution is the inability to forgive. How often have we dredged up a painful moment from your past and not only kept it alive and well, but even wear it as a badge of honor? I dare say that this internal pollution is akin to breathing in Vog day in and day out. We may think it’s invisible, but it colors our thoughts, speech and actions and poisons our souls. Each hurt that we cling to is like adding drops of dark, toxic, ink to our body vessel.

In my lifetime I have held onto more than my fair share of grudges. Some may have seemed justified, others probably not. But either way, my lack of forgiveness did not make me a happier, healthier person. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect. So now I forgive and forget (which is very handy since I am pretty forgetful in a general way too).

Sages, saints and coordinators of 12-step programs have preached forgiveness for years. They spread the message because it works. So let’s take a global issue and make it personal. Start by forgiving one person who wronged you. Then, move on to forgiving another. In time, the Vog will lift and just like the Jimmy Cliff song, from “I can see clearly now” you will experience the following.

Gone are the dark clouds that had me down.
It’s gonna be a bright, bright, bright., bright sun shiny day.



Monday, May 18, 2009

Hanging Things Out To Dry

In an earlier blog I wrote about having solar panels installed on the roof of my house.
Now, more than ever, I am paying attention to the appliances that are real drain suckers. The worst is the air conditioning. Well, I live in Arizona and there are some things a menopausal woman will not live without. If I could just plug my hot flashes into a power source I’d generate enough electricity to light up Las Vegas, but that alternative energy is not available yet. Bottom line is air conditioning is like chocolate – it’s a necessity that helps ensure peace on earth. At least it ensures peace where I tread.

That said, I have found that I can conserve energy in other areas. One is restricting my use of the clothes dryer. I resisted this at first. Hanging clothes on a line is not totally unfamiliar to me. This was a regular routine in the Marks household. When I was a little girl we moved from Chicago to Arizona. Part of the deal when we sold the house was to leave a few appliances behind. One of the items was the clothes dryer. My father promised my mom that he would replace the clothes dryer after he got a good job. In the meantime, my mom could hang out the laundry on the clothes line in the backyard. It took a while before dad got a decent job, but when he did, he was ready to make good on his promise. But my mom declined. She actually seemed to enjoy this household chore of hanging the clothes out to dry. To this day I can see her in my mind’s eye, bobby pins holding pin curls in place, a flowery apron (she wore it like a shirt with her bra strap showing in the back) carrying out yet another load of laundry to the clothes line.

Years later, my sister, Diane, married and moved to a neighboring city. She decided to upgrade her appliances and gave my mom her old clothes dryer. My parents had it installed in the garage. The old house was a bit unusual. It had a utility room, complete with a washer hook up, hot water heater and storage cabinets, but there was no room for a dryer. But even after the dryer was installed, I never remember mom using it. It was mostly used to store cat food. Occasionally we would ask mom when she was going to use the dryer. She said she was saving it for a rainy day – literally. If we went a week without sunshine, she would use it. I don’t think she ever did.

I, on the other hand, enjoy my creature comforts. But my environmentally-conscious spouse, CB, thinks using a clothes dryer is a horrible waste of electricity. At first, the suggestion was to take the items that take the longest to dry (towels and jeans) and find a place in the garage for them to dry. I had shirts hanging (and dropping) from hangers, jeans lopped over the wooden kayak in the garage, and socks hanging all over the place. Finally, I had it. I told CB that if I the washer woman was going to hang laundry out to dry, she needed a clothes line. And I wanted a nice retractable one, so I didn’t have to see it when it wasn’t in use.

Before I could say, Maytag, CB installed a retractable wire clothes just outside the garage. A few days later I ran a load of clothes. I wanted to throw them all in the dryer, but I thought I’d at least put a few of the heavier things out to dry. As I performed this task, a weird sensation came over me. As I hung up a towel, a shirt, a pair of jeans, I thought how it was nice to spend a couple minutes outside. I heard the birds chirp and caught a glimpse of a few fluffy clouds. As I hooked the clothes on the line, I remembered how my mom taught me to hang things up so it wouldn’t put clothes pin creases in the clothes. And, if you hung the clothes just right, you wouldn’t have to iron anything.

I also had a flashback when I was a young mother hanging out little baby shirts and dresses and socks. I used cloth diapers for my first daughter, Alicia. I always washed the diapers separately and I remember that I liked hanging out the diapers the most because you didn’t have to worry about creases or clothes pin dents. I also liked the uniform look of the little white rectangular shapes as they wafted in the breeze. It was relaxing to just pin diaper after diaper on the line and not have to worry about anything – except maybe a dust storm. Who wants dusty diapers? But that really wasn’t an issue that often. Then, a couple hours later it would be time to gather up the clothes. Sometimes I would put Alicia in the laundry basket and let the diapers fall around her. At times she would play peek a boo. Other times she would just toddle around in the grass while I hung out the sheets and other laundry.

Now, as I hang the clothes, there aren’t any diapers or baby things. I straighten out the sleeve of one of CB’s favorite shirts. It has sailboats on it. It took me years to find a sailboat shirt in the right size, but I finally did it. Next, I match the socks with one another and I think about my mom and dad who passed away. It’s been almost 50 years since they packed up the family and headed west. On more than one occasion they told us they moved from Chicago because they wanted a simpler life, away from the hustle, bustle and crime of the city. In their minds, Arizona was the perfect place to live because their children could play outside and enjoy fresh air and sunshine all year round.

I’m not a kid anymore. Unlike my youthful days, I can’t gather up the neighbors for a game of hide and go seek, or tag football. There are things to do, places to go and an ongoing list of household chores that need to be done. But when I hang out the clothes I have a few minutes where I can enjoy the sunshine, feel the breeze on my face and take in the scent of clean clothes as I hang them out to dry. I guess mom knew what she was doing after all.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Go Solar Go!

We recently had solar panels installed on the roof. Living in sunny Arizona, it seems a waste to not have the sun working for you. With the new tax incentives, my spouse, CB and I, decided to take action. As of March, we were connected to Salt River Project’s energy grid. Last month we generated enough excess electricity to receive an energy credit (we made more electricity than we used). Of course we didn’t have to use the air conditioning until a few days ago, so we may not see an energy credit until things cool down, but at least our bills will be significantly lower.

One of the interesting things about having the system is the two meters that operate like a bank account. One shows when the system is making energy (our gross). The other shows whether or not we are generating enough power on our own, or whether or not we have to rely on our backup system (our net). When we generate more than we use, there is a little dial that rotates counter clockwise. I love to go outside and see that little puppy running in reverse. I sing a little song to the tune of my high school fight song, “Go Westwood Go.”

Go solar go
The sun is bright and light is right for powering
Go solar go
Our spirits high, not gonna fry, we’re on our way.
Go solar go.
Our true blue hearts now forever green.
Onward please roooooolllll,
Oh mighty solar panels goooo, go!

Okay, maybe it’s a little corny, but it makes me laugh. And yes, I make up silly songs for a lot of things. When my children were little I had songs for encouraging them to pick up their clothes, finding the hair brush (affectionately named Brushy), getting them to eat their vegetables (especially the green ones) and not picking their noses (also green, but let’s not go there). Now that I am older, I am making up new songs for my granddaughter, Rosannah. Many are recycled songs that I made up for my kids. And yes, they do remember. And sometimes they sing along.

Interestingly enough, I attended a Buddhist meeting the other day. Via satellite, the leader of the organization, Daisako Ikeda, talked about the importance of singing. We have songs about love, peace, going into battle, soothing a cranky baby – any number of things. But for some reason, when many of us get older, we don’t sing anymore. Some would say we don’t have that much to sing about. Of course I disagree.

Singing is an interesting trigger for the emotions. It can lighten our hearts, make us laugh, and bring about a tear. Because I’m a writer, I find it fun to just make up silly lyrics. I remember one year we received a notice from our HOA to remove our weeds or face a fine. The “weeds” were actually wildflowers. CB was very distressed about the notice as we had been very excited about all the wildflowers we were going to have that spring. Each sprout was a celebration in CB’s eyes. I married a real nature lover who sees every tree, every plant and every flower as a gift.

After receiving this notice, CB and I set off for our evening stroll. As we ambled around our neighborhood I made up a silly song that started out something like, “Don’t be a stooping to diss our lupin…” As we walked, we made up additional puns and lyrics about not “picking” on us or our wildflowers. Not all of our lyrics were charitable, but it certainly created a shift in our moods. Before long, we were laughing hysterically. Now mind you, I did not send our song, or sing it, to the Home Owner’s Association. But we eventually had a dialogue with the HOA representative and the matter has been settled amicably.

That was three years ago. Now, during the spring time, our house is known as the “lupin house.” Many neighbors tell us they enjoy the natural beauty of the wildflowers that mirror the County park behind our development. Our lupin song will never be nominated for a Grammy. I doubt anyone will ever ask me to sing a tune (except maybe my grandkids). But, a heart filled with song can go a long way in lifting one’s spirits. And that alone, is worth singing about.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Speak No Evil

I recently watched the movie, Doubt, starring Meryl Streep. As described in the movie reviews, the film takes place in 1964, and centers on a nun who confronts a priest after suspecting him of abusing a black student. He denies the charges, and much of the film’s quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality, and authority.

I don’t want to spoil the story by giving away too much, but there is one scene that I thought was particularly brilliant. The priest, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, discusses the topic of gossip during his sermon to the congregation. He describes a woman who has gossiped about another and goes to her priest to confess her sin. He tells her to go to the top of her roof and gut a pillow, then return to him the following day. She does as instructed. Feathers from the pillow fly across the sky.

She returns the following day and reports what she has done. The priest next instructs her to go back and gather all the feathers and return them to the pillow. She tells him that she cannot perform this task as the feathers blew away. She can’t even guess how far they flew or where they went. He tells her that it is exactly the same thing with gossip.

When you talk disparaging, or spread gossip, you have no idea how far the message will travel, where it will spread, and, once said, it is impossible to take it back. Jackie, my co-writer for Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within has seen the devastating effects of gossip in personal relationships, as well as the workplace. This is what she has to say about the topic:

“Gossip is not only hurtful, it’s destructive. Criticism and gossip stops any work environment from being a positive, joyful, fun, fulfilling experience. We can be having a wonderful time at our jobs, then one negative or critical person walks in and everyone seems to follow the negativity feeding frenzy. It’s like inviting ants to a picnic. Unfortunately, what follows is the whole environment turns negative. We find ourselves agreeing with, and even adding to the gossip and criticism that is being tossed about. From there it spreads and fuels the fire of dissention – often beyond repair.”

In addition to ruining people’s reputations, gossip in the workplace is bad for business. It results in loss of jobs, retraining costs and a serious decrease in morale and productivity. Jackie offered this advice for turning the tide of gossip in the workplace.

“We each have an obligation to stop this vicious cycle of negativity and destruction. When we catch ourselves being critical or wanting to gossip, we need to stop and refuse to allow ourselves to fall into that trap. We may have to work on this for the rest of our lives as the programming is strong and society as a whole tends to be negative. We have to choose not to participate or associate with the people that seem to thrive on the negative side of life. We have to learn to say, “I'm sorry you feel the way you do, but I really can't let your negative attitude interfere with my joy and happiness.” It may be hard at first, but when you hear gossip, you need to have the courage to stop it, or at the very least, learn to walk away.”

Although gossip may seem titillating, when we listen or participate in gossip and negativity, we allow the verbal negativity to grow and have more power. In order to lead a happier life, we must learn to focus on the positive people, places, and things we enjoy. By doing so, we not only become happier, we are able to defuse, or erase, the negativity in our environments. The old saying, If you can't say something nice about someone don't say anything at all, is more true than we realize.

Because we are bombarded with negative messages every day – particularly in the media – spreading bad news is becoming more common place than ever before. Gossip is just another evil way of creating more negativity and unhappiness in the world. One way to curb the practice is to think before speaking, or repeating information. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say going to be hurtful in any way? What is my motivation for saying this? Is what I’m about to say coming from a place of love and respect, or a place anger and cruelty?” By asking ourselves a few questions before we speak, and trying to communicate from a compassionate viewpoint and not a critical one, we can save ourselves, and others, a lot of pain and grief.