Lessons from a Lookout Tower

Sign posted in Swan Lake, Montana

Last week, in the first noted occasion of something in my world that hasn’t been cancelled in over 2-months in the wake of covid, I stayed for a spell in the Mission Lookout Tower in Swan Lake, which is a little thing you can do here in the great state of Montana: stay in old decommissioned fire towers. I reserved the tower 6-months ago, and based on my findings online assumed my stay was cancelled. Then, four days before my reservation was set to start, I got a call from the ranger station telling me I was good to go. So I went.

I started venturing – solo saunter style – to this particular tower in May of 2018, making this recent trip my third annual pilgrimage there. I think I stayed 3 or 4 nights my first time. Last year I stayed a week and this year, too, I booked it for a week long stay. (Merch plug: I compiled my writings from my tower stay last year into a homespun book called Sky Perch: One-week worth of writing from a lookout tower. If you’re interested, let me know and I will send you a copy for $10.)

As a writer, staying solo in a tower rocketed 40-feet up off the ground is simply a stellar venue for putting pen to paper. And my last two trips there were periods of great reflection, refreshing solitude, stillness, nourishment, and energetic refueling. My trip there this last go-around, however, was not any of those things.

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On Patriarchy & Princesses

A few days ago, I let a 2-year-old little girl pick out a pepto-pink princess-themed book from a Little Free Library and instantly regretted it.

I tried steering her towards a different selection but she wasn’t having it. With her love of all things pink, the color of the book alone had her at hello.

It’s a hefty short story collection of the classics following all of the Disney princesses, all of which feature scantly dressed way thin females with tiny waistlines and long flowing hair. And while there is a whisper attempt at weaving in decent messaging, each princesses main goal in life is landing a man. And not just any man but a prince; a handsome prince; a savior-esque clean shaven dude of a prince who will provide the great honor of making her a royal bride.

 
In short, if there could only be one truly terrible book in all the land, this is it. If we want to indoctrinate our young girls right from the get go and make sure they know and stay in the subservient pretty girl box designed for them, this book is one-stop shopping.

 

While the 2-year-old was napping, I tucked the book inside my bag (with her parents grateful stamp of approval) and left the house with it, so it will never be seen again.

 
This is me at age 40 just starting to see how patriarchy has shaped and molded my life and the life of each and every one of us: females, males, gender variant, intersex, and transgender alike. This is me having my worldview-lens in the process of changing, as I invest time and energy into learning about systemic issues by way of classes I’ve been taking, books I’ve been reading, and talks I’ve been listening to online. And it has been and is not easy or comfortable or pleasant. I don’t mind telling you that there’s a small voice inside of me that regrets this new pathway opening up – what is it they say: ignorance is bliss? Yeah. It’s something akin to that.

A poem I penned this morning:

To all of the people
that have shown or handed me
my power,
I am sorry to report
that I’ve not been using it.
Good news is,
I’m starting now.
Better late than never, as they say.
 
And to those who are eye-rolling
at my use of the word power
or buckling under the weight
of your own discomfort,
take your business elsewhere.
I’m done trying to live my life
to make you feel as though
there is nothing in need of fixing.
 
My voice
like air
like repression
has been silent.
 
The time for my uprising
is here.
 
And I don’t care
if you like it.

____________

A few days ago, I watched the documentary Margaret Atwood: A Word After a Word After a Word is Power. I wasn’t familiar with her or her work prior to the film – it was the title that drew me in, and thankfully so. Spurred by the film, I was inspired to purchase one of her books that was mentioned: Power Politics, which was originally published in 1971. It arrived in the mail just yesterday and I set to reading it this morning. After reading a few poems from it, I penned the poem above.

Something that has become clear to me: poetry spurs more poetry, at least for me. For my poetry to take flight, I need the poetry of others to inspire, teach, and help show me the way. Back in February, I was away on a 2.5 week long retreat and I didn’t bring any poetry books along with me to read. I also wrote very little poetry of my own. It was then that I discovered: I need the poetry of others to help me find my own poet voice. It was an important realization.

Now, I’m on a roll. Over the last month or two, I’ve purchased around 4 or 5 different poetry books. I told my husband just the other day that he might have to put me in Poetry Books Anonymous!

“A word after a word after a word is power” really resonates with me right now. As I often write about: words matter. They really do. And this is me in the beginning stages of developing a whole new language.

Shout Out to Hard Labor Workers

My husband Mike. Photo & editing credit: Luke George

I reckon it’s impossible to pay proper attention and collectively highlight each and every single one of the worthy professions and investments of time that exist in the world. Still, this is me wanting to elevate what I’ve often seen and regarded as one of the greatest sects of unsung heroes: hard labor workers.

Construction workers; skilled trade workers; heavy equipment operators; road building crews; trail crews; trash collectors; the men & women in the trenches of making physical progress and growth happen in our towns, cities, parks and across our global landscape near and far. Rarely – if ever – have I seen these workers given due credit and collective appreciation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that in the wake of Covid-19 we are currently using our local & global voices to love up on our front line and essential workers, our truckers, our food industry workers and so forth – but it has left me wondering: what about our hard labor workers? What about our roofing crews (like my husband)? What about our electricians (like my dad)? What about our plumbers and sewage workers and road workers and front-loader operators? What about carpenters and framers and concrete workers? What about loggers and miners and trail workers? What about our mechanics? What about all of the workers who make a living getting dirty and using their physical bodies in the utmost taxing of ways – who are near-required to live on a diet of fast food and energy drinks just to make it through the day and get as much done as humanely(/un-humanely) possible?

This is me wanting to say thank you.

This is me wanting to say that I see how, as skilled and hard labor workers, you sacrifice your body for the sake of making sure we all have homes to live in and stores to shop in and roads to drive on and trails to walk on and a way of life that continues with all of the luxuries and great comforts that we are so accustomed to and often take for granted.

We complain when there’s road construction and it disrupts our route of travel. We complain when a new house is built in our neighborhood and creates a din of noise. We complain when a new building goes up in our area, signifying that our town is growing, thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if things never changed and just stayed how they were 20-years ago? But gosh, what the heck would we do without all of these workers?

Hard labor workers are amazing – it’s as simple and important as that.

So please, next time you pass by a job site or a road construction crew, instead of looking down on them or disregarding them or flashing them a sour-face because of some minor inconvenience you’re experiencing, get in touch with how hard their work is and extend your gratitude to them. Get in touch with how without them, the dwelling place you’re living in would not be possible; grocery stores would not be possible; all of the stuff you like to buy would not be possible; driving places would not be possible; running water and electricity and trash disposal and indoor plumbing and the internet and and and… would not be possible.

Big love to our hard & skilled labor workers. We owe you a great debt of ongoing gratitude.

 

 

Resting vs Relaxing vs Laziness

I will say right up front that in my view and personal experience, I find it helpful to differentiate between resting, relaxing, and laziness and not to regard these three activities as being synonymous. Not to say there is anything wrong with equating these three as being the same, I myself just simply do not see them all in the same light.

I regard laziness in similar accord with sloth, which is one of the Five Hindrances in Buddhism and one of the Seven Deadly Sins in the Christian faith. So I find it important to distinguish the difference between what it means to be lazy and what it means to rest or relax.

In my view:

Resting is an art and an important element of self-care and involves quieting and slowing down both the body & the mind. Outside stimulus needs to be at an extremely low level in order to develop the art of resting, so binge watching Netflix doesn’t count here. Falling into media consumption is not resting.

Relaxing involves engaging in an activity that allows us to unwind and/or recharge our energetic fuel tank, such as: fishing, gardening, knitting, cooking, painting, woodworking, watching a movie or show, reading, doing a puzzle, playing a video game…

Laziness, on the other hand, is a deflation of energy and is the mark of a deteriorating, woeful spirit that is moving in the direction of giving up or sinking into the pits of despair.

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The thing about Dharma memes

Recently, on my local sangha’s Facebook page – which has a rather large world-wide reach thanks to a viral post we had back in April of 2016 (which I still sometimes get notifications about!) – I posted the above meme.

Two people posted a comment on the meme and one person responded to one of the comments.

First comment: Never? I doubt that.

Second comment: Yeah right, you are being abused and the suffering is caused by yourself 🙄 These kind of statements are dangerous and can cause self centerdness and even more suffering.

Someone’s response to second comment: I think it’s trying to say, whats the use in blaming someone?

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Poem of Sunday Morning

In honor and ending celebration of National Poetry Month here in the U.S, a poem I penned just this morning:

On Sunday morning,
during a time when pre-covid
I would’ve been gleefully
lounging about intentionally doing nothing,
I took to my vehicular steed
and made my way slowly down
Johnson Street
en route to fetch groceries
ahead of the masses at the market.

Near 7th Ave,
I came upon a bird in the road.
When I drew closer,
the nondescript winged being
turned into a handsome mallard duck,
with green plumage shining
famously in the 7am sun.

I came to a stop,
as he clearly was both
not in a hurry to cross
nor was he bothered in the slightest
by my 4-tired presence.
And for the quick shutter flash
of a hot second, I was bothered
by this obstruction to my
privileged right of way passage.

Then, I thought better
and declared joyously:
“And why shouldn’t I stop
for this grand creature?!
He is on royal parade
and I am fortunate enough
to be his only witness.
Oh happy day,
that I should be afforded
such riches as this sighting!”

Once he was out of my harm’s way,
I carried on to the store,
where I loaded up my cart
with masked face such luxuries as
butternut squash, basil, lasagna noodles,
and a sweet pastry to gift my dear husband
when he woke.

On my way back home,
I thought nothing of the mallard
when passing by the spot
we crossed paths
just 20-minutes before.

Still, he nestled into my heart’s memory,
where I will cherish him
until the end of my blessed days.

 

Paramita #6: Understanding

Here is the verse my local paramita practice group has been reading & reflecting on daily this past week – which is the last one in our 6-week series – which I took and pieced together from the section focusing on the Sixth Paramita (understanding) from Thay’s book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings:

The highest kind of understanding is to be free from all knowledge, concepts, ideas, and views. If we can offer understanding to someone, that is true love. The one who receives our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding is a fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us understand reality deeply. A wave is a wave, it has a beginning and an end. But a wave is, at the same time, water. Water is the ground of being of the wave. It is important that a wave knows that she is water, and not just a wave. We, too, live our life as an individual. We believe that we have a beginning and an end, that we are separate from other living beings. That is why the Buddha advised us to look more deeply in order to touch the ground of our being.

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