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A small memory of daughter Alise, born in 1976.

Alise at two years

Alise at two years


Mothers Daughters

It’s September, so it’s birthdays for both our children and for nearly a quarter of the children in the neighborhood. We live in Minnesota, where December nights are long and dark so September has the most births of any month. September means lots of neighborhood parties plus both sets of grandparents visiting for about a week each. This year we celebrate son Andris’ third birthday and daughter Alise’s first. Alvis’ parents shared Alise’s first year party on the 10th; my parents are here for Andris’ third birthday – two weeks later on the 24th.

I am astonished at Alise’s verbal and physical development in her first year and look forward to bragging about both kids to my Mom. Alise already talks almost as much as Andris. She notices tones of voice and mimics them perfectly in coddling or reprimanding baby dolls… or her older brother. He shows her how Lincoln Logs go together; she shows him what clothes go together.

My point of view:

This afternoon I’m in our small kitchen starting dinner and notice the evening light turning to gold, so peek around the corner at a full burst of golden color in the reflections sparkling off Lake Calhoun. I see Mom leaning against the archway to the living room – watching Alise. I walk forward to share a golden moment of mother/daughter and grandmother/granddaughter.

Alise sets dolls into every crevice of the couch, tells them to “sit” then begins to sway, swirl and dance to music on Sesame Street. She wears a long, pink flowered dress that she insisted on donning this morning because it was a birthday gift and today is a special day with doting grandparents – and with lots of cameras. She already understands that. Her fine, light curls glow from the setting sun and she is more beautiful than I ever imagined a human could be.

As I move close to Mom, she looks up and nods her head lightly as she says three words, “You deserve her.” My first reaction leaps to pride of progeny and self-congratulation for this amazingly beautiful daughter. Then I hear another level of information in Mom’s intonation and stop cold.

There is deep knowledge in those words. They are a fact. The daughter who defiantly declared, “I’d RATHER do it myself!” now has a daughter who won’t feel a need to declare it. She will just do it.

Grandmother’s P.O.V. – my Mom:

I need a break, so am glad Beth is cooking. I want to watch both the sunset and this beautiful baby- my youngest and probably last grandchild. I’ll sit on the couch to enjoy this little one.

“No!” Alise directs me to stand back up. “No!” I’m not allowed to sit in the chairs either. She sets a baby doll on both chairs commanding them to “sit.” Three other dolls are pushed into crevices of the couch and all are told to “watch me,” then Alise begins to sway and swirl to Bert and Ernie singing “Rubber Ducky.” The sun illuminates a halo of golden hair above the beautiful birthday dress that she’s worn all day without messing. She performs her own dance to her own music as Beth moves from the kitchen toward the post I’m leaning against for support.

I don’t think of consequences, but probably couldn’t resist even if I did. I tell my independent, solo world-travelling daughter, “You deserve her” then wonder if she understands the depth and breadth of that simple sentence.

The following address was given by Paul Hawken – thoughtful and compassionate author and entrepreneur – as the commencement address for the University of Portland on Sunday, May 2, 2009.

Paul is one of my favorite humans now walking on our planet; I have never been disappointed in his words or his life. I apologize that I am so very slow in getting this out to the web. Will I ever set to a task immediately upon my decision? Why do I always muse before acting?

Paul Hawken: Commence at the University of Portland, 2009

Paul Hawken: Commencement at the University of Portland, 2009

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” No pressure there.

Let’s begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation… but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Here’s an excerpt of his presentation at Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, CA in October, 2005 – given before publication of his moving book, Blessed Unrest.

For more information about Paul Hawken’s presentations, writing and work, I’ve added another tabbed page with more information on Paul’s work. Or visit his website, PaulHawken.com

May we be in peace, work, harmony and joy – together! Lizzie

Purple Haze

This was written as the second assignment for Memoir I, the online course I’m taking through Gotham Writer’s Workshop. Those who didn’t know me in my Purple Haze years can click on the link at the end to check the color – pretty close to the first photos shown.

I couldn’t count how many times Mom said it over the years, but during the decades after I left for college and she traveled with Dad, it was a lot. “I think Dad and I will die together in an auto accident.” She seemed comforted with the thought. Neither of them would have to live alone.

Dementia put Dad in a home in 1995 and he died mid-April, 1996. All her life Mom couldn’t eat when she was worried, so she became thin, shrunken and gray as Dad withdrew and closed off. The last time Mom and I visited Dad, he did not look at the tiny woman with white hair and gray complexion beside him. His sunken eyes followed me, his now gray-haired daughter, with a glow of recognition and love that he previously saved for Mom. I felt relieved that he no longer could speak, for he was certain to call me Dottie or tell me “I love you” as I heard him tell Mom thousands of time.

At Dad’s funeral we gathered to celebrate his life and his release from the prison of dementia, and we gathered around Mom to support and begin her healing. Twice while Mom and I stood in the receiving line together, old acquaintances looked at me with shock in their voices and inquired, “Dottie?”

“Yes, this is Dottie” I responded, gesturing to my now tiny Mom, standing at my side. “I’m Beth.”

Three weeks after Dad’s death Mom couldn’t digest food, went to the doctor, on to the hospital and directly into surgery. Nothing they could do; no treatment they could give. Her abdominal cavity was consumed with cancer. She might last two weeks – no longer than two months.

When my brother Ted called with the news, I went to the downtown office of Northwest Airlines for a ticket to fly back home that night. It’s the only time I saw a line there. I blankly stared out the window and waited in a gray fog of grief and disbelief.

Suddenly a sliver of brilliant spring sun slanted between the skyscrapers and lit the bright purple hair of a young woman taking a cigarette break across the street. That blast of brilliant purple sent a sliver of light into my gray fog. With a sharp inhale I knew, “Life will go on! She has the chutzpah – the spirit – to have purple hair!”

Four weeks later – exactly seven weeks after Dad died – Mom joined Dad. They wanted to go together and she did a pretty good job of making that happen. I had a hard time forgiving her choice.

Soon I began to catch glimpses of her. As I looked up during taiji, she was in the mirror; walking past a store window, her reflection glanced back at me.

I needed to change that reflection… Maybe if I dyed my hair? When the colorist asked what color, I replied, “Medium brown, as close to my original color as possible…” then suddenly remembering that affirming vision, “but part of me really wants to go purple.”

“No problem. We can do that.”

I used Manic Panic: “Purple Haze” for nearly three years and never again saw Mom in my reflection.

It’s Only a Name

I just started a memoir writing course and this was the first assignment:

Theodore-4, Lizbeth-1 and Arthur-6

Theodore-4, Lizbeth-1 and Arthur-6

Arthur D. Lewis, II was born 27 months before brother Theodore S. Lewis, who was named after our mother, Dorothea May. Three years later Dorothea named her youngest child and only girl, Lizbeth Lynn Lewis. Years later it was reported to me that Arthur D. Lewis, Esq. commented only, “That’s an ‘ell of a lot of L’s.”

Mom’s explanation for her creative name-giving: “Because I don’t like the name Betsy. I never knew a Betsy that I liked.” I never met an Elizabeth who used the nickname Betsy.

It didn’t matter much what that birth certificate said. Most everyone called me Beth – except, sometimes, Mom. She called me “Bethie” in endearment or “Little Liza Jane” when she wanted to sing her call.

And sometimes those two older brothers teased me with “Tin Lizzie”. I hated being named after an old car, but when I got mad they called out more loudly. If I pretended it didn’t matter, they lost interest. The worst was “Dizzy Lizzy”. When Art and Ted (quite reasonable nicknames) called me that, I ran off to play alone. They were two together and too big to beat up.

At 25 I married a Latvian, Alvis Upitis, and took his family name. Upitis means “little river” – except it’s the masculine form of the noun. In Latvia, husband and wife share the same last name but keep gender, so my true Latvian name is Upite. My new mother-in-law (and most Latvians) couldn’t say “th”, so the Latvian side of the family called me Betija (bet’-ee-yah). That’s getting pretty close to the Betsy that Mom hated…

In the 1980’s I wrote the bi-lingual book Latvian Mittens: Traditional Designs and Techniques about the ornate Latvian mittens which were so important in Latvian rites of marriage. I used Lizbete Upite with the Latvian text and classes and Lizbeth Upitis with the English, then introduced myself as Lizbeth for over 20 years.

My best friend from college, Diane Davidson, knew me first as Beth, but accepted my formal re-incarnation, so for decades thoughtfully introduced me as Lizbeth. One evening we were laughing together when DD suddenly blurted, “You know, a lot of times you’re a lot more “Lizzie” than you are “Lizbeth.”

Sharply inhaling, a tumult of brotherly badgering tumbled in my mind. I held that inhalation until it hurt. When it finally tumbled out with a gasp for air, laughter followed. DD was right.

Lizbeth can take herself too seriously; Lizzie laughs and keeps all in perspective. Lizbeth can be insecure and feel shy; Lizzie has a deep and joyful love for life.

Lizzie doesn’t care what people call her. Lizzie knows a name is not the goal; it is just a stepping stone along the path. Lizzie doesn’t care if she’s called Beth, Bethie, Lizbeth, or even Liz. Lizzie lives and laughs right here – right now.

Ted, Art and Lizzie 60 years later

Ted, Art and Lizzie 60 years later

A clear, golden afternoon in Pleasanton, CA - two long-term friends, sitting at a table on Diane Davidson’s deck – both typing on our laptops – as if we are an old married couple. Beautiful.

 

Purple along a path at IONS

Purple along a path at IONS

 

Last evening I was at IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences) in Petaluma, CA (photo above) for a lecture by Ralph Metzner, who worked with Timothy Leary at Harvard then moved up to the Millbrook, NY compound – to continue experiments and research with LSD and other hallucinogenics. Metzner supplied the Blake quote of this post’s title, commenting that “cleansing” and “perception” are generally linked to windows, but true perception literally throws open the door; a clear vision opens before us.

 

That comment turned my attention to two YouTube videos recently shared by friends. First is the international shocker of Susan Boyle’s audition for Britain’s equivalent to “American Idol” = “Britain’s Got Talent.” This clip moved me so deeply that I watched it several times, then downloaded it to watch at regular intervals. We are not allowed to embed this clip, so here’s the link:

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-KiGva9dV4

 

A little background: Susan is a Scottish spinster born with a learning disability. She dreamed of becoming a professional singer but limited her efforts to her church choir and karaoke so she could take care of her mother. Two years ago she stopped singing. The Times of London reports that Susan:

“has revealed her show-stopping singing performance was the first in two years following the death of her mother.

Susan Boyle, a 48-year-old church volunteer from Blackburn, West Lothian, said she could not bring herself to sing after the death of her mother Bridget, 91, in 2007. “I was left really upset because of the bereavement I had and decided to give up singing,” said Boyle, who took up singing aged 12.

“Up until then I was singing in the church choir and doing karaoke regularly, but I just didn’t feel up to it after that.

“When I heard about the auditions for Britain’s Got Talent I decided to get back into singing and start enjoying life again. I wasn’t sure how my voice would sound after so long but the reception I got from the audience and the judges was fantastic.”

[She] admits to never having been kissed, conceded she would make an unlikely pop star but said she did not have the confidence to perform when she was younger.

“I know I’m an older woman but I would never have had the confidence to do something like this when I was younger,” she said. “I have definitely improved and got more confident as I have got older.”

 Modern society is too quick to judge people on their appearances,” she said. “There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are. But maybe this could teach them a lesson, or set an example. What you do is ignore that and get on with your act. You have to,” Ms Boyle said.

 

She believes her age and life experience is her biggest asset: “It gives you faith in your abilities,” she said. “I think I am ready for it.”

 

Susan’s story linked in my mind to Nick Vujicic’s very different life, challenges and experiences. Nick was born with no arms or legs – only one partial foot – but this video shows some of his accomplishments. He definitely learned to “get on” and lives a meaningful life.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-KiGva9dV4]

 

 

Both Susan and Nick worked through limitations – through debilitating karma. Both found a purpose; found a way of helping and serving – their dharma. We all are born with obstacles and limitations; both Susan and Nick found a way to turn their obstacles into gifts. 

 

This final quote from Ralph Metzner’s talk last evening helped to pull all three experiences together for me and reminded me that karma is the foundation for free will: “What we do with our experiences is our choice.”

May our paths lead to peace, understanding and to joyful service.

 

Great show!

 

I never cease to marvel how Hornsby takes a song I’ve heard 100s of times and makes it new and exciting. Like “The Way It Is”. Bruce’s five-fingered exercises and central riff on the solo piano intro popped my goose-bumps.

 

The casino wanted Bruce R. Hornsby to do a 60 min. show, but he stretched it into 100 and gave a great show in spite of the restrictions. Thanks, Bruce, for beseeching security so we could move and celebrate at the end of the show and encores. How I love to dance!

Beginning of Foxwoods concert, 27 March 2009

Beginning of Foxwoods concert, 27 March 2009

Here’s the set list – with the help of Takami and the Bruuuce.com website.


1. Song C

2. Sad Moon

3. New song: Levitate into> Big Rock Candy Mountain > Candy Mountain Run

4. Valley Road with great chromatic middle

5. Spider Fingers>Tempus Fugit

6. The Good Life

7. Down The Road Tonight

8. End of the Innocence (change to accordion)

9. Evangeline

10. Big Stick (change back to piano)

11. Fortunate Son>Comfortable Numb>Fortunate Son

12. The Way It Is

13. Sunflower Cat>Train to Cry>Sunflower Cat
Encores: Big Rumble, Mandolin Rain, Standing On The Moon, Halcyon Days without a break so he could fit more music into restricted time – to give us more.

 

Thanks, Bruce!


Drummer Moyes Lucas filled in for Sonny Emory and jammed wonderfully with “Bobby Reade on reeds” – especially on Valley Road.

 

New song “Levitate” was written and performed for Spike Lee’s new documentary — “Kobe Doin’ Work” — on Los Angeles Laker, Kobe Bryant, last year’s NBA Most Valuable Player. There will be a gala premiere of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival on April 25, then televised Saturday, May 16, at 7:30 PM on ESPN.

 

This is the first full film score that Bruce both wrote and scored. I don’t have regular cable, so I need someone to copy it for me! Please!

 

If you want to hear some Hornsby music, here’s the music page on his website, BruceHornsby.com and one from an NPR interview and concert.

 

I’ve got lots more links if you’re interested – just ask!

(The photo at the top of this blog was taken by my Bruce Buddy, Clayton Ussery at the January, 23rd concert in Richmond, BC.)

 

See you at a Hornsby concert and back here soon, Lizzie.

 

 

It’s been a long time without a post. Please forgive my tease then the cold shoulder. Reasons, but no excuses: sick for a month, drive back to Vegas to pack up daughter Alise and caravan back and lots of writing. More on writing will follow.

Back to Here and Now. Swedish meditation and writing friend Per Holmlov arrived March 19th to join me at Harvard University’s Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism March 20th-22nd. Per asked for an order of new overalls, hence the first photo of fellow overall lovers – spanking new ones on Per and well loved favorites on Lizzie.

Per and I modeling favorite work clothes

Per and I modeling favorite work clothes

Captured by conference photographers during PBS news anchor, Gwen Ifill’s closing keynote at noon Sunday, this photo was taken from the conference follow-up website.

Per and I listening to Gwen Ifill's closing keynote

Per and I listening to Gwen Ifill's closing keynote

 The gentleman to my right is hoping to be the US publisher for Per’s North Sea sailing memoirs. I’m Per’s English copy editor, which increases our friendly exchanges.

Per and Lisa invited me to sail with them along Norway’s fjords this summer in Siri, their steel ketch. Here’s a snap I caught as they entered Bergen, Norway’s harbor after the long, hard sail from Fair Isle where they were married last July.

Caught this photo as newlyweds Lisa and Per docked Siri in Bergen, Norway
Caught this photo as newlyweds Lisa and Per docked Siri in Bergen, Norway

Closing now, but I’ve a long list of blog topics and ideas, so you’ll see me here regularly. I’m looking forward to new conversations.

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