Monday, June 29, 2009

Living Out Loud

Were this place of close witness deserving of stage or cinema, but it’s not, so much that I can see. No aspiring concert pianist or ballerina has crossed my view, unlike what I saw last night in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film, “Rear Window”, where the main character spends his days in a chair, observing, out the window of his New York apartment, observing while his leg mends from a break suffered in his work as a photographer. Here I’ve seen no newlyweds sleeping on their balcony to escape a confining apartment on a close July night. This is not mid 20th century New York City, where refrigerated air is the exception, where people live on top of people. It is Santa Fe New Mexico, 21st century, where refrigerated air is the exception, and people live on top of people.

We are now officially a community of renters. Along with the pronounced drop in market value of our homes, this troubled economy has changed this place to one of transients, and a transient mentality prevails. The license plates populating the parking areas for these 260 apartment homes tell part of the story—New Mexico, of course, California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Vermont, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, New York, Wisconsin. The proverbial dog raising his leg on every tree and shrub roams this landscape. That’s another part of the story.

Summer has arrived on the high plateau, and we are paying the price for high-density living. Our windows and patio doors open to catch the fresh air, we are forced to listen to one another. All kinds of human activity that should be private has become public—petulant children wailing in protest, of what, we are left to wonder. They weren’t here last summer. We are privy to phone conversations, lover’s quarrels conducted without the lyricism of Capulet and Montague, cable television and music we don’t choose, and celebrations, minor and otherwise—ordinary human activity captured and displayed for any to witness.

Some of this drama plays out during normal waking hours; some of it at 3:30 in the morning. Even the walls that separate us are not a shield to ringing phones, the closing of kitchen cabinets, the slamming of a front door. Our evaporative coolers draw in the evidence of our neighbor's cigarette addiction. The nighttime restlessness of second-floor residents robs their downstairs neighbors’ sleep, movement across the floor, thundering in the wee hours. I give thanks for imagining this when I bought my apartment home two years ago. I hang my hat on the second floor.

We are living out loud, sadly ignorant that others don’t want to know what we so willingly and willfully flaunt for any and all. We live on top of one another, and we are numbed to discretion. We pass each other on the sidewalk, casting our eyes to the ground, or look at each other squarely and vacantly. We are disaffected. We leave notes outside one another’s doors, apologizing, once again. And we don’t apologize at all because we are blind to our offense. We don’t understand that we are fish in a bowl—loud fish in a bowl.

Living Out Loud—Santa Fe New Mexico (June 29, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, June 1, 2009

We Are Responsible for the Clouds

I really do try to pay attention. Fortunately, most of us recognize the difference between getting it right and getting it wrong. On the continuum of choices, we probably linger somewhere around the neutral zone—sometimes knocking home runs and other times striking out, out, out. We are rewarded here and pay the price there. And when we give the short change to anyone, it is usually to ourselves. The illusive someone who expects something from us usually turns out to be the person in the mirror. We place limits on ourselves out of some kind of habit we’ve learned along the way. And as I was reminded yesterday, life is hard work. Yes, I was paying attention—at breakfast, in worship, in the afternoon perched on the landing of a saloon in an old coal mining town striving to be an artist mecca, and later in the day, sitting on the living room floor at a friend’s house, watching a movie about love served up and withheld. I expected to be laughing. Instead, I felt painful embarrassment, for the most part.

I keep forgetting that it’s okay to ask for what I want. Doing so is not about presumption or greed—at least, not by definition. We spend a lot of time looking, and a lot of time making excuses, but really, how much time do we spend asking and then genuinely expecting. All of this is, of course, presupposes that we have undertaken some legitimate process of discernment. Life is hard work.

Recently, I was reminded by the leader of a group in which I participate each Thursday of one of those things that I want to see on a billboard. It’s too much text to go on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt or the imaginary tattoos I wear on my forearms. “The good news is we are each responsible for our life and how we create our reality, what we think, where we put our attention, our feelings.” Conversely, “The bad news is we are each responsible for our life and how we create our reality, what we think, where we put our attention, our feelings.” I don’t want to confuse this with the cavalier pap offered up by those who seem to abound in plenty—at least material plenty—to those who are instead characterized by their lack—choices, choices, it’s all about choices. No, it’s not simply about choices. Other factors are at work in our lives. Often the choices we make are made in the heat of some moment, when we have to think on our feet—not an easy task for some of us, at least some of the time. I guess there must be a choice somewhere in there, even as we consider that old dilemma made adage, “when you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the original objective was to drain the swamp.” Frankly, who enjoys being reminded that there was a better way, even when we know it’s for our own good?

I’ve spent a lot of time second guessing myself, regretting choices—and way too much time in the swamp because I just wasn’t ready to get out, yet, for some reason that was unclear at the time. The wise-from-living leader of our group reminded me the other day that many of us have a habit of believing that we don’t deserve the good that comes our way. Where do we learn this? Who would have taught us something so destructive? What hard, toll exacting life lessons would cause us to sabotage that which seeks only to flourish and nurture?

Last Saturday, Steve and I stood on a mesa in the Jemez Mountains overlooking a vast valley, where pinon pine is repopulating itself. A planned burn grew out of control nine years ago. It made the national news for days. A young man of Santa Clara heritage, mingled with German from his maternal grandfather, was our guide through the remnants of dwellings dating to the 12th -16th century. He spoke eloquently of the history of the pueblo people, occasionally calling on his ancestral native Tewa language. His view of his world, our world, was as expansive and real and solid as the 360 degrees where we stood. “We are responsible for the clouds,” he said. Drought had driven his people to the valley below four centuries past—by their belief because of improper behavior on their part. “We are each responsible for our life and how we create our reality, what we think, where we put our attention, our feelings,” she reminded me. God, spare me from starving in the midst of plenty.

“I release this prayer into the Divine Law knowing it is already so. I let go of all human attachment of what it should look like. I surrender, I allow and I let God. And so it is. Namaste.”

We Are Responsible for the Clouds—Santa Fe New Mexico (June 1, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis