Just working

September 22, 2022 (The Autumn Equinox)

“When I was lil girl, I played piano, but not no more… I’s got nothin’.  I not finish my school, you know…  when the war start, no! — I was start workin’. I jus’ been workin’ all my life.”

Kate — a maid in the BOQ at England Air Force Base, Alexandria, Louisiana. She was a Philipino/Japanese woman who had married a GI.

(From my journal, May of 1972)

I often think of Kate and what she said to me about working. Although my life has been vastly different from hers, I sometimes feel that the same is true of me, that I “just been working all my life.”

Although my Social Security records show a large gap of more than a year after I got out of the Air Force, I have mostly always worked. And I have worked at a very large number of very diverse jobs.

So I decided to try to come up with a list — maybe some description — of most of the various work situations I’ve ended up in over the years.

Childhood

My parents always stressed working, and we kids always had our chores and a little allowance, and were expected to help out with house and yard work. I remember I really hated picking up pecans because of the dryness and how it made my hands feel.

When I was old enough to reach the counters and push a broom, fifth grade I suppose, I was working Wednesdays (paper day) and Saturdays at my daddy’s newspaper office, The Claxton Enterprise. I helped move the folded papers to the table for mailing, and I often rode with Daddy to the nearby post offices when we had to deliver them.

On Saturdays, I swept the back shop, collecting up all the big sheets of newsprint that had been trashed during the printing process. Occasionally, I washed the big windows up front and helped out in the office supply business. I also collected the lead slugs of type and helped with the process of melting them down into ingots for setting the next week’s paper on the Linotype. Plus I wrapped and delivered job printing around town — on foot. Later, I helped out with some of the news work, covered a few football games, and did whatever was needed.

Delivery jobs

During high school, I also had a couple of other jobs, though how long and what the schedule of those jobs was is a little blurry in my memory now! I worked Saturdays delivering dry cleaning for Smith’s Dry Cleaners, which was owned by Frank Smith, the Mayor of Claxton. It was an exciting job, as the old panel truck would occasionally lose brakes and I had to learn how to stop by switching off the engine and popping the clutch in second gear, then snatching up the emergency brake. I also worked delivering the Savannah Morning News, first in a car with the old guy, a cab driver, who had the contract, and then, when I was 15 I think, on an old Cushman Husky, which was also exciting to ride. The brakes on it tended to lock up, and I turned it sideways in the road once, which sent my flying thru the air and landing on my hands and knees on the pavement. Fun. The other interesting part of that job was that I occasionally had to ride with the old guy out to the county line to pick up whiskey for a customer.

Bookbinder — Georgia Southern College library

When I went to college, I worked in the bindery at the college library. I also worked on the college newspaper and the yearbook staff, and I helped the college sports publicist keep stats at basketball games.

Pilot — US Air Force

I was in the US Air Force for about four years, flying airplanes, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. It’s in my other blog, A War Journal. That chronicles my experiences related to the Air Force and a year in Vietnam.

After the Air Force, I took a few months off to recover my sanity and then I was back at the newspaper business.

Reporter — Tifton News Examiner

I helped my uncle, Dan Eden, publish a little newspaper in Tifton, Georgia, for part of a year, but things were a little difficult there, so he moved to Gray, Georgia. That really didn’t work out for me, so sometime in 1973 I moved to Orlando, Florida, where my brother, Stewart, lived.

Photo processor and greenhouse worker

I had two jobs there, though I’m not sure of the sequence or the duration of the two. I worked the 11-to-7 shift at a photo processing plant — Champaign Color — in the color-print darkroom, loading big cases filled with 35 mm negatives into a machine that made prints. I also worked for a commercial plant nursery watering and fertilizing greenhouses filled with ornamental plants all day.

Those were both short-term, very strange jobs.

I was on the road for a few months after that, ending up in Phoenix, Arizona. I worked as a graphic artist for a “shopper” — a newspaper that’s mostly ads and is given away. I mostly did ad layout, but I did a little darkroom work, which I had learned to do at my daddy’s newspaper.

Press operator – Medco Jewelry Company

I moved from there to Independence, Missouri, and got a job working in the in-house print shop at Medco Jewelry Company in Kansas City. I started out doing darkroom and graphics there, but learned to run a small offset press and worked into being one of the pressmen.

Press operator — Center Stake office, RLDS church

I had to ride a bus into downtown Kansas City every day for that job, so soon I moved to being the pressman at a church district office, doing all the printing for several churches, mostly Sunday bulletins. Later, I began to work for one of the churches in the district, doing all their printing. My first child was born during this time, and as our horizons expanded, I decided to go back to college.

Social Studies Teacher

I eventually got certified as a teacher in several states and started teaching in Crownpoint, New Mexico, where I taught Navajo children social studies. I only lasted a year there, and then I taught for two years in Jesup, Georgia, at Jesup Middle Grades.

Assembly-line worker — motor home plant

Things again went awry in my life, and I ended up in Eugene, Oregon. I worked for a time there as an assembly-line worker, building and installing dashboards for motor homes. A crazy job that I quit so I could hitchhike back to Georgia for my brother’s wedding. I also did day labor for an organic farm outside of Eugene, planting garlic and digging potatoes and whatever else needed doing. I got paid very little, but I could bring home large bags of vegetables for our family group. The guy who owned it also took me out mushroom hunting, and I learned how to identify chanterelles and Shitake.

Organizer/officer worker — Eugene Council for Human Rights

I got involved with an activist group, the Eugene Council for Human Rights in Latin America, and before long was working as an assistant in their office, doing graphic arts and lots of other things.

Typesetter/Print shop manager — The Siuslaw News

I moved from Eugene to Florence, Oregon, where I was a nanny of sorts for a first-grader while his mom went to college classes. Then I got a real job as a typesetter, doing classified ads for the newspaper in Florence. I worked into doing some graphics and then into the print shop. I did darkroom work, job layout and printing.  I eventually became the manager of the print shop, running the 11×17 AM press and the 17×22 Heidelberg press. The Heidelberg was a project! The boss bought it used and abused — all the rollers were stuck together from being shut down all inked up and left for a long time, so I had to pull everything out and replace them with new rollers. But it was a wonderful press once we got it working. I also did all the darkroom and plate work for the print shop operation.

Reporter/Editor — The Press-Sentinel, Jesup, Georgia

After my dad died in 1986, we moved to Jesup to be with my mom, and I got a job as a reporter with The Press-Sentinel, a weekly paper that my dad had worked for from 1973 through his retirement in about 1985. I did news and sports reporting, and I was sports editor and later news editor. I also did all the reporting for The Ludowici News, a small paper that the Press-Sentinel published in a nearby town.

Teacher — again — Jesup schools

After a few years in newspaper work, I went back to teaching. I taught at Jesup Junior High, Arthur Williams Middle School, and Wayne County High. Social studies, science and English at the middle schools, civics and advanced composition at the high school. After retiring from public school teaching in 2007, I taught GED and ESOL classes for a few years for the technical college.

Newspaper reporter — again — The Press-Sentinel

When a job at the paper opened up in about August of 2017, I moved back there on a part-time basis, sharing the week with another reporter. When things slowed down with the COVID-19 pandemic, I became the only reporter, working with the news editor to produce the paper each week. And that is where I am today, working three days a week plus event coverage as needed.

It’s been a wild ride.

Life with the children, 2020

March 29, 2020

June’s almost two now… already interested in numbers. She definitely says “Two, three, two…” as she’s putting thing into rows, which she loves to do! Toys, coins, any objects she is playing with may end up all lined up on the floor… But she’s doing rudimentary counting, at least she’s got the concept of saying numbers while placing the items. The first and most critical part of this whole numbers thing!

And she’s beginning to name the pictures in her books, not just say “What’s this? What’s that?” There are lots of new words that she understands… too many to remember.

April 10 (or so), 2020

Am still worrying about the grown kids/grand kids/kids…. this pandemic is getting serious. Makes me question what world will there be for them when it runs its course… Of course, I’ve always thought it’s gonna come down to us vs. the viruses.

I do find such joy in the kids, all of them, now! They are so amazing and endearing. June’s vocabulary and skills are growing by leaps and bounds every week! She is developing quite a temper, though. If she’s tired and doesn’t want to do something — like put on pants — she can be inconsolable. Just screams and screams.

May 20-22, 2020

Trying to keep up is hard lately, as we’re pretty busy. June is changing and growing so fast, some new little thing every day! She says so many things now – hard to remember them all!

The sweetest thing lately is her little “butterfly song.” She says “fly-fly-fly” (very quickly) for butterfly, and she’s made up the whole very sweet little song, in which the only discernible word is “fly-fly-fly” but is complete with hand gestures and waving arms, looking up and pointing, so clearly it is all about butterflies, which she loves and is very excited by. Marvin says they are June’s favorite part of nature. When we were at Granny’s, I asked June if she could sing her the fly-fly song. She immediately started singing and dancing around singing the same things she says when singing it for me. I think the word “high” is definitely in there! She sings other songs, but nothing as identifiable as the butterfly song.

She really loves music and always starts dancing when music plays. She also loves playing my guitar — and singing along. She gets the idea of melody and seems to sing notes in the chord I’m playing.

June 21. 2020

We had June’s fly-fly birthday party (she’s two) last weekend. She had fun, and Stewart, Kay & Jaap, Granny, and Andrew (Taylor’s friend from Jax) here for our first social event in Screven — all outside, on account of the pandemic. June related to everyone very positively during the party. She’s such a big, smart girl now! She speaks in complete sentences now, at least when she wants to! We were going out the door in our hats and she said, “Oh no, I don’t have my hat on!” Several other sentences lately. And — she’s getting very stubborn about getting dressed. Most of the time, she’d just rather not. Oh boy!

She has a huge vocabulary these days. Way too many words for me to keep up with. And she continues to be so sweet and happy most of the time! She did go on a string of unhappy days… sick and unhappy, maybe teething as there were stomach problems. But she’s good now, tho still some digestive issues.

Marvin and June are getting along so well lately! He’s better at playing with her and doesn’t get so frustrated. We do enjoy them so much and are so amazed at all they do! Though they are a challenge at times!

June’s throwing skills continue to improve. She can throw a ball right to you, judges the distance well and is right on target! She can throw pretty far, too. Also can run and kick a soccer ball over and over. She’s a ball girl! She loves for me to kick the big ball “so high!” and she does really well at throwing and catching it too! She just loves to run, climb, and play rough!

July 18

Language development continues… rocks are now rocks, not “row-ies.” We have such sweet times together! She really loves t play with me, hang with me. We just did lots of “A’s and flowies” in my journal… she loves to draw on my pages… and potty training is proceeding well, so proud of herself.

She is so responsive to our reactions to her. She was writing in my journal, made a wild stroke, and I reacted in a startled way. Then she looked at me with such sorrow, said, “Sorry!” very genuinely and hugged me. She also loves to bring all of us snacks whenever she is having them. I was still in bed and she came knocking on the door to offer me goldfish crackers. She always makes sure “Bubby” has a snack too if she’s having something — same with the gummy bear vitamins. She’s truly a sweet child! Very unselfish and caring. Though she’s lately becoming very stubborn as well and given to getting her way about things.

Sept. 9, 2020

Yes, she’s getting very headstrong. Very determined to do what she sets her mind to do, but she can be fairly easily distracted and gets over things quickly too. But she does cry and scream if thwarted. She’s also been very sweet lately, saying, “You home!” to us, holding our faces and being so sweet and huggy! The highlight of my day is coming home to the family and hearing June say, “Daddy home!” She often comes running to hug me and smiles so sweetly up at me. It has been hard with the ‘Rona — I have to stop her, strip and shower as soon as I get home, so I can’t respond to those sweet greetings! She also loves to give us all little kisses.

Another little sentence she says now is, “Ahhh! I broke that!” She’s a bit rough on things, even the books she loves, so things get broken. She’s rough and tumble right along with Marvin and stays all bruised and banged up. She loves to play outside, loves throwing, catching and kicking the balls, and she can play catch with me for quite a while with the little basketball.

Marvin’s growing up too, though he still has some issues with anger and screaming. He’s doing much better with most things, like bedtime and playing nicely. He and June have lots of fun together being wild kids. He is very protective of her and is usually letting her play with him now.

On the other front, I never get to see my older kids. Everything together has made it near impossible. It’s been very hard for me. I’m still non-grata with Liana, though there are some hints of a response occasionally… They all seem to be doing well, okay at least, despite the crazy times. I miss them terribly! I’ve tried to let them know how much I love them, but I’m not sure the message gets through. Life is so…. hard sometimes. Damn hard. I miss my Mom and Dad…

Sept. 26, 2020

Liana called to wish me happy birthday yesterday! The first overture she’s made to establish contact! It was wonderful to talk to her at last! But sad. We did not really resolve the break, but it was a good talk and it gives me hope that it will get better. It’s good to know she’s doing well, is happy and safe. I miss here, all the kids, so much!

June had her first real beach visit yesterday — St. Simons. We played in the waves and she just loved it! Squealed for a solid hour!

Oct. 10, 2020

A tiny connection has been established with Liana! I renewed her car tag, so I had to ask her for her mailing address, and she was appreciative, we exchanged texts, and things seemed nearly normal. Much improved, so I have a glimmer of hope… The birthday conversation seems to have helped.

A few notes on June and Marvin… June’s vocabulary is growing so fast I can’t keep up! And it’s so cute! She says “yep!” and “nope!” a lot now! She calls Granny “Bramm-ma” and calls Kay “Grammy-Tay.” Oh yes, now she knows her own name! If you ask, she says, “Anna June!” And she told me, “You John!”

Marvin continues to be challenging for me. He is pretty amazing in lots of ways. Very smart. He can recite the story of Wall-E from the book, nearly completely, and he does so, frequently looking at the book and pretending to read it. He really wants to read! He’s certainly an auto-didact, like Lucy. Drawing robots is his daily obsession now, and he’s filled hundreds of pages with Wall-E, Johnny 5 and others. He can keep up a narrative on something for half-an-hour as he draws, though it’s sometimes hard to know what he’s narrating… His defiance continues. I’m trying to be better but not very successfully. I am able to avoid the power struggles, though.

October 18, 2020

A Sunday in the cooling-off days… playing ball with June this morning. She can now throw the soccer ball up in the air and catch it. She’s so proud of herself when she catches it! She does love to play catch with me! She’s so coordinated! She says, “Three, two, five, go!” and takes off running across the yard. We have fun! She is starting to count a bit. She got 1, 2, 3 yesterday in counting something with me.

October 24, 2020

Now she is moving to “1, 2, 3, go!” a lot lately! And she knows the word, “sad.” I said something about Mommy would be unhappy if she broke the plant, and she said, “She sad?” Seems I often find myself wondering how much of our nice, sweet times together she will remember. I guess I wonder if I will live long enough for her to remember me at all. That makes me sad. At least she’ll have some positive emotional grounding for her life. We spend a lot of time playing! (She just drew a little face in my notebook and added eyebrows — she told me they were the eyebrows… and then she asked me to write, or “show her the ppi’s” — her word for letters — for her name.) A few new sentences: “I put this in the trash!” “I can share with you!” Lots of quality time on the porch lately… also lots of stinker behavior! Ya gotta watch her every minute! She’s into everything!

June and the kids…

August 13, 2019

Last night was terrible.June got all croupy, couldn’t breathe or cry, so we took her to the ER in the middle of the night. She got steroids and a breathing treatment — so hard! Poor baby cried and fought, just couldn’t understand what all those people were doing and why we weren’t stopping them! The ER people all remarked on how strong and determined she is! It took three of them to hold her still for the blood-work and breathing treatment. Hard to watch!

She got pricked about four or five times for blood — they couldn’t get an IV in, so they did a heel stick and a finger stick! Poor baby! But there was no bad infection. She’s at the doc’s office now, doing much better, breathing fairly clearly.

Mommy and daddy had a hard time seeing her so mad and afraid, those eyes pleading with us to help! So hard! So scary!

We’ve got meds and a breathing device so if this happens again, we can treat it.

September 15, 2019

I’ve not been keeping up very well. June is growing and changing so fast! She’s quite a climber! We can’t keep her off the table, or wherever she can get. She loves standing in the chairs.

But she also loves books and drawing with markers, crayons and pens. Not sure if she’s favoring her left hand, but sometimes is seems as if she is…

A breakthrough of sorts with Liana! Sadly, my cousin Bill Stewart died, and I sent Liana an email to let her know. They all loved Bill! She responded with a nice message, which is a first since the breakup… It gave me renewed hope for eventual thawing of our relationship. I’m not sure how to proceed, but I want to try to keep things opening up with her. I do miss her so!

October 30, 2019

Making a (partial) list of the words June knows or says… hard to keep up! She says chicken, hot, Da-da; she knows and sometimes complies with bath, diaper, Marvin, Mommy, ‘give it to me’, eat, highchair, ‘come see Daddy.’

December 5, 2019

June is continuing her language acquisition! She really understands most everything we say to her, and is mostly very cooperative, too!

Thanksgiving was hard. The other kids all came to the old house, but I didn’t even get to see Lucy and Li. I had a nice lunch with John and Manna and the kids and hope to see them this weekend. All this is being so hard.

And things continue to be difficult here. Marvin in out of control often, frequently unresponsive to anything. He is really pushing my buttons. That’s the basics. The emo is beyond capture here.

January 13, 2020

I often wonder at the delightful ways of this little one! At 19 months plus a week, Duney is a constant joy to me, and the closeness I feel with her is so sweet! She seems to really understand me and to enjoy being with me most of the time. Of course, I am second to Mommy, but I’m okay with that!

She is truly amazing in so many ways! Her play is very advanced, and her coordination is also. She stacked four little odd-shaped blocks one night, and she is very adept at towers with the big Lego blocks. She understands nearly everything we say to her and picks up on what’s about to happen from our conversation. She’s also very sensitive to non-verbal communication — subtle facial cues and such.

She loves playing with Marvin! They play with the trains and other toys together, and they run around the house and rough-house on the floor!

Still struggling to get moved to our new house — so stressful!

Things are also stressful on the Liana front. It seems hopeless at times! Gene is doing our sibling reunion in February, but she said she won’t be attending. It’s really so hard and painful to think she’s just never going to forgive me. I don’t think I deserve forgiveness, but I do think she will regret hating me. I have been slipping into depression lately… am trying to deal with it, but not much is working.

Lucy’s not coming to the reunion either, but at least she explained that she has a very busy weekend, working gigs, so it’s a little easier to take. It may be a difficult day.

January 19, 2020

June’s new words and expressions are so endearing and cute! She says “Love you!” so sweetly, usually in response to us. And if we ask her if she wants to do something, she says, “Yeah!” so enthusiastically and raises her eyebrows up so cutely! She only shakes her head to say ‘no.’ A lot of her communication is with expressions.

Getting closer to our move-in. Giving up on a new tub for now.

Feb 16, 2020

June is 20+ months now, so delightful but such a little stinker sometimes! She’s very active, very talkative, and says so many things — plus a lot of unintelligible sentences! (Which she seems to think we should understand!) She loves playing in our new yard and runs all around the house full speed, rough-housing with Marvin, playing with the trains and being pretty wild.

She won’t stop climbing on things that scare Daddy! And standing up in her highchair. But she’s still so sweet to me and just loves to play with me! A little problem with hitting us and throwing things at us, which we’re trying to deal with constructively.

We had the sibling reunion yesterday, so the family met Taylor, Marvin and June! Was fun and good connections! Marvin and Orion played a lot, and June and Sophia hit it off well! Everybody loved Taylor and the kids! Taylor says it was a little uncomfortable at times, but generally okay and easier than she expected.

February 21, 2020

I hope the ice is broken and we can see some of them in more intimate settings, develop family relations… I really want the kids to all be family! Speaking of, I talked to Lucy today. She’s very busy but loving it and feeling fulfilled. Nothing developing with communication with Liana… from her IG posts it seems things are okay with her… I hope so. It is hard on me, never getting to talk to her. I had really thought from the beginning that it would work out.. I just don’t really understand. And I don’t have any better ideas of what might help. I fear alienating her further if I try too hard…

Oh yes, I forgot to mention June’s lovely little songs that she sings to us now. So sweet and really tuneful. She loves it when I play guitar and sing, and she has been singing along for a while now. Just recently though, she started just singing her own little songs whenever it strikes her. Very calm, sweet little songs usually. So adorable!

I sent Liana a text and IG message on her birthday. Haven’t heard back. I do keep up with her on IG, and Lucy fills me in on her occasionally. I keep trying.

June got her bangs trimmed today — her first haircut! Taylor saved the hair in her book. Marvin is getting so big, and getting better at listening, though he still has his moments! He’s enjoying our new yard and his trike! He loved playing in the little trees I had cut today, said he was looking for Totoro in there! We’re getting the yard cleaned up and hope to get the big pecan trees trimmed soon. I worry about the limbs falling… Things gradually coming together with the house.

March 1, 2020

A sweet day with the family, though I’m so blue I can barely breathe. But I want to put down the latest June thing. She’s been the “what’s that?” girl for the several days now! Started with the picture books and expanded to virtually everything she sees. At first it was “what’s that?” about everything, but yesterday, it began to be “what’s this!” for things she’s holding or close to — and repeated over and over and over endlessly for the same things — but so endearingly that we never even get cross.

I am on the verge much of the time, barely holding it together… not sure what’s happening. Going thru changes… June was going back and forth between me and Taylor a bit ago, kissing us, so sweet and happy. I do hope she will remember, or Taylor will tell her, all the sweet days we had together. Whatever happens, I will do what I must to keep her happy, to keep all of them happy. Ah, this life!

March 20, 2020

Amidst all the craziness of this Coronavirus pandemic, I am switching to a new journal… June notes here. She’s got new words all the time, understands almost everything we say to her. “Mommie, mommie, mommie!” is her favorite! And she’s still really into the “what’s that?”!

Am really worried about Lucy and Liana, in Atlanta, all this pandemic! Talked to Lucy, no gigs for a while… hope she’s okay thru all this.

John Nelson Eden…

[I probably should have begun with this one! My first child, so the beginning of this whole saga… but, like my war journal, it’s an exploded timeline here, developing perspective as it unfolds. This is the sixth post in the series on The Children.]

October 7, 1976

John Nelson Eden was born this morning! I can’t begin to capture the torrent of emotions and thoughts. The love, the joy, the awe and wonder of it all is perhaps best, and surely forever, emblazoned in my memory in that moment when I first looked into his red, screaming, screwed-up little face as the doctor held him up and said, “Hey boy, say hello to your mommy and daddy!”

That contorted little face was so beautiful, and that cry has to be the sweetest sound I ever heard!

It was an experience of ultimate magnitude, transcending anything else in my experience. Now I need some sleep real bad! Just a few more thoughts and I must go to bed…

Connie, his mom, was just beautiful through it all! Even as nothing prepared us for the experience as a whole, so not even the suggestions of veterans about how it brought them closer prepared me for just how meaningful it really is for the bond between us.

The effect on my perspective clear. There is a great difference between planning and thinking of “a child” in the abstract and planning and thinking of John Nelson, this actual precious bundle of potential!

November 17, 1976 (A Wednesday night)

To John Nelson:

As I sit here in the loofa with you, son, I can hardly contain my feelings! You’ve been having colic almost all afternoon, and mommy is all worn out, so I’ve rocked you to sleep, and now, you’re sleeping, fitfully, here beside me while I study.

Every now and then, you have a gas pain or something, and I just reach over and pat you on the tummy and murmur a few comforting words, and you settle back down, sometimes with with a little sigh that is sweet in that gentle, innocent way that I suppose only babies have. Sometimes, when you have these bad nights and mommy is so tired, you sleep on my chest while I read, and so I feel very much in tune with all your little pains, your cries and whimpers, and your little sighs as you try to sleep. You’ve always been a noisy little guy! High level of spontaneous vocalizations, in technical terms. But all of this is just a preface.

Tomorrow, you’ll be six weeks old by the calendar. In the last six weeks, you have made a profound and lasting impact on me as a person, and I just want to record a little of my feelings now for you to maybe read one day when you understand and appreciate my feelings. Joy and wonder and love have been the main things I’ve been feeling. This love for you is so strong there’s just no way to really express it! I feel so close, so in tune with you and your needs and responses, and so committed to you in the way that only this love can inspire, and so proud of you! Yet all of this fails to really describe the feeling!

This tremendous love that I have for you, John Nelson, is more than just an emotion. In it I find the key to the understanding of existence, for it is in response to this internal feeling — part of the relationship between you and me — that I will be to you all the things that will become my contribution to your humanity, to your personhood and thus to all humanity.

The degree of my awareness of this feeling and my response to it is the measure of my own humanity. The degree to which I allow the external and internal problems and pressures of life — and there are pressures: work, school, church, home life — to interfere with my response to you is the measure of my failure of you.

But if I, and your mother, and your grandparents, your relatives, and all of the people with whom you live in relationship are half-way able to be real persons to you, you will know all this. And you will know what I mean when I say, “Son, your daddy loves you!”

January 9, 1977

It’s almost hard to believe that it’s 1977. Somehow, I always thought things would be different by 1977, if we managed to make it that far! But here it is and here I am — I’ll be 31, thirty-one, this year, a settled family man by all appearances, yet not knowing what the coming year will bring.

I begin student teaching next week, should be certified after summer session, with 20 hours of graduate credit… had thought I’d teach her in Independence, get that master’s degree, but now I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try to get a job in a tribal school in Arizona, go to school there. We just kinda need to leave Missouri… lots of reasons.

John Nelson’s birthdays:

[In the journal I began in 1979, is this list of where JN lived for each of his first 13 birthdays. It is a pretty clear picture of how our lives were a bit nomadic for those years.]

1976 – born in Independence, Missouri.

1977 – Crownpoint, New Mexico (Eastern Navajo)

1978 – Jesup, Georgia

1979 – Jesup, Georgia

1980 – Koinonia Farms, Georgia (near Plains)

1981 – Eugene, Oregon (West Broadway St.)

1982 – Eugene, Oregon (West Broadway St.)

1983 – Eugene, Oregon (West Broadway St.) / Dad in Florence

1984 – Eugene, Oregon (West Broadway St.) / Dad in Florence

1985 – El Cajon, California

1986 – Ramona, California (spend 2nd half of 5th grade in Florence)

1987 – Ramona, California

1988 – Ramona, California

1989 – Jesup, Georgia (with Dad)

August 7, 1979

(In Winter Spring, Florida visiting Uncle Stewart.)

John-John got his second set of stitches today. Fell or something while we were in a health food store, split his forehead open, blood all over his face again, took ten years off my life and three stitches to close it up. It was all about two inches from the three stitches he got last summer.

After it was all over, I had to go into the restroom and cry. I still could cry just thinking about it. He doesn’t much like hospitals or doctors now for sure! But it didn’t even slow him down. Half an hour after the stitches, he was laughing, running, jumping — and kept it up all afternoon!

[The stitches last summer came after he ran into a metal band in a health food store in Machias, Maine on a summer trip there. Someone in the store took us to the local hospital, and I’ll never forget holding him along the way and realizing I could see his bone through the split in his skin. A very sweet doctor there wrapped him in a cloth and sewed it up and he was calm and not crying before the sewing was done.]

Pro-lifers really aren’t

A great column that goes far to explain why these Christians have pushed to such extreme positions on abotion, and showing just how un-Christian it really is. And how anti-life they really are.

John Pavlovitz

Power moves

Most of the problematic tendencies in our disaster-prone society seem to be aspects of one simple principle: being willing to use your power to gain more power is the way to success and general approbation.

I suppose this is an unsupported generalization, and that I’m painting things with a broad brush. I’d certainly be hard-pressed to come up with a large array of supporting instances of this principle, but it is an idea that’s been growing in my mind for some time now.

The most recent events on the national stage that have brought this up for me are the Republican tax bill, which they’ve finally managed to pass–an act of pure power in itself–and the flurry of defensive rationalizations around the men who’ve been accused of sexual predation. Though these two things seem to be unrelated, they share an etiology: abuse of power.

The tax bill is essentially a bold, crass move by the people who hold the reigns of power in the U.S. (the wealthy owner class, not the pathetic politicians who do their bidding for the crumbs from the table) to consolidate their gains as they become more and more in control of everything. They don’t really need more money, but they have an insatiable need for power, and that’s what control of so much of our national wealth gives them: nearly unlimited power. Including the power to keep us convinced that it’s in our interest.

Why they want this power is a question for deeper psycho-social analysis than I’m equipped to make, but it seems to be a product of some pretty deep-seated emotional hurt and fear that just grows as it is fed. I’ve long been convinced that most anger and hatred and evil-doing is based in fear, which usually has come from some kind of hurt. Like most of our negative psychological states, when we feed it the emotional poison of exerting our will over that of another, the negative state grows and requires bigger and bigger doses of power to assuage the pain.

In the same way, the sexual predators are not really interested in sex, they’re much more into the wielding of power over others, because that’s what seems to satisfy the need for self-reification and aggrandizement that drives them. Since sex is, in some ways, the ultimate thing one can give another person, it’s also the ultimate thing one can forcibly take from another person when one has some kind of power over them.

I can’t imagine how such so-called sex could actually bring the kind of gratification that sex does, because in these kinds of forced sex, one would be aware that the only reason it was happening was because of the power relationship. The truly bonding and gratifying aspects of sex, the source of the happiness it brings, are that it is freely engaged in between people who love and appreciate each other and who give of themselves to each other. Willingly. Elements which are totally lacking in forced sex.

Whether the power is physical, as in the normal idea of rape, or some kind of control over the conditions of the others’ life, as with bosses or directors or such relationships, it’s still power, and it’s the abuse of that power that is wrong.

Putting the other person in the position of having to make a difficult decision… assent or lose a vital job, role, or other aspect of ones life, that is the crux of what makes this behavior wrong. Saying, as some defenders have, that the victim should have ‘just said no’ or some other facile notion of resistance and refusal, ignores the true nature of the power relationship between the perpetrator and the victim in these cases.

Digging into this national pathology is painful, but it seems necessary if we are to grow and develop in constructive ways as a society.

Zen Center

It was the Fall of 1994 and Claire had just returned from a visit to Atlanta where she had been reintroduced to old friends in the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and had spent a few hours meditating there over the weekend. Her description of and enthusiasm for the newly-discovered Zen Center dropped like a hot coal in my mind.
Giana and I had been living in Jesup, Georgia for some five years then, and we had been friends with Claire since she and her husband Neill had moved to Jesup about a year after we did. We had hit it off immediately and become best friends, especially as Claire became our doctor and delivered our daughter, Liana.

We shared lots of interests and values with Claire and Neill, but somehow the topic of Buddhism had never come up –we didn’t talk about religion or spirituality at all as I recall. We were all pretty much socialist and materialist in our life philosophies — one reason we hit it off so well in a small south Georgia town where to express such ideas was a sure path to social ostracism. In fact, in Jesup, the first question you’re most likely to be asked upon being introduced to someone is: Where do you go to church?

So we had become fast friends with Claire and Neill, and no one had ever noticed my half-carved Buddha statue sitting in the living room, nor had my quiet interest in Buddhism ever come up in conversation.
But when Claire told me about re-connecting with a friend from Emory University days who had for several years been leading a Zen meditation center in the Candler Park area of Atlanta, I pointed out my rude sculpture to her and told her of my early Buddhist experiences in Thailand, and my continuing interest in Zen. I think I was in the midst of reading Suzuki Roshi’s little book at the time, and was still trying to sit every now and then, so I was ready for the news that there was somewhere I could go for serious Zen.

And more than ready for someone to share it with. Claire had brought home chant sheets from Zen Center, and she and I began doing little meditation sessions in the under-construction second floor of their house, which I was helping Neill build. Of course, I didn’t journal during much of this, so the details and sequence are pretty cloudy for me now 24 years later. I did write in August of 1993: “…I know clearly that I am on the Path now. Consistent sitting (inspired by Claire’s jump into Zen and the legitimization in Giana’s eyes that Claire gives it) has made me sure of the Buddhism that I embraced those years ago when my Thai friend said, ‘Buddha say, just enough!’”

And it wasn’t long before I went with Claire to Atlanta for a weekend sesshin. That first day in the little Candler Park zendo, October 2, 1993, sitting on those black cushions facing the old granite walls of the converted gas station, is very clear in my memory. I remember the slight apprehension as I removed my shoes in the tiny, quiet foyer formed by old windows with white panes, the smell of the incense, and the black backs of the motionless meditators around the walls as I followed Claire to a vacant cushion.
Settling in to my cushion I remember a deep sense of gratitude and wonder at the opportunity to be there, actually sitting with a group of people doing Zen meditation.

For years, I had assumed that such things only happened in faraway places, and that seven years in a monastery in Japan was pretty much the only model for finding enlightenment. Now here I was in the midst of clearly serious Zen practice, only a few hours from home.
I spent most of that first day with tears rolling down my cheeks as I sat and breathed, walked and chanted. In my journal that night, I wrote: “I have wanted to do this for so long, and despaired of ever having the opportunity, so the reality is very sweet.”

I also discovered the Heart Sutra and quickly came to love it. The group chanting, and later my own chanting of it, seemed to open up meaning in the ancient words that a simple reading of it might not reveal. I had long loved the Buddhist sutras, since my introduction to them in the university class in Kansas City, but this was my first experience with how their use in meditative chanting revealed deeper meanings.

So the Heart Sutra and other chants became a part of my regular practice, one that has held up through the years since as a profound comfort through the difficult times of my life.

I think the most important effect from finding Zen Center and a zen buddy was that I began, really for the first time, consistent sitting. I began sitting on our screen porch, because there I could set up my cushion and a little altar and it wasn’t in anyone’s way — or in anyone’s face. I could pop in, sit for a few minutes, and move on with little wasted time. I was teaching school then, so I had a regular daily schedule and could work in one or two sittings each day fairly easily. I found that even a few minutes in the morning helped my school day — engaging with middle schoolers is not easy — go much more smoothly and I was much less affected by the stress of the job.

Surprisingly, my entry into open Zen practice also proved to be a very positive influence in the development of a better spiritual relationship with my mother.

As I mentioned in the chapter on Daddy and the problems we had surrounding my resistance to the Vietnam War, my mother and I had long been on a close spiritual path in many ways, and she understood my pacifism and the need to part ways with the Air Force. But she never had been able to accept my negative ideas about Christianity and my refusal through the years — despite the brief flirtation with the church in Missouri — to find an adult acceptance of “Jesus as my savior”. My mother’s personal faith was a profoundly spiritual version of Christianity, one that I deeply respected, and she was never a “hide-bound” Christian, to use a term she employed. She would have likely been run out of the southern Baptist church she attended had the folks there known the depth to which her differences with their theology extended, but her faith and love were so strong, shone out so clearly from her great, great soul, that no one ever suspected her heresies.
Because she was able to transcend what she saw as the human limitations in the Christian religion, she thought I should be able to do the same, and we had never quite seen eye-to-eye on any of it, especially as she was so acutely aware of the suffering I experienced without a truly liberating spiritual life.

My formal, open entry into Buddhism, while not what she would have preferred for me, was positive for Mother because it made me a happier and more balanced person. She could see that, and for her that was strong evidence in its favor, despite her differences with the beliefs and practices. So our relationship steadily began to improve and we began to be able to have meaningful discussion about spiritual matters.
Though I didn’t really talk about it a lot, I did “come out” as Buddhist to my family — and eventually to my students — with no negative responses. I even made it through that first Christmas with my siblings at Mom’s house smoothly, despite the fact that some of my siblings are toward the fundamentalist side of the Christian religion.

My wife, Giana, was supportive of all these changes, though she wasn’t too sure about it all, and didn’t have any interest at the time in Buddhism or in taking up the practice of meditation. She was, to my great relief, fine with my going off on weekends with our friend Claire for retreats, and fine with holding meditations in the loft of her pottery shop, even supportive of my setting up meditation areas in the bedroom when it got too cold out on the screen porch for sitting.

The next summer, I went off for a week-long retreat at Southern Dharma, this time by myself, and she was very supportive of that as well.

She was fine with most of it because she too could see that it was good for me. I was easier to get along with and less prone to the depression and anger that plagued me after beginning the regular practice.
But it didn’t fix everything.

 

(This post also appears here as a Page in the sequential section as 17.)

The backward step…

Maia Duerr, who does the online sangha — Waking Up to Your Life — I’m associated with, sends out a message each full moon, sharing Zen insights and life advice. This month’s message is particularly helpful and wonderful to me, so am sharing here. Hope others find it helpful also.

This is her message for the Full Pink Moon (which isn’t pink, by the way — its name comes from the herb “moss pink” which is coming out this time of year):

Full moon / April 2017

Stop searching for phrases and chasing after words. Take the backward step and turn the light inward. Your body-mind of itself will drop away and your original face will appear. If you want to attain just this, immediately practice just this.
– Eihei Dogen (Fukanzazengi)
In the Zen tradition I practice in, the phrase “taking the backward step” is often invoked as a way to affirm the importance of zazen (sitting meditation) in a fully engaged life. That may sound contradictory – isn’t meditation about withdrawing from life?
Not at all, at least not how I understand it. To me, “taking the backward step” is a revolutionary act, one we must do if we are to have a deep understanding of how the world works, and how we work within it. It’s only through that kind of understanding that we can then take skillful action that does not create further harm, and may perhaps even contribute some good.
When I started writing this letter last week, the U.S. had just bombed Syria, in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on its own people. Both of these acts set off a wave of reactions across the globe, and within my own heart. I imagine you, too, may have felt an urgency about responding. When the intensity of world events is that amplified, the notion of “taking a backward step” may seem impossible, and out of step. We have to do something, don’t we? Or at least that’s how it feels.
And then I think of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh’s stories of being in Vietnam during the war. Even as bombs dropped on nearby villages, he and his sangha continued to practice meditation, but they also went out to help those who were suffering. In his classic book Peace is Every Step, he writes about this decision:
When I was in Vietnam, so many of our villages were being bombed. Along with my monastic brothers and sisters, I had to decide what to do. Should we continue to practice in our monasteries, or should we leave the meditation halls in order to help people who were suffering under the bombs? After careful reflection we decided to do both – to go out and help people and to do so in mindfulness. We called it engaged Buddhism. Mindfulness must be engaged. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the use of seeing?
We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help. If we maintain awareness of our breathing and continue to practice smiling, even in difficult situations, many people, animals, and plants will benefit from our way of doing things.
So as you hear the local and global news each day and perhaps struggle with how to respond, I encourage you to find ways to take your own backward step: a moment to re-connect with your breathing; a morning to take a long, quiet walk; a long weekend to go deeply into your practice. There is no better way to spend your time, for the benefit of all beings.
blessings,
Maia
(Maia offers lots of ways to expand and deepen one’s practice, so drop in on her website and check out all the wonderful stuff there! She’s also doing a beautiful retreat in New Hampshire in July which looks wonderful! — John)

No Escape

[Continuing with the theme No Hope, from the last entry]

In the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, and the presentations on those teachings that we have from his student Pema Chodron, one of the great themes is that an essential element in walking the ‘spiritual’ path, the path of radical compassion, radical acceptance, as it has come down to us through the centuries from those who have followed and interpreted the teachings of Gotama the Buddha, is that there is no escape.

The first noble truth of classical Buddhist teachings is “Life is suffering.” Though this idea is widely misunderstood by most of the Western translators and interpreters of the Buddha’s teachings – the sense of the original is better translated as “All clinging to life involves or creates suffering” – it is essentially just an observation about the reality of human experience: we can’t escape these feelings of dissatisfaction, this sense of lack that permeates our lives.

This is the “hopelessness” that Pema holds out as a positive thing, much to the dismay and confusion of most of us. The reactions I get to suggestions that hope is not something to cling to range from shock to outright anger:

What? Give up hope? Never! Hope is all we have! Never give up! Believe in the ultimate wonderfulness that we can achieve and never stop hoping for better, more, never abandon the quest for perfection.

That may be overstated, but it catches up much of what passes for wisdom in popular self-help psychology. And it sells. For some, it seems to work, at least temporarily. But it misses some really profound understandings of our human situation.

What we tend to do when things get tough, when things aren’t going the way we should like them to, is look for some escape from this unpleasantness. Much of what fills the world today, materiality, activity, religion, philosophy – any realm really – is nothing but some highly refined and developed effort to escape from reality, to fill that void with something.

We seek sensual and intellectual pleasures to escape that gnawing sense of dread, and we find all manner of sophisticated means to avoid the pain that comes from too much reality.

But in the end, there is no escape.

Whatever we do, it always ends. There’s always something happening that we wish would go away, or something we wish would happen that just won’t. And when we get something we want, we know that it could be lost in a heartbeat.

This is the truth of life that the Buddhist teachers speak of as “impermanence” or “emptiness”. The Buddhist path involves, at heart, being willing to bang into that truth over and over again until it comes clear to one that this is the nature of our life. “Sampajanna” is the Sanskrit term, which means something like ‘constant and thorough understanding of the truth of impermanence.’ Everything changes. It’s an obvious truth that we spend most of our energy denying.

It is this sense of no escape that is intended in the teachings of hopelessness, in the idea that our only salvation lies in giving up hope. Radical acceptance. Coming to terms with reality.

There’s nothing wrong with the hope that lets us undertake a new journey toward a goal that is clearly and simply a way to get beyond some thing in one’s life, or in society at large, that is problematic. When you see a problem, you address that problem in clear-eyed ways, and the ‘hope’ needed there is simply to see that yes, it is possible that I can do this. It’s not some unrealistic goal, and there aren’t insurmountable obstacles to realizing it. It’s possible. That’s a positive, human kind of hope.

It is when hope is used as an escape from the reality of our lives that it becomes a block to development of contentment and joy. It is when hope becomes an unrealistic quest for lasting, permanent security and grounding that it leads us down a dead end road.

Impermanence is a fact of life. It is as unavoidable as death itself. Finding any kind of contentment in this life necessarily involves acceptance of that truth, else we go from disappointment to disappointment, careening along leaving a trail of disasters, and never find peace.

Cedrus libani

A poem of sorts from August 16, 2016:

 

Here. Take this lash.

Whip it across my face. Draw blood.

I prefer that to these words which cut

deep into my heart

and bury themselves in my mind,

waking me in the night with their pain,

manifesting as a dream of the cedar

I found long ago at the corner of Orange and Wayne,

now gone,

mourned in my dreams alone.

Or in the quiet sleepless hours

I roam about in the house, in the cosmos,

once again feeling the loss of the old forests

as if it were my own.

My life and the cedar’s are not so far apart.