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Friday, August 23, 2019

How Inspiration Affects Us

It’s not that the theme inspiration is difficult to write about. It’s just that I have been seeing the word everywhere. Living your life in a way that others want to emulate is inspiring, and the people who inspire others don’t do it because they want to inspire others. It’s done because they feel they must do it. One of the poets that inspires me is Mary Oliver. Her poem The Journey describes perfectly that drive “You knew what you had to do,” as one who has had to make a difficult choice. “and there was a new voice/ which you slowly/recognized as your own.” It ends “determined to save/the only life that you could/save.“ 

This is a perfect description of positive disintegration described by Kasimir Dabrowski in his work. A person gets negative feedback from all sides when he/she decides to make a life change, yet the more that person follows that choice, the better he/she feels about life. 

I always think of artists in this way. Vincent Van Gogh worked quickly in a style different from anyone else and changed the course of history. He didn’t discover his artistic talent until he was twenty-seven, after he had failed to support himself by evangelism. He did not receive acclaim until after his death.

I see it often in twelve-step programs. A member comes to a meeting in so much pain they are willing to do anything. If they follow the suggestions given by those who have gone before (stories in the literature, stories at open meetings), they find there is a way out of their misery. Others around them may not support this change, though. They are comfortable with the misery and change is scary. Sometimes that person has to leave friends and family behind and spend more time around people who understand what is happening.

One of my friends is very inspiring. Nancy Lundquist had a very happy existence with a husband and family living in Wrigleyville in Chicago. One weekend, she was bitten by one of the sixty-five species of mosquitos which carried the West Nile Virus. Thinking she had the flu, she didn’t go for medical care until the following week. By then, the virus had entered her brain and caused encephalitis. She became paralyzed although she regained some of the coordination in her upper body. Her drive to create drove her to continue working on jewelry and crocheted objects. She lives in a nursing home. Last fall, her husband died, and it’s possible she will lose all of their assets to pay for her care. This summer she got pneumonia and has been under medical care for two months. Is she discouraged? Of course. Does she continue to take care of herself? Yes, she does. I, for one, am grateful that this beautiful person with a powerful intellect and strong creative will continues to grace my life. She is an inspiration to me to persist under extreme adversity.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Place as Inspiration

Travel has been always been inspirational. Whether you are writing Death in Venice or painting the Golden Gate Bridge, place has been an essential part of artistic inspiration. Even those who don’t travel are inspired by the home that they love. 

What is it about place that encompasses us? When we travel, we arrive at a different place, aware of the impact on our senses. The smell of a pine forest, the roar of the subway in the city, the sight of a black ocean beach in Guatemala, these all become such stimulation that we forget what we have left behind and become engrossed in the moment.

I have just returned from a week at the Clearing, in Door County, Wisconsin. I am sure Jens Jensen named it for the natural habitat in parts of his landscape architecture, but it is also a place where a person can clear one’s head. I had been neglecting my writing for the last several months and wasn’t sure I would be able to write any poetry that I would feel good about. I carried these apprehensions with me from Illinois. It wasn’t until I was surrounded by trees, birds, wildflowers and fresh Lake Michigan air that I began to relax and realize that it would be okay if I wrote lousy poetry. Of course, I didn’t. What I did do was choose a theme for a chapbook of poetry and write some poems that would fit into it (and some that wouldn’t).

I’m back home again, where I can have my favorite food and drinks, sleep soundly most of the time, get exercise, quilt with my quilting friends, read with my book clubs, celebrate family events, and be alone when I need to recharge. I carry all the travels I have had with me, just as I carry home with me when I travel. I am grateful for all the experiences I have had in life, even the difficult ones, and look forward to my next trip. I will probably be heading to New York in November to meet a new grandchild. That will be a place and time I will not forget.

Monday, May 20, 2019

My Family Inspires Me

My family is a source of inspiration for me. Many people complain about their families or cut off ties with them, and I have been guilty of that. As I age, however, I realize how lucky I have been to belong to this family. You’ll find some family stories on my other blog, A Boomer Retirement, but today I would like to focus on my parents, Ken Wallin and Adelaide Axelson. They were born in southwest Iowa in Stanton (dad) and Red Oak (mom) shortly after the turn of the century. My father graduated from high school about the time the Great Depression hit. He refused the education that his professor uncles offered, so he had a hard time getting a job. He left Iowa to live with relatives in Gary, IN and work in the steel mills. The temperature would reach one hundred twenty degrees at times, and he told me he was given salt tablets because he sweated so much. Mom was two years younger than dad, but had already finished high school. Her mother died at Christmas in 1931, so she went to nurses’ training in Chicago, at Henrotin Hospital. They met on a train going home for the holidays. They had known each other in high school, but not well. By 1940 they had married, shortly before my dad had to go overseas. Mom worked as a public health nurse in Chicago while Dad fought in WWII. Dad landed in Italy and fought his way up Monte Cassino into France and Germany, where he liberated Jews from boxcars. He returned home and they immediately had a family, being content with suburban living.

My older brother, John, has been extremely successful in life, celebrating fifty years of marriage this year, and retired from a career in computer science for fifteen years. He has always been someone I look up to, because of his intelligence, compassion and fun. His family is fun, caring, and creative. My younger brother holds several degrees. I believe a B.S., an M.B.A. and a Law Degree. He found a family late in life.

My children are an inspiration as well. My life was not headed in a good direction when my first son was born. I have often told him that having those little blue eyes staring at me made me realize I wanted to change and that change has been profound. He moved from a farm at age 12 and maintained grades while being an athlete, then went to college twice - okay, first time not so great - and did email for missionaries before landing a good job. He is happy programming and has been able to work from home. On weekends, he continues his athletics. This weekend he ran a relay from Milwaukee to Madison.

Son number two is the kind of person that can look at a problem and figure out the solution without necessarily being able to explain how he did it. The change from farm to suburb was hardest for him. He has chosen a spiritual life, also going to college twice - hey, nobody’s perfect - and graduating in computer management. He has created a beautiful family with his wife on a farm downstate. 

My daughter was only five when we left the farm, but she not only adjusted to life in the city, she loves the city. She figured out compensatory skills for a learning disability and not only got two Bachelor degrees, English and Vocal Performance, but went back after several years to get a Masters in Speech Therapy with a specialization in Voice Therapy. 

These people remind me that anything is possible if you are fortunate to begin with, if you work through struggles, and if you are open to what the universe has waiting for you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Martin Luther King

One of the great inspirations of my life was Martin Luther King, Jr. He was one of the first biographies I studied as an adult. I had just returned to church after a sixteen year hiatus and I was very much a pacifist. He taught me that being non-violent can be powerful.

I was surprised to learn that he was only fifteen when he graduated from high school. I don’t think this is ever mentioned when his legacy is discussed. M.L. King was gifted. He was gifted intellectually, but also spiritually. Most educators will not consider spirituality because it is hard to measure, but we all know the spiritual gifts when we see them. Spirituality is such an individual experience people often don’t want to talk about it. Certainly serving others, feeding and caring for the poor, standing up for those who have no power, loving others, and having a rich intrapersonal life are spiritual. King had all of those. 

A young black man from the South, he became a Baptist minister after completing his education. Slavery had ended generations ago, but black people were still held in contempt by much of the society and were expected to be tolerant of mistreatment. Even in the North, blacks were shut out of good housing and good jobs. King believed in non-violent protest as a means to change society for the better. He and his colleagues on the board of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) began to support the smaller movements in the South, led by the black citizens of the community.

This led to a greater recognition of the need for change. Inspired by Jesus Christ, Gandhi, and Thoreau, King believed that the only way to defeat violence was through peaceful protest. He was a leader in the Montgomery bus boycott and went on to lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaking throughout the country.

The politicians who advocated white supremacy were very threatened by the thought that black people would have equal rights. They might be voted out of office. They might have to submit to a black policeman, or their children might have a black teacher. The only way they knew to crush the blacks that tried to speak up was through violence. However, King so inspired young people of all colors,  they chose to travel to the South from all over the country, and risk their lives in order to support him. Busloads of protesters of all colors arrived until the jails were overflowing. Some even gave their lives to fight for the rights of Negroes in the South. A church bombing led to the deaths of three little girls. This brought attention to the movement and fueled a march on Washington. Schools and restaurants were integrated. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, followed by fair housing laws. These continue to protect people from unfair treatment, when the laws are enforced. King received the Nobel Prize on October 14, 1964.

King was not perfect. He struggled with depression and had a weakness for women. His ideals, however, are guiding lights for us to follow. King was murdered, but his words live on in his writings. My favorite quote is “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”