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Author Archive for Barbara Loots

THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBES

Dear Faithful Readers. All six of you. I’m sure that you are friendly and sympathetic to my infrequent reports from life, and I thank you. Today I must shed my sunny optimism for something harsher and more, well, realistic. That is, I have come to view the person occupying the big desk at the White House as the apotheosis of Evil. (Go ahead. Look it up. I’ll wait…..)

I’d go with definition number two in Webster’s Collegiate: the perfect example, not (definition one) a divinity. However, there’s evidence that others would grant that Evil permission to exercise power in support of what they consider Divine Law. Therefore I see a deep-seated idolatry at work.

This Evil perpetrates destruction, destruction, destruction–the exact opposite of the original plan for the universe, including human life, which is creation, creation, creation. This Evil acts through division: dividing faith from faith, nation from nation, race from race, rich from poor, and alas! men from women. We are being ripped apart into tribes speaking different languages, violently opposed to one another.

I cannot look at or listen to this Evil without feeling sick. It requires exhausting energy merely to keep looking away. Yet I know that looking away is not the answer. I and all others of good will must actively resist, beginning with the conviction in our own hearts and minds that goodness, compassion, and lovingkindness among all humanity is the prevailing trajectory.

Here’s something I’ve found helpful.

During my summer retreat on the island in Canada, I began reading the Psalms, one each day. Upon returning home, I continued this practice, choosing a version I had at hand which uses a quaint and elevated language. It is the Psalter in the Scottish Book of Common Prayer. Here’s a wee sample, at random, from Psalm 37: Fret not thyself because of the ungodly: neither be thou envious against the evildoers…Put thou thy trust in the Lord, and be doing good: dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.

Psalm after Psalm the message is this: There are bad people out there. Always have been, probably always will be. Fix your eyes and your thoughts totally on the good and live in that stronghold. This moment in history–an eyeblink in terms of the cosmos–is neither unique nor permanent. Each of us, however, must fulfill our purpose for good.

The bumper sticker version: Love One Another. No Exceptions.

Thank you for you.

BREVITY

When my old Winthrop professor Dr. Eells tented his fingers and intoned Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit,” I took it to heart. (Never mind the irony of Polonius.) Indeed, I began my career as a writer of greeting cards, with lyric poetry on the side–the very definition, in two ways, of trying to pack maximum meaning into minimum words. However, neither Shakespeare nor Professor Eells anticipated Twitter.

By this time in the history of digital communications, I qualify as a dinosaur. At some point, my best correspondent and I abandoned snail mail for email. Gone was the pleasure of receiving thoughtful, personal, inspiring, usually funny, and often lengthy screeds in the mailbox. Gone was the benefit to posterity of countless letters saved in dated paper files. Gone was the reward of real conversation, albeit at a distance, where two friends had the leisure to listen to each other through the medium of the written word. Now we regularly exchange emails, which have some of the characteristics of our former conversation: thoughtful, funny, mutually inspiring. But in most cases, these excellent discussions disappear into the permanent, but as far as I know, inaccessible void of the digital universe. That’s a terrible loss.

Now, with family and friends, I’m up to speed on texting. Messaging is very helpful in coordinating coffee dates, quipping about the latest social shock, and enjoying photos of the kids. But clearly texting is not suitable for philosophical ramblings. For one thing, I still haven’t learned to use my thumbs, and for another thing, those “suggested words” often produce hilarious accidents. Texts are for information, not thoughts.

I draw the line at Twitter. I don’t have an account. Don’t try to persuade me. If you want to “follow” me, come back here. It’s all right that so far, my “fans” are few. They are loyal and true. At least I have established a location where, to the extent anything on the internet spins into the future, I will have set down some actual thoughts.

My next poetry collection, titled WINDSHIFT, is currently in the works from Kelsay Books. Sometime in 2018, I’ll give you a heads-up. All the poems are short. All the thoughts are as deep as a lifetime. Many of the poems are delivered with the sense of humor which helps us all survive. I’m dedicating this book to Dr. Eells. Somewhere between Twitter and War and Peace, I’ve found my place, thanks to him.

Here’s a poem from way back, unpublished. Notable for brevity at least.

 
LOOK OUT, GIRL
 
You start
waving around loaded memories like that
and first thing you know
you’ve shot yourself
in the heart.
 
 

Barbara Loots
 

FEAR!!!! Not.

Not much has changed in human experience since the beginning of time. As to the beginning of time, over the past few months, humanity has learned quite a lot more about time and space and the measure of the universe thanks to the discoveries of astronomers and astrophysicists working in concert around the world viewing the collision of a couple neutron stars. That level of cooperation among scientists should be the main lesson for us all. But I digress…

Fear seems to be built in to our brains: Fear of darkness. Fear of hunger. Fear of being eaten by a ferocious animal. Fear of being overcome by a stranger much like ourselves except different. We’re equipped with hormones for times of fear, as well as times of love. Nevertheless, fear is no way to live. Anxiety is damaging to our bodies, and preoccupation with evil can paralyze our creativity.

So, actually, what those astronomers and astrophysicists have detected out there, a mere three million light years away, provides some of the reassurance I need to remain fearless. Whatever elements came together as “me” seventy-one years ago produced neither a beginning nor an ending, but a momentary witness. My “purpose” involves collaboration and cooperation with everything else that is, from viruses to neutron star collisions. Keeping my eye on the Big Picture–and I mean REALLY BIG–puts the daily headlines in total perspective.

One of these days, I’ll have a front seat (again) for the cosmic dance.

 
KAUA’I
 
Underwater Himalaya
heaved up from the ocean floor–
peak, plateau, and sandy playa
leagues from any mainland shore.
 
Human never saw the boiling
lava build these ragged heights,
never viewed the vapor coiling
upward in primeval nights,
 
never felt the urgent rumble
of this island at its birth.
Fragile flesh, be ever humble
in your blink of time on earth.
 
You are not the final reason
for the air, the seed, the bird.
Brief indeed may be the season
of the number and the word.
 
 
Barbara Loots
Kaua’i 2016
 

SIGNS AND PORTENTS

Much like miracles, signs and portents may reveal themselves more readily to people disposed to look for them. I’m talking about the way certain people, including me, read special significance into everyday events and observations. Blog posts (and poems) get made out of these experiences. Here’s a case in point.

I’m inclined to pick up pennies when I spot them on the pavement. Why not? I drop them in the pocket change box, and the amount adds up until I get around to exchanging it through the sorter at the bank for “real” money.

While walking this morning, I spotted in the street not one penny but a hundred or more. Plus one dime. I picked them all up and weighted my pocket, all the while thinking, What does this mean?? The answer came almost immediately.

A few blocks on, I passed a couple of boys, ages perhaps 11 and 13, loitering on the curb. One shouted, “Can you give us a dollar?” In my head I heard the words Why not? I crossed the street and poured the big handful of pennies into one boy’s palms, with the comment that I had just found them in the street. “You’re lucky!” he said, and I thought to myself, No doubt about that. As I walked away, it occurred to me: Boys this age should be in school at this hour. Should my “largesse” include counseling? I turned around and went back to them. “Isn’t this a school day?” I asked. “Where do you go to school?” They named a school. “And why are you not there?”

The dialog got complicated after that–a story about boys in transit, from state to state, perhaps from one temporary home to the next, where things like school enrollment get neglected and life goes awry in countless other ways. Not picking up on their request to know where I lived, if I had a husband, whether I’d give them a lift, if I had change for a twenty (??), I pointed the boys in the direction of the city bus (enriched with enough pennies to pay the fare) that would take them straight to where they said home was. Then I went on my way, tortured a little with the question of what more I might have done.

I walked away from this microcosm of need feeling a bit guilty. However, as my beloved pointed out when I shared this little report with him, the list of needs we all “walk away from” every day goes on and on and on. I guess I’ll continue to be aware of the signs and portents right in front of my nose, and let go of the rest in the hope that there are enough of us on the planet to pull it all together.

 

Shelter
 
If I were homeless, I’d live under here,
he said, patting the massive flank
of Henry Moore’s Sheep Piece lodged
hugely on the gallery lawn. The two bulks
looming together form an arc, a cove
no wind or shock could ever shake.
 
Around these solid shapes, in an English field,
a flock once gathered, rubbing a lanolin shine
on the shins of the bronze. The hollow where
those great bellies meet holds off the rain
and, shrouded in fog, the sculpture sucks the cold
into its metal marrow. Curled under there,
 
lamb or boy could spend the night in peace.
Open to the public now this big embrace
waits for the lost, a permanent address
as kind as any for some wandering soul
who looks each evening for a spot to sleep,
a starlit shelter on the artful green.
 
Barbara Loots
 
 
Sheep Piece is a sculpture in the Donald Hall Sculpture Park
at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City

THE DARK CLOUD

Can’t help it. The current political climate, not to mention the actual climate (hurricanes and other evidence that global warming–yes, tell it like it is–has resumed its inevitable progress) are both contributing to a Dark Cloud in my mind. This is a harsh thing for a stubborn optimist like me to admit. So I’ve taken a few measures to encourage the sunshine of my usual disposition. This post is approved by Bob the Cat.

–Continue daily journaling and poetry reading, the way I did on the island, in the early morning before anything else.

–Take a daily walk, and in general, MOVE AROUND. Sitting in front of a screen? Not so much.
–Avoid news overdose. Limit the reading of headlines, opinion columns, and fast-breaking bulletins.
–Eat good (i.e. healthful) food.
–Give self permission to just sit and read a book. Or watch Netflix.

Coming back to “civilization,” I became aware immediately of how many obligations and commitments I’ve made that need attention week in and week out. I’m going to reduce that. I’d like my time to be more available to people and less taken up with organizational tasks. Does that make sense?

Finally, under brain-saving measures:

–Write more, including this Blog.

Poem removed until further notice. Wait for it!

ISLAND DAZE

We’re back! This year, Bill and I spent two months at Dickinson Island in Ontario, an isolated bit of rock (one acre) in the middle of Blackwater Lake. It’s pretty much off the grid: no electricity, no plumbing, no running water. We have propane power for cooking and refrigeration, and a generator, used mostly for charging power tool batteries. This year, Bill installed a water pump to bring up lake water to the house for washing, so we didn’t have to do the “Jack and Jill” thing with buckets. Net result: Cleaner clothes. We had plenty of water to do a wash without heavy hauling. We avoid doing laundry in the lake for environmental reasons. Can you even imagine two months without cell phone or internet? Priorities change.

We brought piles of books with us. More about that as I unfold bits from my island journal in future posts. In the silence and solitude, I spend more than the usual time reading, reflecting, and writing. I also like to paddle around in my yellow kayak. We lose track of time and lose touch with “the world.” Somehow it manages to go on without us.

Here’s one new poem from the forthcoming (in due time) collection from this beautiful season of enjoyment on the island.

SEPTEMBER

It was a place where the days would
go by and surprise anyone
that they were over.–Eudora Welty

 
Fog and woodsmoke mingle in the trees
around the cottage. Morning drips away,
tick-ticking on the shingles, and the gray
light barely alters in degrees
of darkness hour by hour. The embers tease
reluctant flame from damp logs that convey
reluctant heat to warm the disarray
of books and coffee cups, of life at ease.
This voluntary isolation seems
a guilty pleasure–time away from time,
eternity embodied in a place
with clarity that comforts and redeems,
while earth evolves, mysterious and sublime,
and I surrender to its brief embrace
 
 
Barbara Loots

MY LIFE NEEDS AN INDEX

My digital life is well equipped. I own a number of “i” devices, and I know how to use the features that matter to me. However, one ongoing difficulty I haven’t resolved is how to remember where I’ve stored information–and even whether or not I’ve stored it–so as to find it when I need it. This applies to digital storage as much as to paper.

As to papers, I’ve read that the world is divided into two kinds of people: Vertical and Horizontal. Vertical people put their papers in file folders in drawers, neatly labeled. Horizontal people keep piles of paper on nearby surfaces. I am a Horizontal. The papers are piled next to my computer on the actual (rather than virtual) desktop. I have a fairly accurate notion of what’s in my stacks, and how deep I must dig to find what I want. Nonetheless, my recovery, or rather discovery, of information is often a matter of serendipity.

As in, Oh–THAT’S where that is!

I tend to have a cluttered desktop also on my computer. If it’s in front of my face on the screen, I’m less likely (I think) to forget that I saved it, and also more likely to find it.

Not a good system, either way.

Speaking of Index, below is what is known as a “found poem.” This one is a selection of first lines, in four sections transcribed as they appear alphabetically in the index of a poetry anthology I like, with no alterations. You can try this at home!

 
INDEX
 
(A Found Poem)
 
 
1.
I am the captain of my soul
I am the maiden in bronze set over the tomb of Midas
I am the saint at prayer on the terrace like
I am waiting for my case to come up
I am! yet what I am none cares or knows,
I arise from dreams of thee
I caught a tremendous fish
I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s
I did not know you then.
I do not know why. It is not only
I hardly suppose I know anybody who wouldn’t rather be a success than a failure
I hate, and yet I love thee too;
I have a rendezvous with Death.
 
2.
One thing is sure
Our Fathers wrung their bread from stocks and stones
Out of me unworthy and unknown
Out of the dusk a shadow,
Out of the icy storms the white hare came
Out of the night that covers me,
O’er all the hill-tops
Pain is my familiar, now.
 
3.
Snow falls on the cars in Doctors’ Row and hoods and headlights;
So huge a burden to support,
Some for the Glories of this World; and some
Some men break your heart in two.
 
4.
You are still the one with the stone and the sling
You give but little when you give of your possessions.
You may talk o’ gin and beer
You praise the firm restraint with which they write–
You rise up the water unfolds
….Your children are not your children.
You’ve lost your religion, the Rabbi said.
 
 

Index of First Lines
Poetry for Pleasure
Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1960
 

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Today marks 50 years since an aspiring young writer sat down at a manual typewriter at Hallmark Cards and thought WOW! Fresh out of college and full of ambition, I thought I had it made. Turns out, writing greeting cards was no piece of cake, if you’ll pardon the expression. It took managers and mentors most of a year to beat out of me the kind of originality and literary persuasions that are suitable to poetry, but not at all to commercial verse. They were patient. I was persistent. The trade and I got along well enough to make a career that lasted forty-one years.

As it happens, the famous Hallmark motto “When you care enough to send the very best” formed a kind of perpetual halo over the company and its workers. From the coffee cart ladies to the founder (Joyce C. Hall, who was still around when I arrived) we were proud to be partners in “the very best.”

I wish all companies today had that kind of esprit. In addition, Hallmark as a privately-held company was an early leader in providing benefits and compensation like profit-sharing and matched savings plans. I don’t get political very often on this blog, but doesn’t it make sense that workers who are also shareholders feel more invested in good performance?

Although it took me quite a while to learn the knack of it, I wrote many Hallmark “bestsellers” during the heyday of greeting cards. I still discover my writings on cards currently in the store. I’m not sure that the verse below was an actual bestseller. But I have a framed copy of it nearby, reproduced in beautiful calligraphy by a Hallmark artist.

Words I live by every day.

To have a grateful attitude
is always to believe
That everything in life
is but a gift that we receive,
So if the day brings laughter,
dark clouds, or hills to climb,
The heart can still be thankful
for hope and strength and time,
And gratitude remembers
throughout the longest night
That hands were made for holding,
that morning brings the light.
 
 
Barbara Kunz Loots

BUZZ ON BEEKEEPING

You’ll be hearing more about this. A lot more. Thanks to a friend at church putting a bug in his ear–so to speak–husband Bill has embarked on Backyard Beekeeping with incredible energy. In only six weeks or so, his initial curiosity has evolved exponentially, beginning with a copy of Beekeeping for Dummies.

In addition to ordering a burgeoning library of bee books and magazines, Bill has built two complete hives, acquired all the accoutrements of beekeeping (suits, smoker, hive tools, etc.) and become a member (me, too!) of the Midwestern Beekeepers Association. We also met many bee-lovers, and attended several informative workshops, at the annual Bee Fun Day of the Northeast Kansas Beekeepers meeting in Lawrence, KS.

Mind you, we don’t have any actual bees yet. Bees need to get started in early spring, or there isn’t time for them to stock up on stores for the winter. We’ll get our first box of bees–yes, they arrive via the U. S. Postal Service–in about March 2018. In the meantime there’s a lot to learn. Hives have individual personalities, depending quite a bit on the temperament of the Queen. Every beekeeper has a story to tell and a different take on the art of beekeeping. The beekeepers we’ve met seem to exhibit a spirit of both independence and collegiality. These are great people. I’m pleased to meet them and proud to think of becoming associated with an activity that promises real benefit to the planet. As I said, you’ll hear more about this. I see countless Life Lessons ahead.

 

MY MIRACLE

The other Sunday, in the course of his sermon, the preacher asked, “Has anyone here experienced a miracle?” I raised my hand. Yes, I would say so, although at that moment, I couldn’t think of a specific instance. What IS a “miracle” anyway?

Today I experienced one. Genuine, authentic, life-saving miracle.

I was driving at traffic speed on a busy interstate, slick with rain. With extremely bad judgment, I began to switch into the next lane to my left, barely and belatedly glancing into my left-hand rear view mirror. The surprising sight of another car RIGHT THERE caused me to overcorrect my steering. Immediately my car began cork-screwing in a wild skid towards the right side of the highway. The rear end fishtailed. The front of the car swerved this way and that, and then pointed straight at the barricade on the roadside. I did have a thought–I’ve had it! But in split seconds (who knows??) the car corrected itself and I found myself headed once again in the direction I was originally going. I proceeded, with adrenaline pumping, to my destination.

My first thought was Thank you, God!!! Some invisible angel of physics handled the steering under these conditions. This was clearly an occasion for a multi-car smash-up, with one of them–mine–catapulting over a roadside barrier and landing upside-down fifty feet into the ditch. It didn’t happen. I experienced a miracle. I’m sure of it.

In case I had any doubts, this confirms that my life has a purpose, and I’m not done yet. If I needed any further conviction that I don’t have a minute to waste, this was it.

Along with my other healthy habits, I’ll add “more careful driving.” Perhaps the miracle of being alive can still translate into the everyday “miracle” of being the human presence of God’s love in the world. I’ve certainly experienced it myself. Today? Only the latest reminder.