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The Tiniest of Spiders in This Troubled Web

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The email from my massage therapist was brief. Their two woman massage clinic would be closing for two weeks during the Covid-19 outbreak. Massage, she pointed out, wasn’t compatible with “social distancing.” I can imagine them thinking as they made this decision “two weeks? four? two months?” because who can tell when, if ever, their clinic will reopen.

My musician friend who spends six or eight hours almost every day practicing for a few gigs a week in the best of times, kept checking her emails last time I saw her, looking for messages from her bookings telling her they were canceling: not enough customers to justify even the small amount she’d be paid, not enough customers to fill her tip jar when she wasn’t.

And I’m a medical exercise specialist–what one of my clients calls a “fancy personal trainer”–certified to work with exactly those people most at risk from the virus: older people or those with chronic health issues. A number of my clients have already chosen to go into self-isolation and while I am able to offer to “meet” with them remotely, not all are willing or able to do that.

All of us are part of a diverse group of people who don’t fall neatly into the usual definition of “gig workers”: independent professionals. Our ranks include massage therapists and personal trainers; yoga teachers and dance instructors; math tutors and freelance writers; artists and musicians. We are not salaried so will not qualify for unemployment. We don’t have status as employees so will not benefit from sick leave or family leave. We are small business owners but we work alone so even if payroll tax cuts were involved, we’d see no help there.

And while all who fall into this category have specialized talent, skill, or education, while all of us continue to hone those skills and advance our knowledge, we admittedly aren’t essential to anyone’s lives. Very few people physically need a massage regularly. Most people feel they can keep themselves active and healthy. None will suffer major loss if they can’t go out to a restaurant or bar and listen to music for some time.

We weave ourselves into the community on such a thin thread while trying to bring measurable good every day we put our energy, education and attention to the professions we practice and the people who benefit from our skills and talents. And when crisis hits as it has now, our thread is often the first cut, leaving us floating away like tiny spiders cut from their webbing.

We are irreplaceable. Yet we are dispensable. And when the world rights on its axis, we may be gone.

 

Is Quitting Sometimes the Greater Good?

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As that old song goes “Should I stay or should I go?”

For the last five years or so, I have been trying to return to the writing that I walked away from when I stopped teaching after twenty years. Twenty plus years of not writing, then I began again. Stops and starts; small steps into a poem or blog piece here or there; frenzied thousands of words through the past three years NaNoWriMo and here I am: Where?

My writing may not be as bad as my eye and ear perceive it, but as I grow older, grasp for thoughts, words, concepts with more difficulty–my God, I’ve started using a Thesaurus–I can’t help but wonder what or who benefits by my trudging on. I found myself re-reading some older blog pieces and I can’t deny that rather than improving by writing more, I see less value, less poetry, less rhythm of word and thought three years later.

Yes, walking away from 72,000 words of one mystery and 50,000 of another feels like failure. But would walking away from 100,000 in another year be less soul depleting? My heart says I am on a useless journey; yet my ‘pen’ pushes on, another word, then another until a sentence builds and here I am again. But should I be?

At the crisis point in one of the mysteries I have been writing–and every writer who struggles with the “writer’s journey” and the 3 act structure knows that point comes quite late–my protagonist, almost sure she has been the indirect cause of a death, thinks that there is no reason she should stay in the old neighborhood she has embraced as home, thinks she could move on and be free of the responsibility, the guilt, the pressure to solve the riddle of the first death. But as she paces her apartment, listening to the sounds of the bar she inherited floating up from below, the music, the clink of glasses and bottles, the laughter of her neighbors, she knows she cannot go. She is home.

Late in my third act, writing may be my home, my pen continuing to craft a world, sentence by sentence. That might be my answer.

I’m just not sure it’s the right answer.

Back Away From The Keyboard

As other introverts will understand immediately, after I’ve charged into the world with some public face on, blogging faithfully for a week, for example, I’m left both exhausted and terrified and I slink back into my den, wrap my tail around my face and try to hibernate off the contact. I use to try to justify this in various ways: I really don’t like people; I’m no good at anything, anyway; why bother when there’s so much else to do.

But that’s all bull and I know it. Truth is: I’m an introvert and while I might love listening to and engaging with others, it’s just really tiring after a time. Like writing, being part of the world is just hard for me.

Given the careers I’ve had so far–and I don’t count out there being even more despite having used up more than my allotted quota in just 60 years–people don’t get it when I express this. “You’ve taught university classes; you’ve owned a business; you’re a teacher of Qi Gong and a personal trainer now. How much more extrovert can you get than that?” But those aren’t extrovert jobs are they? When I’ve done those things, I can fill a very specific role, much like a shy actor can still dominate the stage.

When I stopped blogging a week or so ago, while I was curled up in my den being damned impressed with all the blogs I was reading, I started wondering about how or whether I was odd at all. Are others out there posting because they are wild party extroverts? Or is blogging, whether as brilliantly done as livelysceptic or as minimalistic blather as I, really a safe haven for the introverts of the world? When I read others blogs, I feel “part of the world” in a way I never can standing stupidly at a cocktail party, drink in hand, wishing I still smoked just for something to do with the other hand, trying to think of those pithy questions you are supposed to be asking to draw others out so you can just listen.

Having crawled out of my safe warm fur-lined hole for a moment to ask the question “Are you an introvert or extrovert?” I think it’s time to go back to sleep.

Lets Get More Qi Flowing

The Qi Gong Center of South Central Wisconsin now has its own domain name and a web hosting site (WordPress, of course) although nothing is on the site yet. My Indiegogo campaign has raised about a third of what I need for this and has 25 days left to go. While the center may exist in Wisconsin, the site will be for all, so please help me support it by spreading the word. The campaign can be found at IndieGoGo

Thanks and best of Qi to all.

So, A Buddhist and A Taoist Walk Into A Bar…

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I often write about Buddhist ideas and refer to authors and Buddhist scholars like Jack Kornfield but I have to admit I’m just not a nice enough person to be a Buddhist. Really. Quietly and patiently putting up with jive? I think not. Sitting quietly under the bodhi tree awaiting enlightenment like the bodhidarma? Ain’t gonna happen.

Which is why I’m so much more drawn to Taoism. As a Taoist, my indignation at social injustice can feel fully legit, my tendency to meet the bs of the world with smiling snark just a part of living all experience fully–but not to excess–as taoists would.

One of my favorite stories is one told by Ken Cohen about the difference between Buddhists, confucionists, and taoists:
3 people, one of each philosophy, are sitting on a bench, the Taoist in the middle. A soldier approaches. The Confucionist begins to rise but the soldier growls roughly “sit down.” And because Confucianism prizes social order and respect for governance, he sits. Then the Buddhist begins to rise and the soldier once again snarls “sit.” And the Buddhist, believing in being peaceful and not stirring up trouble if it can be avoided thinks, “what the heck. Not worth disturbing peace. Accept what is” and sits. The the Taoist stands and when the soldier barks “Sit. Sit.” the Taoist, feeling that the soldier is being arbitrary and mean just to show off his power does not sit. Instead, she continues to stand and reaches over to each side and gently helps the Confucionist and the Buddhist to their feet, knowing that sometimes acting for social justice in the face of tyranny is more important than peace and good behavior.

“There is my way and there is your way and there is The Way,” Lao Tzu