Baby needs a new pair of shoes

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I find myself in the unique and interesting position of having a foot two different places, a foot in two different shoes, if you will, although neither fit my feet very well any longer.

In July, the EU membership referendum result shook me to the core. The country that I had chosen as ‘home’ for the past 18 years suddenly seemed an alien place to this American expat. In 2007, after living over here for 9 years, I definitively chose the UK over America. I have been an Anglophile since the age of 8 and I chose the place that seemed closer to my values and the way of life I wanted to lead – I also loved the closeness, in spirit and geography, to Europe. When I met my husband Steve in 2008, that sealed the deal. We have felt fortunate that we have had the choice to be in the UK, the US or even Europe, although we have been happily settled in our home on Dartmoor whilst we surveyed our options.

My October sojourn to California re-connected me to my West Coast roots. I came Home to myself in a deeper way, renewing bonds to places, family & friends and have felt much riper and grounded as a result. Steve had an amazing trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world, with a native tour guide.  We both had the question in our minds, ‘Could I/we see ourselves living here?’ The answer was ‘Yes, if that’s what we decide to do.’

I am so grateful that I went back before the election results. Then on November 9th, I awoke to the shock of an unthinkable Trump presidency. Now, at the end of the first awful week of the new administration, America no longer seems like the familiar, though distant place that it has occupied in my psyche. Curiously, it wasn’t as emotionally destabilizing to me as Brexit, I suppose because my current home and circle of friends is here.

My US passport which gives me permanent residence in the UK, is up for renewal this year. A passport is a travel document that certifies the identity and nationality of its holder for the purpose of international travel. A passport is a document certifying identity and nationality. Citizenship, nationality, identity, national identity, statelessness. . . . . .

These days I ponder. Where do I belong? Where do I fit in? How can I be a citizen, a member, of a place that no longer reflects who I am?

The answers to these questions invite more questions. The most important thing to do now, is to keep both of my feet firmly on the ground, keep my mind and eyes wide open and listen to where my heart beckons. I’m a citizen of the world, a world without borders and walls and us-es and thems.

Where is that place? Inside of me. When I am with certain other like minded, openhearted people, that place becomes bigger, inhabited by a fledgling populace. These people are friends, family and colleagues in ‘real life’.  They are also part of my online sorority and fraternity, which is based in cyberspace.

We need to make a new country, an alternative world based on tolerance, equality and diversity; care for the environment; filled with art and creativity and all of the other good things that humanity is capable of. Time to kick off those old shoes that no longer fit, that pinch our feet and aren’t fit to take us on any journeys, anywhere.

We don’t need those old shoes.

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January Dawn

On Tuesday morning, I forgot my book, so gazed out the window of the 7:30 bus winding down from Dartmoor into Exeter.  I took the images I saw into the darkroom of my Soul and melded them with words. I borrowed a pen from the lady at the cafe and painted a picture of the morning.

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January Dawn

A smudge of sun rises through the mist
to bathe the morning in pearlescence.

Proud winter trees stand over spiky frosted fields,
holding white twigged branches aloft.
They soften and undulate into the brumous distance.
Blackbirds quarrel in the hedgerows.

High above
an azure sky holds a waning sickle,
poised to reap another day.

– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2017

In spirit

What a weekend this was.

Friday was an important anniversary, which I always mark.  January 20, 1980 is the date that my mother, Nell Rose Schwakhofer née Martin died from cancer. The easiness or difficulty of this day depends on where I am in my inner world and can be impacted by the Zeitgeist.

This year, I found myself wondering what her response would be to the US presidential election and today’s inauguration. I didn’t have the privilege of continuing my relationship with her into my late teens and into adulthood, but I have many memories of her response to the world.

When I was about 5 and carelessly repeated derogatory slang words to describe African American and Hispanic kids, she gently and firmly corrected me.

When my big sister, at age 17, became a feminist, wore jeans to her high school graduation and started calling herself ‘Ms’, my mom supported her.

My mother Nell was opposed to California Governor Ronald Reagan for his violent crackdown on student protesters at UC, Berkeley, for his ‘welfare reforms’ which punished the poorest people, for his anti-environmental policies, ‘Once you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen ’em all’. and for his contradictory ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-capital punishment’ stance.

In 1973, when she had gone back to college (at the age of 50) she came home wearing a black armband in support of the fledgling American Indian Rights Movement.

She was a supporter of NPR and public television.

When she became too unwell to work, our family had to rely on Medicare (which the incoming administration wants to slash) to pay for her end of life care.

I am so proud of who she was and the values that she carried out into the world,and instilled in me.

As I do every year on this date, I went out and bought some roses to arrange next to a photograph I have of my Mom.

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I also planted some narcissi bulbs into some Victorian terracotta pots I have in a pretty French wire basket.  I felt good to put some living things into some earth, in anticipation of their growing and blossoming.

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Saturday January 21st was a day filled with women and men, across the world, marching for equality, diversity, social justice, inclusion and many other things dear to many hearts.

My husband and I had intended to drive up to Bristol and join in, but that morning, I awoke needing the comfort and security of Home.  I was really torn, but in the end, I paid attention to what I needed.  I made a donation to Planned Parenthood because women’s reproductive rights is one of the things that I would march for.

I was there in Spirit, along with the millions of women and men worldwide who are standing up for a positive way forward.  I felt my mother’s spirit too, very close by.

Hope

I don’t set resolutions at the New Year, but acknowledge the turning of the great wheel, from dark to light, and the portending of springtime, a time of growth and renewal.

I do choose a word for the year.  My word for 2017 is ‘hope’.

Along with most of us, many of the big events on the world stage in 2016 certainly knocked me for a loop.  I heard and read a lot about people falling into despair and the losing of hope.  Some people seem to believe that it is naive to be hopeful in the face of bad news and calamitous events.  But I’ve always been a ‘glass half full’ kind of gal.  Let’s see what we’ve got here, where can we go from here and how can we make it better than it is now.  That’s me.  I look at the world as a realist, acknowledging the darkness when it is there and I am so grateful that I always, always come back to the brighter side of a situation.

As I did some final shopping for New Year’s Eve in my town yesterday, some unblossomed daffodils at the greengrocers tugged at my awareness each time I walked past.  There was a box containing a few dozen bunches, rubber-banded together.   Some had opened and were braving the grey and chilly day.  On my way back home I chose three bunches that hadn’t opened yet.  These about to open buds embody what hope means to me.

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Hope is the expectation of a space for something to happen.  Not necessarily a specific outcome, but something new that might just defy all expectations.  Rather than a passive stasis of wishful thinking, hope feels active to me.  A brave place of flux and tension, where something new and better can arise.

I believe that we can shape things for the better.  I do not believe that we’re doomed to follow a downhill slope into a dystopian world.  We can vision a brave new world and have a hand in making our place in it as kind and positive and good as we possibly can.  How we each interact in our own small world of family, friends, environment, home and with all whom we meet, both human and critter, contributes to the shape of the big world and this is a very power full thing indeed.

 

Coming home

It’s been a very long time since I’ve written.   It has been a hectic several weeks preparing for my UK driving test (passed!), our trip to California and my workplace is uprooting to new premises, so I packed up my desk on my final day at work last week.

I hadn’t realized that this trip to California, my first planned one since I moved to the UK 18 years ago, would be so emotional.  Well, I did and I didn’t, but when we were about to board the plane to Los Angeles at Schipol Airport on Wednesday, it suddenly hit home what a monumental journey this is.

I’m well prepared with maps and I made this one from a broken plate that I collaged with maps.

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A map of the San Gabriel Valley, where I grew up is in the center.  To the left, are maps of Conway, NC where my mother was from and Muscogee, OK where my dad was from.  We three kids wound up in Moretonhampstead (me), Napa (my brother) and 29 Palms (my sister).  We never really gelled as a family, and after my Mom died when I was 16, we all caromed and ricocheted away from each other.  My family is like a plate which smashed into many different pieces.

Kintsugi is Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold.    The pottery piece  becomes more beautiful for having been broken. The true life of the pottery  ”  .  .  .  begins the moment it is dropped  .  .  .  .  .  .  So it is not simply any mended object  that increases in its appreciation but it is the gap between the vanity of pristine appearance and the fractured manifestation of mortal fate which deepens its appeal.”

In other words, the brokeness is proof of its fragility and its resilience is what makes it beautiful.

Swallows are my favourite winged being.  To me, they represent arrival home.  I found a beautiful mosaic piece online made by Lizzie Tucker which was perfect.  I printed this onto hand-made paper and collaged it onto the back.

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I am planning to see my brother for the first time in nearly 30 years and hope to meet up with my sister on this trip.  Even though Home is inside of me, and with my husband Steve, wherever we are, California is my first home.  This journey to California is about coming home to where I am from and a mending of what has been broken inside of me for a very long time.  I hope also, that my family will be mended in some way, as well.

It isn’t all serious, heavy inner work.  We’re going to have an epic road trip around the most beautiful place on earth and are really enjoying and relaxing into the Golden State.