Category Archives: reflection

What Brings You Joy?

If you knew that you were living your final earthly days, barring any physical or mental disabilities that would prevent you from doing what you desire, how would you spend the time you have left?

Giving the question serious thought after watching the film Don’t Look Up, I rejected a host of what I considered cliché or stereotypical answers. I let the question hang without a conclusion.    

Shortly after these ruminations, a good friend and I were Zoom chatting about the world in general and especially about our emotional reactions to the horrors occurring in Ukraine. To change the subject and move to a more cheerful topic, my friend asked what brought me joy. Unlike the struggle I experienced when considering how I would want to spend my last days, I was able to articulate what brought me joy without hesitation.

In that moment, I realized that what brought me joy was how I want to spend my precious time near the end.

For some time now, without the conscious intention of preparing for my final act, I have taken note of my life’s journey through photos, video recordings, and journal writing. The happy memories provoked by these treasures bring me joy. They nourish me as I live in memory. The happy memories are what I want when I’m completing my journey. 

What brings you joy?

Unsung Hero

One of my happiest memories was when my mother and I studied together. I was in high school and she was working days and attending Marion Business College on Madison Avenue in Chicago in the evenings. It was quite a hike on foot, but she made the trip with a spring in her step. She wanted to acquire secretarial skills in order to be qualified for an office job.

To study, we would close the door to the kitchen to lessen the sound of the television in the living room. In my memory, my grandparents were always watching the western, Gunsmoke.

Sometimes my mother and I would sit at the kitchen table next to a cold radiator because, more often than not, there was no heat. This inconvenience did not deter us from studying, however.

We would turn on the gas for the stove, strike a match, and light the oven. We would keep the oven door open to try to keep warm.  When it was too cold to study in the kitchen even with the oven door open, we would take our books to my mother’s bed and wrap ourselves in blankets and enjoy the warmth of our shared body heat. Rather than complain about the cold, we sometimes would exaggerate the chatter of our teeth when we tried to talk and laugh so hard that our eyes would water.   

Muhdear, as my siblings and I called our mother, was her best self when she was learning. She was excited about learning the Gregg Method of shorthand. I would quiz her by reading sample passages typically used in a business office and she would rapidly transcribe them into shorthand. I was fascinated at how easily and quickly she learned. She was so smart.

This photo of her as she exited the school with her certificate of completion captures her joy of achievement against so many odds.

I am so proud of her.

Bottom of the Cup

I streamed the movie Nightmare Alley recently even though I hadn’t heard anything about it. What I did know was that it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, and the actors included Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, and Rooney Mara, among other noteworthy cast members.

Carnivals and their various hustlers create the context for the film. Highlighted are the grittiness of life and the ingenuity of the people who entertain.

As I watched the film, I was struck by how, historically, some individuals have been able to make a living and even fortunes by manipulating the vulnerabilities of others. The manipulators have been able to convince intelligent people that they have the gift or power to read minds, to know a person’s past experiences, and to predict someone’s future. Stunningly, people who use logic in their everyday life can be fascinated by the idea that some people may be endowed with powers of the mind that defy all logic.

About 20 years ago while in New Orleans, a couple of friends and I were strolling through the streets and saw a sign in a window that read Bottom of the Cup. Finding it both hilarious and fascinating that someone would “read” tea leaves and tell us all about ourselves and even our future, we decided to have our tea leaves read.

As strong skeptics, we went into the shop “knowing” that this was just a way for the tea-leaf reader to make money and provide some entertainment for tourists. Yet, I think there was a small part of us that hoped the tea-leaf reader could tell us who we were and what we would do in the future. Aren’t we all desperate to know these things?

I was disappointed that almost none of the revelations about my current circumstances hit the mark. However, the tea-leaf reader recorded the readings to take with us. Years later, I came across the tape of my personal reading. I played it and was surprised that one of her very particular predictions that I thought came out of left field had actually come to pass. Coincidence or not, she said that this situation would occur. As I’m thinking back on some of the other things that the tea-leaf reader said, I think that some of what I saw as inaccurate about my life at that time may not have been misses, but the time had not yet come. 

Many of us are thinking more about what lies ahead for us personally and for us as a community of people. If only it were true that we could find some sense of stability by having our tea leaves read.

Who We Are

When a dear and trusted friend who has been super cautious regarding COVID said that she would risk dying to see this film, I decided that I had to see it as well.

Who We Are movie poster with Black man looking at American flag

Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in Americais a documentary written and told by Jeffrey Robinson and directed by Emily and Sarah Kunstler.

Without hyperbole, Robinson makes the case that since Africans were brought to the shores of the Americas, there have been conscious and deliberate efforts to keep people with black skin enslaved in one way or another.

The film uses a graphic to show what continues to occur. A small ball climbs slowly up one side of a curve and when it reaches the very top of the curve, instead of continuing to move forward, it slides back down the curve to where it began. Though I don’t know much about physics, I think that the climb up to the top of the curve was slow and hard, but the descent, with the force of gravity, was swift and strong.

Though disappointed that more people didn’t choose to see this documentary with the word “racism” in the title, I was glad that I was the only person in the theater, alone with my feelings. I left the theater thinking that the nature and culture of our country is the same old song. Some of the lyrics are re-arranged, but the chorus stays the same.

Some thoughts on drawing and painting

Guest post by Dee Jenkins

I think drawing and painting demand a certain kind of faith, a willingness to believe that bearing with the processes involved will eventually lead to a worthwhile outcome. If I didn’t hold that view, I don’t think I could tolerate the inevitable frustrations and disappointments that occur along the way.

When I work, I repeat a sequence of actions over and over again on the same surface. There are two phases in the sequence; one is analytical and intellectual, and the other is driven by interior sensations and needs. I used to think the phases were in conflict with each other in a negative way, but I have come to see the conflict as positive and critical even, because the tension it creates can eventually lead to a surprising and gratifying resolution well worth the time and effort involved.

Such a process, however, demands an endless evaluation and re-evaluation of pictorial elements, including the elements of a picture’s dimensions and edges. It was Giacometti who gave me permission to think of them this way, despite the fact that in most of my art classes I had been instructed to take the dimensions one starts out with as a given. Watching a dog “make its bed” also gave me permission, since before deciding on the right space in which to settle in and settle down, a dog will thoroughly investigate an area; go here, go there, circle around, dig things up, pat things down, etc., just as I like to do (sort of) before I can settle in and settle down within a pictorial space that feels comfortable.

Jazz, Latin, and Tango have all enriched my visual education, as have art and artists from both past and present. Best case scenario: there is music in what I do, and a rhythmic connection between the parts and the whole of every picture. It is frequently the “mistakes” I make as I work that lead me in the most unexpected and exciting directions, and any idea I start out with has by the end, been transformed into something very different from my initial intention. The process of creating an image is ultimately a mystery, and it may be one that is better left unsolved.


Dee Jenkins is a painter, and retired professor, County College of Morris, New Jersey.

Grace

Full of grace, beautiful in every way, my evergreen friend. Today is Grace’s birthday. I miss her.

Grace Fiddmont Davis Gill
January 27, 1933-April 15, 2008

Compartmentalizing Disrespect

By title and official authority, you’re the leader of the group. You work hard to carry out your responsibilities and you show respect to every member of the team.

You knew from the beginning that in this very hierarchical environment there was one person who, though below you on the organizational chart, would hold more sway or influence than you. You puzzled why this person had not gone for the position for which you now held because their desire for power and influence was apparent.

Nevertheless, this person who technically held the subordinate position to you also had authority over a segment of the population and had the ability to make work life comfortable or uncomfortable for a sizable number of people. They had an uncanny knack for influencing others to like or dislike who or what they deemed worthy or unworthy based solely on their personal sense of justice and fairness.

You refer to the person just described as Judge Everybody.

You worked with some of your team members to plan the annual retreat. There were to be serious and fun exercises, good snacks, and a very special lunch. It was during the lunch that the “real leader” of the group was publicly anointed.

During the exercises, Merry Merry, a charismatic sycophant, gleefully insisted that Judge Everybody be the leader for every activity. Others gave you side-eye glances to see how you were reacting to this enthusiastic robing of Judge Everybody.

It was during the lunch that Merry Merry made a proclamation that Judge Everybody was the “REAL Leader.” Merry Merry, who was your friend when not in the company of Judge Everybody, would not make eye contact with you.

At the time when all were to be seated for this special lunch, it appeared that your team was waiting to see where Judge Everybody would sit before finding a seat as close to Judge Everybody as possible. You deliberately left seats between you and Judge Everybody in order to give more space for those who wanted a closer seat to better inhale the aura of Judge Everybody. A couple of brave souls sat near you. You think to yourself, is my faith strong enough to get me through this gauntlet of disrespect and humiliation?

Fortunately, you have become an expert at compartmentalizing. You use this defense mechanism to put the feelings of humiliation in a box for later reflection. You know that you become impervious to slights by immersing yourself in work. Work is your refuge. It helps you trick your mind into denying reality by reframing the experience with a palatable interpretation.

You know that you’re not the only one who has struggled to hold strong in such an environment. You understand that designated leaders who have reluctant followers have to separate and insulate themselves mentally and emotionally by compartmentalizing. You accept that though you hold fast, wounds of humiliation never heal. They are merely rationalized and compartmentalized.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: As part of my personal motto, represented by the acronym FIRE, I make a habit of reflecting on experiences and what can be learned from them. I have used my journals over the years to do just that in the process of writing. It is my hope that sharing these reflections through this BLOG may have some value for others, but please note that I intend for people who I do not specifically name to remain anonymous to readers. For the record, this blog post is not about NASPA or anyone I worked with at NASPA.

Watering the Weeds in the Garden of Life

Guest post by Charlotte Loveless

I watched as my neighbor’s 5-year-old son was trying to help water flowers in my flower bed. As with any 5-year-old, he was at least somewhat interested in playing in the water and had to be told he was helping.

Standing nearby, his mother cautioned, “Not there, those are probably weeds.”

I responded that I believed that they were wild violets. “Sometimes we have to water the weeds to get to the flowers,” I said. “Sometimes those weeds spring forth as beautiful wildflowers.”

Later, after much contemplation, I compared the weeds to people in my life. Sometimes people come into our lives, often well-intentioned, needing to be heard, to share ideas, to get opinions, to find a safe place, and for many unknown, untold reasons Sometimes we wonder why and how, and consider that we might not have chosen them as friend. Maybe its language they use; maybe it’s a checkered past or just not my choice, but there they are.

Don’t despair. They could be that hidden hybrid plant that has been tossed around by life and not allowed sunshine and water. Maybe they have the possibility of a beautiful wildflower, given the attention of water, food, and sunshine.

Thinking of life as a garden gives us perspective, but seeking perfection in our gardens separates us from many unknown, untold stories, and the potential for many hidden, unexpected, beautiful blooms.

Sometimes we water the weeds to get to the flowers.

Don’t undervalue what appear to be weeds in the garden of your life.


Charlotte Loveless is a former coordinator of services for students with special needs. Now retired, she enjoys the arts, painting nature, and occasionally expressing thoughts in writing. She is a long-time friend of Gwen’s.

West Side Story

In 1961, I was sixteen and in the first semester of my senior year of high school. It was around Thanksgiving.

West Side Story

My boyfriend met all the characteristics on my teen-aged girl’s checklist. He was handsome, he was a gentleman, he had a good job, he had a 1957 two-toned Chevy, and he took me downtown to see West Side Story.  

I was in tears at the end of the movie.

On the drive home, I wanted to talk about all the things that made the movie so great. My perfect boyfriend was quiet. I pressured him to tell me what he thought about the movie. Reluctantly, he said he didn’t see what the fuss was all about, and he thought some parts of it were silly. Silly!

I was devastated by his response. At that point, I told him that I couldn’t continue seeing him if our views were that different about West Side Story.