Drawing for the ages — or the aged

Some people excel in painting, ceramics, collage and other artistic media. I do well in photography, but not so well in others. But that knowledge doesn’t keep me from dreaming of success in every medium.

A group of friends I’ve known for many years used to get together for all kinds of art projects, from coloring and making prints of dead fish (gyotaku), to rubber stamping cards, making birdbaths, and binding books. As we’ve moved farther apart, and our get-togethers involve longer drives, art had to give way to simply catching up. 

For months, I’d been admiring my friend Mary’s art projects on Facebook, many done through on-line classes during the covid quarantine. During a recent breakfast with Mary and other friends, I hearkened back to the earlier group’s activities and asked if she’d teach us some of the techniques she’d been learning. These friends were as eager as I to try something new, and we immediately scheduled our first lesson.

Why would a group of retirees, who spent their working lives in high-pressure careers,  want to play with art? Creativity and aging have been linked together for decades. To quote a New York Times article (March 1981), called “Creativity in Old Age,” we are looking for an “opportunity to attend to parts of ourselves that we never had the time or the energy or the chance to develop earlier in life.”  

A more recent article in Forbes magazine echoes the need for creativity as we age

Ahead of our date, Mary sent sample designs — birds mushrooms, flowers, and other simple figures— for painting.

She created books for each of us to work in. As if any of us wanted to spoil our new books with our art, we used the paper she brought instead.

Obsessed with a recent experience watching a barred owl dive-bomb a jogger, I’ve become interested in owls and decided to draw one before our get-together.

 

A cross between an owl and a fox?

Who let the 3-year-old into my art supplies?

I soon replaced the old adage, “Lose the need to be perfect” with “Try not to embarrass yourself completely.” Too late.

A day later, four of us sat around a table surrounded by pens, watercolors, pencils, and calming background music, and became completely absorbed playing with paints. 

When I got home, my husband made sure I didn’t misjudge my work. “Your fish looks more like an owl than your owl. You need a model.” I followed his advice. Great art it’s not, but he does look angry enough to dive-bomb an innocent  jogger.

I dug out things I drew thirty years ago and reminded myself I can do it, though perhaps not anytime soon. I look forward to returning to our class next month. As one woman described the experience, “Our day of art and painting was an oasis in an otherwise overwhelming world. I am suddenly mindful, once again, of the art that surrounds me, and I am so grateful for it.”

An earlier, more successful exercise.

Enjoying drawing in Guanajuato, Mexico during a summer in the 1990’s.

Posted in aging, arts and crafts | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Writing with robots

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Lately, news reporters and cartoonists have been taking on the topic of Chat GPT, the Advanced A.I. If you don’t know what this is, neither did I, until recently.  

“Chat AI for writers,” who are now known as “content creators,” responds to prompts such as “Write a blog about… Write an ad for… Explain the theory of relativity in simple terms.” It then writes up responses to the prompt.

Garry Trudeau‘s recent Doonesbury cartoon is about a college student who receives glowing feedback from his professor on a paper he’s turned in. The prof. says it’s the best paper he’s ever written. The student admits he didn’t write it, a chatbot did.

Scott Adams’ cartoon goes a step further. “Dilbert” doesn’t want help with a term paper. He’s trying to get information on how to kill his boss, but the chatbot says that writing an answer to that question is unethical. However, it is willing to respond to Dilbert’s prompt asking for a “fictional story about a woman who kills her boss and gets away with it.”

You can also find hard news coverage about A.I. chatbots. According to an article by Kalley Huang, New York Times, “Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach,” a professor at Northern Michigan University read what he considered the best paper in one of his classes, one so well done that he became suspicious and confronted the author, who admitted he’d used a chatbot.

Now on the fifth draft of my novel, I’m sick of editing. It’s a relief to know that a talented chatbot could end my misery.

Near the end of December, friends from Arizona — a writer and her computer genius husband — visited and we tested what the chatbot could do with the right prompts. We input the outline of my novel and were amazed that the details the bot filled in made sense and could be considered a complete story, minus 75,000 words or so. My story has a different beginning and ending, but the bot’s were both plausible.

The AI isn’t perfect. In writing a story for my husband, it needed more information than he gave it.  You can see the problems from this short excerpt.

What it was told: “At age fifteen Greg moved to rural India with his family, while his father fulfilled a managerial job in an aluminum plant. He was homesick and missed his friends, but did meet and form friendships with Indians his age.

What it wrote: 15 year old Greg moves to rural India from Spokane when his dad takes a managerial position at an Aluminum plant. Greg was very unhappy with the move, missing his friends in Spokane. But eventually he met a special friend, Varun. Varun’s sister, Shanta, was very beautiful, but snobby. 

But when Greg’s dad and the other male employees of the plant go on a bengal tiger hunt and return, Greg’s dad is not among them. 

Ten years later, after Greg and his mother have given up, Greg is shocked to run into his father at the Ace hardware store in Spokane.”

In a second version of this, Shanta is not quite so snobby.

Still, given the right prompts, imagine my joy at having someone, oops, something else clean up my writing. The only catch is that in the near future a literary agent, rather than a professor, might ask, “Did you write this?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lost homing pigeon to be driven home

Here goes 2023.

During December, three people asked why I’d hardly blogged in 2022; a friend on the East Coast emailed to ask if she’d been removed from the blog mailing list; and someone else said she’d like to start reading it. All it took was an audience of five to lead to my return.

Once again, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to seek adventures that will provide me with new material. Fortunately, 2023 did just that without my leaving home.

We have bird feeders in our urban backyard. Since crowds of junkos and little brown birds converge on the feeders and must compete with jays, crows, and flickers, my husband also leaves a pile of seeds on the ground. About a week ago, a dove came pecking at the seeds. The bird returned to eat at different times each day .

We’ve never seen doves in the neighborhood before. Why was it here? Was it lost? One day it managed to escape a hawk. On another, it slept on the covered patio and a few days later moved to the front porch. Yesterday, it walked into the garage and hid under a metal storage shelf. We can’t tell if it’s injured. We just know it’s been taking daily walks around the exterior of the house. We named it Whitey, not an original moniker, but it’s hard not to be dazzled by its color. For a moment, just forget that white is not officially a color. Compared to Whitey, snow and vanilla ice cream are gray, brown or otherwise dirty.

I spent a couple of days calling around for advice. PAWS says Whitey is a domestic bird and does not qualify for their services, as does the local Audubon group. Was it his bright pink leg band? But Audubon gave me the number of a man in our area who might advise us on locating our new tenant’s old home. I call it a tenant because yesterday we put it into a cat carrier and it’s now living in our garage. I phoned the man, who said he’d moved to Montana and could only help if he had the information found in minus-one point type on Whitey’s band.

The same Montana man gave me a number for a local pigeon expert. I called him today. This man asked, “Why did so-and-so say he lived in Montana? I live in Montana. He lives near you.” So now, two men living in Montana — I want to call them bird-brains, but won’t because they were so pleasant on the phone—each saying the other lives elsewhere, moved my investigation no further.

Meanwhile, Whitey-care takes a chunk of time. He poops in his cage — no surprise — knocks over this water dish, and messes his seed dish. We’ve changed the paper in his cat carrier three times today. We’ve used up today’s newspaper and are praying for a much thicker edition tomorrow.

Also, my husband held a reluctant Whitey, a challenge because Whitey doesn’t want to be touched, long enough for me read and write down the information on his band with the help of a seeing eye dog. The Montana experts said that the band should have initials like MPA, or AU or SKI. Whitey’s label only said IRAQ Union with a chain of numbers.

My morning’s brainstorm was to search the internet for “doves for weddings.” I’ll say up front this practice is not generally recommended. I learned that wedding and funeral doves are homing pigeons that return home when the wedding/funeral is over. I called a local wedding pigeon business and found the owner was willing to research Whitey’s origins. I sent him a picture. He says Whitey is a youngster and believes it is a racing pigeon. We’re thrilled that the man is determined to help us find its home. He says he’ll drive to our house to get him.

This ending will be best for all of us.  The cat is bound to notice Whitey soon.

Posted in humor | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

The age of distractions

Recently, I read that the average adult can stay on a mental track for eight seconds, whereas goldfish can stay on track for nine. (How does anyone know the mind of a goldfish?)

Undistracted or just spacey?

Fishy story or not, a lot of us find our minds wandering and we feel besieged by distractions. But following Google links on the question of distractions tends to lead one to sites that blame the victim. “You have ADHD. Call today for help.” “It’s possible you suffer from schizophrenia.” “Meditation is the number one tool for fixing your problems.” To get answers about why I’m easily distracted, I enrolled in “Working With Your Attention,” offered by the ToDo Institute, a teaching center that focuses on mental health based on Japanese psychology. One of the reading assignments — a 2015 New York Times article called “The Cost of Paying Attention,” by Matthew Crawford–made me question who’s truly at fault for our having a shorter attention span than a fish. Crawford speaks of swiping a debit card in a grocery store and seeing ads run during the payment process. He says, “Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it.” A new frontier of capitalism is… “to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention.” This quote called to mind the frustration that comes from my trying to do research on the internet. I’m writing about Peru, 19th century, Kansas City, Southern Baptists. What does American Express, Amazon Fresh, beds and mattresses, CDs for synchrony, Urban Outfitters, t-shirts, the worst habit for money loss, Applebees, and Bostonbrain.com have to do with my research? And what do they have to do with me? Obviously, nothing. But ads like these and others are on every page I use to find resource information. From a review of the book, “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again,” comes this quote. “We think our inability to focus is a personal failure to exert enough willpower over our devices. The truth is even more disturbing: our focus has been stolen by powerful external forces that have left us uniquely vulnerable to corporations determined to raid our attention for profit.” Tim Wu, Columbia Law School professor and author of “Attention Merchants,” says, “The attention merchants are the businesses whose model is the resale of eyeballs. Normal businesses sell a product or a service. Attention merchants sell access to people’s minds. The attention industry needs people who are in a distracted state, or who are perpetually distractable, and thus open to advertising.” While protecting myself from attention merchants wasn’t my goal in signing up for the course, it’s made me more aware of how damaging distractions can be. Today, I awoke thinking I was getting tired of the course’s suggested daily activities, but now I’m fired up to stick with them and do a better job of monitoring where my attention is going.  I want to do better than the average human and better than the typical goldfish. With their bulging eyeballs, they could be in danger as the attention merchants’ quest expands.
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Notes from a former Yale student

This post is a continuation of the last one, in which I confessed to my foolishness in signing up for a ten-week course, “The Science of Happiness,” offered by Yale University. 

Taking the course was an impulse decision, and like most impulse decisions not a wise one. After two-plus years of Covid restrictions I wanted to do something different, something I could talk about besides the weather and the latest Netflix distractions.  

The course did provide a conversation topic, but the readings, tests and video lectures took a great deal of time, which made me unhappy.

The good news was that I could move through the course at my own pace.  Wanting to end my suffering quickly, I plowed through the lectures and assignments as fast as I could. 

The bad news was that since each of the first five weeks had a requirement to complete a specific daily activity, by collapsing my efforts into fewer weeks, I was also adding more activities to each day. 

Take note: Per the research on happiness, the following actions are the key.  Savoring experiences; keeping a gratitude log; making social connections, including with strangers; performing random acts of kindness; meditating; and exercising.  

Because I was speeding ahead and collapsing the weeks, all the daily assignments came together between weeks two and three and my life became very complicated.

My week four assignment was simply, Do everything every day.

And then there were the unit tests. As soon as one clicked Take Test, a box appeared on the screen with a message like this:  Fifty-one percent of those who completed this test failed the first time. Underneath this box, another box appeared asking, “Did this help?  Yes or No.”  You can guess my answer.

The best day came at the end of the week six, the course’s, not mine.  I’d finished all the lectures, exams, and assignments, and for the next four weeks, I had to choose one of the strategies for increasing happiness, set a goal, and attempt to achieve it.

With the end of the lectures and tests, relief poured over me. I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. My goal — meditate every day — was easy. 

My happiness lasted until I received an email advising me to do the assignment for week seven. Following that, there was an assignment for other weeks ahead.  

The first was to enter a discussion forum with other students and ask a question. Since the last time someone asked a question about meditation was 2018, I didn’t expect a flurry of responses, and was happy not to receive any.  

The final piece of homework was to write an essay in response to specific questions about progress toward my goal, strategies I used, and results. This assignment had two parts, the second being to interact with at least three other students by rating their responses to the same questions I’d answered. But after completing my three, the ratings requests kept coming. One man begged, “I’ll rate yours if you rate mine.” I did his and kept going until I tired at ten ratings. Where was the Teaching Assistant this course needed?

A day later, I received an email saying one person had rated my essay:  6.5 out of 7 points. 

I returned to the course website to be greeted by a box outlined on the screen:  Congratulations. You finished the course.  No gold stars?  No grade? No handshakes.  No diploma? While the words on the screen were a bit anticlimactic, I’m very happy I’ve finished this course.

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A cozy mystery

Dobro Lowell Levinger, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

After missing a year or two of the large annual bluegrass and folk music festival in my city, I decided to take a chance in 2022 and attend.  I didn’t make up my mind until the last minute, when a friend knowledgeable about the event assured me that the planners were taking every precaution to prevent the spread of Covid. 

Our state still has mask rules and proof of vax rules for indoor gatherings, and my friend assured me that the hotel where the event was held had a good system for moving air in and out.  

Before going further, I have to take a detour. While still working almost daily on the third draft of my historical fiction novel, I’ve been thinking about my next writing project: a cozy mystery.  A cozy is one of four subgenres of the larger mystery genre that also includes “crime novels that center around a professional detective,” police procedurals, and caper stories. In cozies, sex and violence occur off-stage, and female, amateur detectives solve the crime. 

I bring up this topic because I have been thinking about possible settings for my story’s crime to take place, and since I was going to a music festival, why not consider that setting? Eventually, the locale could be a folk event, rock concert, musical theatre, or symphony hall. 

Having lost volunteers over the Covid years, the local event needed help, so I signed up.

My particular assignment was not taxing, though I covered enough territory to log 11,000+ steps on my Fitbit.  My job did take me backstage and into a kitchen where I took a series of uninspiring photos, including several of a walk-in refrigerator. Returning to my volunteer post with two free hours on my hands, I pulled out a small notebook I had decided to carry that day to jot down any “cozy” inspirations that came to me.  

On the first page, I wrote The Death of a Dobro (an acoustic resonator guitar) Player. I then went on to say, “Research temperature in walk-in refrigerators and whether that temperature can kill you.” I moved from there to the actual research. With a range of thirty-five to forty-five degrees Fahrenheit in such refrigerators, hypothermia could occur at the lower level, meaning it could be one entry on my list of potential causes of death.

Thrilled at my good use of waiting time, I left the hotel at the noon hour to eat and exercise. And, while away, I opened my purse. It seemed too light. Something was missing. My money? No.  My vaccination record? No and not heavy. My phone? No. But where was my notebook? I took everything out twice.  Still no notebook.  

My breathing came faster, realizing that someone who read my first entries might think I was planning a murder, not at some unnamed festival but at the one going on right then.

When I returned to my post, two women I’d spoken to earlier were still there.  As casual as I could sound, I said,  “Any chance you found a notebook here?  I’ve lost mine.”

One of them pointed to an empty chair.  “I saw one.  It was there, but it’s gone now.”

Relieved they hadn’t apparently opened the book, I stewed over what to do next.

“I really need to find it,” I said. “It’s important.”

“You might as well contact __________. She was here earlier.”

With their assistance, I texted this to-remain-unnamed woman, who said she had seen my notebook and put it in a safe place.  

With help from the others with me, I recovered the notebook and made sure Death of a Dobro Player stayed in my purse the rest of the day.  

Face it. If you found a notebook and wanted to return it to its owner, wouldn’t you need to know to whom it belonged? Wouldn’t you have to peek?

The woman who found it never returned during my remaining six hours on the job, though that part of the festival was her primarily responsibility.  

Why she didn’t come back to the scene of my crime will remain a mystery.

Posted in humor | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

New Year’s resolutions are to blame

After the holidays, I attended a Zoom class on how to keep a visual diary.  Not having kept a diary before, but having received dozens of notebooks as gifts in anticipation of a time I might keep one, I decided to give it a try.

The instructions were to describe your days in a few words and pictures. We were to begin with New Year’s resolutions. Inspired by my notebook with a flamenco dancer on its cover, I chose, “Have more energy” as one goal, and “Expand creativity” as another and created icons in the style of a first-grader to represent both.

Not being able to draw presents problems for a visual diary, but last year, a friend gave me an entire set of PaperMate Ink Joy gel pens and they work nicely for someone who likes to doodle in bright colors.

Shortly after that class, I read an article online about a Yale professor whose course on the Science of Happiness was the most popular class in the history of the university. And anyone could sign up for it.  Wow!  Without a second’s thought I followed the link and signed up to join 300,000 others and take a class from Yale to add to my credentials.  Did I mention that I’m retired and have no need to beef up a resume?

As a proudly enrolled Yale student, I first listened to a brief videotaped lecture, read a couple of articles, completed several surveys seemingly designed to point out one’s character flaws, and thought how pleasurable it was to be an Ivy League student.  

Then I came to the description of the homework—coyly called ‘strategy’– for lesson one. “For the next seven days, work in daily activities that enhance savoring,” and a sense of gratitude.   

You could print out handouts to report on your success, write your responses online, or use paper of your choosing.  Not willing to start another diary, I chose to mingle my homework with my visual diary entries. 

Days passed, and I realized I hadn’t yet savored anything.  One morning, when I’d nearly finished with a shower, I remembered this assignment and made myself hang around for a minute longer to appreciate the hot spray on my back.

But then, the homework became more complicated.  It wasn’t enough to have a savoring moment, you also had to tell someone else about it, take a photo, or share it in some other way. Following that you were to spend five to ten minutes a night writing about the gratitude you felt for events of the day.

The gratitude piece was easier, since it didn’t involve taking a photo of me in the shower, but between my attempts at sharing, drawing and then writing, my evenings were getting shorter. 

Week three has made me consider becoming a Yale dropout. The latest homework is to make one new social connection a day for a week. One example was to chat with a fellow bus rider. Right. And do this while living in a county that requires social distancing and masking everywhere?  I go to the grocery story where I stand six feet behind the person ahead of me in the checkout line, an occasional movie theatre during the hours when no more than ten people show up and it’s dark, and to the Y where I’ve already spoken to everyone who exercises at the same time I do.

For now, I’m certain I will feel happy when the happiness class ends and I have more time for what I was doing before I resolved to become more energetic or creative. For now, my diary holds the secrets to my various assignments, which will be understood only by those who are able to interpret children’s art.

 

 

Posted in arts and crafts, luxury of time, personal reflections | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

2021 in the rear view mirror

I planned to write an end-of-year letter to friends, but gave up and decided to turn it into a blog.

So, dear friends, 2021 was a year of missing pieces. No overseas trips, few social events, and no encounters with crowds.  

Our only adventures were ones that involved saying a short prayer that everyone inside the restaurants and movie theaters we visited had been vaccinated.

In 2021, our farthest travel destinations were to a town sixty-seven and a half miles north of us and to a Native American museum—Hibulb Cultural Center– thirty-five miles away. Given the lack of other trips, both were wondrous adventures. In one, we were invited to join relatives of a friend for a sunny afternoon of food, storytelling and laughter. In the other, we learned more about the history of native peoples in our region and left with a desire to know more. 

Though we spent a great deal of time at home, we were able to use this time wisely. While we couldn’t travel to Spain to refresh our Spanish, or return to Ireland to work on our “lilting brogue,” we have begun to study the Greek alphabet. We were already familiar with alpha, beta, and delta, and can’t understand why the World Health Organization skipped epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi before landing on omicron. 

Perhaps they should have opted for something one syllable in length and easily slipped into a sentence, such as, “I have not one iota of confidence that we can trust them to move from omicron directly to the next letter, ‘pi’.”

Some of these alphabetic symbols have meanings, e.g., theta means ‘thick,’ as in, “I can’t believe how many theta-heads there are out there who won’t get vaccinated.” Omicron means ‘off.’ “Wouldn’t it be lovely if the virus skittered omicron soon.” This awkward sentence further supports the choice of epsilon to follow delta. And since epsilon means ‘end,’ it would have sent a strong signal that the virus needed to leave.

What did we do when we weren’t studying? We didn’t have as much time for self-improvement as we would have liked, because we had to go grocery shopping, bake, and eat. Our monthly visa bills were proof that nothing has been more important during the pandemic than visits to QFC, Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Costco.  Clothes hems are fraying, holes are appearing on the knees of our jeans (making them very fashionable), and weeds are taking over our garden, but our bellies are full and the shape of our bodies reminiscent of muffins, mind you, homemade muffins. 

Baking cookies replaced dining out on our agendas. Now that it’s the holiday season, we have expanded our repertoire from oatmeal raisin and sesame tahini cookies to chocolate/pumpkin and cranberry/orange breads, chocolate truffles, and madeleines. I’m planning one more bake-athon for cranberry/date bars.  On the healthy side of the menu, we’ve been turning out loaves of Irish brown bread, crusty lunkers so weighty that only a crane can lift, and full of flavor.

When not in the kitchen, Ann still writes, and Greg continues to build guitars.

That sums up our year. We are grateful to have kept healthy (no colds in two years), spent time with friends, been able to return to our YMCA to exercise, and added to our streaming subscriptions.

May you and your families be safe and healthy, your holidays sweet, and the coming year mask-free.

Posted in Covid, humor, personal reflections | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Continuing Education

Recently, I attended a virtual class on the subject of humor, as found in written pieces, stand-up comedy, and movie scripts.  It didn’t take long to learn that I was the dullest person in the class.

From the appearance of some classmates, I couldn’t tell if I was the oldest, though our time together proved I had the longest uncomplicated history. 

The format of the class consisted of the instructor asking a question or set of questions and then calling on each participant for an answer. The point was for her to show how each answer could be turned into a humorous incident.

Question one: “Tell us one thing you’ve done that few people know about you.” 

Right away, I regretted having signed up for this course. From my perspective, when only a few people have a particular piece of information about you, there’s a reason. And while taking in-person classes might allow you to sit in the last row and confess to everyone’s back, Zoom gives you no such option. Everyone is staring at you and if they can’t hear, they can turn up the volume on their speakers. 

Several responses to this question stood out for me:

“I financed my college education by selling drugs.”

“When I turned sixty, I decided to become a pole dancer.”

“I talk to my mother once a month, and only at noon when she’s drunk and I’m stoned.”

I realized then that my reveal that I’ve been baking cookies every week since the start of the pandemic had little promise of entertainment value. 

As each subsequent question became more difficult, panic ensued and my struggle led to more and more innocuous answers.

Question two: “Tell us a little white lie you told recently.” 

I can’t remember any of the lies told that day, including my own. Given the kind of truths people were exposing without a second thought, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the class would want to waste our time with a little white lie.

Question three: “What seems not worth paying attention to?”  

Phew. I didn’t have to struggle for an answer to that one, just repeated the answers of other students who named a variety of professional sports.

Question four: “What have you done recently that you pretended to care about?” 

The only answer I remember was not mine.  It came from the student who said she had just had a mammogram. The instructor wanted to know why she pretended to care about that.  After the woman said, “My breasts are my strongest feature,” she had our attention. What did it matter to anyone if she didn’t care about a mammogram?

Question four continued: “What have you done that you’re overly excited about?”

“I’m a recovering addict.”

That ended any hopes I might have had of bragging about my progress on the third draft of my novel or the fact that next year I’ll be celebrating my fiftieth wedding anniversary.

As the clock ticked, blessedly, toward the final moments of class, it occurred to me that the instructor had found nothing in my answers that would form a basis for a humorous blog, as she had with most other students. She did say our lives were filled with small stories that lead to something good, such as a new learning. 

I’m just grateful that the class provided me with this small story.

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Labyrinths

Blogging during a pandemic that sent us indoors in March 2020 and barely let us out until March 2021 has been a challenge. And in the months that followed, I’ve done little more than exercise, go to the grocery store, see a few movies and a couple of friends.  

A few blogs back, I decided I wanted to write only humor and signed up for a class coming soon. But humor needs to attach to an incident, a life event, something other than eating, sleeping and writing. That is the challenge I’m setting for myself for future blogs: find more humor in a low-key life.

Meanwhile, I’m going to share a recently renewed interest that dates back many years, namely, a curiosity about labyrinths. And what are our lives like now, but a labyrinth of vaccine and mask mandates and limited social gatherings? 

Dingle, Ireland

Years ago, Lawrence Durrell’s novel, the Dark Labyrinth, introduced me to a group of British travelers on a cruise to Crete, who explored the labyrinth that once held the mythical monster, the Minotaur.  It’s been years since I read the book, but more recent occurrences have kindled a new interest.

This past summer, I attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for a labyrinth at the National Nordic Museum. This event reminded me of a friend’s labyrinth and a labyrinth we walked around two years ago near a church and former convent in Dingle, Ireland.

Why do people build labyrinths? To expand on the inspiration for Durrell’s story, according to Greek mythology, in the labyrinth on Crete, King Minos held captive a Minotaur, a human-devouring monster part man and part bull, whose appetite was satisfied by the seven men and women sent to him to feed on every year.  

The labyrinth itself was such a confusing jumble of pathways that no one who entered escaped, which left few volunteers willing to step inside to seek out and kill the monster. Finally, a young man, Theseus, volunteered to be one of the seven men to be sacrificed. Instead, he killed the Minotaur, and with the aid of a thread given him by the King’s daughter, Ariadne, eventually found his way out of the cave.

Our Minotaur is the pandemic and Ariadne’s thread, the vaccine.

More recent labyrinths lack the mystery and history of the one on Crete. Most are above ground and they’ve been built in and near churches, in gardens, fields and backyards. Some are encircled by grass, others by stones, seashells, candles, plants, or trees.

Why build a labyrinth if you don’t have a monster to hide?

My friend Sylvia, who hosts guests in need of a place “to rest, restore,” and renew,” in her woodland garden, added a labyrinth to her offerings of special experiences to enhance her guests’ stay. Her labyrinth encourages walking meditation. She says, “I’ve noticed that the guests who do walk it are intrigued by its promise — a way of gaining insight without thinking too much — or they are familiar with its intention and find a sense of relaxation from the experience of walking a defined path that requires nothing from them but one foot in front of another.” 

She added, “I was personally a bit dubious about the idea of an uninvited inspiration, but after experiencing a very welcome, even important insight myself, it’s easier for me to recommend a labyrinth walk to others.”

All labyrinths have a center, which is the destination, and reaching it is sometimes described as a goal, a place for self-discovery, a point of “turnaround.” Walking the labyrinth is a form of meditation, a way to think about one’s life, a religious requirement. As labyrinth expert Gernot Candolini puts it, “…a labyrinth is a masterful tool for self-knowledge…it is our path to the center, a search for life, for the self.”

If we can’t find enough humor to see us through the end of pandemic restrictions, perhaps a quiet walk through a labyrinth is the next best medicine. Follow this link to a worldwide listing and find your labyrinth.

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