Cultivating True Security in a Post-9/11 World

There are only 2 kinds of actions to take in life: a reactive one, or a proactive one, and if you want to know which corner you’re in, just climb down your basement stairs and see how much is floating. Drenched as we’ve been lately on the east coast, all ‘state of emergency’ and ‘the sky is falling’ factions have conspired to either congratulate you on your preparedness or illuminate your lack of it.

I ponder my placement on this why-axis as I pull on my rubber boots to survey the damage from yet another weather frenzy. Glad as I am in this moment to be a nomad instead of a nester, I’m even happier that the house I’m temporarily calling home has been tended to: toolboxes on shelves, washer + dryer raised on pallets, no flotsam and jetsam to reel in. Phew. No soup for FEMA today.

Flashing back to 1999, I recall sitting in front of the loan officer at the bank I’d been affiliated with my whole life. I was applying for a mortgage for my first house, and it was proving tricky. Apparently my occupation at the time – waiter – wasn’t what he liked to call traditional. Gratuity-based income didn’t seem to please his rather narrow bankerly mentality, and despite years of consecutive, steady income, tips tripped up his ability to ascertain my cash flow.

“You just can’t count on them,” he said.

“I’ve been counting on them for years,” I replied. “It’s no different from your salary. Look at my taxes – they’re the same year after year. They’re as real as this desk.”

No matter the black and white numbers on the official forms before him, he just couldn’t see it. He was using the wrong mechanism. Security, financial or otherwise, is not something you measure with a calculator or even calipers. Indeed, all we do to protect ourselves out in the big, bad world merely proves it to be an illusion. Don’t be fooled by the necktie. It’s just an expensive, strangling accessory anyway.

I got the mortgage eventually (of course, at a higher percentage rate to compensate for my “unusual” situation), painted the library, unpacked cartons of books, and settled into my new home. It was in this room one morning, in fact, listening to the radio I heard the unfolding news that rocked our cushioned world. Confusion, horror, overwhelming sadness…we all felt it – our sense of safety crashing all around us. From mighty steel…to dust.

In the aftermath, I searched for wisdom and meaning. My philosophizing called into question words like security and patriotism, like my nephew as he learns to speak his world, asking incessantly, what’s this, Aunt Kellie? What’s that called? Why?

In the ten years since, what I’ve come to realize is that security is not collateral to be measured concretely like a regular paycheck or the automobile industry or our ranking in the world or all the crap we stuff into our buildings. It’s nothing we can lay our hands on and say: this technology, this law, this bomb will protect me.

What gives us staying power, the ability to keep calm and carry on is how we proactively position ourselves – the resources we build well, within: Our constitution in the face of great force, whether flood or famine. Our emotional athleticism – being limber enough to feel beyond our own periphery. Our intellectual agility – informing ourselves with multiple perspectives to counteract propaganda (especially from authorities we tend to trust). Our ability to pause – for when the shit hits the fan, we need to move intentionally. And, overall, our lovingkindness – because an open heart always trumps envelopes and embraces fear.

The best place to find shelter…is inside. It’s the strongest, most resilient structure you can create. Just make sure to keep the base(ment) clean, because if you don’t do it now, it’ll be that much harder when you’re forced to.

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“If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born.
“Come in,” she said
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm”.

~ Bob Dylan

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Drag Racing In Vacationland

snow covered barn Maine winterSo THIS is Maine in the winter, huh?  I woke up earlier this week to find a few dents and scratches – overnight lows of -30F caused the kitchen pipes to freeze, internet service would be down for a few days, and I’ve (unknowingly) been driving around since November with no car insurance.  After four months of easy living, I was hip-checked by this sudden confluence of inconvenience.  At least I had heat, a stocked pantry, and my Blackberry.  But I’m a bastion of tying up loose ends, so what slipped?

Several years ago, I was driving north at night on the New York State Thruway, a notoriously speedy roadway, where the slow lane goes 75mph.  A friend was with me as we began to notice all the cars around us slow waaaay down, almost to a standstill, but there was nothing ahead to account for this bizarre occurrence.  I jammed my brakes and tried to find equilibrium, both of us worried and confused.  What the hell?  Suddenly, engines growled, tires squealed and several dozen cars sped off, as if at Watkins Glen, leaving me with white knuckles and a rapid pulse, as I tried to keep my car on the road amid the vehicular mayhem.

Later, as I reflected on the spontaneous drag race, a lesson crystallized:  how crucial it is to be ready when life unexpectedly speeds up.  Now, I’ve let up on the gas pedal for quite a while, with quitting my job and the recent move to Maine – a land where two pickups stop and chat across the double yellows – and I’ve developed a meandering pace: all carpe diem and proverbially rose-smelling.  But my insides have stirred lately.  I want more torque, more rev.  How can I ever get up to speed with my controls set at cruise?

What does this have to do with frozen pipes, you ask?  According to the Chinese system of energy alignment known as Feng Shui, when there’s a water leak in your house, there is a corresponding leak of money in your life.  I have experienced this, and believe it to be true.  I wonder then, if ice in the water lines is a sign of constipated financial flow?  And the lack of online access?  Plugged up information, perhaps?  And the unsubstantiated cancellation of (NY) auto insurance?  Maybe it’s time to consolidate my life, here.  A tune up is in order, so I get to work.  I spend a day going through piles of files, organizing, prioritizing, and eliminating what does not support my prosperous writing future (optimism counts, yes?).  I lay under the sink blowdrying the copper pipes until H2O gushes forth.  I turn in my NY Driver’s License and put Vacationland plates on my Toyota.

Afterwards I feel clear.  Detailed, waxed and gassed up.

I’m shifting into second gear now and already I’ve got some grip.  Income opportunities are coming my way.  I’ve taken on the role of Media Liaison at my local non-profit land trust.  I’m writing up my resume and pursuing a weekly column at a local paper.  My pulse is quickening and life is escalating, all with my hands firmly on the wheel.

Other than becoming officially a Mainer, nah, not too much going on here this week.  How ’bout you?

The House Of Light

Funny thing is, though I live so close to the sea, I’m tucked far enough inland, in a rural, farmland community, that I sometimes forget the nautical beauty nearby.  One of the prettiest places to walk, which I do like a mail carrier:  through rain, sleet & snow – is out on the St. George peninsula.  Tenant’s Harbor, Port Clyde, and Spruce Head are all lovely places to wander around, gazing out at the water and watching lobster boats heading in and out of the local harbors.  I’ve had a sumptuous lobster roll at Cod End Market and a Food Network-recommended burger at the Owl’s Head General Store and Post Office.  Balanced precariously between out-of-towner and resident, I relish the insider’s window of the local community and look forward to days when I’m greeted as warmly as either proprietress does at both eateries.

The highlight comes as I walk off lunch at Owl’s Head State Park.  Sometimes I head straight for the lighthouse, with a view over Penobscot Bay that hasn’t ceased to induce long moments of meditation verging on bliss.  Other times, a short jaunt through the spruce woods leads down to a small beach, with picnic tables on the low cliffs that look over it.  In warmer weather, I find this a perfect place to write.  However, I somehow find myself more often here during inclement weather, which I strangely prefer.  It’s a misty, forlorn promontory that evokes romantic notions of a literary-led Maine life.  It is here that a sense of place most reverberates.

I often catch myself realizing that I actually live here now, like it’s some sort of surprise, and when it does wash over me, it seems so natural, so right.  With regards to geography, I’ve never felt so at home, at peace.  I wonder how that will evolve in the new year?  And what little corner of the mid-coast will seduce me next…

You Say You Want a Resolution?

Remember those toy pellets you could send away for in the back of comic books?  The ones that when you dropped them into a glass of water would instantly turn into little sponge creatures?  Well, that’s how quickly old habits disappeared since I moved here and how quickly new ones took shape.  I have just sprung into my true form!  And I didn’t even have to write up a list.

Apparently, Maine is my January first.

Back in the city, I ate out almost every day.  It was just easier – no deciding, shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning… AY!  Such a fuss.  Plus, I could satisfy any craving.  Ethiopian sourdough & stew?  Cambodian sandwich?  Pugliese pasta?  Check, check and check.  But now that I’m here, I revel in the abundance of garden greens and farmstands.  There’s even a decent winemaker a mile down the road fermenting grapes in his barn.  I spend my days fully engaged – mulling recipes, chatting up farmers and cheesemakers and fishermen, picking chard and kale, gathering wildflowers for the table.  Pleasure abounds…

Oyster River Winegrowers
Cast Iron Chef

As well, my exercise routine in the city was anything but.  Classic avoidance behavior:  I’d sign up for an expensive membership, and go once or twice a month.  A yoga studio on every corner but I’d rather walk by on my way to the bakery.  Here, however, sun salutations take on a whole new meaning.  I begin each day, coffee in hand, circling through the garden, down to the pond and wandering back through the meadows and trees.  My skin tingles in the chilly air.  The grass feels dewy.  My senses are invigorated.  Afternoons can find me in the kayak, oar in hand, silently paddling the shoreline and learning birdsong.  Or climbing Mt. Battie, enveloped in the ethereal chartreuse of the changing trees.  With Mother Nature as my personal trainer, who needs a rowing machine?

The strangest part, though, is how easily this metamorphosis came about.  There was no effort at all, rather a gentle hand on my back, guiding me forward, whispering in my ear… “Don’t you know… everything’s gonna be all right?”  And it is.  More than I had imagined.

Camden Hills State Park, Mt. Battie
Stairmaster alfresco

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