On Being a ‘Groan’ Up

These days I feel more like a groan up than a grown up. You know what I mean. Our times are tough. Very tough politically and environmentally for sure, even before the pandemic hit us. Now in my part of the world we are grappling with heat and wild fires as well. So many burdens to carry, and so little chance to talk it over, face to face, since we have been social distancing for months; especially those of us who are older. No spur of the moment coffee hours, or lunches. No family entertaining. If we have a visitor or two, it’s from a distance and always outside. They bring their own food and drink. It’s a bizarre way to host our guests. When we do connect, we have to spend a certain amount of time saying how bad things are, how impossible everything seems to be. How powerless we feel. 

Our grandkids sit and listen while the adults talk. Wide-eyes over their masks, I can’t help but wonder how they will process 2020. Kids are resilient, I know that. But they also have limits. I feel like we are subjecting them to too much of our own anxiety and helplessness. But I see that not only are they sometimes bored, but more often than not, I see how they are managing to fill their time with little enterprises of their own. People like to be busy, especially kids.

One of my grandkids decided to raise backyard chickens this year, and to become a vegan. Although she will eat her own chickens’ eggs, because she knows they are well-cared for. They’ve become pets, really. She’s learning how the three of them relate to each other, what pecking order means, how they show they are hungry or just want some company. 

Another of my grandkids took on painting an incredible mural on her bedroom wall. It’s astonishing, really, from the picture I’ve seen. She’s a talented artist and hasn’t wasted the gift of time she’s had this summer. Yes, sometimes we all feel we’ve been gifted with time, in spite of everything else that’s going on in the world.

My grandson has completed badges and certifications to become a full-fledged Boy Scout. Camping out in the backyard had to take the place of camping in the mountains or by the sea, but he was able to do a cook-out for his family and all the other things that go along with making a temporary home out-of-doors.

Now they are back “in” school, which means long hours of screen time, and hours of homework. They seem to have adapted very well to whatever we adults challenge them to do.

I do a lot of groaning, myself. All of my problems are first-world problems, I’m Seated Sad Womanaware of that. But still they are problems, and they deserve to be acknowledged before they can be resolved. The quotidian tasks that go along with creating meals, making grocery lists for deliveries, keeping ourselves and our house somewhat clean and tidy, get more or less attention, depending on our psychic energy on any given day. I go down the rabbit hole of Facebook far too often. But then, it is a way of connecting. And without connection, I know I won’t make it through these next months.

So I am grateful for the Zoom meetings of my writing group, phone calls with friends, distanced visits in the backyard, online performances by generous musicians, kind delivery people and responsive medical providers to requests that normally would require an office visit, but now are dealt with on the phone.

I’m grateful for books, although more often than not I read a few pages, put the book down and wander off to another distraction. I’m grateful for Netflix, and BritBox for good entertainment. I’m grateful for the postal workers, the delivery people, the repair people who come to fix a broken pipe; the neighbors who check on each other and have a food-exchange going, freely giving of backyard fruit and vegetables, or even extra groceries.

I am not going to apologize for groaning when I need to, for complaining about how hard it all is. That’s just the plain truth of it. We have been trapped for so long, for so many months, and on so many levels. We have to own that or we won’t be able to deal with it. So I am groaning and owning, but recognizing that gratitude is also a part of being a fully enfranchised GROWN UP.

Still working on fully earning THAT badge! 

Woman in the Wood

After several weeks of pragmatic demands and family exigencies, I scheduled a few days of private retreat in the high desert. I have a book I’m working on, and had made no progress at all since before Christmas last year. My body was weary, my spirit was flagging, and my will to write was down to a few drops at the bottom of a deep well. I hoped rest and peace would bring an infusion of energy, and I was looking forward to being in a place that brought me comfort many years ago.
I remembered long, solitary walks in the high desert where I could listen to bird song and marvel at the diversity of nature in that dry, arid place.

The chapel bells would ring out to call the community to prayer and worship. The ducks would float in their pond, the cottonwood spring ‘snow’ would drift, weightless, catching in spider webs and cactus.

Food would be prepared by others, and I remembered it was always delicious with fresh, local produce and creative soups. Accommodations would be spare, but comfortable; tiny cinderblock rooms with sliding glass doors that opened out onto the desert.

A friend who goes there often told me to go before it got too hot, which was good advice. June is generally a mild month, with warm days and cool nights, so I was confident I would be fine. I looked forward to seeing the stars, away from the ambient lights of the city. I wasn’t worried.

I was prepared to be moving around with caution – I’m in my seventies now, not my forties – and balance and stamina are a bit challenging. It is the high desert, about 3700 feet above sea level. The altitude had not bothered me before, but that was then.

The place has changed, of course, as places do. A new, huge hospitality facility faced the road that led onto the property. It is pleasant enough, but obviously built to accommodate many people and programs. The little bookstore that used to be in a clapboard outbuilding was now housed in this magnificent structure. I didn’t go in.

I was grateful to see beautiful paved roads that used to be worn ruts in the dirt, and handrails where steps had been added when there was an incline. I wouldn’t find my walks quite so perilous as I had imagined.

I had changed in 30 years too. I was no longer fascinated by the structure and requirements of an organized religious order. It had become artificial and without meaning or inspiration for me. But I did long for silence and a spiritual connection with creation, and that was still available there in abundance. I felt a bit guilty about skipping the daily prayers and scripture readings in the chapel, but I did enjoy hearing the monks chanting as I sat outside the chapel and entered into my own kind of silent prayer.

I realized as I went through that first day that I was looking to regain something I had left behind. But my own personal journey took me out of that context many years ago, and while it is a lovely remembrance of a special part of that journey, it’s not available to me any longer.

It was hot. Too hot to be comfortable for very long outside, but inside the lodge there was a group of animated teenagers learning about monastic life. Not much peace for writing to be found there. Nevertheless, the time and the space were mine, and I did write. I journaled and I made good progress on the novel I had started years ago. I read a good book, which fed my soul, and I walked.

Then I did something I rarely do. I put pencil to paper and sketched the woman I saw in the bark of a tree. Her face was visible in one moment, and as the light changed, it vanished. I moved to find her again, and there she was. I sketched quickly, not wanting to lose her for good.

What a gift to see this Green Woman with her deep connection to life, to the earth, to the seasons and their changes. She was just as she should be. Ever-changing, yet she still was solidly in that place. I wanted to hold close the vision of her face and the symbol of her strength. But I never thought to take a photo.

I am not an artist, but I managed to get a rough sketch. I know her now in my fingers moving on the paper, in my vision as I sketched her contours. I will never forget her.

She is my example of constancy in change, of growth in all circumstances, of a grounding that I need to remember in adversity and triumph, in the mundane and the extraordinary. She is a true talisman of a journey that began long ago and continues.

The light has shifted for me, too.

A Place at the Table

Infusing your writing with a kind of extraordinary perception, opening a window for your readers onto a new landscape, a new vision of the world and its wonders, comes from your willingness to acknowledge there is more going on in this life than that which can be quantified, explained, measured or dissected.

You can learn how to write a sentence and a paragraph. You can understand punctuation and all the proper structural conceits. You can write a story with a beginning, middle and end. But unless your writing draws on the unique essence of who you are, what you alone can bring to the piece, it will lack that spark that makes it sing.

What makes a piece of literature reveal itself to another is in large measure directly related to how much risk the writer is willing to take in revealing their own inner process.

So now we must approach our craft with boldness and fearless determination to strip back any veneer of pretense or false images. We must allow our own awe a bigger place at our table. We must allow fear a place, as well, and not just fear of wild beasts or fire or falling down a well. We must allow all of our deepest feelings a place, set our table well, and let the conversation begin.

It is only when we do this that we can apprehend the mystery of really good writing, and begin to open that door that has been so securely locked, bolted, and defended against any intruder, including ourselves.

We have all experienced writing that so lifts us, infuses us with light, that we become inspired, renewed, appreciative of what we never thought anyone could touch within our very soul. There is a magic that instantly connects us with the writer, her characters, her settings, that resonates, calls forth a new music that we never knew resided in us.

Great religious leaders have talked of epiphanies, of being struck by light along the way, of revelations and ecstasies when confronted by their understanding of what is holy. And whether we are religious or not, we experience the more of our world, our relationships, ourselves on a daily basis.

The exercise of inviting the extraordinary into our writing lives is our most important task. It goes beyond practice, it goes beyond scheduling, it must infuse as many of our waking and sleeping moments as we can give it. What we strive to bring to ourselves and our readers is an experience that goes beyond construct and mere curiosity. It is a heart-connection with our world, our relationships, and our writing, that we must have in order to evoke the reader’s response.

Can we define this “more than matter”? Should we try? In quantifying and qualifying its properties have we eviscerated it? Can we really pursue it, or does it simply arrive and present itself when we least expect it? Is it inspiration? Is it our muse?

Some might call it the apprehension of the numinous. And even if you are not religious, if you are a writer, you know there is more than the simple furnishings, or tangibles of life that we are pursuing. Is it deeper understanding? Meaning?

Put these questions in your mind over the next month. Read things that have evoked an extraordinary response in your deepest self. Sit with music that touches your heart.

When you are ready to put pen to paper, do it. Do it if it comes to you in the middle of the night or while you are in the middle of washing the dishes or the dog. Put tears on the page, anger, joy, fear, awe, love, resentment, cowardice, gratitude, boredom. If we are going to write, and write well, we must invite all of these, and their relatives, to our table to be part of the conversation. Let them speak, give them space and be patient while they exercise their new privilege.





I’m sitting at the Farmers Market enjoying a tamale and a latte. The air is warm, but not too warm. In fact it is beginning to feel a tiny bit like fall. There are a few yellow leaves on the liquidambar (or redgum) trees. Since those are usually the first to turn, it may be some time before there is evidence elsewhere. I don’t count the Halloween decorations already appearing at Michael’s.

I do count the planting of the corn maze near our local vegetable stand. That has to be done in August or there won’t be corn that’s tall enough by the time they want to start hayrides.

Summer weather lasts here in Southern California long into October, but we still notice subtle changes in evening and morning light. And no matter how warm the weather stays, we do get some spectacular leaf colors. Yes, truly, We do.

What I feel whenever the seasons change is a slight shift in my awareness. As we move from summer to fall there is a softening and a willingness to let go. There is an eagerness to experience the holidays, apart from the buying and selling. I look forward to family and friend gatherings.

Carving pumpkins brings us together for chili and cornbread, wine and hot cider, even if it is 90 degrees outside.

But what I notice this year is that there is an internal appreciation for change. I am not always comfortable with change, but this year I am greeting new possibilities with a more open spirit of adventure. I am letting the aspect of my internal camera’s eye broaden to include things that might have been outside the picture before.

Aging is a complicated process. I have vacillated back and forth between narrowing my activities and expanding them. That exercise in and of itself has proven to be useful. I can sort out what is possible, and that includes what I most enjoy as part of the sorting.

So if I feel like sitting and embroidering for awhile because my fingers long to create something, that is good. And if I feel like going out for a walk in the park and having lunch with a friend, that also feeds my soul and is good.

If  I want to spend time writing or just thinking about what I might write, that’s a good thing. If I want to iron all day and listen to jazz, that’s a good thing.

If I want to take on yoga instruction, which is a new and exciting thing for me right now, then that is a good thing. And if I want to spend time meditating, an old discipline that has been neglected, that is a good thing.

Too often, in retirement, I have thought of my life as diminishing rather than expanding. As I have taken on new projects, new vistas appear. New friends appear. Old relationships are revived. I find I have skills I haven’t used before.

This has never been clearer to me than right now as we are moving out of one season and into the next. Even though it is the beginning of the end of the year, it feels like a perfectly wonderful new beginning to me.

How can we move beyond misogyny?


Being the Blog of Rebecca Kuder

IMG_0098 shrine for dead fish, arranged by children (July 2016)

Last Saturday on a road trip, I stopped for lunch at the Globe restaurant at Truck World in Hubbard, Ohio. As I filled my plate from the salad bar, I heard two men (and maybe a woman, it was hard to discern) conversing about the presidential candidates. Here is what I captured:

Man 1: Who’re you voting for?

Man 2: Oh, Trump, all the way. Everybody in this area is voting for Trump.

(Someone, then others, chiming in): (Benghazi, Benghazi, sick of these liars, etc.)

Man 1: About all Hillary’s got going for her is her looks.

(Someone, maybe a woman): She hasn’t even got THAT going for her, she’s getting older.

As I listened, nausea filled my bones, my gut. As I type the words now, I feel it again: fear, vulnerability (as a woman, traveling alone, and also myself “getting older”). Part of me…

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Engaged to Writing

Of all the Merriam Webster’s definitions of “engage,” the one that most attracts me is the intransitive verb “to come together and interlock .” Sounds a little sexy, doesn’t it?

So many things out there in the world that I am longing to be engaged to, and with. One of them is writing. Too often I push it off into a corner to wait.

Waiting enrages writing. It becomes first irritated, sitting spikily in the corner of your mind, its edges becoming ever sharper, poking you for attention. If you don’t engage you are risking those points burning themselves to ash, and then you have consequences.

Consequences come around in the form of memory loss, or disrespect for perfectly wonderful ideas or inspirations. If you don’t deal with consequences when they arrive, you will risk losing the whole thing and missing an opportunity that may never come around again out of pure and unrelenting spite. You don’t want spite. At least I don’t. I don’t like spite.

Spite squirts a caustic poison on not only the idea you had, but on those new little seeds of ideas that are just starting. It’s like Round Up, but it doesn’t just work on the weeds. It can spread to every creative idea you are likely to have for some time. So let’s do what we can to prevent spite from ever entering into the process.

Your ideas like room to grow. It isn’t that they have to have full chapters or books written about them, but they love it when you actually get out a pencil or pen and write them down. They don’t mind scraps, or the back of grocery lists. Even a piece of torn paper bag is a good place for an idea to settle. First of all, the act of writing it gives it a place in your mind, a place of respect, if not a room of its own. When you do this, you can sometimes feel the idea shaping itself, owning its value, and perhaps beginning to grow. It may be only a weed that grows, but that’s not a bad thing. It can become a beautiful, even wondrous weed, and you may be the only one that ever appreciates the true wonder of it, but because it is yours alone it will be of great value and will reward you in unexpected ways.

Tending your writing garden is not very different from tending the one you have in your backyard, or on the patio, or in a pot on a windowsill. Light and air are required, and a little water. Attention is the most important thing, because in giving an idea your attention you will discover what the idea needs to grow. Don’t let your idea intimidate you with what you consider bad behavior or your lack of gardening skill. Like some plants ideas may go through phases of droop, yellowing along their edges. That’s really okay. Even if these ideas wither and die, they will provide nourishment for those that follow, like the necessary nutrients provided to the soil by spent leaves, grass, and yes, even rotting fruit.

Respect for the incredible growing medium of your creative self is the only thing you need.
There is magic in writing an idea, sketching a plan, committing any small spark of your unique and supremely qualified mind to something you can touch, or see. The alchemy of that process often results in gold, although you may be tempted to treat it as straw. I love straw; the smell, the color, the smooth crisp feel and the sharp dry cut edges. It is entirely itself. And it can provide nourishment and comfort, even though it is in a transitory state moving its slow and steady way to dust. 006

Engage your ideas. Ask them to marry you. Give them a shiny important ring, and shower them with acceptance, give them room to grow. You will not be disappointed, I promise you.

Now Hear This

Government business in government buildings grinds slow, inching along while endless conversations and copy machines murmur and people are restless in folding chairs, on dirty seats stained with coffee or soda or maybe even body fluids. Rehearsing what you will say, not paying much attention except to track your turn, you wait. If you want to be heard, you wait.


There is a stolid, stuffy, pretense in the walls, and the floors with dusty corners and the finger-printed woodwork, trap stale, much-used air.Someone opens a pack of gum, someone uses hand cream or lipstick and for a brief moment there is a sweetness of mint, vanilla, or cherry. But only for a moment. Someone opens a restroom door and the sweetness is swallowed up by the public latrine.

The matters at hand are only of interest if you have a stake to a claim, or a defense to be made, or an ordinance you want enforced. If you need permission to break the rules, this is where you will have to wait your turn. If you want to prevent someone from breaking the rules then you must state your case, and before that, wait your turn. If you want to make a new law, change the course of history, this is where you wait. And so you wait.

Nothing runs on time. Your case was scheduled for ten a.m. and you will be lucky if it is heard before noon. You wait because you must. You wait because you believe your cause is just, your reasons sound, you want to be heard and found righteous.

And you have to breathe this air, this thin, gray, well-used air because, of course, no fresh air lives long with so many claims to be exhaled, expressed. “So much hot air!” you think as someone speaks. True, and when it is your turn, someone will think that about you or maybe even say it and for a moment there will be a white-hot spark in the thin, gray, well-used air. But it will not ignite. Not in this stolid space where hearings are held.

If you can listen well, and this is not an easy task, you will learn that very little hearing is going forward. Hearing is an organizing of other people’s words, expressions, demeanor, and hoping that all of the information they are trying to convey, or trying to hide is clear. Individual and collective sighs, grunts of frustration, thicken the air then dissipate and join the dust in the corners.

You want to buy some patience in order to endure this process, but there is no place where patience is sold, and especially not here in this government building. So you wait because you believe in your cause, in your right to be heard.

You long for an articulate speaker, there are so few! You hope, when it is your turn, you will shine for your ability to articulate. But you must sit on your folding chair, you must wait, and while you wait you can feel the shine tarnish on your speech, the words fall out of order. You hold on tighter, you reorder, you polish, you wait.

If you could tune to a different wave length in this stale, pale air, would you feel a sort of humming and kind of drum beat of the body politic? Would you recognize due process in this mundane and bureaucratic expression of democracy? Or would you only experience the frustration of waiting, your back aching and your cause almost forgotten as yet another hour ticks by, slides past, and finds you still there, still in that same worn and dirty chair?

Interesting how the air changes when you have had your turn to speak. Your breathing seems freer, and your shoulders lift a bit now that you have had your say. Even in this tired and worn-out space, you feel a kind of ceremonial blessing. Maybe from much use it feels like holy ground.

Participating in democracy, you think, is a great and sacred privilege.

Dreaming Christmas

What is your Christmas dream? Every year I start spinning holiday fantasies long before Thanksgiving. I find myself rummaging around in early Christmas memories and building a chain that links to the present.  

Choosing each thing that makes a good link is not easy. There are some that are reminders of family discord and discontent rather than the warmth and comfort expected from the season.  But those things have a place in the chain. In fact, some of those things may make the chain stronger. They remind us that we suffer from the condition we rarely appreciate — we are human. If we believe that this season marks the astonishing event of divine love made manifest in a human baby, we should remember to celebrate that about ourselves, too. This season always reminds me that every new child born into this world brings redemption. The tiny baby nestled on a wisp of straw in the cardboard manger is, to me, every baby.

The next link in the chain this year is a wooden pair of stilts my father made for me when I was ten. Already taller than any other kid in my class, my height often made me feel awkward. But when these stilts made me even taller, I felt a balance and confidence that lifted my spirit as well. I like to think that this gift from my dad was an affirmation and an encouragement. There was no “too tall!” as far as he was concerned. Those stilts said to me “Be as tall as you can! It’s good, it’s fun!”

In the 1950’s, when my mother was in a manic phase and my dad depressed (they were usually opposite sides of their respective emotional roller-coasters), dad announced that we would not spend five dollars on a tree. That was too extravagant, we could NOT afford it. My mother bought it anyway, and my dad was grumpy about it the whole season. But there it was, and there it stayed until each piece of tinsel was removed and saved for the next year. Not particularly a happy memory, but an enduring one. Another link in my chain.

The Sears Catalog played a part every year. Once my mother allowed me to purchase gifts for relatives on the east coast as long as I only spent one dollar on each. I had never met these distant relatives, but I enjoyed choosing every single present and wrapping them before they were put in the mail. I particularly remember a sewing kit tucked into a silvered walnut-shaped container–so compact, so useful, so beautiful!

“Taylor’s Ham” (what I now know to be Canadian bacon) always came in the box those relatives sent our way. Salty, tangy, so very hammy–a must have every Christmas morning still.

The first year we were married we propped up the Christmas tree in a bucket with bricks, “securing” it with rope. We had no ornaments, so we made our own. We still have a tiny beer stein made of a cork and a pipe cleaner.

Making Christmas for our children gives me several more links; the wooden wheelbarrow and wooden dollhouse handcrafted by my husband, the art easel, the “wrong” cabbage patch doll (which actually became a treasure), the nuts and candy in the stockings hung by the chimney.

The Christmas dinner cooked when my son was three months old, and my sweet grandmother’s chair was empty because she had succumbed to heart failure just a few weeks earlier, is a good link, a strong link, made up of many tears.

Our grandchildren around our tree on Christmas morning (this year will be the tenth), and all the chaos and noise three kids under the age of ten can bring, are the brightest links, the biggest and best links. That wonderful chaos and noise and glorious children circle our tree, like ribbons of light.

What adorns your tree, your life, this year? I wish for you the best and the brightest, the sweetest, the saltiest and most delicious of holidays. Let’s all celebrate the gift of our humanity, and all that means right down to each and every tear and each and every bubble of joy.