Saturday, February 20, 2010

Working out the kinks, continued . . . .

It’s been a tough few days working the kinks out of the new iMac I bought at the Apple store during halftime of the Superbowl.

I think I’ve spent five hours with Apple tech support. I’ve come to know James and Doug, Burt and Bev. I have their numbers, they have mine. We are on a first name basis. We were from the start.

But after we clear up one problem, another crops up. I have five "case" numbers in Apple tech support's memory bank.

Right now, for the first time in my computer literacy, I’m writing on Apple’s very own “Pages” word processing program. I had been using my old 2004 Microsoft Office's Word, which I put through various upgrades after I got the new iMac.

It was still doing strange six-year-old things.

For instance, the Constant Contact program I use to put out my newsletter was was not formatting. It refused to cooperate with a 2010 computer trying to get by on a 2004 brain.

If I wanted to bump up a front size on CC's editing palette, nothing happened. Bold-face? No way. Ital? You must be kidding.

The Apple folks, who never kept me on hold — not once — and who spoke in good old Midwestern English, finally suggested I call Microsoft support.

I was put on hold with a message machine that repeated every 20 seconds (I am not exaggerating) that they were experiencing heavy call volumes and they thanked me for my patience — endlessly.

After ten minutes of this mantra, my appreciated patience ran out and I hung up.

I concluded that my upgraded 2004 version of Microsoft Word was the problem. I called the Apple store and they suggested that I try “Pages,” which is part of the Apple iWorks suite of applications.

I read several Microsoft Office versus iWorks entries on line. The reviewers seemed to give Office the edge but I kept thinking of James and Doug and Burt and Bev, and comparing them to Microsoft's “We are experiencing a heavy volume of etc.”

I bought iWorks, which cost about one-third what Office for Mac does.

So I'm writing these words with “Pages.”

We’ll see what happens when I go to post this ditty on Blogger. Will I still get the coding at the top of the post when I paste this? Will the metatags show up when I hit the “Publish Post” button.

Wish me well.

When this finally appears, I’ll let you know whether I made the right choice for decidedly the wrong reason.

I'm now in the Blogger program and there was no coding to delete at the top. A good sign. Here goes with the "Publish Post" button . . . .

Bingo. No metatags.

Thanks James and Doug and Burt and Bev. And Steve, as in Jobs.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Opening between Thoughts

In the silence of our Quaker meetings, I’ve long sought to find a way to turn off my open spigot of thoughts and concerns.

I’m happy to report that, at last, I’ve found it.

Now I have to figure out a way to keep it from putting me to sleep.

Let me explain.

Recently a group of us gathered and shared how we went about “centering” or settling into the silence of our traditional Quaker worship. How we each turn off that spigot of thoughts. We shared a remarkable, if predictable, variety of methods. Focusing on breathing was popular. Some said mantras. One said she tried to connect with those in need and to “hold them in the Light.”

I offered a method I recently picked up from reading Eckhardt Tolle. What I said must have been new to the much of the group as several actually wrote notes on my brief description.

To call it a method makes it seem complex. The practice is quite simple. As simple, Tolle points out, as a cat’s riveting its attention on a mouse hole.

All you have to do is — contemplate your next thought, but never think it.

That’s it.

What has happened to me is that I fall into the deep void between thoughts.

I find myself suddenly cast into utter nothingness.

Now I’m trying to get used to it, to settle in.

I’m new to this. I’ve even thought that I should beware what I wished for. This nothingness is alien territory.

And yet, the first time I found the space between my thoughts I was hardly frightened. I fell asleep. Which, come to think of it, makes sense. Where else are we when we sleep than beyond our thoughts?

But sleeping is not exactly what I had in mind when I undertook Tolle’s exercise. That cat, despite sleeping most of the day, is far from asleep as he gazes at the mouse hole in anticipation of “his next thought.”

So where do I go in my newly discovered “nothing” space between thoughts? Perhaps I should employ the techniques the others cited. Breathe. Or learn from the cats — I have one, after all. Be alert to every sound, every movement.

Be alert to the moment, Tolle would say. Be present.

Get into the animalistic part of existence, but in a good way. Make this opening the gateway to spirituality, not human spirituality, but the over-arching spirituality of all. Of one.

I have no way of knowing where this will lead. I do know that it is important not to think about it.

My silent Quakerly leading tells me to be one with it.

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Monday, February 15, 2010


Today’s trenchant question asks whether words interfere with our understanding of where we are — with our sense of place?

The query is prompted by the group-guided course I’m taking through the Northwest Earth Institute. Its title, appropriately enough, is “A Sense of Place.” The eight-session course with its carefully selected readings invites us, its ten enrollees, to become intimate with where we live.

A recent required reading urged us to stay put. To resist the restlessness that afflicts so many Americans.

Another assigned article called on us to recognize, explore and celebrate our bioregion, a place that defies and transcends political boundaries.

The course also asks us to consider the slippery concept of ownership of place. Do we own the land? As we know, Native Americans found the whole idea alien, literally beyond comprehension. The European settlers and their ancestors have based much of the economy, and many of our burdens, on private ownership of land. The notion defines our values, our legal system and our lives.

Native peoples would no doubt be amused that much of our “ownership” is now “underwater,” submerged in debt accumulated in a frenzy of consumption and greed.

I’ve concluded that so much of what determines our conception, and misconception, of where we live has to do with names. “Where are you from?” I’m asked in my travels. “Portland, Oregon,” I say without giving my answer much thought.

Do I know what I’m saying? Have I been honest? Or is this simply a cursory, but readily understandable shorthand for a foreigner?

My answer conjures up in the listener some media image of Portland. Bikes, coffee, bridges, rain, perhaps the iconic profile of Mount Hood on a clear day.

And what does my answer mean to me? Portland is a proper noun with a multitude of associations. I can’t begin to put into words all the things Portland means. Nor can my fellow Portlanders.

Limited by words and labels, is it possible to express our sense of place? The spirit of cedar and fir, of bird, beaver and coyote; the distant laughter of children; the pulse of days and seasons; the power that pushes daffodils through the soil at this time of year.

We are part of it all, but when we put names on the pieces, as I have just done, they become “other.” Naming is distancing, whether we like it or not.

If someone elsewhere in Portland asks me where I live, I say “Hillsdale,” which is my neighborhood. We Portlanders identify our places by named neighborhoods. If I told a German or a Kenyan I lived in Hillsdale, I’d rightly get the answer, “Where’s that?”

Where indeed? It is beyond words.

Swiss dairy families inhabited these hills and dales a century ago. They called it “Hillsdale” too, but it had no set boundaries. Nor did it have commuters, parking lots and Starbucks. It was both the same and a very different place in time.

Imagine one of those farm families returning to Hillsdale today. Where cows grazed, soccer teams dribble on Astroturf; where a machine shop stood there is now a Papa John’s fast-food pizzeria. The pig farms in the gully have been filled in and replaced by a four-lane highway and multi-unit apartments; The muddy tracks are paved. The pace of life has quickened. And where wood lots were there are now ranks of ranch houses built in the post-World War II boom years. The site of a windmill now is home to the Hillsdale county library.

What would our time-traveling family’s sense of this place, “their place,” be after witnessing what has happened?

What if we could be taken on a similar time journey to this place one hundred years hence? What would we find in 2110? And to what extent would we bear responsibility for it — for better or worse?

Perhaps the destiny of this place will be determined by events far, far away. By federal government fiat, by a terrorist’s bomb, by rapacious, polluting corporate interests. If we think our neighborhood is our place, we would do well to think again. We live in a much larger place, even as we inhabit this little one.

A memoir written by Margaret Graf, who lived here in Hillsdale 100 years ago, describes the red-tinged dusk of a sultry summer’s day. The hills then were a patchwork of dairies that served the little city at the bottom of the Tuality hills. Portland was a cluster of civilization hugging the Willamette River. And Hillsdale was country. The road connecting city and farmland was a washboard of dirt and rock and logs.

The days on the dairy began early and lasted deep into the afternoon and evening. But at dusk, Margaret wrote, a sound defined the place for her. It was a man-made sound but it carried no explicit meaning as it echoed across the hills and dales. It did not consist of words. It was the primordial sound a beast might make in celebration of life and place.

The sound she heard from the dairies was yodeling.

Half in jest, I suggested to my classmates that we might consider yodeling again in Hillsdale. Yodeling would take us beyond our word-defined world and into the spirit and joy of being here.

Hearing us warble and ululate in the dimming hours of the day, our time-traveling farm family would recognize instantly that all had not been lost.

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