Contentment is a great feeling, unless it stifles excitement.

You can get too contented and fall into apathy or indifference. Perhaps you are there if you are no longer excited about stuff like tonight’s pork chops, next year’s vacation to the great Northwest, putting up the lights this Christmas or something along the lines of your next new friend —  or precious love.

I love getting excited! That is why I drink espresso. So does my youngest daughter. I remember how when she was little she got to clutching and chewing a giant, green dill pickle and then exclaimed with her famous, family jolly face, “I love this pickle! This is the best pickle I have every had in my whole life!”

Excitement; it’s an ignitement! Boom!

Recently I drove a 2013 Infinity G37 sports coupe — 330 hp, sharp steering, Bose sound system. It growled and yowled; I howled!

Reverse is just okay; ahead is super “Yea!”

I like being content, kicking back with what is, making friends with reality. Today I was very content with my cats. They were such a finality of furry finesse — dipped in black, doused in fluffy, immersed in sleepy, lions couchant on my lap. They make me purr.

I also like being discontent, with things that need to change. I like making plans, making changes, creating a new future, crafting something better.

Last week I bought a new but affordable espresso maker, a burr grinder and a tasty blend of locally roasted coffee. This morning, I was excited about better lattes — and not paying coffee shop prices. After drinking a double shot of Dark Horse I was even more excited. I love it when a good plan comes together — on my tongue, in my brain.

I might go to Nappa Valley this spring, tagging along after my wife, the archivist, as she goes to a work conference — my own bookish true love setting the pace for us as she so often does. I like following her around, especially to wine country.  I might buy that used but yet fun G car, I might write another blog post, I might plant some flowers in the new courtyard at the church tomorrow with my botanical friend Brenda, I might wash my black cat Megan — soon. She needs it: she wants it.

There is so much hope when we try things, when we enjoy stuff, when we just go for it.

I’m excited. I need to pick a date to take my friends to see the wild flowers in the dessert this spring. I want to take a bunch of them. I don’t think I will need any coffee to put those new countertops in the bathroom later this year. I can’t wait to go to work today. We might put the new gates in the halls this week! Where is my check book? I want to make that donation to my favorite charity — the one I work for.

I’m jived! I can’t wait to see people today!  I cannot wait to not judge the next person I see; I can hardly stand it as I anticipate telling them that they are amazing. I want to empower everyone I can!  Where is that set of drawings, who is my next best friend? What do we get to do next? Where is that dill pickle?

I can hardly wait for next and for coming and for here, and even this —  to finally jump up and down on my grave and shout to the sky, “Bring it on– smacked up and packed down and pushed all together and completely running over the top!”

I can hardly wait for eternity.

I’m excited about a life that just keeps on going, about a God who just keeps on loving, about friends who are always there and never leave.

Excitement — I don’t think you can’t overrate it.

“Yea!”

“Wahoo!”

A friend who works investigating social security fraud once said to me, “Everybody lies.” I thought, “Wow, nothing like law enforcement to craft a lovely, generous, cherry outlook.”

Of course he was right — and of course he wasn’t. Blunt, extreme generalities seldom shelter complete truths.

Not everyone cheats the government out of social security money, not everyone is fundamentally a liar, but all of us sometimes fudge the truth a bit with each other, and perhaps for good reason. We do so to be sensitive, perhaps to be successful; some at times simply to be safe.

Some one recently asked me, “How do you like it? ” It was about their hair. “Careful, careful,” my mind whispered frantically. “Your life depends on your answer.”

We prevaricate, or at least dither with the truth, to be kind, sensitive, supportive.  It works, kind of, but let’s be honest here. We do lie. All of us, and it has come to me in moments of personal clarity that perhaps the most fundamental lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

Recently I dialogued with myself about a certain kind of success. I muttered internally, “I don’t really care.” I really do. My accismus is self-protection. If you can’t get something, pretend you don’t want it. “Ah,” that’s painful.”

But there is hope, as we blunder towards Bethlehem, as we muddle toward the kind of truth that can set us free. Truth is a process — with our Caesars, with our friends and family, with ourselves.

Someone told me recently, “I trust you.” I trust this person too, and yet a deeper level of trust still needs to be and can be constructed as we get to know each other better. Trust takes time.

Consider ritual deference. It is a game we all play. Flatter publically; mistrust privately. And let’s not act uppity about this.

Who hasn’t been obsequious? Who hasn’t fawned, flattered, flirted and flummoxed the truth, to ingratiate ourselves to another person we wanted something from, even if it was something good, perhaps simply mutual respect.

It isn’t all bad. Recently someone asked me if I liked a purchase they made. “It’s great,”  I said. “Nice. Good job.” In a way I covered my opinion, but I did so because I wanted them to have the say, make the choice, enjoy their selection. It didn’t matter what I really thought. What I was saying was that I supported their right to make this decision independent of me.

The dispensing of truth is a lot about discernment, roles, dosage, timing —  even love.

I love you so I will tell you the truth. I love you, so I will be very careful with what and when and how I speak to you.

Deeds of gallantry were accomplished in an “age of lace, logic, blood and bigotry;” thus Tyler Whittle gets at the English contribution to botany in the 17th Century in his delightful tale of botanist-explorers, Plant Hunters.

While botanist Young John was working on his catalogue as the King’s Garderner, Charles the First was losing his head outside the garden wall.

So knowledge may be filched from a season of chaos, and beauty from violence.

We see this in the arts. Frida Kahlo began painting after she was severely injured in a bus accident. Van Gogh painted “Starry Night,” lonely and crazed. And there is Jacques-Louis David painting through the French Revolution.

People do stuff — gorgeous, gentle, life-giving stuff — even during times of chaos and pain. They garden, paint, write, sing, hum, invent, cook and give care during difficulty, sickness and war.

Within the vagaries of difficulty lie the armamentarium of aesthetics. Pain paints, and it plants a garden too.

Because of this, we should never wait to start finding and making new things. Procrastination — waiting to begin beautiful things until life is post-trauma or post-messy — it’s a fool’s business. Life is never post-messy.

Wisdom will futz through the mud to find a Fragaria muricata, the lovely Plymouth strawberry plant English botanist Old John found in a rubbish dump.

Deeds of gallantry in times of difficulty — these are at the core of every laborious science, craft and art.

All of us creatures get worked up, exercised, frustrated — with life, with each other, with reality, with ourselves. Often it is because we have made a mistake, or others have, or we all think we have.

It’s not that much fun.

Take my cat Megan. She had a cat box faux pas last night. Her business went beyond the box. Afterwards she seemed to be a bit embarrassed. When I approached her, she took off running, then she came back to the problem, agitated. In the next few moments she seemed to be having a bit of an anxiety attack. She has lots of of past issues, needs psychotherapy, maybe not,  perhaps medication, I don’t know. I can identify. We mostly employ gentleness.

We cleaned up the problem, then I took her upstairs to the bathroom. It’s her safe place. She loves the upstairs bathroom. When she was a kitten, this is where we took her to recover after we found her sick and abandoned.

Last night, once in the  bathroom, I talked softly to her, as I always do.  She needed a bath, so I gave her a washing, some shampoo, some warm water, a bit of toe scrubbing. During the rinsing, for a moment or so, I think she thought I was going to drowned her. I didn’t.

She survived for the toweling, which went better than the washing, but then this is not a cat who hates a bath. She rather loves it, applied gently. She is familiar with bathing. — she often has a bath — and she especially enjoys getting dried. She purrs, she wheezes, she rolls over on her back. Afterward she struts the house, quite proud of her new look and feel.

Meagan likes the upstairs bathroom experience so much that sometimes when I even walk by the bathroom, she runs in hoping it is time to get washed, or a least brushed. Hydrotherapy —  for her it kind of substitutes nicely for psychotherapy. Me too.

Cats are kind of simple — like all of us.

What helps them, what helps us, when we have a problem, when we are traumatized, when we get anxious is rather basic.

What helps is the absence of judgment, the foregoing of shame and the abandonment of harshness. What helps is someone else’s care, a safe place, warmth, a loving voice, a happy solution,  a soft towel, a pat or two — these gentle things help.

What is the way back from trauma?

It’s is nicely accomplished, somehow, by getting back to what is gentle.

We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are not better than us, to accept you as our king and soverign lord, provided you observe all our liberites and laws — but if not, not.”

This was the oath of allegiance sworn by Catalans and Aragonese to the Spanish monarch in Madrid in the 15th Century.

I love it!

It’s in-your-face; it’s respectful.

It’s got commitment in it; it’s got a brash sense of liberty hanging around it; it has boundaries.

This oath respects that we take on different roles, but that those roles don’t make anyone better than any one else. That’s right.

Mutual respect, mutual value and mutual good are at the core of all good relationships. For love to exist, both sides must honor and value the other.

This fits us; it squares with democracy; it squares with our modern marriages; it squares up nicely with modern society.

Men and women must equally honor each other. Races must value other races. Rich and poor — mutual respect. Parents should respect their children, the children respect the parents.

Differing faiths are fine to differ, but they must not hate and attack each other. Political parties exist to put forward contrasting opinions, but hate, disrespect and personal attacks will ruin both. Having differing ideas doesn’t necessarily  make either side evil, it just makes them different.

The best relating is a confident, everything-on-the-table negotiation. It is dialogue, with respectful boundaries — well put.

If yes, yes; if not, not.

We make a pact to honor.

Let’s not let it get to not.

“Renoir is perhaps the only great painter who never painted a sad picture.”

                                                                                                        Octave MirbeauI

I love painting.

I don’t love painting the bathroom or the kitchen, but I love painting,  as in the stuff hanging in the Musée d’Orsay, the National Gallery, the Vatican — like that.

When I travel, I go to museums. When I read, I sometimes choose  the biographies of great artists or I select art histories.

Lately, I’ve noticed that the sadness and the mental angst in some of the great artists stands out, and yet not with all of them — not with Renoir.

I love Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

For me, art and happiness, art and family, art and community, art and the good life merge in Renoir. This is personal. It’s been an epiphany for me. When I have encountered Renoir, at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, at the National Gallery in London, at home through Francesca Castellani’s Renoir: His Life and Works, I have found myself quite wonderfully smitten with his work.

In Renoir there is no dark societal evil such as we find in Pieter Bruegel. There are no horrible family feuds lurking, as with Vincent Van Gogh. There is no drunken self-destruction as in Jackson Pollock. Pillaging, evil, raging, darkness, addiction, mental illness – we don’t find this in Renoir. What a relief!

Sane life; sane art.

Renior at home, with his wife Aline, in the fields, with his children, with his friends, his community, nature all around — this inspired his art.

It isn’t that life was perfect for the Renoirs: There were Renoir’s early rejections by the Salon juries, there was Aline’s suffering with diabetes, there was the progressive deformity of Renoir’s hands from arthritis. This severely limited his mobility during the last twenty years of his life.

But despite these hardships, life was good for him, Renoir kept painting, and he reveled in the good he saw around him.

Renoir made the everyday gorgeous — a skiff, flowers, a child dancer, girls at the piano, a woman bathing, a couple dancing, a boating party.

He was gentle with reality, painting it softly, graciously. When we take in his oeuvre, we are invited into his comprehensive tactility, delicacy, intimacy, his charming domesticity — all in sumptuous living color.

This is helpful to me and to all of us who aspire to write, to develop craft, to do music, to paint, to do art. We can be artistic, and mentally sound. It’s a revelation. We can be highly creative — and also stable.

We can love, and craft art out of love, and give the world something needed when it is a bit crazy as it is always want to be. We can show life off in all its gorgeous sanity.

Renoir did. Velvety bodies, pearly flesh, flushed cheeks, dark eyes, soft hair — Renoir loved us.

And for this and all the good he enjoyed — I love him back.

“I consider that the only thing to be really regretted in our last two years operations is the absence of jollity.”

Calvert Vaux

I’m reading the biography of Frederick Law Olmstead, 1822-1903, a fascinating American landscape architect who played a major role in designing Central Park in New York as well as many other public outdoor spaces.

Olmstead got around,  organized a lot of different things — for instance he oversaw a sanitation effort for the Union in the Civil War — worked hard, exercised some creativity, made a name for himself. He even ran a gold mine in California for a bit.

Olmstead’s colleague, Calvert Vaux, however did note while working with him on Central Park one of Olmstead’s serious shortcomings  — it was “the absence of jollity.”

Wow, poor Olmstead. No jollity! That’s a serious problem. It’s like no  money, no food, no vacation. It’s drudgery, sludgery, skulduggery.

Jollity — you’ve got to keep a good supply of that on hand. So you succeed. So you make some money. So you are taken quite seriously. If your are still unhappy, sour, dour, cold with others — then what is the good of that?

Good includes good humor; it is rooted in joy.

What is the secret to a good marriage?

Keep em laughing.

What is the secret to a good partnership?

Mocking problems, hooting over what you have to deal with  —  including the ridiculosity of everyone but you.

The secret to good parenting? It’s verbal acrobatics, a joke here and a gentle tease there. It’s running in the house, dancing in the kitchen, tickling on the living room floor, giggling during family games, it’s funny words and sounds, floating to the ceiling, falling on the floor — snorting.

And what is the secret to a healthy, medicinal spirituality? The Bible says it’s a merry heart.

What to do?

Flee the absence of jollity. Don’t do an Olmstead.

Laugh more, work less, niffle-naffle some. Love more, snicker more, tickle more, chortle more — hee–haw and guffaw.

How? How do you get started?

You could begin by considering how completely and seriously ridiculous you are!

I love old ladies.

Take my friend Claudene for instance. She recently had another hip sergery.  Not a whimper or a whine — just surgery and then nothing but tough.

I asked her, “Why don’t you whine?”

“Wouldn’t do any good,” she replies.

There you go.

She recovered so fast after her surgery that I didn’t get out to see her at the hospital like I did for her first hip surgery. She didn’t have a word of complaint or criticism about that.  I like old people who are easy on you, who have learned to keep their mouths shut a lot.

Take my friend Louise.

She had a stroke awhile back. Tough go of it. She couldn’t talk for some time after the stroke which must have been hard for her because she is world class talker.  She is a super talker — funny, dry, wry and fly.

Indeed, Louise is one of the smartest, coolest conversationalists  I know —  liberal, fiesty, free of spirit, spunky even sassy. I like those kind of women; they keep it  real, and fun.

Louise doesn’t spar like she used to, but that twinkle is still in her eyes and I know those flip comments are still running through her head.

Of course not all old ladies are like these two; there are some cranky, negative, narrow-mined octogenarians.

But the ones I know are mostly calm — they don’t carry weapons — and they seem to be at peace with themselves and others.

What is it? What is the good the years can do to us?

I think it is this: we are better when we are old enough that we have nothing much left to prove — but we still wear a little lipstick. I think we are better when  we don’t care so much what others think — except when we watch the news at night and humph a little.  I believe we are better when we have seen and done pretty much everything — short of stuff that would have put us in prison — and when we know we didn’t do anthing perfectly and so we don’t expect anyone else to either.

What I like is the well-seasoned wisdom that isn’t interested in telling other people what to do but more into just enjoying people as they are.

Some of the old ladies I know, Claudene and Louise are among them, meet together for Bible study and fun. They talk, and they learn, and they take care of each other a bit, and laugh a lot. They are led by one of my very gracious friends, Glee, a real lover of people, another one who knows how to  speak only positive things, a wise woman among wise women.

I don’t know a more fun bunch of people than this group.

Well-seasoned ladies, who have been through it, who don’t whine much, who have outlived their more fragile men —  well most of them — and who know how to shut up a lot and how to talk a lot and how to eat heartily — and stay off a bathroom scale mostly — and  poke fun a lot with out being critical or mean — I love them!

 

I love you.

Will you accept that, no ducking, no side stepping, no avoidance, no over thinking it, no cynicism —  and love me back?

You are one of my readers; this gives us a connection.

It’s not perfect, adequate, even exemplary, but it’s something, and it’s good.

The other day I hugged a friend, warmly, a little longer than usual. I said, “I love you.” I meant it. It was simple but good.  I greeted another with enthusiasm and asked him to go to coffee to discuss a book we have both read. Another sweet one I complimented and told this, “You are  precious cargo, of inestimable value.” That was my daughter.

What the heck? It is good, to warm up the planet, in healthy ways,  by offering endearments, loving family and friends, expressing our affection simply.

This is the thing — and we all have such a hard time of it — crossing over to each other, being warm, personable, gracious, expressing love, just saying it.

A friend called me today from the East Coast. He is a tough guy, military, big — but funny, and easy to relate to.  In an asside he said he thought there were piece of me all over the world, the people I have previously connected with.

Interesting. When he hung up he said, “I love you.”

I thought about it —  in Japan, South Africa, Nicargaua, England, Brazil, Maine, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, California — there are people who I have interacted with, with warmth, even if only briefly and so they are a small part of me, and me of them.

I wish there were more. I wish we all were open to more friends, more warmth, more connection, more talk, more love.

Hear is the deal: I need love, I want love, I crave love — we all do. And yet we all — including myself — suffer from some forms of isolationism, some vaious and sundry fears of each other, some relational cynicisms, some intrinsic shynesses and thus some cautiousness, some coldness, and therefore some lonliness.

What to do?

Love more. Simply choose to love more.

We can do this. We can reach out to each other. We can even get over our tendency to withdraw, to be cool, to be cold, in part, by making brave choices to love more people openly, freely, warmly,  affectionately.

While some old lovers cannot be regained, we can always seek out and find new friends — precious ones waiting in the wings — and we can tell them if we will, “I love you.”

This will warm up the place.

 

I love planned spaces — rooms, gardens, arches, windows, wood floors, trellises, pavers, ceilings, all forms of sheltered light.

But developed spaces cost money, to create, to beautify, to maintain, to reimagine. That being reality, one must be sure to have a stash of cash when buying land, houses and investment properties or when taking charge of a business or a nonprofit.

Is it worth it — the stuggle to scratch from the dirt some small portion of civilized domesticity?  It’s worth it. Beautiful things happen in safe, beautiful and functional spaces. Space creates opportunity. Design creates possibility. The vertical-horizontal construct, with people inside, this is the good future.

Last week at the church I am tasked to reimagine, the HVAC system died. Warm and cool — gone. Gas furnaces, condensers, compressors,  coils, supply lines — done. So, I got a bid, then three more, to replace the units. I found out that HVAC systems for large buidings are expensive.

A day after I received the first bid  for a new HVAC system, a church member told me he wanted to give a large finanical gift to the church. The next day another member said that some money she had decided to give earlier in the year was now available and she too would be depositing a large check with us. Neither one knew of the costs the church was facing. They just knew they wanted to give large gifts. The total of the two gifts exceeded the bid for the new heating and air conditioning system.

Go figure.

Each one of us have a read on life, a take on reality, and we may draw different conclusions from the same evidence.

For me, I’ll make the following observations out of this experience.

Beautiful spaces are worth investing in.

Anxiety over resources may be short-lived.

Reality sometimes contains beautiful surprises.

People — they can be very generous.

And finally, God — I believe that God is very good.