A Frayed Knot: Picking Our Way Through The Need

So this piece of string walks into a bar. (Stop me if you’ve heard this.) Bartender growls, “Hey, you. We don’t serve your kind in here. Beat it.” Hurt and angry, the string heads home to her apartment. There she ties herself into complicated loops, and frizzes her ends till she’s nearly unrecognizable. Then she goes back into the bar and orders a beer.

“Hmmm,” says the bartender suspiciously. “Aren’t you that same piece of string I just threw outa here?”

“Oh, no,” the string says innocently, “I’m a frayed knot.”

Ba-dum-bum.

Not the best bar joke ever…but close!

This joke popped into my head recently after reading these lines from Kim Stafford’s book of post-election poems, The Flavor of Unity,

“By writing, thinking, and talking, clarify your vocation, so you can enter the fray without being frayed.”

Copyright 2017 Kim Stafford. Thanks, Kim!

During the Civil Rights Movement, and more recent movements who use nonviolent resistance, participants had to learn to conquer their fear–of prison, of violence, even of death. The most famous freedom song, We Shall Overcome, contains the lyric, “We are not afraid.” Not being currently on the front lines of any struggle, but instead struggling to choose among the many, many causes calling for support since Trump’s inauguration, being AFRAID is not my issue–but being FRAYED? Yes. ‘Fraid so.

My email box and Facebook feed fills daily with calls to contact my congressional reps about the environment, or health care, or immigration, or…you know. If you’re an American, you’re probably getting the same emails. Sign this. Send money to that. Attend this meeting. Join that march. There is too much need out there to do it all.

Which is why I’m very much looking forward to the online course I’ve signed up for with Quaker writer and teacher Eileen Flanagan, entitled, “We Were Made For This Moment.” The intro to her course reads, 

In this time of tumult, fear, and hatred, the world needs the gifts that you were born to share. You may not be sure where to use them. You may not know how to use them to greatest effect, or even if you can make a difference at all, but you know you need to do something to work for a more just and loving world. You are not alone! The purpose of this online course is to help you to meet this moment.

Finding one’s purpose, to me, means finding my path. This means, of course, choosing some paths NOT to take. It’s never easy; we all want to contribute, be supportive, “be there” for each other, or vulnerable people, or the planet. But when we try to be everywhere, we fray…and–mixed metaphor alert–we burn out.

I want to walk a path and stick to it. I look forward to some guided discernment. I also look forward to hearing how you might have dealt with this same issue. How do you keep yourself in the fray without fraying?

 

 

Road Trip VI, Final Installment: One Day None Of This Will Be Yours

This will be the final post of Road Trip VI; after this, Wing’s World stops being a travel blog and morphs back into its un-pigeon-holeable self. Unlike past years, when I’d now be accompanying The Mate on the drive back across country, vowing never again to eat that much fried chicken and BBQ (until next year), I am actually home already, courtesy of Delta Airlines. Red Rover and The Mate are still faithfully road-tripping back to me, but my bakery is opening early this year under new management, and I opted to fly home early.

But I’m still gone to Carolina in my mind. Because the weather was so sweetly springy last week (for once), I spent a lot of time wandering around the grubby little farm I grew up on. In between cuddling Stevie, the World’s Cutest Donkey, I took some time to meditate on this fact: my family’s farm is slipping away…but not the way you might think. 

Even cuter in real life!

Even cuter in real life!

My parents jump-started Carolina Friends School by donating land. That’s why I grew up next to CFS, and why I refer to it as “My Sister the School.” And since my real sisters and I have moved away and feel no desire to return to the South, our parents have decided that CFS will inherit all the rest–the pastures, the barn, the garden, the pond, and the house I grew up in. And, being wise people, they have already begun the bequest.

Tierreich Pond: Now With Extra Turtles!

Tierreich Pond: Now With Extra Turtles!

Slowly but surely, my sister the school is taking over the farm. Where dense piney woods once separated the pastures from the school buildings on the other side of the creek, now the construction of new athletic fields and a road to a future performing arts building have left only a handful of trees to delineate the old from the new.

Follow the red clay road!

Follow the red clay road!

It’s changed my whole mental geography. There’s no longer a “here” and a “there.” Now it’s “old” and “new,” but new gets newer every year I visit. My little sister is moving in.

I hear the horses are learning to appreciate baseball.

I hear the horses are learning to appreciate baseball.

Don’t get me wrong–I think this is great. It’s just weird. I know I’m lucky to have hung onto my childhood geography for over five decades. So few people get to do that! And now, I’m even luckier: rather than watch the Old Home Place fall into disrepair, I get to see it transformed, into classrooms or Quaker conference facilities, or whatever the CFS Board decides.

Dormitory? Hmm...

Dormitory? Hmm…

Come to think of it, those new roads are a good idea. Future Quaker educators might have a little trouble with my parents’ driveway.

My folks insist this is safe to drive across. Hey, it's only a 20-foot drop on the other side!

My folks insist this is safe to drive across. Hey, it’s only a 20-foot drop on the other side!

So rather than singing “What Have They Done To the Old Home Place”, I’m looking forward to next year’s visit. Hey there, lil’ sis–my, how you’ve grown!

 

My Sister the School

This week I’m back in my home state of North Carolina to celebrate something special: the 50th anniversary of my alma mater, Carolina Friends School. But I’ve been telling people it’s a family reunion, and that is not a contradiction.

North Carolina in the early 1960s was as segregated as the rest of the South. When my parents moved here from Caand started a family, they could not stomach sending their kids to all-white schools. Along with a handful of other Quakers from the Durham and Chapel Hill Meetings, they decided to start their own Friends school–Friends being the name Quakers call themselves.

CFS's beginnings. (All photos courtesy Carolina Friends School)

CFS’s beginnings. (All photos courtesy Carolina Friends School)

After a year or so of helping to run a pre-K at the Durham Meeting House, my folks donated the land across from our pond for an independent campus. So CFS was born, amidst pines and beeches and poison ivy, with a creek running through her.

Lower School students doing some creek work.

Lower School students doing some creek work.

I’m the youngest of three girls, but I consider CFS to be my younger sister. She’s the only one I got to watch grow up behind me, from Lower School (a traditional-looking red brick building) to Middle School (classic 1970s open-classroom structure) then to Upper (imagine a cozy ski lodge with science labs).

On rainy days, we used to play "seat soccer" in this big room, before there was a covered sports facility.

On rainy days, we used to play “seat soccer” in this big room, before there was a covered sports facility.

Today CFS comprises three Early Schools–the original one in Durham, one in Chapel Hill, one on the main campus–plus Lower, Middle, Upper, and an array of sports fields so extensive I’m still adjusting to them. My, how she’s grown.

Upper School students removing Ivy from a tree at Duke Gardens

Upper School students removing Ivy from a tree at Duke Gardens

But at 50, CFS is exactly the same bright-spirited child she was back in 1965. She’s still focused on community, on service learning, on justice, on creativity, on a harmonious relationship with the land. Academics are perhaps more pronounced now than they were back in the hang-loose 1970s when I graduated, but hey–I got into Harvard, OK? So even then they were no slouch. But no one will ever mistake my sis for a prep school, is what I’m saying.

Upper School students marching with the NAACP to protest NC's restrictive new voting rights legislation

Upper School students marching with the NAACP to protest NC’s restrictive new voting rights legislation

Upper School Students For A Working Democracy presenting to the Friends General Council on Legislation in DC

Upper School Students For A Working Democracy presenting to the Friends General Council on Legislation in DC

Since my older sisters and I do not intend to return to NC, my parents (still quite vibrant, thanks) have willed their farm to our sister the school when they pass on. So who knows? Someday this scruffy farmhouse I grew up in might be classrooms, or even housing for retired faculty. Or a day care. Or an even bigger school farm, helping to feed the surrounding community as well as itself. I love imagining the possibilities. And I know that, however much she grows, my lil’ sis will always welcome me home again.

What you see? Pretty much what you get. She's not flashy.

What you see? Pretty much what you get. She’s not flashy.

Happy Birthday, Carolina Friends School. I’m so proud of you.

Early School teachers and students starting their day in Quaker silence.

Early School teachers and students starting their day in Quaker silence.

If you’re interested, I hope you will click on the link to learn more about CFS. If you’d like to hear more about Quakerism and Quaker education in general, please click here to visit Iris Graville’s excellent blog on those topics.

Yep--that's my sis.

Yep–that’s my sis.

There Is an “I” in “Community,” But It’s a Small One

Humbling experiences aren’t always fun. Or tasty. The other day, I had one that was both. I got together with a bunch of people to press apples into cider.

(all photos courtesy Gene Helfman)

(all photos courtesy Gene Helfman)

It started out totally fun, as I’d expected. A huge pile of boxed and bagged apples of all colors and sizes awaited us on the sunny grass. We set up a rough assembly line along two picnic tables: wash, bleach, rinse, cut. Ferry bowls of cut fruit to the pressers; ferry bowls of bruised bits to the compost. Chat, munch, switch roles. Joke, chat, munch. Ah, work parties! On a sunny day in October! What could feel more comfortable, neighborly, plain old right?

! DSC_7127

Except that it was taking FOREVER. At one point somebody glanced up and noticed that the giant apple-box pile did not seem to have shrunk at all. Then I made the mistake of asking what time it was. I had budgeted two hours in my busy day for this communal activity. We had been there for an hour and a half, and we were maybe a quarter done.

Uh-oh.I could feel those comfy communal feelings begin to evaporate. Cue pun about “pressing issues”…

I have SO MUCH to do. Gotta finish my Book Two proofs to get them to my book designer in time to upload the fixes and still be able to have Headwinds ready at its launch party. Gotta paint the signs and put up posters for the Gretchen Wing & Friends concert next week. Augh, my concert!!! Gotta practice that run in the third song which keeps tripping me up, and that horrible C-B-flat-G progression I haven’t nailed yet. And I’m having friends over for dinner and I promised them pie. And, oh shoot, when’s the last time I vacuumed?

Did I mention that the group doing the cider-pressing was the Quaker Meeting I attend?Can there be a more communal, thoughtful, self-less group than a bunch of Quakers? Anyone else feeling the irony here?

DSC_7146

Of course I couldn’t leave. That would just have increased the workload for everyone else. No one else was leaving early. Probably no one else was even thinking of leaving early. And plenty of them had more pressing job or family concerns than I did.

Apparently publishing a book and performing in a concert–especially within the same week–can make you kinda self-centered. Especially if you tend that way already.

So I stayed. We rinsed and chopped and chatted and munched. We laughed a lot. Finally, we stopped…not because we ran out of apples. We simply ran out of containers.

! DSC_7134

I biked home, two hours later than I had expected to, with two gallons of cider, and another gallon of perspective. Did not get my proofs fixed until the next day. Did not practice. Still have to paint those signs. Haven’t touched that vacuum. But yeah…that pie was delicious. And the cider–even more so.

Does this sound at all familiar to anyone? Do you ever struggle to let communal work find its place amid your personal “stuff,” or do you have the opposite problem? Any tips for finding that balance?

 

Shutting Up Now: How Long Can You Be Quiet?

When’s the last time you spent a quiet day?

I don’t mean a day of rest, drinking coffee and reading in your favorite armchair. I mean a day of NOT SPEAKING.

I know, right? Here’s an embarrassing truth about me: even when I’m alone, I talk. Aloud. A lot. I’d like to pretend I’m holding a conversation with my dog, but…my dog is not present when I ride my bike or go on a long drive. And I’m still yakking producing fascinating monologues.

So it was both a relief and a challenge to attend, this past weekend, the silent retreat held by my Quaker Meeting. It wasn’t even an entire DAY–just 6 1/2 hours of silence, the last hour of which was allowed to be punctuated by people who wished to share the insights that the previous 5 1/2 hours had delivered.

 

(Courtesy Matisse)

(Courtesy Matisse)

I spent my time alternately walking out to the rocky nature preserve near the retreat house, staring out the window, sitting on a giant lichen-covered rock, and writing, writing, writing in my journal.

Oh, and eating. Quakers are master potluckers.  But even lunch was silent, broken only by the occasional crunch of chips.

To say the day was refreshing would be a massive understatement. It was an ENORMOUS gift (as I know, in my old teaching life, I would never have used up an entire weekend day for something like that, much as I needed to). It was weird–especially walking while keeping all my “air-journaling” conversations inside my head for once. It was wonderfully social, all communication held to smiles and nods.

And it was too short. At the end of the 6 1/2 hours, I didn’t feel the need to break the silence. I almost wished we could have finished up, including all the dish-washing and vacuuming and figuring out whose coats were whose, in quiet communication, like the rest of the day.

I’m Word Woman, OK? So for me to wish to step away from words for so long…well, that tells you something.

So I’ll come back to my first question: when’s the last time you were quiet for a long period of time? What does silence do for you? Especially those of you with children still in the house, do you have a way to find any silence in your day? What do you do with it? We’d love to hear.