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Who Steers This Ship?

Navigating Your Life Ship

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A Messenger Hijacked by the writing gods

Personal Essay

Renewed My Creative Mojo

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

When I first started writing on Medium, I knew that it would be a big commitment for me. I was working and taking care of my family, and that didn’t leave much time for pursuing my writing.

Like most writers, the passion was there. I mean, Writing was my Salvation. My bladed weapon of Sanity in an otherwise, deranged, schizophrenic world.

Then, the pandemic lockdown happened. Lost in isolation, I turned once again to my neglected lover, Writing, and asked for gentle, eternal mercy.
Would he take me back into his arms, at my loneliest hour? Would she feed my soul, as I lay barren, watching Oedipal episodes of Tiger King?

Medium became my rock. Surrounded by waterfalls and natural springs, to drink and be inspired. It became a place to welcome my stories. It felt… well, very good.

I was happy to be near a community of Writers, of Creatives. Hey, it’s my thing, it’s how I’m wired.

Then, in time, actually a few months, I was suffering from a form of PTSD. We had gone through the worst part of the pandemic, with many casualties and the curve was indeed being flattened, day by day. But the virus had affected some co-workers and family members and I was also suffering from Covid-Fatigue.

I turned once again to Writing and there was something about clicking the Publish button that released the same hormone or neurotransmitter I feel at the slot machines at the Casino. Then, to see the published story on their page and to get highlights and reads, along with claps and comments brought me a level of exhilaration combined with serenity that I usually associate with a serotonin or oxytocin high.

I was able to mask feelings of depression from my mind. I just wanted my soul to soar.

Honestly, I haven’t been good at looking at my stats. My brain doesn’t compute that stuff well. And what I don’t understand, I feel does not bring me joy. I was too busy, anyway, editing and writing the next poem or essay. Funny, how poems come easier to me than essays. Even I, find that strange.

But, on Medium Writing, that makes me a Unicorn. Almost everyone is fluent in their stats, views, all that information. And some of them were expressing their frustrations and disappointments with meager earnings, sparsity of curations and significant delays in publishing response.

They were wondering if all this was bringing them into a dejected state of being. If it was time to take a break and recharge. I admit it, I was confused. Some of these writers were creative talents that I look up to. It was not a good day. I was starting to wonder, Is everything meaningless? And joyless? I went to bed, feeling depressed.

I woke up with malaise.

I decided to check a specific Pub page, Illumination, to see if they had printed a story I had submitted. I could have just checked my notifications first, but I didn’t. There it appeared on the story grid.

Then, I followed my normal routine: I always try to read at least five to ten stories from the day’s lineup. That’s when I came upon a piece that renewed my feelings about the Writing and publishing process. It was a delicious breakfast bite. It was just what I needed at that moment. Some joy. Something uplifting.

Here’s a link to the story that made me feel better. It was written by Medium writer, Pia Barna.

One Thought That Will Help You Overcome The Fear Of Writing And Publishing Your Work

I loved reading her article. I think it refueled my Writing mojo, that was beginning to wane.

And what I find most amazing is the timing of the piece, the synchronicity of it appearing the morning after my writing-depression crisis. It made me wonder about the creative energy that is within each one of us, that travels through time and space, and lands words onto a blank page. Please do give this a read, but I will leave you with one line from the story, that I liked,

‘What if your work reaches people that you can inspire with your words?’

Beautifully expressed, Pia Barna, you are a messenger extraordinaire.

© Connie Song 2020

A Messenger Hijacked by the writing gods was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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coronavirus crisis economy essay trump

America Is On Fire, and President Trump is Spewing Gasoline

The purpose of this essay is to discuss the malignant ineptitude of the President of the United States in dealing with the crises America…

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essay feminism illumination life women

Why Feminism Still Matters

And why young women still need it

feminist wall with quotations from Angela Davis, Virginia Woolf and others
Photo by Red Dot on Unsplash

Born in what seemed like the dark ages, I was raised in the ’50s and ’60s. When my parents talked about careers, I learned most women become teachers or nurses or cooks (professors, doctors and chefs weren’t mentioned). When I told everyone at a family gathering that I wanted to become an astronaut, there were some polite smiles, but real smiles emerged when someone said, “you’re smart enough, dear, but astronauts can’t wear glasses.” Later, in the library, I discovered a book about a woman doctor on the prairie, so I announced I wanted to be a doctor, not a nurse, and I stuck to my guns through junior high school until I realized I didn’t like talking to sick people. (I didn’t know about pathologists back then.)

The point is, my parents weren’t against me being a doctor or an astronaut, they were just uncomfortable because it was outside their class. They were both raised poor and had worked hard and earned themselves college educations and good middle-class jobs, but they wanted the security of seeming like the joneses, and in the middle class in the ’50s, women didn’t work at independent jobs, women got married and maybe had a nice, little side job if they were bored after the kids grew up. I think my intelligent Mom would have been very happy as a research scientist, but it didn’t occur to her to break the mold she had worked so hard to fit into.

Luckily, by the time I was a teenager, feminism had started up, so instead of getting a small side job, Mom got a big job at the IRS and became a supervisor and really enjoyed her job.

I think I had a part to play in that. At all our family dinners, everyone was expected to bring a topic to discuss that we had learned in school or read in the paper. I’d been in love with the Beatles since I was 6 years old, so I followed music news, and rock-n-roll news often led to political news (like Vietnam protests) or feminist news (like bra burnings). My parents were uncomfortable with the protests but encouraged me in independent thought, so we had lots of deep conversations about current issues, and I think my staunch defense of women’s rights had an effect on Mom.

But that’s the thing. A whole lot of families were like mine at the time, just going along with the status quo, except they didn’t support their kids to be different. Security meant getting an education and getting a job, and who cared if women got paid two-thirds of what men got paid, because a job was a job and security was more important than earning power.

As the idea of equal pay for equal work became more acceptable, feminists started branching out into other arenas like demanding to be spoken to respectfully at work, and demanding that men who asked for sex in exchange for a raise be penalized for it. And the people who loved feminists, who maybe weren’t comfortable with the changes, supported the feminists anyway because they loved them. And things started to change.

In parallel, women started demanding that when a woman was raped, police must treat that woman with respect and judges must punish perpetrators, not let the rapists off with just a slap on the wrist. Good men who were appalled at violence to women started calling themselves feminists. Women demanded the right to abort pregnancies from rape, and in the ’60s states started legalizing abortions.

With all these changes going on in the ’60s, you can well imagine we had many lively dinner-table discussions!

So why do young women need feminism now? Feminism’s goal is equality: economically, legally, socially and culturally. Hasn’t all this been achieved for today’s young women already?

America has never had a female president. If you look at the political rhetoric around female candidates, a lot of it is about how they present themselves (dowdy, shrill, cold) and not about their platforms, so women’s minds and competence are still being trivialized. Add race into the mix, and you get a double whammy. The press actively ignored Kamala Harris by not even publishing her views — she got 10% of the press that white male candidates got.

Back in the ’70s in San Francisco, it seemed common knowledge that two lesbian woman of color would always be poor, but two gay white men would automatically get rich.

So, do women in America have equal pay yet? Wikipedia says that, averaged among all full-time workers, women’s salaries are 81–82% of what men make. Yes, that’s up from 60% in the ’60s, but it’s not equal yet. And while slightly more women than men graduate from university, 30% fewer women than men will find jobs in their field (Bloomberg).

Do women in American have autonomy over their own bodies yet? Judicial abortion bans and forced closing of clinics have limited many women’s access to safe abortions to a single clinic in some states. Currently, rape is down to 0.5 per 1,000, compared to almost 3 per 1,000 in the ’70s (Bureau of Justice statistics), which sounds good until you do the math. One rape for every 2,000 women is still 75,000 rapes per year in America.

And social and cultural equality? While women’s participation in the Olympics has risen from 15% in the ’50s to 48% now (per IOC), ESPN’s Sports Center only shows women’s sports 2% of the time (study by University of S. California). Women make up about 50% of visual artists in America, but a study by the Public Library of Science of the collections of 18 major museums found that art by female artists made up only 13% of their collections. And with so many young men describing their girlfriends as “my bitch,” the answer is still a resounding No.

So, while you may say that you’re not a feminist because the image you hold of feminists is too strident, too loud, too angry, or too embarrassing, if you really want equality, then you still need feminism. Claim it, own it, and get what’s rightfully yours.

Then go out and help other women around the world, because while women in the US and Europe have come much closer to achieving equality, many women around the world:

  • Can’t get an education (only 39% of rural women attend secondary school, and 500 million women are illiterate [per United Nations])
  • Can’t get a job (100 countries have legal restrictions on what work women can do, and in 18 countries women must have their husband’s permission before they can work [per World Bank])
  • Can’t get a loan or even a bank account (20% of women, per FINCA)
  • Can’t vote (Saudi Arabia and Vatican City)
  • Can’t leave the house without a man’s permission (Yemen)
  • Are in danger of being raped every time they go to collect water or go to the toilet (examples: 17 million women at risk in Africa [per Thomson Reuters Foundation]; 85% of rural women at risk in India [per Indian government])
  • rape victims can be charged with crimes (Saudi Arabia and Morocco)

Women may not have equality in America, but we do have rights. Go exercise your rights! Vote feminists into office, get laws changed, then go out and help save women around the world. There is no true equality until everyone is equal. That’s what feminism is all about.

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Why Feminism Still Matters was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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essay handmade illumination life simplicity

Gratitude for Simple Things

Today . . . a Handmade Delivery Bag

Handmade carry bag made from newspaper and twine
Handmade newspaper and twine carry bag, photo by Bridget Cougar

Since I’m the only guest at the coliving hostel where I’m staying, walking out to buy lunch or supper has been my habit every day during social distancing, both to get a little extra exercise and also to see a few faces and see what’s new in the neighborhood, but today I just didn’t feel like it. Plus, I was really jonesin’ for a good salad. So I downloaded the local motorcycle delivery app, GoJek, chose a good-looking kale, broccoli and avocado salad from Bali Buda, and 15 minutes later, there’s the motorcycle driver with my salad. Yay!

For the first few minutes, I wasn’t noticing anything except my taste buds (and it was a GOOD salad), but after my initial hunger was sated, I started noticing and appreciating the box and the bag the salad had arrived in. The box was a regular cardboard box, but the bottom was lined with a banana leaf cut to size instead of a plastic liner.

The bag, shown above, was obviously homemade, using two pages of the local newspaper, cut to size and glued at the bottom and the top, with a bit of cardboard inside the bottom for firmness and a couple of pieces of twine knotted for handles. Such elegant simplicity!

I’m so grateful to receive something that doesn’t have a shred of plastic in it. And the bag has so much character. It’s so obvious that a real person handmade this pleasing and useful bag. I feel like I was honored not only by being give delicious food but I feel like I received a hand-made gift, as well.

Even though I’m isolated and haven’t gotten to talk to my neighbors, I feel cared for, I feel connection, and I don’t feel alone.

four people with their arms over each other’s shoulders, backlit by the sunset
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Gratitude for Simple Things was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Don’t You Find That Pooping Is Weird?

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Striking a Fire in the Void

How I developed as a writer

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essay farming illumination life patience

Two More Years of Distancing? That’ll Take Patience.

Let’s practice some serious patience by growing flax together.

old lady in polka dot dress sitting in dry-weeds field with sour expression
Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

I always remember the perseverance of the people who lived before industrialization, where everything was done by hand, and people worked all day from before sunup to after sundown.

covered wagon beside a campfire, reflected in a lake
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

My great-grandma crossed the American plains in a covered wagon when she was a little girl. Her family settled in Idaho in a spot with good soil and a river nearby, but it was a week’s journey by buggy to the nearest general store. If the family wanted some cloth for a new shirt or dress, first they had to plant the flax. (They could afford flax seeds, but they couldn’t afford cotton cloth.)

But before they could plant the seeds, they had to clear the land. They could use some of the land that had been planted with alfalfa in the fall, and just turn it over gently after the crop was harvested in spring. It takes two acres of land to grow enough flax to make enough cloth for a family’s clothing and bedding needs for one year.

In those days, flax would have been the best choice because it’s easy to grow and seed was easy to get. All it needs is full sun every day and a little rain. Cotton requires warm weather and was mostly grown in the South where there were slaves to do the labor-intensive work.

So, let’s say you plant your flaxseed in mid-March or early April, but it’s not too late to start now. You sow it by scattering the seed broadcast and then stepping on it gently to make sure it’s connected with the soil. The flowers arrive in two months, so you’ll be looking at a pretty field of blue, pink or white flowers by mid-May or early June. You can harvest between 80–100 days, so late June to early July, or early September if you’re just starting now.

field of flax with blue flowers
Photo by Kouji Tsuru on Unsplash

You don’t need any tools to harvest flax, because it has to be pulled up by the roots to preserve the inner fiber intact. You harvest on a sunny day and pull the seed heads off with a rake, called rippling. Then you lay the plants down evenly on the ground, because you need dew and soil microbes to break down and partly rot the outer husks. This is called retting, and is the most important step in the process. Once the plants are a little soft, you have to dry them out again by bundling loosely and hanging in a barn, if you have one.

unpainted wooden barn with lean-to and detached outhouse
Photo by Tim Peterson on Unsplash

My grandma’s family built a small multi-use building: the animals were kept downstairs, the people slept in the loft upstairs, and there was a little lean-to outside for cooking. I think my grandma’s family had two horses for the buggy, and maybe one cow for milk and to pull a plow to till the other crops.

When the flax is dry, it’s time to gently break open the stalks by a crimping method called scutching. You take two boards and place them parallel on a table about two inches apart, then hold a small amount of flax in your nondominant hand so it crosses both boards. With your dominant hand, grab a smoothed wooden paddle about an inch wide and six inches tall(called the scutching knife) and gently chop down across the flax into the empty slot, then lift the knife, pull the flax a little further with your other hand and chop again, until the whole length has been scutched. Now do that for all the flax you have.

Hackling is next. You take a handful of scutched flax and comb it through three increasingly fine metal combs to separate the outer part of the plant from the fiber within, called tow. The tow is a very, very light tan color.

Lots of my adult brunette cousins were born with a head of pale, almost-white hair and were called tow-headed kids. Now you know why.

linen pants, with detail of pocket showing stitching and weave
Photo by Eleventh Wave on Unsplash

So, it’s getting close to autumn now. Time to harvest your other grains and plant the fall crops of alfalfa and winter wheat, then you can come inside and start spinning your tow into thread and then weaving your thread into cloth. Most folks’ goal was to have a new shirt and pair of pants or new dress ready for every family member by Xmas. Seed to shirt, eight or nine months.

Well, there you go. I’ve filled up the rest of the year for you. What are you going to do with yourself in 2021?

Two More Years of Distancing? That’ll Take Patience. was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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A love letter to my favorite band

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