Thursday, February 22nd, 2018


I have been attneding the San Miguel Writers Conferencebeing at home in two cultures for the past week. It is a side benefit of living  in San Miguel during February when the conference is held. It started thirteen years ago and is now a major big deal. It is a cross-cultural event and highlighted for me the importance of being at home in two cultures.

People from all over the world come and big names speak. I remember when Margaret Atwood spoke a few years ago. The hotel ballroom was packed (3000 people). Margaret was speaking and all of a sudden a deluge of rain closed down the sound system. There was a bang of thunder and lightening and (for whatever reason) the sound came back on full force. Ms. Atwood paused and looked at the ceiling and said, “I just love punctuation!!” The conference is like that.

I had an odd experience this year. My own cross-cultural confusion paralyzed me. I have been speaking primarily Spanish for the past two months. My social relationships have all been with our Mexican neighbors. I was hit hard by the sudden large block of Americans. I was going to say, “wave” but that word is too gentle. I was suddenly reminded of my cross-cultural work within the global company I worked for–The DelHaize Group. The American companies and leaders were surprised and irritated to learn that they were perceived as arrogant, dominant and loud. I have to admit that this was my experience at the conference.

I  felt shoved aside, invisible and ignored. There was no welcoming accessibility. I would have to be aggressive, intrusive and determined to make contact. (That is what Americans might call friendly.) The networking had a frantic quality of quick skimming to check on the value of the person standing or sitting next to you. I was most comfortable with Mexican participants, an Iranian woman, a Swedish woman and a quirky wonderful woman from New Mexico. I had lost my cultural footing.

This is not a new experience for me. I lived in the jungles of Panama with the Teribe Indian tribe for two years followed by a year in Puerto Rico. I was three years away from the United States. My first moment in a grocery store was a crisis. I had a panic attack in the cereal aisle. So many loud colors and choices screaming at me. I did deep breathing and slowly found my way out of the store, to my parents’ house and took to bed for a week.

I soon go from Mexico to Maine for a two week trip for doctors and book publishing work and to see family there. It will be a familiar and gentle trip. But I am on the same cusp I lived with following my Peace Corps experience. Who, what and where is my home base? I have lived on the edge of two cultures for quite some time. My husband has joined San Miguel this year. He writes a column for the local newspaper, has joined the Rotary Club, a kayak club and a Sufi center. (Yes, he is eclectic to put it mildly.) I say ‘no’ to joining in some kind of loyalty to Maine as  my primary connection.

I think of myself as a global citizen. Almost all of us are whether we want to be or not. I don’t think there is any going back to tight, tight, country boundaries—with or without a Mexican boundary wall. And so we/I have to widen the experience of what is “home”. As a global executive, I had to learn to keep all of my worlds alive and real and not shut one off as I traveled. If I didn’t do that, there was hell to pay when I got “home”.

I have been saying too much “no” to keep things simple and my worlds separate. I am coming out of that kind of retirement. I am committing to a larger “yes”—to complexity and complication and cumbersomeness. And to staying very alive, even if uncomfortable and sometimes homesick without knowing for what home. Being at home in two cultures is an essential modern skill with far flung families/tribes connecting and disconnecting often. The cultures don’t have to be exotically different like Maine and Mexico. Think of family differences particulary as kids marry. Think of bi-racial children. Think of The trick is to not shut off one world to be in the other. Being at home in two cultures.









Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Aging Well Takes Energy: Balance is What is Needed

Aging Well Takes Energy

Here is a lovely quote about aging well from an email sent to me by my soul pal. Enjoy
growing older or old is more complicated than i realized. i used to think it was a simple given of life. now i realize that aging well or meaningfully takes energy, like staying upright in knee deep ocean water as the undertow of receding waves strains our ability to stay upright. i must generate the incoming motion in my life.
i look more closely at people my age and see significant diversity. those with enthusiasms and passions seem most vital. those without seem to be shrinking and becoming flattened cartoon caricatures of their former selves. i don’t wish to become larger but neither wish to become one dimensional. for some reason the memory of Borden’s “Elsie, the Contented Cow” comes to mind. contentment is an achievement if it is the result of having a purpose and not the voluntary forfeiture of dynamicism. life without purpose seems like just being Elsie, an inert bovine chewing her cud over and over.
the good news is that every morning is a new opportunity to draft, edit and revise; to realize or learn something i haven’t before; to grow as well as to be. perhaps we are all trapeze artists stepping between solidity on a fine wire with a balancing pole. we place one foot intentionally in front of the other while keeping our eyes focused on what is directly ahead and off the ground far below. maintaining our balance, rather than speed or showmanship, is needed.


Saturday, January 27th, 2018

A Dialogue of Differences–and Exploration

I have a friend from college that I haven’t seen in 45 years or so. We reconnected by accident (odd story of my technological ineptitude bringing about something good). We email often and talk about aging and kids and books and ideas. We are different. Kind of a Grace and Frankie thing in our own way. I thought I’d share our latest conversationbecause it gets at much of what I’m wrestling with my work on prayer and modern religion. Here goes:

LIZ—I just read your sample playbook for I PRAY ANYWAY. It’s clever and interesting. I think we all explore and pursue what haunts and interests us. I like mystery and beauty: kindness and gratitude. Equating spirituality or prayer with things such as simple gratitude or compassion assumes a belief. Fine. if one wants to but equally fine to not.

I am a language Classicist. God means Creator. Prayer is to the creator. don’t feel a desire, need for or belief in either. If all word are interchangeable and synonyms, e.g. gratitude and prayer, then language is totally subjective or meaningless. I respect your desire and need for belief and prayer.

I simply don’t share it.

JOYCE—-I pray-ish. I don’t care if no one else does.I think I feel we are a culture that has lost awe and mystery and profound gratitude as well as a globally held way to get to compassion and goodness. I’m interested in what will emerge.

Much will change and disappear. The Sistene Chapel God is done. Most church theology is done.

What do we want or aspire to that has a sense of transcendence and evolution for the human race? There are lots of books being written about this historical transition. The ability to love others with compassionate action, not sentimental words will be a survival skill for our globe. Or not. I want to be one spoon that stirs that pot of something new to come that will bind and inspire us. Something like that.

I don’t know if I’m an optimistic skeptic or an pessimistic hopeful.


LIZ—What concerns me most is our romance with invention. First, we invent because we can. Then and only afterwards do we consider the long-term consequences and potential applications of our inventions. Immediacy has become a paramount value.

I think many people feel overwhelmed

Overwhelmed by choices

Overwhelmed by speed

Overwhelmed by change

Overwhelmed by information

Science celebrates knowing

Mystery and awe embrace unknowing

Compassion and kindness and gratitude take time to consider, discern and reflect. But  life today is defined and rewarded primarily by doing.

Perhaps Tennyson was prophetic:“The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our power”

Prayer is a casualty.

JOYCE– Actually I think science and religion are overlapping in many ways. The invisible will be so important, from connective energetics that heal to creating common vision of a healthy planet. We need the creativity (which to me is a mystery) to envison new ways of being on a globe together.  Iris Murdoch’s husband wrote to a friend of mine saying the computer and Internet is a spiritual first step toward connection without bodies.

I don’t need or desire a belief in prayer. It is not a belief for me, it is an action that brings out the best in me and I experience (very important element to have personal experience to trust) hints of the sacred. I think I want people to gather beyond religion to find a global core of something that makes being a better human satisfying. What would happen if love went viral, was the trend, was the focus, was the foundational theme of our world. (I say that as every day I have to figure out how to love better in my marriage.) Love is hard. How will we learn it?




Monday, January 15th, 2018

Holy Rythm of Christmas in Mexico

Christmas is not secular in Mexico. My husband and I have had a house in Mexico for fourteen year. We usually arrive after Christmas and stay until mid-May. It depends on what is going on with the rest of the family and our work and writing.

One brave year early in the fourteen years, all of our family came—all five kids and their husbands, wives, loves or friends came for Christmas itself. This was before any grandchildren. We gave one another experiences for Christmas here in San Miguel. One son rented a fourwheeler for his brother because we had forbidden them in their youth. The women tended to give one another the experience of pedicures. My son-in-law gave me a visit to the best gordita restaurant in San Miguel. We went to a ranch open house and rodeo. We cooked and played games and drank Margueritas.

We gussied up for Christmas Eve and walked to our church up our small alleyway. Nothing much going on. Didn’t surprise us too much. Our community church is tiny (built in 1540) and has no permanent priest. Some of us went home feeling vaguely disappointed from a ritual point of view and some of us trudged into town. Big old colonial churches were open but not many people were in them. No candlelight service. No choirs. Back to the house we went, puzzled and slightly out of sorts. No big deal. In the morning we opened presents and on we went.

Only as we got to know our Mexican neighbors over the next few years did we understand the rhythm of Christmas in Mexico. I may not have it exactly right yet but I share it as something to think about as giving a new rhythm to your own holiday.

Most houses have a large Nativity scene in the house. There can be a big background scene with rocks and moss and other additions. The figures are big if not life size. This is the central decoration with lights and adornments. Christmas trees are beginning to be part of the scene. Our community still does what is called Las Posadas (the inn). The passage of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay is re-enacted. People dress as angels or Mary and Joseph or shepherds and walk to two or three houses,knocking to enter.The procession is turned away. Finally, one door is opened, and everyone enters and there is a celebration and singing of “carols”. There used to be impromptu and many “posadas”. Now Christmas Eve is THE one. This might explain why no one was at church when we went hunting for a special service.

Next in the rhythm is Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos. The Three Kings’ Day is on January 6th. This is the day the three kings arrived and brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The next morning children wake up to find lots and lots of gifts (mostly toys). I am told lots of toys are needed because there are “three” Wise Men. Adults don’t exchange gifts. The presents are not wrapped. After the gifts are enjoyed, the breakfast has to include a “rosca” a round crown (round) shaped sweet bread with dried fruit in it. In the Rosca there is one or more tiny plastic baby Jesus figures. Whoever finds the first baby Jesus is obligated to give a party for all who are present at the gathering. Some chew very carefully because the party includes tamales and atole that are not easy to make. That party is on February 2nd.

February 2nd is Candeleria the day Jesus was presented in the temple of Jerusalem. This is the time that people take down their nativity scenes and take their baby Jesus to the church to be blessed, often dressed in elaborate Christening gowns and then packed away until the next Christmas.This is the day when people bring their candles that they will use on their altars at home to be blessed in the church. Our community has a candle lit procession with people carrying big bundles of candles.  Before that day, there is another celebration indicating when baby Jesus sat up. There is a special song sung as the figure of baby Jesus is rocked in a special cloth. Some Nativity scenes have many baby Jesus dolls.  A traditional punch is served and candy is passed out.

And so there you have it. The rhythm of Christmas in Mexico. I think. Like Wikipedia, feel free to add or correct your experience of the Mexican rhythm of Christmas. It is what my community in Valle del Maiz does. There are certainly Indian and Catholic combinations of all kinds because the early (not later) priests tried to incorporate Indian traditions when they could and to use playful and experiential activities for an illiterate people to understand Christianity.

I think about the out of control Christmas holiday in the United States. We complain and share the experience of being torn about which family to visit first, how to fit it all in with buying presents as a laborious chore and I wonder. I wonder about giving my family the gift of Christmas separate from gifts. I wonder about keeping Chrismas holy for Chrisians. I wonder about traditions that are so strong there is no choosing or deciding. The entire family must gather together even if travel is a hardship. I wonder about having gifts for kids only on January 6th? I wonder about how to design a holiday rhythm that works to allow the Holy and to enjoy giving and to keep the “delight” for children. “I wonder as I wander.” (from carol by John Jacob Nile)