Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘solitude’ Category

Ambient Light

In Friends, Lent, solitude, spirituality on February 14, 2018 at 4:18 pm

When you reach my advanced years, chances are good that you will need to get up at least once in the middle of every night. I try to avoid turning on a light, and usually, my condo is plenty light enough to keep me from bumping into furniture, stubbing my toe or stepping on my cat. Yeouw! I have many tiny lights on various appliances that indicate that the power is off or on plus a Beatles nightlight, and these provide a bit of light, but most of it comes from street lamps outside that leak in through my closed blinds.
I’m thinking about light because our Lenten theme this year is “Sharing the Light Within: Reclaiming and Restoring Our Beauty in the Darkness.” Sharing our light with others may be the most important thing we do in this life and I’ll get back to that in future posts. Right now, however, I want to herald the light others emit that helps to light our way.
I’ve pretty much always been a loner and I’ve written several times celebrating the art and science of being your own best friend. That never meant being without friends, only that I enjoy and need time with myself.
Today, I want to celebrate you, my friends and family, who add joy and comfort, encouragement and support to my life. You walk with me and laugh with me and sometimes cry with me, too. You make it possible for me to live in a perpetual glow. You are the ambient light that rescues me from despair and keeps me from stumbling around in the darkness, and I thank you for that.
I can only hope I brighten your days as you do mine. Shine on.


Walk On

In Arvada, Denver, Learning, solitude, spirituality on January 25, 2018 at 8:59 pm

When I lived in Highland I walked two miles around the neighborhood almost every day. Then I got sick with bilateral pulmonary embolisms and could barely walk across the room on my own. Not long after that I moved to Olde Town Arvada and have never really gotten back into the habit of walking. I’m trying to re-establish that habit.
It’s harder than I expected. One of the reasons I chose Olde Town as my new home was its walkability. My condo is roughly two blocks from the shops, restaurants and services in town and also roughly two blocks from several big box stores and more restaurants in what is officially called New Town. We also have a hotel and a 14-screen movie theater, currently under construction and set to reopen this spring. The only thing not in walking distance is a grocery store and I like to whine about that although there is a King Soopers and Walmart just a mile or so west on Ralston Road.
Still, I don’t walk much.
I have a lot of excuses. It’s one of my superpowers.
My old neighborhood had history and diversity of people and buildings with plenty going on all the time and, therefore, plenty to look at. Not here. It’s boring.
People tell me how much they love Olde Town, but I don’t shop or go out to eat much, and I use the library in Denver (long story), so the only thing I do in Olde Town is walk past places.
Although we have four (count ’em) coffee shops, most of the restaurants are really bars and I don’t drink alcohol or coffee.
Most of the sidewalks here are narrow with many driveway cuts, which make them hard to walk on.
I’m older now with arthritis in my feet and ankles and bad knees.

I know I’m being difficult, so I’m trying to think of ways to make walking something I want to do again.
Writer Leo Baubata says to establish a new habit, you need to start small, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.”
James Clear describes three steps to build a habit:
1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
2. Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)

A friend told me that he knew he had succeeded at quitting smoking when he stopped thinking of himself as a former smoker and started thinking of himself as a nonsmoker. I have to come to think of myself (as I used to) as the kind of person who takes a walk every day. It’s who I am.

Thanksgiving–Gratitude Day 4

In solitude, spirituality on November 23, 2017 at 6:53 am

So many things to be thankful for today.

Books – You are what you read and I read a lot – 93 books and counting so far this year. I contain multitudes. Just ask me.

Libraries – Public libraries are our best institutions. Period. They allow me to read whatever my heart desires without depleting my finances or filling more bookshelves. God bless them every one.

Solitude – I’m lucky that I treasure solitude and like my own company.

Family and friends – I know this is supposed to be first on the list, but I am what’s now called an elder orphan, aging alone without kids. I also grew up without extended family and with a father who said we had moved to Colorado to get away from family, so those ties are weak at best. My only close family consists of my brother, his wife, two daughters, and two grandchildren. I love them all but hardly ever see them. Although I don’t spend holidays with my friends, a few of them have become like family to me, and I’m grateful to include them in my life.

Church – my church and church family are the center of my life. They bring me contact with younger people, good conversation, hugs, purpose, and validation. I’m eternally grateful that I happened upon Highlands United Methodist Church at exactly the right time.

Today, I’m also thankful for my favorite Thanksgiving traditions: Listening to Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant where you can get anything you want, reading Truman Capote’s The Thanksgiving Visitor, and, as God is my witness, watching the Turkey’s Away episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

Finally, I thank the forces of the universe for bringing Jerry back into my life. My first boyfriend and now my last. He awakened something inside me that was so long dormant I thought it was dead. The best gift.

The Happy Wanderer

In creativity, Learning, solitude on October 30, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Artists from Leonardo to Julia Cameron have extolled the virtues of walking to aid creativity. Thoreau said, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” and Friedrich Nietzsche believed that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

Science now confirms a curious link between mind and feet. A recent study by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford directly measured the way walking changes creativity in the moment. Not surprisingly, they got the idea for the study while on a walk.

When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen to all the organs including the brain. Because the act of walking is relatively mindless, our attention is free to wander, and it matters where we walk. A walk through a city provides more stimulation for the mind to play with. But, if we are dealing with overstimulation, we can turn to nature instead.

The new book, Walking in the Rain by the Department Store for the Mind calls walking “medicine for the mind.” It helps us slow down and think things through as well as perk up and generate new ideas.

However, wandering isn’t limited to the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other. Mental wandering is also necessary for creative output. “Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth of our knowledge and experience.” according to Adam Grant, author of Originals.

Certain geniuses like Leonardo, Ben Franklin, and Maya Angelou astonish us with the sheer number of topics they explored and the fields they conquered. Again, science can help explain. “People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering,” states Eric Schumacher, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Daydreaming, another one of my personal superpowers, may actually be a sign of a more efficient brain. Essentially, we finish mundane tasks early setting our minds off in other directions. So, the next time you need to find a creative solution to some problem, take a hike. Unplug your earbuds, turn off your phone, and let your feet and mind stray.

Be careful, though and heed these words of caution from Ellen DeGeneres: “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”

First Snow

In Arvada, Colorado, Learning, neighborhood, solitude on October 10, 2017 at 9:23 am

The woman in the grocery store gave me a big smile and said, “It’s a BEAUTIFUL day.” I agreed. The first snow of the season was falling in huge, fat flakes making everything seem peaceful and a little miraculous even in this aging suburban strip mall.

The national news, as usual, made a big deal out of our early taste of winter and people around the country congratulated themselves for not living in a place where winter came in early October. If they only knew. Here in Colorado, we celebrated the arrival of the peak tourist season with a foot or more of snow in the mountains and a few inches in Denver. A couple of ski areas plan to open this weekend.

Today, the snow has mostly disappeared in town with sunshine and warmer temperatures melting the rest before the day ends.

This is fall in Colorado, where a little blip of early snow doesn’t phase us. Some of us (me!) like it. The sun is shining and my maple tree has turned a bright and glorious red-orange. As I sit at my computer I watch the leaves drop slowly one by one. In a week they’ll all be gone for another year.

I’ll never understand those who think snow alone makes a terrible horrible no good very bad day. They live in warm climates and brag that they will never again have to shovel snow. My condo association takes care of that now, but at my house, I kind of liked shoveling snow unless we had a foot or more of heavy accumulation. If my back hurt, I didn’t have to do it all at once, and with my neighbors also outside shoveling and calling to one another, it was a social event. As I grew older, they sent their little boys to shovel my walk for me.

Remember that episode of Northern Exposure where the whole town celebrated the first snow by wishing one another “bon hiver” (good winter)? I wish we had that tradition here instead of having to listen to people lamenting its arrival.

Time to burrow in, light a fire or a candle or burn some pinon incense. Time to bake bread and make a pot of chili. Time to appreciate the quiet time and cultivate interior resources. Time to rest and rejuvenate.

Bon hiver.

What the Heart Wants

In creativity, Finding Your Calling, Learning, music, solitude on October 5, 2017 at 7:23 am

Some words of wisdom on work, solitude, and love.
by Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

How to Find Your Mission in Life by Dick Bolles
Rule #3. to exercise that talent which you particularly came to earth to use — your greatest gift, which you most delight to use, in the places or settings which God has caused to appeal to you the most, and for those purposes which god most needs to have done in the world.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman

“For many people, being alone with their thoughts puts them in enemy territory.” Barbara Winter

“The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.” Thomas A. Edison

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” Rollo May

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein

“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.” Kurt Vonnegut, Man Without a Country

“Someday, someone is going to look at you with a light in their eyes you’ve never seen, they’ll look at you like you’re everything they’ve been looking for their entire lives. Wait for it.” Author unknown

Up, Up, and Away

In Colorado, solitude, spirituality on September 20, 2017 at 4:32 pm








Heading west on I70 from Arvada, it doesn’t take long to get out of the city and into the mountains. In a few short minutes, I pass Denver West and voila! Foothills.

Today, I’m heading south to Morrison and then west through Bear Creek Canyon to O’Fallon Park in Kittredge.

One of Denver’s 22 mountain parks, O’Fallon appears on the left just before the town of Kittredge. Bear Creek loops through it, and the park features fishing, plus picnic tables, restrooms, and hiking trails. It’s my favorite Denver mountain park with the possible exception of Red Rocks.

Nah, Red Rocks is beautiful but it has too many people.

At 6,900 feet, Kittredge isn’t high enough for fall colors this early in the season, but I didn’t come here to see aspen. I came for peace. Highway 74 winds through the canyon with craggy rock faces rising on either side. Occasionally, the valley widens for a small creekside meadow. Dark green pines cover the opposite hillside. I feel my stress level easing.

I turn into the entrance and park near the picnic tables. First, I walk along the creek, listening to the water rolling over the rocks and breathing in the pine-scented air. A highway sign at Morrison had warned of “bear activity in the area,” so I try keeping an eye on my surroundings. At the fork in the trail, a woman searches in vain for earwigs for her daughter’s biology class. Her dog, Zoey, greets me. I learn that I am the only one there without a dog. I see half a dozen other people, five women and one man, each walking a dog.

The weather is sunny but not hot, and I need my jacket to eat my lunch and read at a shady picnic table, the creek burbling at my back. I write in my journal and notice that foot and dog traffic is picking up. Too many people. Time to head home.

It only took three hours to clear my head and renew my spirit. I forget sometimes that the mountains are more than a pretty backdrop for the city and a way to tell which way is west.

I need to do this more often.

White Space

In creativity, solitude, spirituality on September 12, 2017 at 11:02 am

“I’m so busy now I don’t know how I ever had time to work.” You’ve probably heard this from retired people, especially those who have recently stopped working. I always wonder what exactly they’re so busy doing.
I used to ask my students who were mostly married and raising children in addition to working full time and going to school, what they wanted to do when they retired, the typical answer was, “nothing.”

In my forties, I joined a writers’ group whose other members were all retired, and they made me crazy. While I was always eager to leave when we’d finished our group activities, they expressed dismay that we were finished and wanted to stretch it out, maybe have lunch. It seemed like an odd manifestation of Parkinson’s Law, work expands to fit the time available. In this case, the time available seemed nearly infinite for them if not for me. I observed this same reluctance to end anything whenever I spent time with retired people.
Check out your local McDonald’s any morning and you’ll see tables full of older people lingering over cups of coffee. They also fill buses to Blackhawk and other gambling sites. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that if you really like flushing your money down the toilet, but it sure doesn’t appeal to me. Was that a trifle too judgmental? Sorry.
And God forbid they spend any time on earth playing bingo. Note to my future caregivers: if you ever see me playing bingo, please shoot me.
All this reminds me of the saying, “I wasted time, and now time is wasting me.” Bingo (if you’ll excuse the expression.)
Most people seem to think it’s admirable to stay busy, maybe because we live in a culture of busyness, idle hands, after all, being the devil’s workshop.
In design, white space is the area between design elements, and that’s what I need in my life. The last thing I want now that I’m gainfully unemployed, as one friend put it, is to be occupied all the time. Especially after spending time with others, I need to wallow in silence, taking time to think or just be for awhile. White space is a tool to balance the other elements of life and is where the magic happens.
What I don’t understand is why people who complain about always having too much to do can’t seem to let go of it. Why does it seem admirable to stay busy when you no longer have to?

My Indian Name is Nose in a Book

In Books, Home, solitude on September 4, 2017 at 5:27 am

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry tells the story of a reclusive, widowed bookseller whose prized and very valuable book disappears just before a suicidal mother leaves her baby girl in his store.

Ultimately, it’s a book about people who love books. Each chapter begins with a short story recommendation. The title character moves from grieving curmudgeon to doting father to romantic, and every other major character is equally charming from the quirky publisher’s representative to the precocious foundling and the crime-reading police chief.

The reader can pick up dozens of book referrals as the characters discuss their favorites. I found myself stopping frequently to look up a title and order it from the library.

When I first read it 2014, I went on an evangelical frenzy, telling everybody I knew that they had to read this book. The smart ones listened.

Here are a few upcoming books I’m looking forward to.

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon is the latest entry in the Mitford series. If Mitford weren’t in North Carolina and, you know, fiction, I’d want to live there.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan, the guy who wrote Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which would be enough of a recommendation for me, but this is also about an isolated software engineer who learns how to bake sourdough bread. How can I resist?

Happy reading! For me, that’s what Labor Day is all about.

Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying

In creativity, Home, Learning, music, solitude on August 22, 2017 at 6:01 am








The day started out pretty well with a visit to my doctor. She beamed at me and took me off one hated medication and reduced another. Good news, which she had to spoil by scheduling me for both a mammogram and a colonoscopy. Ugh. It didn’t help when she told me she had recently had her first colonoscopy and learned first hand how awful the preparation for that is. “I can’t believe I tell people all the time they have to do that.” Wouldn’t you think medical science could come up with a less dreadful test?
Things went downhill from there. I felt put upon, ignored, and misunderstood, all of which increased my pique about the over-hyped eclipse. Geez, people. It got a little dark. I dutifully took my stupid glasses out on the balcony and looked at the mostly covered sun for 30 seconds. So glad you all enjoyed it. Now can we get back to normal?
As my mood tanked, I tried a few of my standard remedies to cheer myself up. I played my eclipse-themed music, which was fun. My favorite song was “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers (remember them?) although it made me cry. It was that kind of day. I finished reading a book by my second favorite mystery author, Marcia Muller, so I could read the latest by my favorite mystery author, Sue Grafton, today.
I wrote an email telling someone to “back off” as nicely as I could while feeling pushed around.
I ate a couple of dark chocolate Hershey’s Kisses.
I pulled myself together for a mostly unproductive interview for the church history I’m working on, and then I was done. No TV for me because seeing that orange monster preening and congratulating himself for his non-existent accomplishments would only worsen my disposition. Have you seen the tee shirt that superimposes a graphic of the twin towers against 45’s silhouette and says “The worst days in U.S. History—9/11 and 11/9? My sentiments exactly.
This morning I’ll take myself out for pancakes. Then I’ll continue my self care with reading, writing, and listening to music, trying to find my way back to an even keel and banish the darkness.
It could work.