Shelter in Place



“Shelter in place:” a comforting as well as chilling phrase in this bewildering time.  The idea that we can find shelter where we are – comforting!  The idea that we need to seek shelter – chilling.  People hear and read these words in diverse places these days – in a movie about the Boston Marathon bombing, on news reports from locations embroiled in vicious conflict, streaming over the internet into presumably happy homes and safe suburbs when violence breaks out at a local nightclub, or school, or church, or mosque. 

What should citizens do in tumultuous, uncertain times?  Live carefully?  Tread lightly?  Pad every action or verb with delicate adverbs?  How do we live out loud and at the same time stay safe?  Is safety truly paramount?  Our miraculous world of connectivity and its billowing information flow present us with technicolor, full-surround sound opportunities to bathe in fear, conflict, anger. What actions do we take in the face of these emotions?  Vociferous declarations one way or the other provide a venting of sorts.  Occasionally the clamor conveys useful information, but adamant expressions do not automatically equal factual communication. 

At a recent alumni gathering at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California, redoubtable author and psychologist Dr. Aaron Kipnis spoke about the physical attributes of what popular science calls black holes – those gravitational wells which theoretical physicist Albert Einstein predicted in 1916 and astronomers confirmed in 1971.  Dr. Kipnis noted that these gravitational wells can only be identified when observers discern the edges at which matter and light disappear into the wells: what physicists and astronomers call the event horizon.  Personalities and happenings can also feel like gravitational wells, according to Dr. Kipnis.  When one’s personality or actions become consumed by someone else’s personality or actions, one may be in the vicinity of an event horizon.  Imagine someone whose every interaction drains energy and resources from the people around him or her.  Recall a tragic world event or an appalling political occurrence over which one has little to no individual control.  These event horizons require mindboggling resources to ameliorate or influence: more energy than most independent persons or nation-states possess.  In other words, there are people and problems that can take, and take, and take some more. 

Upon detection, a spaceship or satellite on course to intercept a black hole will adjust its course to stay clear of the event horizon; otherwise it will disappear into that vast gravitational well, never to appear again, all its energies and talents lost into the interior, with no observable result.  How disheartening!  Instead, the capsule or satellite directs its energies and resources in a different direction – a direction that allows the capsule and all its inhabitants to survive, thrive, and achieve results.  People can sense event horizons in life, also.  Dr. Kipnis suggests two actions to take when one discerns an event horizon: 1) stay away from the edges of the event horizon and 2) create as much life as possible at a distance from the toxic person, place, event:  write, sing, dance, laugh, serve others, care, love, attend. 

The phrases “Follow your bliss,” “Place the oxygen mask on yourself first,” and others appear frequently in popular culture but don’t address the gravity (pun intended) of living around a black hole.  Minding one’s own business, sheltering in place, won’t really keep one safe from a black hole in one’s life.  However, what makes a person glow inside?  What lights one’s fire of enthusiasm, makes one break out in laughter or dance or spontaneous hugs?  To survive a gravitational well, we must thrive: we must self-kindle our own interests and energies, radiate love to the people and places that buoy us, deploy kindness and generosity in reciprocal streams.  Spread the word, heed the call:  glow in place. 


©Beth Anne Boardman

Living to Write, Writing to Live….


Joy, a dear friend of mine, started a writing group with me a few years ago. We commenced meeting weekly at a local coffee shop, and we ended up being a writing group of two. This suited us just fine, since we could both talk the ears off a donkey. Joy had faced severe illnesses over the past ten years but stoically fought off each onslaught. What she had achieved was amazing — and one thing that kept her going was her passion for writing.

Each bout with her life-threatening condition re-inspired her to get her novel out again and this time, finish it! Over the years, in between teaching at the university, and editing, ghost-writing, and blogging in her spare time, she made wonderful progress. Her characters developed intense, clear personalities, her settings felt as real as the air on my face, and the plot began growing and changing on it’s own, deepening, turning, winding through dark and light. Meeting with her became inspiring to me, too. I had known her for over two decades, and although her writing always impressed me with it’s excellence, never had I read anything from her that excited me, jolted me even, like this last work of hers.

As every new semester got started, Joy vowed to keep working on her book, but something always seemed to intervene. Bills, clients, recurrences of her illness in new forms, some more serious than others. The courage she demonstrated humbled me. She floored me with her commitment.

We continued to meet until about six months before her death. One Christmas, I received a confusing call from her; she was lost on a beach, and didn’t know how to get home. Our connection dropped, and being all the way on the other side of the country, I felt helpless to find her. She did get home again, but this incident was a foreshadowing experience. Many of the important, even spiritual, events of Joy’s novel took place on a beach, and when I heard that she was lost on one, I felt a chill of worry.

The next few months saw Joy once again taking on treatments that would flatten many of us. Through it all, she rallied, reached out for help, inspired, and hoped. No one could constellate a helping group of amazing people like Joy.

I saw her just before she died, and she was desperate to get back to her novel. I understood her urgency and the intricacies and intimacies, joys and frustrations, of her creative process. I asked her if she’d like me to bring her a pad and pen in the hospital. Her eyes stared off into the distance for a moment, and somehow, she seemed to understand that the time for writing was not now. She said no, and then she again said, with a fire in her eyes, how much she wanted to get back to her novel and this time, finish it!

The next night, just before midnight, Joy passed into her next world. I stood at her side, looking at one of the bravest, gentlest, most creative beings I’ve ever known, and I felt her say to me — “Don’t die with your writing — or dancing, or singing, or painting — inside of you….”

So this post is dedicated to my beautiful, raven-haired friend Joy, and to the muses who guide us all.

The Greeks understood that the nine muses inspired our creativity. Inspiration also means to breathe in…. Without inspiration, oxygenation, breathing, our bodies die. And maybe this is as good a reason as any to create whatever it is our spirits are longing to express — for as we refuse to express our gift, it’s almost as though we refuse to live. If you live to write, maybe you also write to live….

For now, whenever I write, or dance, or laugh, or look up at the stars, every time, in fact, that I feel joy, I send up a blessing to Joy’s memory, and ask the muses to take pity on my imperfectly perfect life….