The Challenge of “Getting Real”

Carol A. Hand

The more real you get, the more unreal the world gets.” (John Lennon)


Tenacious Life


Working on a book manuscript that is in part a memoir presents unique opportunities and challenges. In the editing process, I often reach passages that sound so sappy and superficial. “Ah,” I think, “this needs more work. I need to go deeper and get real.”

Few people have read the part of my manuscript that has been edited (150 pages so far), so my vulnerability is relatively unexposed. I still have 75 percent of the manuscript yet to format and edit. Life frequently interrupts that process. I wonder if I allow too many distractions as a way to postpone sharing personal disclosures even though the final work will go out under a pen name.

Even so, it seems my willingness to get ever more “real” sometimes makes me feel as though I have somehow awakened in an alternate dystopian reality that makes no sense. The heartlessness, cruelty, ignorance, and destructiveness manifested in the pursuit of illusions broadcast by media every day are beyond my comprehension. It only takes a moment to witness the wonder and mystery of life that constantly surrounds us. Of course, experiencing those moments takes willingness and discipline.

How deeply I wish I could share what I see with others. That also takes discipline and the willingness to be vulnerable. It seems some people just don’t want to be still long enough to listen deeply and look intently enough to see the miracles of life everywhere – in a dandelion tenaciously growing through cracks in the concrete or the majesty and mystery of cloud formations passing just out of reach overhead.


Lake Superior – June 17, 2017


Although getting real can sometimes be a lonely place, being able to witness beauty where we are conveys its own rewards.


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Northshore Highlights

Carol A. Hand

A colorful morning although skies were grey

On a cool but ordinary Saturday

Bumble bee feasting – June 17, 2017

An impromptu trip along Lake Superior’s Northwest shore

Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel

Dramatic skies promised rain for sure

Heading North

A Rainy View

Fast moving storms pass, creating fog and rising steam

Lake Superior View from Palisade Head (Beaver Bay, MN)

Inspiring a moment to ponder, perhaps to dream

My daughter, gazing a the lake she loves

Watching a robin bathe

A Happy Robin

And a rescued resting little bug

An insect my granddaughter lovingly rescued

Taking time to enjoy family

Lake Superior – Palisade Head

Cross River Falls, MN

Cross River Falls

And time for a hug

Grand Marais, MN

Beautiful sights and laughter along the way

Lake Superior – Grand Marais, MN

Cross River Falls – looking west

Cross River Falls – looking east

Treasures of travels on an ever-shifting weather day

After the storm passed through

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A Miracle of Life

Carol A. Hand

Despite fierce winds

brutal cold and pounding rain

delicate but tenacious – columbine

gracefully blossoming

once again


Columbine Bud (Aquilegia) – June 11, 2017

























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Reflections – Early June, 2017

Carol A. Hand

A cool morning breeze
touches my feverish forehead
while I watch the dawning
struggling to breathe

What is important in this moment?
Loving thoughts of the next generation
Gratitude for healers and visionaries
who stand together in solidarity for the earth

While I’m here, that knowledge is enough
Healing will come this time or not
There’s no time to waste worrying


Early afternoon layers of clouds rolling in
Lines of school buses leave the elementary school
signaling the beginning of summer vacation
My heart feels heavy as I wonder
what the next school year will bring
as politicians quickly dismantle hope

The cost of war and tax cuts for the rich
leaves the future for children precarious
without safe affordable housing, education, nutrition,
without adequate income, access to health care,
without assurance of clean air to breathe, safe water to drink
Will they have a chance to know joy rather than slavery?

All I can do today that feels real
is plant and water gardens,
feeling light energy flowing through me
a mixture of deep sorrow and certainty
that sowing love in all our actions
rather than fighting is the wiser choice

Squash Garden – June 2017


The moon offers her comforting light
Signaling that it’s time to rest
despite so many tasks incomplete
New responsibilities begin tomorrow
to preserve and share the healing work
of a wise and gifted Ojibwe elder

Early June, 2017


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Ah, Choices

Carol A. Hand

So much gardening to do but so much to say

on this lovely last day in the month of May

Editing felt like the honorable choice

fulfilling a promise to give others a voice

Their suffering and resilience through the ages

shared in stories with love on manuscript pages

Today I chose to plant seeds in a different fashion

with hopes they will blossom into compassion


Crabapple Tree – May 2017


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Reflections at the End of May

Carol A. Hand


at the close of May

My spirit will breathe easier

because you decided to bloom today

despite the gray skies that

came our way



Crabapple Tree – May 29, 2017


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Finally Spring Snippets

Carol A. Hand

May 2017


After waiting patiently through summer, fall, and snow

a mystery of the willow is finally revealed


Willow – Female Catkin – May 2017


Catkins bloom on swaying branches as gentle breezes blow

answering my question about gender, an enigma unsealed


Beloved Willow – May 2017


now that the eagerly anticipated spring has belatedly begun

she reaches gracefully toward the morning sun


May 2017


A lone tulip emerges amid the ferns during these warming days

her petals open oh so slightly – a response to my loving gaze?


May 2017


Ah what is that sweet gentle scent I’ve not noticed in the past

Bleeding hearts are nodding to unveil their spring gifts at last


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Reflections about Invented Traditions

Carol A. Hand

All of the sacred lifeways of the past

that we now revere as traditions

were once newly created, seen as divine messages

passed on through seers and bodhisattvas

around the world throughout human time

Visions were given meaning and substance

from so many different cultural vantage points –

stories passed down from generation to generation,

recorded on stone tablets and sacred birchbark scrolls,

and in bibles, constitutions, and scientific texts


That doesn’t mean the messages are untrue

It simply reminds us that all traditions

should be continually re-examined

in the critical light of changing contexts and times

What we believe to be cast in stone may no longer serve us

Perhaps it’s time to make adjustments

or invent new ways to socially construct

different, peaceful, inclusive possibilities

instead of simply continuing to repeat

the divisive, oppressive, violent ways

we mindlessly use old traditions to justify


Dandelion Field – May 23, 2017


A simple but relevant question to ponder:

Why are dandelion fields less valued than well-manicured grass lawns and flowerbeds?


The question of traditions is something I am revisiting as I edit my book manuscript and reflect on old family dynamics that keep repeating. Two helpful resources are listed below if you are interested in scholarly discourse on the topics of invented traditions and imagined communities.

Benedict Anderson (1995). Imagined Communities. London, UK: Verso.

Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Ranger (Eds.)(1992). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


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Reflections about Learning and Vision

Carol A. Hand

Last night before I fell asleep, I did what I usually do. Solved a cryptogram puzzle or two. Often the quotes in the puzzle books are silly, but on rare occasions they inspire deeper reflection like the one below.



“Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” (Thomas Carlyle)

I have always loved solving puzzles and studying things around me. I didn’t realize, though, that the way I saw the world was different than the view others had. By the time I was in third grade, I couldn’t see what was written on the blackboard unless I leaned forward with my face cradled on my open palms with the outer edges of my eyes pulled taught by my fingers. By narrowing my visual field, I was able to see a little further. I thought that was “normal.”

A Myopic View

Sadly, that automatic adaptation stopped working. I learned after a visit to an ophthalmologist that I had a case of rapidly advancing myopia. Until that visit, I didn’t realize that others could see individual leaves on the tops of trees, or stars in the night sky. The things I could see needed to be close at hand. Instead of looking through a telescope at the sky, I explored the wonder of life in the local pond through my microscope.

Daphnia pulix – Wikimedia –
Photo by Paul Hebert


Microscopic Movie Stars


Myopia has taught me that I need to focus more intensely to see things. I’m reminded of the moral from a Sufi story told by John McKnight. “You will only learn what you already know.” As I listen to the obfuscating main-stream news reports, I wonder what is beneath the surface of the swampy non-issues that fill headlines, and then I let it go. I see it as “what lies dimly at a distance,” and focus on what I can do here and now.

The answer at the moment includes gardening, teaching, and writing among other things. Gardening has fed me during lean winters in the past and will hopefully do so in the future. Gardens have also provided a sanctuary for me and others throughout the years. It’s not something I “know” as an expert, but I do know the value of learning, sometimes through trial and error. Variable, unpredictable weather patterns and conditions make growing healthy plants a never-ending learning endeavor.

I work part-time as an educator. I’ve not been “trained” as a teacher, but from a framework of liberatory praxis, I know that having all of the answers, even if it were possible, would be of little real value to others. Without curiosity, I’m not sure learning is possible. Educators just need to be fully present to help people uncover who they are and what they already know, and encourage them to ignite their curiosity so they can continue learning – always.

And I write. The words that flow through me come from a source I can’t control or reach with my intellectual capacities. All I can say is that sometimes I am compelled to record what I see, hear, think or feel. And sometimes, like today, I feel compelled to share what I write.

Perhaps the answer to breaking the cycle of only learning what we already know is simply to admit what we don’t know. Perhaps we also need to let go of the illusion that we can ever know anything definitively. At some point we have to take the risk to do what we can anyway, even if we don’t know all of the answers. We’re bound to learn something in the process if we try things we’ve never done before, just as I did when I donned my first pair of thick coke-bottle lenses as a child. I already knew that pond-life was fascinating, but I learned that there millions and millions of stars in the night sky. Stars were here before humans and may well be here long after we’re gone.

Our insignificant lives will probably have little effect on how brilliantly the stars shine, although it will undoubtedly affect our ability to see them. But our actions do directly affect the life of all that surrounds us close “at hand.” Hopefully we will not be myopic in the choices we make about how we live with all the other beings who share our one precious planet.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle to solve if you are interested. I hope you enjoy the challenge and the message.


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May Moon

Carol A. Hand

Sometimes, on the darkest night

the moon appears, a guiding light

shining on the world below

a reminder of our inner glow

urging us to do the same for others


Moon on May 12, 2017


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