Tuesday, July 26, 2011

making art of everything

video

recently i found myself at the end of a day with the strong feeling that not only had i not accomplished anything, but that i had actively made the world worse. i was miserable.

but i had determined to record every night. so i took all of my mawkish misery and wrote this song. over the next week, i spent some time recording the sounds of the day-to-day dreary things i find so oppressive, as well as the beautiful things i love to do, like watering the garden or snipping herbs into a salad. i looped these sounds into the recording and turned it into a celebration: both of a terrible mood, and of ways to get oneself out of it.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

cupid and psyche

i'm sure you are all familiar with the story: it has different faces, beauty and the beast, east of the sun west of the moon, the polar king. it has been haunting me lately. nearly every culture has some version of it; mustn't it then hold something very important to learn?

she leaves the safety and familiarity of her home to wed a monster. he has either been threatening her family or promising them great wealth in exchange for her; either way, she does it out of duty. there is the suggestion that she never really fit in with her family anyway. she perhaps had no clear enough dreams of her own. does she accept this marriage as a sort of assumed purpose, hoping it will give some direction or definition to her life? she is young and strong and wants to test her powers. she feels she could take on a monster, perhaps even redeem him. she is eager for the chance to test herself. it is a relief, in a way, to have something to do.

her optimism and enthusiasm win him over. he treats her kindly. she begins to identify with him despite his repulsive appearance/invisibility. she feels she can be his ally, though everyone else misunderstands and fears him. it makes her feel important, special, to be the one who sees through his roughness.

but she longs to see clearly. she is confused by others' opinions and projections and needs a definitive answer about who this creature really is. has she been misled? is he truly as terrible as others seem to think? or can she trust in her own perceptions of his kindness and character? is he fooling her? is she offering her most intimate self to a monster?

so she takes her mother's advice, though he warned her not to. in the night, when he lays himself beside her in darkness, she holds a candle up to his face. she wants to see him clearly. that is not too much to ask, surely? but she is violating an unspoken agreement, the understanding that she should never look too clearly, too directly, that she should only perceive him in half-light and fumbling, that too clear an answer, too objective a look, would destroy the half-truth half-world they had established. illusions would fall in the face of what was really there.

but of course what was really there, what she sees by the forbidden light of the candle, is BEAUTIFUL. that vulnerable sleeping center of the beast, undefended and unmasked, is a god. and for the first time she knows, without illusion or pretence, that she loves him.

but a drop of wax falls and wakes him. he is furious to have been seen so clearly. it defeats him, his need to be a powerful beast, to hide behind the terror and the half-truths. he wanted to be the only one seeing. he did not want to be seen in return. so he casts her out. he takes everything with him: her possessions, her very home and the land it stands on. her daily context is gone. her illusions are gone. the monster/lover has flown and left her bereft.

she has nothing. she is cold and heartbroken and hungry. yet somehow she forgets all else, she forgives his unforgivable actions, she begins a wrenching and heroic journey in pursuit of him.

but why? why should she seek him now? why, in the face of his clear abandonment and cruelty, does she not go on and build a life for herself in other lands? isn't the onus on him now, the weight of proving himself, winning her back?

whatever her reasons--embarrassment to face her family, a lack of any other perceived purpose for her life, love--she follows him. she is told by everyone in authority that the journey is impossible. she is told that her physical body cannot go where he has gone. in some versions she learns to fly on the back of the wind. in others she is sent to the underworld, to meet the queen of the dead.

having made it to these unreachable kingdoms, she has one more battle to join in order to win him. in one version she must resist the temptation of great beauty or she will stay forever in the underworld. in another she must defeat a hideously ugly rival for her lover's affections by tempting her with beautiful dresses and golden combs. either way, vanity seems to be the final hurdle. once she has overcome it he is there, waiting to be rescued from (in one version) life with his mother or (in another) marriage to a she-troll.

her devotion has liberated him. but she has grown older and worn in her journey. she is no longer perfectly beautiful, or perfectly innocent. she has changed. she is no longer a fitting decoration for the illusory pleasure palace of their first wedded days. will he love her?

he will. they are wed. he has shed the guise of the monster forever. he brings her to the heavens to share the cup of immortality.


so who is she? (wisdom, womankind, the soul, the human spirit?)

who is he? (god, truth, man, ego, the shadow, the mind?)

why does he forsake her for looking at him clearly--although it is this action that eventually leads to his freedom?

and why is it that she is the one who must fight for his liberation, why doesn't he have to overcome any obstacles on his own? or if he does, why don't we hear about them?


Sunday, June 19, 2011

preparation/transformation



so...tuesday night is the big gig at the viper room, and i alternate between bouts of bonecrunching anxiety and an almost untethered euphoria. the mantra that works is this: it is one night, one night, one night.

if i turn out to be a miserable flop, well then at least i had the bravery to try. if i find that i love it and am well-received, then perhaps it will be the beginning of something beautiful and new. whatever may happen, it will be a party, a wild ride, with friends attending from all phases of my past---multitudes of unexpected last-minute developments have this show shaping up more like a piece of performance art/drama than a musical set. there may be many many musicians backing me, some of whom i have never met. there may be an actress, and a lost native woman from the past, and a librarian, and time portals. ....no, really. you should really, really be there.

i have learned this about myself: the more that is piled on my plate, the happier i am--both literally and figuratively (laura can vouch for this one!). i LIKE organizing summer classes and pulling together a band and learning new songs and raising children and putting eggshells 'round the tomatoes and working on a book and mapping out a similarly multi-coursed future, all at once. it is the moments when i find myself at a loss for purpose that i grow tired.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

woman and weakness.



i found that poem in the course of clearing out loads of old papers from their demonic nesting place beneath my sink (betcha anything that if i looked up feng shui, under-the-sink would be my area for mental clarity or something along those lines. maybe prosperity? sanity? forbearance?)

i also found a journal, started and then forgotten. i knelt in the carnage of papers, cleaning supplies, and general undersink guts, reading. it didn't sound like my voice. i didn't remember ever thinking these thoughts i'd committed to paper. there were 12 entries, distributed over the course of a long-ago month. each had something to do with being female.

i left the piles on the floor and began setting the words in the journal to music. i tried not to edit too much. it was more pleasant by far than organizing under the sink. though i suppose i'll have to return to that eventually if i ever want to regain the use of my kitchen.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

being born!

I just found a poem I wrote soon after Xir's birth. It is chillingly honest. I was really hurting at the time, so thrown by the direction my life had taken, so unprepared for the reality of motherhood in isolation.

When I remember that time, all I feel is an overwhelming gratitude that all of that anger somehow resolved itself without anyone getting mauled! There were years when anger was my primary motivating force. I suppose most of it arose from the tension between my very stringent expectations of myself and the reality of who I was. These days, though I am constantly at work on ways of blooming, I find strength in the truth of what I am rather than punishing myself for all I am not. It sure frees up a lot of time. And a lot of love.

Being Born!

Before we left the desert, where the hammock hung---there---strung
Between the silvered drought-dead locust and the lush singleleaf ash—
Those first warm days of spring I’d rock my worldnew baby boy there,
Watching through a sketch of leaves the nest-building begin.

A mourning dove was nesting in the ash’s head-high crook
So diligent and patient as she waited through the hours—
She could fly! Yet she refrained! How my hurt heart learned to hate her
As I struck out, angry, lost, across the hills.

She had wings! Yet she refrained! She remained there, resolutely,
untouched by the ambivalence that raged always in me.
I was beating at the cage. She was beatific, unconflicted,
motherhood her paramount and perfect-met concern.

How I envied her her patience. How I hated her for staying.
How I raged, and walked, and rocked, and surged, and paced the desert ground.

Then one of those horrid days, when if mothers could, I’d quit,
I soothed my screaming baby in the hammock’s lilting arc
And gazing dull-eyed over out of habit at her nest
Saw her hatchlings—born! bedraggled! quick with life!

She was my ally after all. I turned away. My vision blurred
to see the nest builder succeed: it was so terrible and grand.
I held my son to see the ones who—being born!—
Did what he’d done
But he slept, sweet-heavy, safe, between my arms.

Monday, June 6, 2011

onward and upward


It takes my breath, the way the world has conspired to pull me bodily from my latest heartbreak and shake me awake. Old friends I thought lost materialize from nowhere, old boyfriends try to reconnect, music winds tendrils through everything. Long-forgotten wishes come true. There are handmade gypsy wagons parked in friends' driveways. There are mountain cabins to live in.

I was so lost. I don't know why I do this, but I tend to fold myself into the ones I love. I lose my equilibrium; it is so easy to become the girl I think my lover wants that I slip dangerously and inevitably into someone else, an imagined someone, and then wonder why it is that I no longer feel authentic, or happy. If the relationship ends (and of course it does, how could I stay in a relationship of which I am no part? How could anyone want to stay with someone who isn't there?) I feel a double loss, the loss of my beloved and the loss of the person I was when I was with him--the person that came alive only for him, and will never live again.

strange how I can learn this, and learn this, and yet the cycle repeats, new twists each time:

repeal, revisit, these things repeat
she's coming alive!--here we go, plant your feet
there's always one change to reel you in--
genius. joy. (took the bait, pull her in!)
change takes a second after years of resolve
and it's often the saddest moment in the world

I know I must be getting something out of it to continue such a pattern in the face of so many obvious drawbacks. Is it the intensity? The chance to try out new personalities, new lifestyles? My very wise friend suggested that I might be externalizing, using relationships to befriend part of myself I could never acknowledge otherwise. It is true that this last heartbreaking encounter left me with a whole album's worth of songs and a renewed commitment to my music. Goodbye, careworn single mom, hello, freewheeling rockstar! I mean, it's better, right?

But I have got to learn to do this on my own. I cannot be putting myself and my children in danger on the constant quest for novelty and adventure. There must be love out there that is steady without being dull, all-consuming without being...ummm.....all-consuming. Well, obviously I need to redefine a few things. Right now I would just like to say how very, very grateful I am. For strong friends and serendipity. For resolution from within. For a body strong enough to climb mountains, when that is necessary. For enough space, and time, to work things out in writing and song. For possibility. For transformation.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

self promotion.


Several opportunities have fallen into my lap recently, truly wonderful ones: to live in a cabin in the mountains and manage a cherry orchard. to play my original songs at the Viper Room. to run classes and workshops out of my friend's new studio space in santa monica.

But there's always a catch, right? The world does not grant our desires without requiring growth in return. Each of these opportunities requires me to promote myself. And self-promotion is just about the most distasteful activity I can imagine. I operate on the assumption that there are probably loads of people who are better than me at nearly everything I do. And although I love to talk about myself, I prefer that someone else bring the subject up!

I know this is anomalous behavior in this entertainment-driven city. And it's especially poor timing: I've been acting irresponsible and cruel lately, for no reason I can discern besides perhaps exhaustion, and it is hard to promote oneself when one is pretty sure that one is a hot mess.

How do I inform a non-existent fan base of my gig in June so that I can fill that room with an audience? How do I convince a gentleman farmer that a 30-something single mom is the ideal orchard manager? How do I advertise basket-making and songwriting and book-binding courses so that I can make a living doing the things that I love? This is not my world or my skill set. But nevertheless, the excitement is carrying me along, and I am determined to move through it.

So far I have set up a facebook page as a musician (here it is: like me, like me! ) even though I feel embarrassed every time I think about it. My friend and I have begun to think up really fun publicity stunts---stilts and puppet shows and busking in the streets---to promote the gig on June 21st. I am eating a lot of cherries. And although I've not yet figured out how to promote my studio classes, I have been to the studio in question. Baby steps.

Wish me luck. And, of course, if you have any advice for me, I'm all ears.


Friday, May 20, 2011

invention.


Yesterday evening my friend took me to venice beach for an art show featuring Maye, an artist she met in Taos. Maye is the sort of woman who never meets a stranger. Immediately I was being introduced around as 'her friend, the artist' and being drawn into conversations that were way over my head. It was glorious to breathe the ionized air of the glowing seaside, talk fabricators and galleries and museums and light, drink free wine, and find my place amidst so many whose lives revolve around art and music.

I have learned again and again that the world is just as we choose it to be. We say we are in love and we are in love. We say we are unresolved and so we are unresolved. We say we are conflicted about motherhood and so we are conflicted mothers. We say we are artists, and we are.

It is just this power that has made me so indecisive of late---nothing less than the power of invention, the creative force. I know that whatever I decide will come true, no matter how poor the decision is. And that paralyzes me--I know how poor my decisions can be! But by choosing not to choose, I am choosing to be indecisive. And then that comes true. There's no out. We're inventing all the time.

As the wine loosened my tongue last night I found myself collaring strangers, musicians mostly, and asking them about the bravest thing they've ever done. I have been brave before. I'd like to be brave again. It helps to talk about it. It helps to watch the bravery of my friends: Maye, living alone in the desert fiercely getting by on art; Laura, opening her dream studio; Michele, walking from Canada to Mexico with only her guitar and a backpack; M.J., leaving her business to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

Late into the night I walked out to the bus, summoning my kung-fu glamour around myself to ward off trouble. As quickly as I had become a bohemian artist, I transformed into a no-nonsense warrior with a don't-mess-with-me stride. All the way home, I watched my reflection in the window, flickering like a firefly: wife. mother. single woman. musician. farmer. nomad. teacher. charity case. wisewoman. pushover. writer. friend. enemy. ascetic. glutton. chameleon.

Aren't we all.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

eras.

They define themselves, I guess, leaving us entirely out of it. So I collapse back into the softness of this weather, letting life pass by for a while, letting decisions rest while I try to change pain into art. Or maybe not art--vindictive folk-hop would be a better name for it.

A long time ago when I was trying to learn the greek dance Kritikos, my teacher explained it this way: "you lose your balance at the beginning, and you stay just off-balance all the way until the end."

amen.

Christopher Phoenix, this one's for you: (adult language warning!)



Saturday, May 7, 2011

I love my mother.

I can be so hard on myself, measuring out the moments with Xir and Anainn by my miserable moods, or thinking of all I could do better, or noticing how much I have let go.

And yet, when I think of my mother, I do not remember moments or moods. There is just an overall continuity of love. And as I contemplate drastic moves and sudden changes, it is good to bear this in mind. This constancy of love is such a simple thing, such a good one: enough to just be there, to try, to keep things going even when all I have to offer is the bare minimum.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Party.



It would seem that many of us are going through transitions, dreaming and wondering and working steadily on what is going to happen next.

Here is one immediate happening: two Thursdays from now, the 12th of May, I am going to hold a gathering here at the 12x12. There will be drinks and desserts and a driftwood fire. Paints and collage materials and instruments and paper will be available. The idea goes something like this: we all get hyped up on sugar (and fermented sugar) and then get into the making of art. Anyone can make anything: collage, painting, poetry, music, pottery---just to mark this year gone by and work out some ideas about what we want to happen in the next one. I am thinking around 7 pm. 3549 Wesley St. Culver City, near Venice and National. Let me know if you plan to come! Bring art supplies/poetry books/anything that might inspire you.

And the greatest is sublimation, for through sublimation our pain and our mental confusion may be transformed into great works of art, into the very guideposts that may help others to avoid these same miseries...






Friday, April 22, 2011

wrought in a year

As I begin to overlap the months--- watching now-familiar trees bud out for the second time, picking bouquets of the mock-orange whose fragrance first greeted me upon moving in this time last year---I feel a strange tenderness toward this home. Very little, outwardly at least, has changed for the better in our dwelling-place. Our habitation of it has worn bare spots into the floors, greasemarks onto the walls, flaking spots into the paint and splintered bits into the sills. The door no longer fits cleanly and has to be wrestled with whenever one wants to leave. The stucco of the ceiling looks dingy. Drawers don't quite close. The oven doesn't work. Anything that was breakable has long since broken.

And yet---
What was once bare dry grass is now a garden, with tomatoes and herbs and salad and beets and figs and lemons. There is a fireplace where once a plastic lounge chair sat quietly moldering. Soil that once could not hold water has now been fortified with a full year's eggshells and vegetable peelings and stays in place, drinking thirstily, when it rains. Not only that: there are earthworms! We never saw a one when we first dug the garden. Now the earth is teeming with them.

Still, the best changes are invisible. I moved here, not as a conscious choice to be HERE, but simply to flee something else. I spent a lot of time licking my wounds. And now, at the close of a year's residency in this admittedly tight cocoon, I am fully ready to move TOWARD something. For its own sake. What felt sterile and afraid in me is now quickened and reaching. There are earthworms in my soil now too! (uhhh...not to put too fine a point on it.)

I will probably keep writing for a time, because I love to write, and because this blog/confessional/vanity press doesn't feel quite finished. But I want to pause and thank those of you who have journeyed with me this far. I remember biking past Culver Studios in April of last year and seeing that unknown man skipping down the steps, joyful, and feeling so certainly that I was home. Yesterday I passed the same spot. But this time I was traveling with a friend, someone I'd never met this time last year, someone now dear. The streets were full of people. Near the place where, a year ago, I wrote of my conversation with a stranger at a traffic light, I watched the president of the united states pass in his caravan while the inhabitants of my city cheered and waved. Overlap. Things grow deeper as we pass over them again and again.

I don't think any of this would be so clear had I not documented it here. Thank you for being the anonymous audience that helped to form my memory. These lines that link us all together, we who share this stretch of time on earth, the only ones who ever will---I can feel the connection more keenly for having written these things down, and for your reading of them. Does that make sense? A stranger so quickly becomes a friend. A strange place so quickly becomes a home.

Monday, April 18, 2011

music for a full moon

videoIt has been an extremely rough day. Knocked the tar right out of me, enough so that I am now feeling limp enough to post a few of my songs here. These are the kind of songs I write. Not rock star material, really. But kind of nice to listen to under the light of the moon. Anyway, being brave is a great tonic.

(this next video is just a song, no picture. i couldn't figure out any other way to upload it. c'mon, after the day i've had, the fact that i am staring at a computer screen instead of the bottom of a whiskey bottle is testament to the doggedness of my puritanical upbringing!)

video

Sunday, April 17, 2011

how we love


it is evening, so sweet, the last warmth of the day carries the scent of jasmine and roses and just a touch of woodsmoke over from the neighbor's. the boys are sleeping through my obsessive amp exploration. ( i got an amp last week! it has so many settings! yippee!) i have been writing love songs. i keep thinking about love.

this summer i was visiting a friend as she prepared a birthday present for her beloved. she had contacted all of the important people from his past, touchstones in the timeline of his life, and asked each of them to contribute a recipe. she then selected an ingredient from each recipe---corn, say, or onion---and used this ingredient to make the paper upon which she printed the recipe. then she assembled all of these beautiful handmade recipe papers into a sort of personalized memoir of a cookbook. amazing, right? genius. artistry. love.

i don't know if i can love like that. i have been questioning my ability to love, lately. i seem to put a lot of conditions on it. i seem to be rather locked up. and the gifts i give seem to be, mostly, for me: the men in my life are nearly always the i-don't-celebrate type and the things i supposedly do in their honor are really so that i can feel good.

xir, lately, has been begging to go to church with his friends, and so we spent the morning at a more evangelical place than i would normally feel comfortable attending. i listened to a heartfelt sermon about how, for christians, there is no more work to do, how all the work has been done. there is no checklist of things to do to be acceptable. all of that was accomplished on the cross, and all that remains is to live a life of what the minister called 'glory'.

i was thinking all day of a love like that. a love that required nothing, that accepted all, that found no fault, and wanted only for the beloved to find the fullest expression of his or her self. how we all long for that, and how rarely any of us provide it for anyone else. i mean really, what would it look like? it's not practical! we don't set up our lives to accommodate that sort of love! even for our children, there are so many conditions that must be met. even for our friends. when i look honestly into my heart, i know that none of my relationships are unconditional. i look for benefit in all of them. when the benefit ceases, the relationship ends.

i felt so much resistance listening to the minister this morning. it seemed way too easy. no code of conduct? no commandments to follow? no special exercises to do every morning? no dietary restrictions? buddha's last words were: 'strive without cease!' jesus's, apparently, translate roughly to 'paid in full!'

it's different. a different way to love. trusting someone to do what is best for them, to live according to their highest calling, instead of trying to get them to behave according to code. for one thing, i find it unlikely to succeed. maybe i am projecting, but try as i might, i find it hard to grasp that, given freedom from ethical and moral codes of conduct, a majority of humanity would aspire to anything besides rank individualism.

but there are so many ways to love...and i am always surprised. what do i know? it has been a wonderful day. despite an interminable-at-the-time meltdown from my youngest this afternoon, the rest of the day stretched long and golden. how little we need! everything in my life is up in the air: i may leave the state at any time. i am not sure what i want from myself, or the world, anymore. i am out of money. nearly every relationship i find myself in feels all-consuming and out of control. the hours i used to spend on laundry, housecleaning, garden maintenance, and mending are now unapologetically consumed by electric guitar practice. i feel crazy to myself. there is nothing solid in me to love!

and yet---i am loved. out of this chaos i continue to give love.

i keep learning. it amazes me, how little any of us ever actually need. so much of what i thought was necessary turns out to have been a crutch. ah well. learning to love. it was never going to be easy, was it?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

anniversary.


i just realized that my first post to this blog was april 20th, 2010. my original plan was to write for one year about the experience of living in this little house. things changed, as they do, and this blog became more of an online chronicle of my experience of life in general. and i certainly did not write every day. or mention the house that often!

but still. i believe occasions ought to be marked, and i'd like to mark this one. i think i'll have a party in the yard, with a fire and libations and conversation about all of the things that life throws at us. those of you who live nearby (whether i've met you or not!) and/or think you might want to come, comment with suggested dates and times, and i'll put something together!

love, dweller

Saturday, April 9, 2011

criticism.



I used to think that people who criticized me were smart--the only ones who could see through me. I used to believe that listening to negative feedback would help me become a better person. I was once convinced that being told my faults would help me eliminate them.

But oh! IT IS NOT TRUE. Criticism cripples. I don't care how unenlightened it sounds. It can kill beauty and happiness outright. It is the 'bitter glass' Yeats writes of in The Two Trees.

Keeping the company of those who genuinely like me is a fountain of youth. Inspiration flows. Love burgeons. Ideas and laughter and insight abound.

Keeping the company of those who find fault with me is like a slow withering. I start to believe in my own darkness. I start to live it out. I begin to lose faith in myself.

I have been feeling this so strongly lately that I feel the need to eliminate criticism entirely. Even the 'constructive' sort. (Ha! Constructive. Seriously?) If I have nothing nice to say I will not say it. Even to my two year old.

And as for that most insidious kind, self-criticism, I'm going to yank it out by the roots. Mercilessly.

As I navigate the storms and changes that seem to pursue me like winged GPS-equipped battering rams, I also pledge this to myself: I will keep company only with those people who seem to enjoy mine. Simple as that.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

relationship, in poetry.

because i am too exhausted to write prose.

vanishing point

mad rejoinders, wonders,
eyes and hearts forward, brothers:

the changes may come coldly now,
unending, overwhelming.

if you have dreams, write them down.
let no openness go closed.

let each petal of each rose
be lined and counted.

daily bread

punching through paper walls, seeing stars--
dizzying work, shifting walls--
we do not enter these rooms to stay.

it could not be another way.

help your friends and sons get fed, spin the wheels for daily bread,
you cannot ever win this game.

could it be another way?
--we do not enter these rooms to stay.

voice in the wilderness

honeyed and wild-eyed
no rock: a storm, a madness,
a tearing-down of
the made ways and clean days
of the wide world.

unstable as they come, this bravest one:
to pave the way for love so great
a world must be unmade.

who loves the unmaker?
who praises change?

so, lonely goes the prophet.
now who could bear such weight?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

well, one thing i can say for the (ahem) tumultuous relationship i have been fully and passionately engaged in for the past month....at the cost, perhaps, of just about everything else in my life....is that it has made for a surge in creative output. five new songs, dozens and dozens of rather awful poems, lots of sketches, several batches of naturally-dyed herbal-scented playdough to keep the kiddies happy, and so on. also i now have an electric guitar.

that counts for something, right? sublimation or bust.





Tuesday, March 15, 2011

second chances


Are there others of you who practice this ridiculous and addictive habit of self-sabotage? I seem to have almost a fear of succeeding: when I put my finger on it, pin it down, it is because each choice made is an un-choosing of countless other things. Floating around in my subconscious is the idea that if I am admitted to Naropa, if I go to Colorado and become a wilderness therapist, I will not be a midwife, or a rock star, or a nomadic poet, or a neurosurgeon. It seems, also, to be irrelevant whether or not these are even things I want for myself. I simply cannot stand to watch the choices go away. There is a reluctance to ACT in my own life, to CHOOSE, that I do not understand. Recently someone observed that I've lived my life like a multiple-choice assignment, not carving out my own direction or answers, taking only what is handed to me and not asking for what it is that I truly want.

But what DO i want? Oh, isn't this the question! What do any of us want? The story of the Green Knight would have us believe that what we want is to have our own way. But to have our own way is the most dangerous thing of all. As per the Dalai Lama:

"Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck."

And George Eliot chimes in:

"And certainly, the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it."

I have been so hesitant to follow my intuition. The last time I went with my gut, I dropped job and love and security to swan off to California. We all know how that ended: stuck in Los Angeles for 7 years in an oppressive, loveless marriage. At least, that's the way I've been spinning the story. But what if I looked at it this way: I followed my intuition and left the world of D.C. and empty politics, became a landscape designer and solar installer and art teacher, made some of the dearest friends of my life, learned kung fu, had two beautiful and miraculous children, and discovered that so far, there is no hardship I cannot survive. What if that were my story? Would it help me continue forward instead of always holding this wish for revision?

I see it as both a weakness and a great strength of mine, the ability to meet someone where they are, to give infinite chances to those who have hurt me, or lost their way, or made mistakes. I hope the world will extend me the same allowance----and, usually, it does. But I rarely extend the same allowance to myself. It would be interesting, I think, as an experiment, to try being harder on others and easier on myself for a while. Or maybe nix the harder on others part. Maybe just be easier on myself.

I am back in Boulder for a second attempt, the first having gone sour in every conceivable way. I left my work, my children, my taxes and housecleaning and responsibilities in California. Here, I wake and recite my dreams, sip cappuccino whilst murmuring poems back and forth with my beloved, graze on chocolate and salmon, follow my whims and appetites. The mountains are to the west, snowy and sleeping. It is easy to befriend others. When I return, I cannot help but feel that everything will have changed.

tides

rising here, i am
unafraid, expanding. aware of the
inevitable contraction.

(there is a tide)

there was an answer in the sheets
a story being told somewhere to which i knew the ending

(in the affairs of men)

there was laughter for a morning, snow melt, singing
letting life in, still, despite the warning,

(which taken at the flood)

there will be a reckoning, and yet
everything has already begun.

(leads on to fortune)

it is past time.
it is time.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat.And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” -William Shakespeare

Monday, March 7, 2011

children and time



it is an endless string of requests. can we stop and play tag? could we pull over and look at the fish in the neighbor's pond? will you tell me a story on the way? where is my cape? come outside and splash in the hose too, okay? i feel put-upon, exhausted, stressed. i see a long tunnel of errands: bus trip, groceries, unpack and put away, laundry, homework, cook dinner, wash up, return phone calls, plan trip for grad school interview this weekend, renew library book. the light at the end of it is me, alone, with a cup of tea, SITTING DOWN. i just want to get to that moment. i ignore and snap and hedge. no, there's no time. we'll see the fish later. i want to concentrate on getting there. i don't have time to look for your cape, keep track of your own things. i've got a lot to do in here, can't you just play by yourselves for a while?

but today xir turned to me and said you are always in a hurry. what are you rushing for? why can't we just have fun?

suddenly i could see myself through his eyes. THAT mom. Somehow i have become THAT mom.

yesterday we biked to the movies, the ones by the lovely lion fountain in downtown culver city, and the boys wanted to run through the streams of water while we waited. i fussed and went on about sitting in wet clothes in a cold movie theater and meanwhile the fellow i've been all gushy about in the posts below laughed and told them yes, be careful, you might have too much fun! oh no, don't have too much fun, get out of there! and ran through with them.

that used to be me. what on earth happened? what am i so afraid of? since when did i care about damp clothes in movie theaters? since when did i pass up a chance to play tag, or look at fish swimming?

i suppose there are no easy answers. dinner, after all, does need to be cooked, and the clothes do need to be washed. but a life that leaves no room for impromptu games of tag or running through the hose is not a life i'm interested in living.

where is the time we thought we would have? the time to sit and look at the moon and work out a song on the guitar, the time to lay in the grass and doze, or browse through several books of poetry, or play long involved games with your children until the shadows grow long and you've lost any sense of the hour? have we really spent it on dishwashing and grocery shopping? but how else could it ever be? i am at a loss.

how i love you, xir, and your ability to cut through your frustration and speak to me clearly. how i love you, anainn, and your laughter and flexibility. i want to take care of you, but not at the price of never really knowing you. what is to be done?

Friday, March 4, 2011

numinous beginnings

"The numinous beginning, which contained everything...." Carl Jung, 1957

A few months ago I wrote this in my journal:

"You just can never tell. Every unfolding day throws life into a new perspective, or adds an ending that turns what you thought was an anecdote into foreshadowing. Things just KEEP HAPPENING. So the past is mutable. There can be no conclusion, so there can be no story, and no story line. What freedom!"

It has been a strange week, a week almost out of time, nesting and dreaming and allowing life to surprise me. Not building up defenses to lessen the shock. Letting myself ride this, to see what will happen. Trusting my intuition, one more time.

So, suddenly, I love someone. It is as though I have known him for ages. I recognize him. And knowing him now throws my entire history of love into a new light: he very strongly resembles my first love. his manner of speaking and his smile are reminiscent of the boy who drew me all the way across the country. and his birthday is one day off from that of the boys' father.

Might these similarities have been what attracted me to all those others in the first place? Echoes of this yet-unknown person that I somehow knew was out there, shadowy reminders of a love I would one day experience?

(Well, as I said to my friend on the phone this evening, you simply cannot talk about things like this without sounding dippy. I apologize.)

And if I am making all of this up--as I feel, sometimes, I must be--well then isn't it wonderful to know that I have the capacity to imagine something this sublime. That it is there, in my heart, the potential to love like this. It gives me renewed faith in myself and in my ability to negotiate a path through this wild world, a path that stays close to the heart of things.

It is a time of great changes for me. This weekend I am flying to Boulder to interview for the wilderness psychology program. My life here in California is drawing, one way or another, to a close. And wherever it is that I may go, I know that I will go with renewed resolve to live this life as if it matters. Whatever else may come of this, I know for certain that the days of setting the stage--living on the surface--are over.


Friday, February 25, 2011

cocooning



this has been a week of poetry for me; poetry and music making and that first desperate blur of falling-in-love.

i spent the morning writing poem after poem after poem, and though i happen to think they are quite good, i am not going to print them here because they are all about sex. ahem.

so this afternoon i sent my new love off in the rain and welcomed my children back home, and here we are, cozy and safe, the boys dreaming, mama processing what the heck just happened.

i so often describe, here, the difficulties of living in a small space that i want to take a moment and list the lovely things.

1) i have such a low overhead that i never feel any financial pressure.
2) a thorough, no-holds-barred housecleaning never takes more than a day.
3) when one is in love, one's beloved is never out of sight.
4) since i need work only a few days a week to cover my bills, the rest of my time is devoted to family, creativity, sunlight, development...and i do not feel limited or defined by the work that i do.

i feel such gratitude lately for this warm, dry nest. and also...

remember the list i made on new year, detailing the three things i wanted for 2011? well, one of them, naturally, was to meet a wild gypsy musician who would adore me and write songs with me and feel the adventure, the poetry of life just as keenly as i.

so: he's here. (next time i maybe won't put quite so much emphasis on the 'wild' part. i'm just saying.)


Saturday, February 19, 2011

cabin fever

Reigning changes! has there ever been
a time so quick-moving, cursive--
this is your mind, as you've known it.
these are your questions,
you've heard.

If the rain had come sooner, I'd seen it
the way I saw everything bloom.
In the end there is just one decision:
to love with exquisite precision.


Oh, the beautiful rains. The beautiful, beautiful rains that I love so much when I can cocoon in my peaceful house, listen to Billie Holiday, write letters, drink tea. The beautiful rains that trap me in this tiny prison with a six-year-old climbing the walls and a toddler screeching about his hurt finger...or elbow...or heel...or whichever body part aforementioned six-year-old most lately stepped on.

The morning was a pastiche of me trying to keep the toddler out of the knife drawer, trying to find a square inch of counter space to prepare food, breaking up deafening squabbles over toys or juice or which book to read.

I did get a little more clever toward the afternoon, dreaming up art projects all of us could get into (collaged vision boards: Anainn rips up the magazines, Xir trims and slathers glue, I provide thoughtful artistic guidance like "maybe it would work better to put the glue on the paper instead of on your brother"). And after dinner, while Anainn slept, Xir and I conducted a tournament to see who could fling a rubber band the closest to a valentine we'd pinned to the chair. Somehow, we made it to bedtime with all major arteries unsevered.

As we cuddled in bed reading a chapter of My Side of the Mountain we were startled by a sudden flash---Xir's first lightning sighting. He was beside himself. We turned off all the lights and waited by the window until the next one came: a beautiful arcing streamer of fire across the suddenly colorless sky. I remembered the final couplet of a poem I wrote years ago:

what's the most I could be without being frightening?/I want me to strike you like lightning.

...which reminds me of an unrelated thing that happened to me and upon which I simply must remark although it is entirely tangential.

It turns out, I am still capable of falling in love. The whole enchilada: butterflies and doe eyes and poetry and stomachaches. I had thought that sort of thing was an artifact of teenage hormones, anima/animus projections, time and place and choice. I had forgotten what it could be like, that certainty, that sense of falling not into something, but into place.

My judgement about whom to fall in love with, alas, remains spectacularly abysmal.

Monday, February 14, 2011

a cautionary valentine's tale



I gave my landlady an artisan handmade heart-shaped soap for valentine's day.

she ate it.




(giving your heart isn't enough. you need to provide instructions.)



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

we don't follow any sensible trajectory.



I'm not even going to try to explain how I ended up in a stranger's car outside my house near midnight, passionately discussing the existence of God and the importance of belief with a Hasidic scholar of the Talmud who is having a crisis of faith. I am a firm believer in seizing every eccentric possibility life presents, never knowing which one is going to be the one I remember always, the one that redefined who, and how, I want to be in this world. This belief has led to many bizarre encounters and situations that, when I recount them to my mother years later, cause her to retire to her room for a 'nap'.

And, sometimes, they give me an eerie sense of disembodiment, as though I'm looking at someone else's life. Because this situation couldn't possibly belong in mine. I wonder sometimes if it wouldn't be better to just have a routine, keep one job and one city and one circle of friends and just be freaking NORMAL for FIVE MINUTES.

All of this was running through my head as I held the hand of a man I'd met an hour before and listened as he poured his heart out to me. And what struck me was: how similar we are. Seeing this man walk down the street in his forelocks and fringes and head covering, I would imagine his life: more productive, more learned, more pious thoughts than mine. Probably a sense of security to belong so certainly and obviously to something. Probably no interest in, say, Wicca, or transformation psychology.

But this man described a cartoon to me, and I laughed at the truth of it: on a New York subway, someone is looking around at all of the other passengers. A thought bubble above his head reads look at them all. staring blankly, reading, not a thought in their heads except getting through the day. I'm the only one who sees the meaninglessness of it all, the underlying truth, who feels the sword of life so keenly!

Thought bubbles over the heads of all the other passengers read exactly the same.

Talking with this man (who does, in fact, have a pronounced interest in transformation psychology, though I'd've been right about the Wicca) I could feel the pain I'd been living with the past few weeks subside: the pain of being shut out of someone's life without explanation, the pain of being rejected by people, institutions, sometimes even children, and how powerless it leaves you. Because the truth is, once you've been rejected, there is nothing you can do or say to win your way back in. The power is entirely in the other person's hands. And that does not sit well, does it? If I can just talk through something, I am always fine. But being shut out cuts that cord and leaves me questioning everything about myself, sure that I deserved it somehow.

But it is not true. The truth is, we all are just living these lives inside our own heads, completely unaware of the thoughts and motivations of others, shielded from raw human interaction by personas and professional roles and pat commentary and pretty outfits. Listening to this man, I realized suddenly that no one knows me, really. I don't even know myself! Nobody knows anyone else! We're changing all the time, and we don't follow any sensible trajectory!

This blog was just the beginning of what is turning out to be a multifaceted, all-consuming honesty project for me. A fitting transition into the study of psychology, no? I am practicing interactions with strangers that have no facade, no roles, no positive spins, no scripts. Not that I think all human interaction should be this baldly brave: I just want to know that I can do it. That there is someone in there underneath all the stories and situations and changing outer forms who remains the same.

And as I find her, it is becoming very clear that she looks just like everybody else. Which is to say: scared, confused, loving, wishful, unsure, lovely.


Friday, January 28, 2011

sunbath


Ever since that slow day in january I have been following the siren song of pleasure over all else. I buy rose-and-bergamot scented soap. I eat handfuls of fresh chickweed and toyon berries with the dew still on. I sleep under the moon. I wear long skirts that make me feel beautiful, even though they are slightly impractical for the 14 miles of cycling I do daily. I stop at the park and lift weights, even though I have always felt a little silly about being such a devoted exerciser. Only shallow girls are fit, I told myself. Well, no more. I love exercise! I can exercise as much as I want!

The things I have discovered on the pleasure path! First, the world responds. Almost instantly. Everyone I meet, from grandmas to gorgeous tattooed marathon runners (more on that later!) flirts with me. My pace is slower. I sleep better. I am kinder. My house is cleaner and my garden is blooming and I am careful to leave the places I have been more beautiful than I found them. Turns out, when I'm happy, the whole world is happy! And---newsflash, Dweller---after thirty some years on the planet I have finally learned that the world is not going to make me happy. That responsibility lies with me.

So I do. Make myself happy. Today I wandered across the hidden hills that bracket Culver City, barefoot, making my own path. I found a hidden hollow beneath a nicotiana tree and meditated for a while, then took off my clothes and lay back in the waist-high grass to take in the sun. There was a gentle breeze, and a slow-stepping deer who slunk past, and nary a human for miles. I have not felt such freedom since high school.

Mamas, we come first. The joy we can give ourselves magnifies; it blesses our children and consecrates the earth we walk on and the people we touch. I feel so lucky to have discovered this. Pass it on!

Monday, January 24, 2011

one foot, then the other.



This was a powerful full moon. One of my dearest and (I realized after she tallied the years) oldest friends invited me to a moon meditation to welcome it. The instructor led us through some simple stretches and short sitting meditations, and then had us walk very slowly around the room.

At first, I felt faintly ridiculous. Slow stalking is all very well and good when you're trying not to startle the elk, but when you're tiptoeing around a stuccoed yoga studio in Santa Monica in a line of leotard-clad moon-worshippers...well...but I got over it. I fell into the age-old swaying rhythm, one foot, then the other. Never quite fully balanced, never quite falling down.

"No matter how lofty your goals, no matter how terrible your burdens," the instructor intoned, "this is how we approach our lives. One foot in front of the other. One foot, then the other."

And isn't it the truth. At the end of a long day, I look around the house and begin to pull together the pieces. Once again, I reassemble the shell of our home, piling clothes worn hard into the hamper, washing and drying and stacking the dishes that held dinner, tossing the props of my children's burgeoning imagination back into the toy bin. Mending ripped fabric, gluing torn pages, relacing shoes. Making up the beds. Plumping the pillows. Packing lunches. Sweeping up the grains of rice beneath the table,mopping up the suds that escaped the bath. Echoes of laughter, conversation, jigsaw bits of lives lived fill up the dustpan, the dishcloth, the mop. A misplaced wrench: my son's first bike ride. That paper on the floor: a thank-you note from his first teacher. Our lives are scattered all around us. This is all there ever is.

It is easy to lose track of the beauty in this sort of work. Knocking the dirt from the soles of their shoes, scrubbing the toilet. But putting it all together again gives me the chance, now that all is quiet, to reflect on what tore it all apart: the dinner we shared, the games we played, the giggling kung fu tournament that rolled madly through here an hour ago. And I remind myself, yet again, that there is never a moment when everything is perfect and we can rest and enjoy our lives. Life happens in the dust and clamor and turmoil. Life is that one moment when you catch your two-year-old's eye and you both burst into gales of laughter, right there between the tantrum and the diaper change. And, if I'm quick enough to catch it, it's my eldest son trying to get my attention when I am grouchy and preoccupied with finding next day's bus fare, asking me why noses are, in nearly every species, located just above the mouth.

Building things back up, every day, I slowly catch on to the beautiful arithmetic of motherhood: you don't subtract the difficulty, the miserable moments, from the wonderful ones. You sandwich them in, using them as a setting for those bits of glowing time when life makes sense, and you can hear the poetry. One foot. Then the other.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

cycling incidents.


1) I am cycling off to Brentwood to pick Xir up from school, with Anainn buckled in behind me. Right where Barrington meets National, I hear that staticky megaphone sound: cops. I glance quickly back but there's a large fed-ex van on my tail so I can't see anything. I bike on, running a checklist in my head: listening to headphones? no. run any red lights? no. Anainn wearing helmet? yes. Good, not being pulled over then.

But the sound continues. I throw another look over my shoulder but the road behind me is completely empty. I bike slower, and think for a moment I shook it, but there's the sound again. Could it be a bike cop, tailing me, hiding behind the parked cars, waiting for me to slip up? Well, that's a little bit paranoid. Oh no, wait. Could I be having auditory hallucinations? That's one of the first signs of schizophrenia! This is so bizarre. I always wondered if you could tell a hallucination was a hallucination or if it seemed like reality. Now I know: it really seems to be happening. I swear I can hear that cop right behind me! But there's nothing there!

Now I bike faster, hoping to outpace my incipient dementia. Not much farther now! I still hear it! Oh no, have all of my poor dietary habits and excessive exercise and lack of sleep led to this? Well, I will keep it to myself. I won't let them lock me up! There are my children to think of!

All the way through picking Xir up at school and walking him to the park, I determinedly ignore the cop noises in my head. But they do not go away. They get louder. Xir asks me what is wrong. I don't want to lie to him, so I tell him about being afraid I was going to get pulled over on the way here. No point in scaring him with mom's auditory hallucinations.

"Maybe it's because of that cop noise coming out of your bag," Xir remarks.

"You...you hear it too?"

"Yeah. What is that, anyway?"

I scramble through my bag and find, at last, my cellphone. Apparently it has some hitherto-unbeknownst-to-me function of voice recording and playback that got accidentally activated as it tumbled around.

Huh.

2) It is dark. I am cycling home from dropping the boys with their dad. I am ill-equipped for night biking, having lost my rear reflector somewhere and never having replaced the batteries in my headlight. A few minutes into the ride, my phone (oh, that cursed phone!!) blares out, startling me and causing me to skew into the road. I narrowly miss being hit. Shaky, I pull over to regroup and listen to the message. It's an angry one, from my ex, who knew I was biking in the dark at this moment, but could not wait to deliver his important diatribe (evidently, I gave our eldest son the wrong type of fruit as a snack).

Eventually I pull myself together and get back on the road, staying well to the verge. Suddenly a flashing light envelops me. Not again, I think. Blast those imaginary cops! The light seems to move with me, stopping when I stop, keeping pace. This goes on for several minutes until finally, at a red light, I get up the courage to look behind me. It is the flashing front light of another cyclist. I grin at him.

"For a second I thought I was getting pulled over!" I say, waving him in front of me.

"Oh, that's all right. I've been trying to stay behind you to light you up. I'm afraid the cars can't see you," he replies.

Suddenly I am in tears. I can't help it. This complete stranger has just shown me more human concern in 5 minutes than my ex had shown in 6 years of marriage.

"Are you all right?" asks the cyclist. I nod. But he reaches over and holds me anyway, until the light changes. Then we bike our separate ways.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

i wish my guest house had a guest house.



If I had to consolidate my complaints about not-so-spacious living into one all-encompassing whinge, it would probably be about how difficult it is to entertain. I am a social creature. I thrive on merriment, banter, conversation over fresh-baked bread. I am sure there is a way to be a gracious hostess in my hovel....just haven't figured it out yet!

Sure, there's the difficulty of hacking out a sleeping space for overnight guests. But there are other problems too, ones that are not at all apparent at first.

1) There is no place to change in privacy, for you or your guest.
2) There is no place to retreat should either of you need a quiet moment or wish to take a nap.
3) Bedtime is awkward.
4) There is no place for the guest's luggage. At. All.
5) There are not enough dishes for guests. Additional dishes purchased for guest must be disposed of post-visit because there is not enough room for them in the cupboards.
6) Trying to cook any quantity of food in my tiny kitchen quickly becomes problematic, as does finding enough space for everyone to sit down and eat it.

How grateful I am, then, for the extraordinary heat wave that enabled me to sleep outside for the duration of my guest's visit! In my sleeping bag under the pergola I had such sweet and illuminating dreams that I intend to continue dreaming al fresco as long as the weather allows.

But. I fully intend to hold at least one full-on, all-out dinner/poetry/champagne party here before the year is up. I welcome any and all suggestions for how to make this happen. And, naturally, you're all invited. Even you, dear Canadian readers, whoever you are. I must admit, I'm curious.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

secrets



Depending upon whom I'm talking to, I either gently jeer at the psychobabble of The Secret and its wide-eyed followers, or happily dither on about its inherent truth. (because of this thing. c'mon, you do it too.)

But even my most witheringly skeptical persona has to admit that something is going on with Anainn. Scarcity simply does not exist for this child. Caretakers, organic baby food, rocking chairs come out of the woodwork. I took this child up into the mountains on one of the many occasions when I was trying to figure my life out. We ran into Tom Hanks on the trail. He offered to babysit (this really happened).

This--talent? magnetism? destiny?--shouldn't still surprise me, but it does. As I buckled Anainn into the bike seat today, preparatory to our long ride to pick up Xir from school, he announced that he wanted to bring his 'pihih peh' (pillow pet, for the uninitiated). I explained at length that there was no way he could carry it on the bike and his father wouldn't let him keep it and blaah blah blah blah blah, biking away. Anainn took it in good grace, simply remarking 'pihih peh' twice more, matter-of-factly, at various points on the ride.

We arrived early and had time to stop at the bagel store on the corner near Xir's school. Anainn stood in line smiling sunnily at each customer until his eyes lit on a woman near the window. She became the focus of a full-on charm assault, until finally she walked over and patted him on the head.
"Could you wait here a moment?" she asked me. "I have something in my car I'd like to give him." She returned with a white plastic bag and opened it to reveal---you guessed it---a brand-new pillow pet. Anainn hugged it to him and beamed up at me.
'Pihih peh,' he stated. Then he toddled out the door, fully entitled, just a wisp of blond hair and two stubby legs and an enormous stuffed panda bear.

Monday, January 10, 2011

blessings in drag



so, when i returned home from that blissful visit back east, it felt as though the sky had fallen on my life in california. literally. the roof of the 12x12 was not built to withstand portlandesque climes, and two weeks of steady rain did it in. the leak, as fate would have it, was right above the cupboard I used to store my journals, novel drafts, and art portfolios.

for a week or so i lived in denial (and in de Nile, or so it seemed, as the leaking continued and a steady stream of water trickled not-so-soothingly across my floor), letting the scent of mildew build behind the closed cabinet doors. meanwhile, strained relations with the boys' father snapped outright, my grad application was due, and i inadvertently broke up with my boyfriend.

then i had one of my manic days. all morning i'd replanted the garden, unclogged the bathroom drain (YAY), finished edits on a book, cleaned out boxes of old clothes and toys to make room for the boxes of new clothes and toys we'd brought back, knit an overdue solstice hat for my 94-year-old grandmother, refurbished the compost pile, baked a batch of cookies, a pan of cornbread, and a tureen of soup. late afternoon found me twiddling my thumbs. it was time.

i opened all the windows and lit a stick of incense, but was still unprepared for the stench of mildew that wafted out of that cabinet. nothing was salvageable. old landscape designs, my favorite sketchbooks from a year in great britain, the manuscript of the only book i've ever written that i actually like. uh, liked. shoot. not to mention reams of old journals, years and years and years of a daily and prolific writing habit.

at first i just hauled the whole mess out to the recycling bin in two soggy armloads, wiped the cabinets down with simple green, and shut the doors. but at two in the morning i woke and ran to the bins to fish out my novel. i pinned each page to the clothesline until space ran out, then draped papers over the backs of chairs, along the walk (weighted with stones), over the bare branches of the fig tree. it looked like Wordsworth had t.p.'d the place.

in the morning they were all gone. every page. i'm thick, but this time i got it: LET THE PAST GO. it is gone.

i did mourn a bit longer...this is, after all, ME we're talking about...but in the end i began to feel lighter. i had dreaded sorting all that paperwork out before the move. i hadn't read most of those journals in years. and the amount of hard living i've done since i wrote that novel is worth its weight in plot points.

interestingly enough, the uppermost paper of the pile had been a rough draft of my personal statement/essay for my grad school application. i had been working on it for months, and i do my best thinking when i write by hand...so that was the only copy.

i sat down and wrote a new one in thirty minutes. i didn't even edit it, just sent it out. it was the truth. how much time should it take?

and then today, the roofers came to replace the lid of the 12x12. i felt like the star act in a fishbowl so i strapped anainn into his bike seat and took off on an unscripted adventure. we grazed on toyon berries and dandelion, rolled down hills, danced in a sea of sagebrush, laughed and napped and lay back in soft grass gazing at the sky. it was the best day i can remember. i have never loved anyone so much.

so i have learned to take my setbacks with a grain of salt. who knows what they will ripen into?

Friday, January 7, 2011

fire



Once a month, a family in santa monica hosts a fire gathering in their backyard. There is a potluck, and cocoa, and then everyone settles around the fire while the firekeeper gives his gifts: copal for welcome. tobacco for wisdom. wood for transformation. cacao for passion and joy. Then, one by one, we give the same gifts, circling the fire in silence. The change is palpable. Everyone seems to settle in, the superficial is skimmed away, and the sharing that follows comes from someplace deeper than the interaction I am used to.

Tonight I was able, for the first time in nearly a year, to sit by the fire and hear the stories people tell when they are not afraid.

'Sometimes', quoted one, 'it is urgent that we do nothing.'

'The only thing that annoys me,' said another, 'is when someone pretends to be happy even when they are angry and sad. Sure, everything happens for a reason, but sometimes life is f*cked up and we need to acknowledge that before we skip on to 'oh but everything will come out right in the end.''

Another shared her sense of overwhelming loss from a recent miscarriage.

Others shared struggles with family, the loss of loved ones, successes and new jobs and setbacks. A pair of young lovers that I'd been slightly envious of all evening revealed that they were soon to be separated, with an entire continent between them.

These were people I had made conversation with over dinner, some people I'd met perhaps twice before, some who were strangers. I'd looked at their clothes and their cars and their partners and felt attraction, or insecurity, or jealousy, or dislike. But now I was hearing what felt like new facets of my own story. These were my family hurting and struggling and learning.

Anainn slept in my arms. Xir sat listening for a long time, whispering once in my ear we are having so much fun, aren't we? and then taking his beloved pillow pet back into the house to sleep on the couch.

Friends stepped forward to drive us home, sparing us the long slog back to the bus station, the long cold wait for the bus. I thought for a long time, riding home, about why it is so rare and so difficult to interact like this on a regular basis. There is too much at stake, somehow; it would grow exhausting to be honest on this scale with everyone I encounter. But isn't that sad?

Having made peace with the scale and speed of the challenges life has seen fit to bequeath me, I took the time post-fire for a long, self-indulgent cry. As my new friend said, sometimes we need to acknowledge the hard stuff. It was a nice complement for the gratitude I was feeling yesterday...and somehow, does not seem to diminish it.

And you know, I'm grateful for the hard stuff, too. Looking at all of those faces around the fire, the most beautiful were the ones that had history in them.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

essentials

On the 4th, a new moon and a solar eclipse and the final day of Old Christmas came together and pulled at me in an odd way. All week I'd been thinking about goals, and what constitutes a good life, and vocation (the writing of grad school application essays for Buddhist institutions will do that to a person). I felt, in this arbitrary 'new' year, as though something truly had changed. My vision seemed different. I had a sudden momentum toward something, a clarity of perception for my present circumstances that had gone missing for years.

That wonderful, simple ritual of writing lists for the new year-- things to draw toward oneself, things to cast off-- and then burning them-- seemed to fit. The list of things to cast off (a certain self-sabotaging belief that to live in poverty is noble, timidity, allowing my self to be circumscribed by others' needs and opinions) was predictably long. But the list I started to write afterward, a list of gifts 2010 brought me, was unexpected. It went on and on, flowing over onto the back of the page and then requiring a new one altogether. So many deep and altering experiences, so many new friends, so much new learning and openness and joy. And, having written that list, I found that the list of things I wished for in the year to come was correspondingly quite small. I wrote them out in detail---there were just three---and then sat back in the candlelight, astonished that so much that is essential has already been given to me.

It is easy to forget to be grateful. But what a beautiful life! Has anyone ever been so lucky, to have children that tell you the point of the universe and snow-covered mountains and rain-flooded creeks and a friend who feeds you lasagna and another friend who feeds you poetry, and free time, time to paint and write and garden in the sun, without fear of predators or guerillas or starvation. Has anyone else had such a loving and forgiving family, a fig and lemon tree in the backyard, a truly happy childhood filled with all the right questions and all the right teachers? has anyone had such illuminating mentors, such generous landladies, such thought-provoking professors?

I hope, actually, that all of us have. And suspect that, though the details may vary, all of our lives are filled with resounding beauty.

I trust, now, that there is a purpose for all that I have been given, that there is a specific service it has been preparing me to do. I trust this because I can sense myself moving toward it. I hope this newfound clarity continues, and that I can be brave and strong and persistent. The essentials are all taken care of: shelter, water, fire, food, love, belongingness. Now it's time to step up and start giving back.