Sunday, October 30, 2011

Murakami's egg

Because, as you know from prior post, I've been a little bit obsessed with The Murakami lately and been reading about him, immersing myself and preparing to read 1Q84, I wanted to re-post this bit from a speech he gave in Jerusalem in February 2009, where he'd travelled to accept a prize as part of the Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Probably what I love about this piece, about his analogy, is that it loops me back to Dostoevsky.  It puts me right back into my undergraduate and graduate studies of Russian literature, to missing bus stops because I was so gone, fathoms under the surface in the very deep end of the great Dostoevsky and The Brothers Karamazov.  There's great pleasure in being inside this referential loop, feeding back upon itself, hearing the echoes bouncing back and forward again.

The specific Dostoevsky quote I'm thinking of has to do with his own faith, with suffering, with truth, with Jesus actually.  No matter my own opinions about religion, this has always resonated so powerfully for me.

I will tell you that I am a child of the century, a child of disbelief and doubt. I will remain so until the grave. How much terrible torture this thirst for faith has cost me and costs me even now which is all the stronger in my soul the more arguments I can find against it. And yet God sends me sometimes instants when I am completely calm. At those instants I love and feel loved by others and it is at those instants that I have shaped for myself a Credo where everything is clear and sacred to me. This credo is very simple. Here it is: To believe that nothing is more beautiful, profound, sympathetic, reasonable, manly, and perfect than Christ. And I tell myself with a jealous love that not only is there nothing more but there can be nothing more. Even more, if someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.
What I found moving about this, and still find moving, is this notion of having a sense of what is right and true and precious that cannot be shaken by any external definition of what is right and true and precious.  For Dostoevsky, it's Jesus. If loving him is wrong, he doesn't want to be right.

For Murakami, it's the egg.
Please do allow me to deliver one very personal message.
It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this: "Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg." Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?
 What is the meaning of this metaphor?
In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: it is "the System." The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others — coldly, efficiently, systematically.

I like this idea of being on the side of the egg, of being the egg (the incredible, edible egg).  It's so much more palatable (ha ha ha), so much more current, naturally, than Dostoevsky's Jesus, although I really do think they're saying exactly the same thing.

And with all of this Occupying that's taking place right now, the egg and the wall are part of our daily awareness, part of our daily dialogue.

Some people can be with Jesus.  Me, I'm with Murakami and his egg.  You?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Passion #2: portable works of art

For a while I've been considering whether an e-reader is in my future. Converted friends who are big readers swear by them, but I've been unwilling to let go of the sensory experience of the book -- the feel of the pages, the look of the type, the design of the book itself.  Right now, for example, I'm reading Amitav Ghosh's latest, River of Smoke, in hardback, and every time I turn a page, I am moved by the softness and smoothness of the paper Farrar, Straus and Giroux chose for this edition.  Each page is a sensuous delight, sliding liquid under my fingers, a river of its own.

I have been feeling suspicious that perhaps books are just something I'm used to, a habit.  Probably there are people who kept all of their LPs and swear that that experience is vastly superior to loading all of your music from a CD onto an MP3 player, or downloading it from iTunes.  They may be right, but I made that switch from records to CDs to MP3 long ago and have never looked back, delighted to free up the shelf space, to carry it all in some tiny device that fits in my pockets.  Books, though, are harder for me to imagine living without.  I grew up in a big house that had books, shelves and stacks and piles of them, in every single room.  I have loved and carried books around with me everywhere for years, collected them even as a child, returning to treasured copies, pages I'd handled dozens of times.  But maybe that's a generational thing, I ask myself, an antiquated abuse of trees that needs to end.

So, I've been feeling myself tipping and tipping over into the e-reader camp, reading about the new Kindle Fire but leaning mostly toward an iPad.  Oh, my converted friends tell me, so much easier just to carry the e-reader around in your bag.  Anytime you have a few moments, your book is there with you, so light.  You get used to the fact that you are X% done with a book, rather than knowing what page you're on. You get used to it always being in the same typeface. And so much easier to travel with.  With an e-reader, they tell me, you can take so many titles on the road with you, download more wherever you have wifi, bam, have reading in your hands wherever you are, whenever you want it.  No waiting. The travel and instant grat argument really work for me, since while traveling I generally run out of books.  But the truth is that I don't  travel all that much lately so that's a less compelling argument than it might once have been when I was on a plane roughly every two to three weeks, with 2 books in my carry-on, 4-6 in my checked luggage.

But here's what I remembered yesterday and this morning, the reason I keep hesitating on the e-reader issue: I LOVE books.  Not just the stories and wisdom they contain, but their very physical selves, their delightful little paper bodies.

Once, when I mentioned to my crafty husband that I was running out of book shelves, could he please make me some more, he said, "Or, think about this, you could just get rid of some books."  I looked at him sidelong like he was joking.  He wasn't, but honestly, that's not a possibility that's on the table. The only books I ever get rid of are books that are such a disappointment that I can't finish them (last year's Booker Prize winner, for examp, sorry, couldn't read it, freecycled it just to get it out of my sight, Emma Donoghue's Room should have won) or books that piss me off (like the Charles Bukowski that Margot and I famously stuffed down the trash chute in Paris).  

Truly, I love books.  When I go to a new house, it's one of the things I notice -- what books people have, how they store them, how integral a part of their lives books are.

After months of build-up, Haruki Murakami's latest novel, 1Q84, arrived in my mailbox yesterday.  [If you haven't read Murakami, do yourself a big favor and do so.  Read more about him in this profile in the New York Times magazine.]  I've had 1Q84 on pre-order for ages and been checking the mailbox compulsively ever since I received the email on Tuesday, hallelujah, that it had finally shipped.  Murakami is one of my most favorites, ever since a dear friend gave me The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and I fell in love completely, unable to put it down even when one scene was making me so ill on the ferry on the way to work that I broke out into a sweat and eventually had to slither my way to the little cubicle-toilet, put my head down and recover.  When you're in that Murakami world, nothing else matters. As soon as I was back in my seat, composed, back in I went, hungry for more.

When I saw the Amazon package yesterday afternoon, I tore it open.  It'd been a long day on a work retreat, and I was tired.  A friend was over, talking bikes with the husband, but I stood there only half-listening, undoing the cardboard package in my excitement, unable to wait til he was done talking or gone.  A little bit Charlie looking for the Golden Ticket, careful with the wrapping, but undoing it just the same. 

Whoever said, "Don't judge a book by its cover," is a straight-up fool or never beheld this particular book.  1Q84 is absolutely GORGEOUS, so thoughtfully constructed: the vellum cover, the spine, the frontispiece, the font.  

I haven't even yet fallen under the spell of what's inside its pages, but I am already profoundly in love with this complete work of art that I can hold in my hands.

And that, my friends, is why I can't go the e-reader route.  A book is more than just letters that make words that make sentences that make paragraphs that flow by uninterrupted on a backlit screen.  A book, 1Q84 reminds me, is, should be, a total work of art, not only the particular story that it tells but the WAY in which that story is told, the way particular words sit on a physical piece of paper, the choice of font, the look of the chapter headings, all of it.

It is a profoundly human artistic experience both to produce a book like this and to read a book like this, taking in all of these exquisite details, each one of them building a supreme experience of the imagination, a celebration of all that is absolutely the very best about us.  When we do that on a little screen, I am convinced we lose most of that precious experience.

I'm just thrilled to start reading 1Q84 as soon as I polish off the last 90 pages of River of Smoke.  I know I will be transported, as always, by Murakami's prose.  And I will have the supreme joy of touching, seeing, smelling the story, holding the book in my hands, that total and most portable of works of art, truly my first love, my unending love.


For more visuals, watch this piece by the book designer, Chip Kidd.  Good work, man!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

the story inscribed upon your heart

It's a sweet break, the time I take out of the middle of Mondays to attend, by phone, Writing Your Practice.  It isn't easy, in my new wage-slave status, to block the time, but I've been successful so far three of the four classes, successfully slipping out the door, driving the three blocks to the shop where an empty office awaits me.  I love being there, sitting at a folding table on a too-tall stool scavenged from downstairs, listening to Susanna tell whatever stories are the theme that week, listening to my classmates read their work, and, of course, writing.

This week was about Hanuman, about that which is of most value.  As Susanna told the familiar story of Hanuman biting Sita's necklace, tears poured down my face.  The people assembled are shocked.  How is it that Hanuman is destroying this most precious necklace that Sita has bestowed upon him?  How disrespectful of that little monkey!  But Hanuman has no regard for the so-called value of the gems.  He searches within them, biting them to pieces with his sharp monkey teeth, looking inside each for Rama and Sita since that it is all that could make them valuable to him.  The crowd is incredulous.  Who could be that faithful?  In response, Hanuman tears open his chest and such is his devotion that, indeed, there upon his heart are the images of Rama and Sita.

What is inscribed upon YOUR heart?

This became the focus of our work yesterday.  This will be the focus of my writing for the next two weeks.

One of the exercises on our call yesterday was to make a quick list of ten things we're passionate about.  This kind of exercise is easy for me, since I am a chronic (OCD) list maker, constantly degenerating conversations into occasions to interview people and write down what makes them tick.  My list started out relatively neat, 15 items long.  And then it started to grow, to expand to the right, filling up the remaining empty space on the page as I started to dig into each item and think about it more.  And the items began to arrange themselves into a hierarchy. Where before I was passionate about individual things (dogs, books, Joe), then they began to clump under larger headings, like a weird sort of phylogenetic or evolutionary tree.  I'm still working on the drawing, and am finding it enormously helpful to understanding what I am and should be doing with myself.

What became clear as items began to arrange themselves on the page is that I'm super-passionate about Stories.  Because I love stories so much, have always loved them, will always love them, I am who I am and I am passionate about all the other things under that heading.  This is why I love books, this is why I love philosophy, this is why I loved catechism as a child, this is why I love yoga and movies and good tv.  This is also why I love people, since my monkey teeth like to get them open, to see what's inscribed on the inside, what is the story traced on their hearts.  And this is why I write, because I love to tell a story, to be inside the story in its making, to feel it all around me taking form.

Being clear about this doesn't matter, I suppose, except that it makes me super-happy.  Just knowing what's marked on the surface of my own heart, I feel at ease in my monkey skin.

For the next two weeks, lots of stories.  This course is doing great things for me.  It's helping me get really clear about my own desires and where I'm taking them.  And it's making me Hanuman-happy, deeply content inside my devotion to story, keeping company with what is, to me, of most value.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Go with Kali

Credit: the fabulous Bernadette Birney
Not everybody knows that I have two sisters.  To hear me talk, you'd think I only have one, since I only really talk about one, my adorable brilliant sister who lives in Brooklyn.  She and I are literally cut from the same cloth; there is much solace in that all the time.  No matter how much geographic space divides us, we're always connected.  It's really and truly such a source of deep joy in my life, all the time.  

But really I have always had two sisters.  We have always been three.  

Here we are on an Easter Sunday.  It's possible the year is 1970.  I'm the blonde in the yellow dress, hair freshly released from those squishy pink curlers, taking up my place at the back, hand on each of my sisters, already fully bearing the weight of being the oldest.  Martine is on my left in white.  Everything about her is neat and tiny even in this photo, even then.  She and I look directly into the camera.  We know what needs to be done and we do it.  But Carla, the youngest, with the crazy curl across her face, her eyes are elsewhere.  She looks like we've just grabbed her for an instant, stilled her wildness just for a second, long enough for this photo and then she'll be off again, darting away to wherever her eyes are focused, to resume whatever it was we so rudely interrupted.

That's a story that's easy to tell with the benefit of all these long years of hindsight.  After all, she's probably all of 2 in this photo, so of course her eyes are elsewhere.  She was just darling, her hair the most lovely chestnut color, a little affectionate mimic fluent in three languages, the baby of the three.  We never could have known, or believed, back then, where life would take her.  And us.

People often ask me how she is, my baby sister.  I struggle to answer.  In truth, I don't know how she is.  And even when I have known how she is, I have spent so many years protecting her privacy, living inside her lies, that I hardly know where to start. 

But this morning I crossed a line, a threshold.  This morning I went Kali, I went dark, I went Fuck it, no more of this bullshit.  This morning I cut the head off the lies, the true demon.  I stare death in the face.  Bring it, bastard.  It's better than a life of lies, a life of suffering.

* * * * *
It seems appropriate at this juncture to interject a little something about Kali, to explain why this is the state I found myself in this morning.  Because I'm a yoga nerd, a month ago I spent a weekend in a three-day workshop of philosophy and practice with the great Douglas Brooks and amazing Sianna Sherman, the first day of which was devoted to Kali, who most people know as the goddess of time, death, darkness.  In most of her representations, she is pictured with blood-red eyes, her great tongue lolling out, holding aloft a head in one hand, dripping blood, a sword in another hand.  She is that from which life emerges and to which life returns, a primordial darkness of deep potency and power.  She is also, in the teachings I've learned, an invitation to the deepest sense of who you are, an invitation to boldly say yes and step out, warrior-goddess style, and manifest not just your own success but better: your own greatness.  She is that fierceness that is required to be the True You, in the face of any and all bullshit, that fierceness of childbirth, big, bloody and savage.

She is also the boundary that holds the darkness at bay, the force that allows us to live happily unconscious of our mortality.  I think of her like a pair of good shoes -- when you're wearing them, you're not aware of your feet.  You're just comfortable.  You walk around.  You do what needs doing.  In a pair of bad shoes, shoes that pinch or chafe, you're always limited, always aware of the shoes, hindered.  She's that: a sweet pair of shoes that fit just right, covering our feet so we can move around and do our dharma, our work in this world, what we are here to be and do.

Just this week in the writing course I'm enrolled in, the focus was Kali, so again I've been sitting with her and thinking about the courage, constancy and ferocity required many times in this life.  Faced with hard situations -- when the shoes pinch, when the boundary between us and the dark gets thin -- she's there.  We can turn away from what's hard or we can step forward, step up, and like her, eat the fucking demons.

Listen: it's all just stories. It's not a matter of believing them. They're just a useful tool for approaching situations in our lives. As Douglas says, we are all the characters in the story. And sometimes Kali is just what we need.

* * * * *

It's hard for me to tell this particular story.  For years, I've been told it's not my story and certainly not my story to tell.  It's her story, my baby sister's story.  But since it's her story, it's also my story.  What happens to my sister, of course it happens to her in a way that I cannot experience, but what happens to her also happens to me, to my other sister, to my parents, to our extended family, to everyone who knows us.  What happens never just happens in isolation, and once it happens, trying to keep it isolated, creates the worst isolation of all: lies.

And telling the story: there's a part of me that feels like I'm transgressing, like I'm going against the family, airing dirty private laundry that shouldn't see the light of day.

But sorry, I need to tell it.  I need to be done holding this under wraps.  The lie of it is deadly.  The lie needs its head cut off.

* * * * *

When my baby sister was diagnosed with HIV in 1990, that was death sentence #1.  I will never, ever in my life forget the day we met at my parents' house, the day that she told them.  I will never, ever in my life forget the way the news took my parents apart, the way my father stumbled from the room, landed sobbing in a heap in the green chair in the living room, my mother sobbing in her chair in the kitchen.  That was a terrible moment, frozen forever in my memory, something I wish I could rewind and un-do, rewinding all the way to the moment of infection.  My sister was robbed of her entire life at that moment.  She was 21.

It didn't have to be that way, but so it was.  It became something we couldn't talk about.  She resented the intrusion, in the way that baby sisters will, always reading older sister criticism into every question.  She went her own way, without medical insurance, into drug trials.  She survived. We stopped asking.  We became uncomfortably aware that we knew something essential about her health that other people, her close friends, did not.  Of course no one wants to be identified with their illness, but the silence around it was unnerving.  Did that boyfriend know?

She got married twice. I attended both weddings, but over all that time, we had become distant.  In the lead-up to her second marriage, she had a Catholic renaissance, was re-baptized.  She was pregnant.  She was on the cover of an HIV magazine, featured in an article about advances making it possible for HIV positive women to give birth to healthy, HIV negative babies.  I only know about the article because one day at work in the fall of 2006, I was thinking of her and randomly googled.  Boom, that's how you find out what your estranged sister is up to.

Truly she's amazing.  She's outlived the life expectancy she was given with the HIV diagnosis.  She gave birth to a healthy baby girl in January 2007.   She would say it's thanks to God.  I say it's access to medical care and advances in treatment.

But that treatment is a double-edged sword.  

* * * * *

In December 2008, a month shy of her daughter's 2nd birthday, just after she'd started a new job but before reaching eligibility for their benefit plan, my sister received death sentence #2.  After weeks of serious headaches and finally blacking out while getting into her car, she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.  She was in the ICU for weeks, given months to live, the cancer inoperable because of its location.  The tumor was most likely caused by a drug taken in one of those long-ago trials.  

Since then, my sister has again defied the odds.  She's had multiple rounds of radiation, lives now on an amplified drug cocktail.  I haven't seen her for years.  In July 2010 she gave us the final kiss-off, and now communicates only with my parents or me sporadically, at odd moments or in moments of crisis.  Twice she's called my parents to say she's left her husband and daughter, could they come pick her up.  The first time it was in the middle of a horrific storm that my parents set out, barely able to see for the rain, to pick her up, soaked, at a bus shelter and bring her to their house.  The next day she barely spoke to them, smoked, apologized for her foolishness, and asked for a ride to BART.  A ride to BART.  My sister is a ghost of her former physical self, frail, shaky, off-balance.  And she asked for a ride to BART.  The second time, just a month ago, my mother declined.  Later, my sister called to apologize for her foolishness.

And again, yesterday, she called my parents to ask for money.  This has happened countless times since even before her diagnosis.  My parents are not wealthy; they're retired teachers.  I don't know what they responded to this latest appeal, whether they said Yes or No.  It hardly matters.  It's the asking, the entitlement, that makes me crazy.  My sister wants nothing to do with us, except if she needs money.  Her husband hasn't worked since the tumor.  My sister can't be left unsupervised, he says, so he can't work -- which is in all likelihood true.  They live on the charity of their church (which also sent my sister to Lourdes, in France, on pilgrimage), on the social security and/or disability distributions my sister receives from the state. They live in a tiny apartment.  I've never seen it, although my sister did text me a picture of the new bed they bought their daughter not long ago.  Receiving that happy text, with the photo, spun my head around.  After months of silence, of nothing, then this?  

Sometimes she texts me from the ER. Yesterday, after the phone call about the money, she texted my mother some terrified thought she was having in the ER about a possible side-effect from the Avastin.  She laid the full horror of the rectal bleeding on my mother who, naturally, facing the death of her baby child, completely freaked out.  Who does that to their mother?  Turns out it was just a hemorrhoid, but when you're my little sister, after two death sentences and all the shit she's been through, every single thing is a crisis, every single moment, every trip to the ER, could be the last.  

And still, she lives. 

* * * * *

I am furious right now and also aware of how absurd it is to be furious with someone who has a brain tumor, someone with pressure on her brain stem, someone who has every right to be freaked out, someone who lives with the terrifying prospect of death in every moment.

But fuck it: seriously?  How, after more than 20 years of living with this prospect, how not to have made some peace?  How, after a religious re-birth, how not to have some peace?  How, after all this time, all the support, all the love, and yes, all the money, not to have some compassion for your eighty-year-old parents and not call your mother about bleeding from your ass?  

And you wonder why I'm Kali this morning?

I am not sure these medical advances are good things, to keep people alive in such a state.  Isn't that such an awful thing to say about your own sister, god damn it, such a horrible way to feel in view of so much suffering, her own, her husband's, her daughter's, her married family's, my parents'.  I want my sister living.  Of course I want her alive and happy and enjoying life in whatever way she wants.  But there are times I dream of mercy, of peace, of letting The End of Time take you by the hand, just letting it go, not having to be a witness to the wasting of your own form, for years and years and years, losing everything you had that made you You.

I am furious and am also, again, utterly laid waste to, utterly broken and devastated, knowing that's my baby sister, gone from me, already, even before her actual death, by her own choice which I can only abide by even as I question whether it's wise or possible to abide by the wishes of a person made crazy either by religious fanaticism or cancer and whether there's any real difference.

What will I do when it's me?  I like to think I will muster as much grace as I can, that I will cause as little pain to the people around me as possible.  I like to think that all these years of practice will have prepared me, that I will be in those moments, even if they last for years, able to bring as much beauty to the pain as I possibly can, that I will be able to blow on the coals of that sorrow and kindle some little joyful flame.

And when it's time, that I will go with Kali a warrior, fully me, having swallowed the demons, taking them with me, not leaving them for my loved ones to live with.

It's so sad and so awful, but all I can hear is the beating of my own heart right now and this wish: go, go with Kali.  Find peace.  Be free.  

Whether we're healthy or suffering, in every moment, may we choose to step forward, to step up, fight when it's time, surrender when it's time, and every moment, bring as much joy to those we love as we can.

From my aching heart to yours, all love, always.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

sleep is the linchpin

desk puja ;>
This glorious day, I declared to a colleague earlier this morning, bursting with joy, is entirely made possible for me by Ambien.

Yes, it's true. Today is my first day of no-heachache after four days of headache.  It wasn't a life-destroying migraine, but a persistent, nagging, joy-suck of a pain that made everything less-pleasant for four days.  Starting Friday morning, all through the weekend, into Monday.  Nothing I swallowed did any good..  Nothing.  Finally, last night I decided to throw down the gauntlet once and for all -- swallow the Ambien and sleep for 8 hours straight, free of churning thoughts.

And sleep I did.  Solid.  Hard.  Straight.


I woke up this morning and lingered a bit in bed, moving gingerly, testing the edges of where the headache had been.  Was it truly gone?  Or was it just hidden in the fluffy comfort of this much-needed sleep-fuzz?  Gingerly probing, sending out a mental tentacle.  You there?

Well and truly gone.

Which makes me jump around like Snoopy, prance like Mr Burns.  Everything is beautiful.  I can see clearly. Every moment is liberated, I'm drunk on the freedom of no longer operating in that too-familiar dull painful fog.

Sleep: it's the linchpin, the essential without which the wheels well and truly slip off.

I'm serious.  If I don't sleep, everything goes straight to hell.  Slowly at first, then snowballing, until I'm four days into a headache.  And really not happy. How could it take me so long to arrive at this manifesto: Solid sleep is the linchpin of her personal happiness program.

I know Seth Godin wrote a book called Linchpin, all about making yourself indispensable at work, bla bla bla.  The linchpin that I'm talking about is internal -- not about how you can be successful while pursuing your passion and being yourself, bla bla bla. [Note: I have nothing against either of these ideas, both of which I exaggerated for reasons of flow.]  It's like I've had my own little a-ha moment (or ha ha moment, as in someday you'll laugh about this.  Thanks, Modern Family).

Ha ha, a-ha: I suddenly realize that I don't need a long To Do list.  Nope, I only have to do one thing right; the rest will take care of itself.

All I have to do is sleep.

Easy and yet the hardest thing for me.  But if I can just nail it, then everything is golden.  The sun is always shining and I'm right there with little sable-monkey Mr Burns, drinking in the delight of each moment with my whole self, wagging.


Monday, October 17, 2011

love dogs

I am so grateful to Katrina for posting this poem by Rumi the other day.  Whether it's Allah you cry out to or the trees: still, give your life.  Be a love dog.

One night a man was crying,
“Allah, Allah!”
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer for that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage,
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

skimming off all the white foam

foam, white
While thinking about the homework for Writing Your Practice -- this week focused on Nataraja -- I started cooking.  In my notes of the call, I see that obstacles in the way of my own steady practice of writing include my own perceived laziness, my lack of disciplined schedule, my feeling that I'm constantly juggling too many things.  So, while cooking, I decided to just do that one thing -- just cook.  The laptop was in another room.  Mr Burns was asleep.

Hah, refreshing.

I've made this recipe dozens and dozens of times, but not so often that I have it memorized.  It's a chana dal from Madhur Jaffrey, one of several recipes I've treasured from a years-ago Indian cooking class.  Even though I have the very same recipe in a cookbook of hers, there's something about the stapled together hand-outs from class that I prefer.  The dal is simple to make and delicious, and when doubled, makes enough to create lunches for most of the week.  It's super pretty -- the egg-yolk yellow of the split peas such a lovely complement to the rice, mango chutney and fresh cilantro.  A visual treat every lunchtime, and tasty, too.

And I'm feeling generally happy that I managed to create lunches ahead for at least a few days.  Later on, I'll pack the tiffins, line them up in a neat row in the fridge, ready to go.  For whatever nerdilicious reason, it just makes me feel so good that I've eliminated both the morning-scramble of getting lunch together and the mid-day scramble that results from not having a lunch.  Less scramble: better.

So on the dal, because I decided I was only going to do that one thing, for the first time EVER, seriously, I managed to skim off all the white foam.

The way the recipe goes, first you bring a cup of split peas to a boil in 5 cups of water.  Then you skim off all of the white foam.

There is a lot of white foam.  And it's slippery, cleverly evading the skimming utensil.  Usually, because I've got a long weekend To Do list and I'm doing three other things simultaneously, I cut corners at this stage.  I don't skim off all of the white foam.  Generally I make a desultory effort, figure I've done a good enough job, and then move on to adding in the ginger and turmeric and setting it to simmer for an hour.

Not this time.  This time, I stood there over the pot and skimmed off every bit of that white foam.  Every bit.

It took a while, I'm not going to lie.  But there was something absolutely engrossing and soothing and peaceful about chasing every bit of foam down and lifting it out of the water.  The house was quiet.  I had my back to the sink full of dishes.  I stuck with my mono-tasking.

White foam, who cares, right?  Well, apparently, the white foam is the result of the legumes off-gassing. So my thoroughness will in all likelihood yield less gassy dal -- in and of itself a brilliant reinforcement of the thorough skimming.

This is nothing, this is nonsense, this is just me at the stove with a wooden spoon in my hand and two containers to the left of the stove, one for the white foam, the other with water in it in which to rinse the spoon periodically.  This is dull, this is domestic, this is me doing just one thing at a time, in my quiet kitchen while the dog dreams on his pillow and the husband chases down the miles on his bike.

This is genius.

Even simple, basic things contain within them this potency -- this potential to be revelatory, to serve as thresholds into deep peace.  Simple, basic things like skimming off all the white foam.

The dal's done cooking now.  The burner is off.  I poured in the cumin seeds, garlic and cayenne pepper, lightly cooked in ghee.  It's delicious already and will be more so as the week progresses, more flavorful with each passing day.

And so deeply satisfying in every possible way.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Booker Prize Book Club, anyone?

We're only days away from the announcement of the winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2011.  I look forward to this every year.  I can't wait to hear who, of the writers represented above, wins it.

I've read just one of the above so far (Jamrach's Menagerie - loved it!), but plan to read my way through the whole small stack.  The Booker Prize nominees are invariably good, sometimes out-of-this-world fantastic, books.  Every year I wish there were a subscription service available through Amazon or some other clever book seller, that would result in these books arriving on my doorstep, either all at once, or a week apart for a period of weeks, to lead me through the entire list.  I'd actually consider reading the entire long list next year.  This year I'm just doing the short (above).

So, I'm wondering: is anyone else interested in reading these books, too?  Shall we have an informal Booker Prize Book Club?  I've had only few book club experiences, so don't really know how to do this, but thought I'd cast the net.

Booker Prize Book Club, anyone?

Love and letters,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

naming it

It's ironic.  

A few weeks ago I received my first-ever business cards, cards I made for the business of me, not for me in my paid-job, but for the things that I do, that I wish to do more of, that  I wish were the only things I do all day.  I love these little cards.  The backs are images from my own photos.  Describing myself was easy: writer. beekeeper. yogini.

Making the cards was part of an overall push this year to make things real, to work toward developing my skills and passions into something sustainable.  I know how important it is to name what you want in order to move toward it.  So the cards were a way of sticking in a pin in the destination and deliberately putting one foot in front of the other to get there.  I'm on the path.  

OK, maybe I'm off a little to the side of the path right now, a bit in the weeds.

What's ironic is that in the period since receiving the cards, I feel like I am doing very little of the three things listed.  Handing them out feel like it requires a scribbled-on in-pencil caveat --  "most of the time," "i wish!" or "in my dreams."

Lately, ever since I made a commitment to write daily for a writing class, I am rarely doing so, where pre-promise I was.  Because of work and our schedules, we're over-due on our hive-checks at a pretty critical season, and so may be losing honey to robbing (hive 1).  We're getting on it this weekend, for reals, now that we'll both be around and caught up on everything else.  My job has been seriously sucking joy from the atmosphere lately, which is generally no good for anything in my life, much as I try to keep it in check.

And I haven't been practicing.  It's kind of the trifecta of woe. 

Don't get me wrong: there's been more than plenty of good stuff.  While Joe was gone last weekend, a long stretch of super-satisfying fall clean-up in the garden, walks with Mr Burns, reading, some yoga, friends.  Good stuff.  It's just that I feel a little off track.

As for the yoga, I'm examining that.  I've taken breaks from practicing in the past, a week here or there.  Generally it has something to do with my work-schedule and needing to reduce my overall stress level by eliminating zooming here and there by car.  But this time it has to do with feeling bored.  Bored!  I can't believe I'm saying that.  Lately, I'm just not all excited to go as I have been.  I feel terrible about feeling bored, but still, there it is -- I'm kind of bored.  So a break is in order.  I am thinking of this in the same terms as I think about quitting coffee.  I go without for a little bit, and then when I go back, bam, such a delicious reminder of how much I love it.  So me & yoga: we're on a little break.  Probably I'll go back on the weekend, but for right now am enjoying the coming-straight-home at 5 in the evenings, like "normal" people and not leaving my house at 8 on weekend mornings just when the light is most beautiful in the trees.

It's funny that last week I wrote about tapasya, about needing to stay fired up about intention.  I guess my personal burner's on Simmer right now, which is about all the flame I can muster, given all that's going on.  Since I tend to burn Hot or not at all, I'm getting used to this slow-burn, which maybe, just maybe, is actually more sustainable long-term.  I mean, really, who am I kidding: if I could cut the full-time joy- and energy-sucking job from my life, boy, would I ever have a lot more BTU's to devote to everything else.  I'm doing the very best that I can, appreciating every bit of creativity I can muster in the face of the pressure at work.

I'm really just remarking on the irony of the cards.  I still love them and still think it was the right move, but feeling a bit like a poseur right now.  Like buying a new pair of running shoes as a way to mark the intention to get in the habit, then only using them only to shuffle to the curb for the morning paper. Shhhhh, defeating voice of self-doubt.  Shut it!

Slow and steady wins the race, right?  Burning low and slow these days, but burning just the same.  And doing the work and handing out the cards whenever possible, knowing that I'm still heading in the right direction.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

fear: just because it's in our heads doesn't make it real

At lunch yesterday a colleague had just finished telling the story of her last dog.  I'd mentioned that we adopted a puppy recently, which sent her into her story.  Her dog was a problem dog who first bit the mail carrier, then their neighbor.  This was a dog who would lunge to the limit of his leash at people.  Finally, after he killed the family's two pet rabbits, they decided it was high time to "return" him to the shelter.  I had so many thoughts as she was unrolling this tale, but I just listened.  Then when she was done, she asked me what kind of puppy we'd adopted.  When I answered, "pit bull," she said "oooooooooooh" and mumbled something too quietly for me to hear as she turned her head away.


It never occurred to me to ask her what kind of dog she had, but I'm pretty sure, based on her reaction, that he wasn't a pitbull.   All I could think about was how sad for that dog, and the bunnies, too.  Tragic how these things can turn out.  I can understand wanting to return the dog.  I can.  But still, it's so sad.

Even now I am certain that Mr Burns will never in his life bite anybody ever.  He will never lunge to the end of his leash threateningly at people.  He will never do anything scary.  But people will be scared of him no matter what he does, because of what exists in their minds, altogether separate from what is sitting right in front of them, tail rhythmically, ceaselessly thumping the ground.

I knew this coming into this experience.  Hell, I knew this for close-to fourteen years with Jasper, who was a total love also.  People would ask me, nervously, "is he friendly?" even as he wagged his whole body at them, wishing, wanting for them to come over and pet him.  They'd see his brindle coloring, the shape of his face, and make assumptions, project their fears, even when there was no evidence, no reason for fear.

I get it.  It's not logical.  It's fear.

But still it pisses me off.

It pisses me off the same as those campaign signs by a candidate for City Council in Novato pledging to "eliminate illegal alien gangs."  When I googled the candidate, he was described as an anti-immigration activist.  That's a whole lot of words when simple, straight-forward "bigot" will do just fine, thanks.  Perhaps you think there are just too many of them in one place and that they're taking over the town.  You can think that. But is what's in your head REAL or is it fear?  Are they illegal or are they just brown?  

I'm thinking a lot about fear these days and about civility, about how hard it is to remain civil when we strenuously disagree with something, when we are deeply offended by off-hand remarks, statements mumbled indirectly while turning away.  I choose a way of silence most often, not wanting to compound the offense I feel with more offense to another.  And as my father says, "you can't argue with an idiot."  I know: ouch, right?  So not civil, though in so many ways, I do think it's true.  

We all get to think whatever we want to -- that's the genius of the human brain.  I do think it's good to check in, every so often, to make sure that what's in our heads actually has something to do with what's happening around us, that we're not just living inside the diorama in our crania.  Stop thinking -- look around, try to see what's there as it is, without the flavoring of memory or opinion or category.  

I don't think there is fuck-all I can really do about other people's fear.  I have enough work of my own to do, to make sure I am really living in the world as it is, instead of in the world as I think it is.

Seriously, don't believe everything you think.  Stop.  Look around.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

go play!

Our boy Burns, Roger (brown), Jesse (b&w)

I am such a nerd for school that I am even nerding out over puppy class.  We've had two so far in the series of six, and already, as is my wont, I am thinking about signing up for more beyond this first course.  We did this same puppy training, called Sirius, with Jasper, and it's even better this time through.  We received a companion book and DVD in the mail yesterday, so I'm reading the book, taking notes, highlighting passages -- you know, straight-up geeking.  I know what we develop in Mr Burns now will last his whole life.  No pressure or anything, but seriously: the degree to which we're consistent in our puppy-training directly translates to how good a dog he will be, for life.

Like all school for me, puppy class is just so fun.  Well, duh, it's more fun that regular people-school since there are 10 puppies in the room, which provides for pretty much non-stop delight.  [The people, on the other hand, are fodder for another post, I'm afraid, along with people at the dog park.  Jeeeeeez.]

One element that makes puppy class a particular treat is that we have an EXCELLENT teacher.  Do you know how rarely I feel like I can call a teacher all-caps EXCELLENT?  Leaving aside yoga teachers, since I'm especially blessed in that area, I do feel like it's rare to come across someone as EXCELLENT as Erica, Mr Burns's puppy class teacher.  I mean this in all sincerity, even though the use of screaming caps might make it seem as though I'm being facetious.  It's just really and truly such an honor to be in the presence of someone who is so clearly doing what she is meant to do, so in her element when with the puppies and us newbie pup-parents.  She is completely masterful when teaching, and I particularly love how mindful she is of the time, always wrapping it up, neat little bow, in the 60 promised minutes.

Fortunately, Mr Burns finds her equally entrancing.  Otherwise, I'd be in that situation I was in with The Kid all those years ago, where I'd take him to Clean Well-Lighted Place for story-time on Sundays and then be mad when all he cared about was the muffin and running around, interfering with my listening pleasure as I sat there with the kiddies, mouth open, completely inside the story.  Nope, Mr Burns is into it, too.  Good thing.  He's so chill but also smart, a combination I aspire to.

And Mr Burns is hell-bent on being the best trained dog on earth, Canine Good Citizen, therapy dog, you name it.

There is just so much in puppy class that's valuable.  It's too bad there aren't puppy classes for parents of human children -- I'm telling you, it would be so useful, instead of just reading a book or two here or there and then figuring it out in the confines of your home.  There are just so many priceless lessons packed into the puppy training, which is all based in reward not punishment, in encouraging the behaviors you want with treats and praise, thereby minimizing those you don't.  It's completely not grabby, not angry, not punishy.  So refreshing.

Here's some great stuff we worked on last time, which I think translates well into other aspects of human life.

- Settle.  During class, where there are tons of distractions, other puppies, kids babbling, when Mr Burns is chill and settled, we are just pumping him treats and praising him for Good Settle.  How awesome is that?  Wouldn't you love it if somebody was giving you constant cookies for being all zen and shit?  I ask you: how can you treat yourself for your Good Settle?

- Point the butt at it.  During class, if things get out of hand, we are instructed to just point the butt at whatever it is.  So let's say if Mr Burns should inexplicably start barking at another of the dogs, we turn him around so that he's no longer facing him/her -- i.e., point his butt at it -- and boom, no barking.  Do it next time something is rankling you, making you want to bark: don't keep facing it.  Point your butt at it.

- Go Play!  When it's time for Mr Burns and a select few others to have their free-play, we take him down from our laps, all four feet on the floor, and as we're unhooking the leash, we say, quietly in his ear, "Go play!"  These words mark a threshold, give him permission to tear it up, go nuts, run, gambol, frolic and have fun.  Too often I can feel like everything I do has the same tone, is basically the same experience in a different location.  How different it is if I too say these words, as I'm untethering myself, Go Play!  Right away, I'm wagging.  You will be, too.

- Too bad!  Since this training is not about punishment but about positive reinforcement, with a lot of emphasis on the puppy puzzling out what's wanted (since they don't, doy, speak English), whenever something happens that is not what we want -- hard-mouthing, jumping up, snapping -- the response, as Erica demonstrates it, is to say, "Too bad" without rancor and walk away.  All Mr Burns wants is to be with us.  So he's figuring out that to get that, he needs to not do the stuff that generates a Too Bad.  I'm imagining myself, a la Erica, holding up a hand, spinning on my heel and walking way, tossing the Too Bad over my shoulder, at work, when something untoward happens.  How quickly might things change?  Why not, without rancor, walk away from situations that are spiraling out of control to allow for reflection, then a fresh start?

Necessarily there's more, but even these four little puppy class lessons make me just so happy.  The training is *always* more for the people, really -- we need to be trained in order to ensure we can train happy dogs perfectly suited for a domestic life filled with people, strangers, children, shoes and couches.

But I'm really thinking about the training totally differently this time, seeking what I might take away for my own self, too, finding a lesson in absolutely everything.

And since I'm being so nice and quiet, could somebody please bring me a treat?


tapasya, aka lighting a fire under your own ass

This week's practices with Laura have been about tapasya, the element of fire, as in the fire that motivates you to do stuff.  We were encouraged in class to stoke our inner fire and to maintain it at a sustainable level -- after all, the fire shouldn't be so hot that we burn out, right?  I admit that Tuesday night's class with this theme was a bit of struggle for me -- I had difficulty in some poses, felt frustrated, disconnected in a weird way.  Not so fun.  But the great thing about the theme sticking around for a week is that I had another chance this morning to hear it, feel it, do it.  Yes!

And boy, did I ever need to hear it, feel it and do it.

The thing about tapasya is that it really and truly is the fire that you light under your own ass, the fire to get things done, to stick to it.

I've been having a hard time with stick-to-it-iveness lately. I got better for a while, was writing more consistently, taking care of myself, clear in my goals on a daily basis.  It's been a little murky for a bit now, but I remind myself that that probably has a LOT to do with opening my heart and home to Mr. Burns, canine love of my life, to the sleeplessness, to the re-learning how to fit everything in.

Gone are the days when I can just sit and write in the morning before work, in that time that used to be taken up with hiking and running with Jasper.  Now I have Mr Burns to think of, thankfully, getting him out to walk, keeping an eye on him every single second, unless he's asleep.  Right now as I write this, he's cozy in a sunlit patch of concrete, having learned that the only thing better than one pine cone is two pine cones.  He has a collection between his feet and lays there, gorgeous, in this beautiful morning.

Anyway, I've been crap when it comes to consistency lately, for which I can make ample excuses, devise rationalizations.  But no matter what -- even if I just realized that I've been forgetting to take my iron supplements again, which def contributes to a general fuzziness and inability to stay on clear course -- I know I am happier when I'm focused, when I'm on a schedule, when I'm ticking things off my little list.

Thanks to the beauties at Siren Salon for this.  LOVE!

I started a writing course with my sister on Monday, and we both pledged, along with our classmates, to write every single day.  Uh, I haven't been doing my homework, which is so lame since I LOVE homework and really only want to write all day long.


So, the tapasya message came through loud and clear this morning, especially in hanumanasana with arms extended.  Yes to stoking that fire that keeps me going.  Yes to taking my supplements, dang it.  Yes to finding a way to fit everything in, to make sure the puppy is walked and the blog is written and the yoga is practiced.  It's a lot, but what ever else is the purpose of being here, you know?

If we learned anything this week from the daily barrage of Jobs-isms, it's that we should do what we love, love what we do.  So I'm on it.  Swallowing my supplements, then going for a walk with puppy, to take in this gorgeous day and feel the heat, inside and out.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Keep looking, don't settle: be GREAT

"I'm just totally awestruck, a bit shocked, a bit surprised," Wozniak, 61, said in an interview today with Bloomberg Television's Susan Li on the "Asia Edge" program. "I did not expect it. It felt a lot like you just heard that, you know, John Lennon got shot, or JFK, or Martin Luther King." 
 - Steve Wozniak, co-founder with Steve Jobs of Apple Computer. [read more]
The news of Steve Jobs' death from cancer at age 56 broke at something like 4:40 yesterday afternoon.  By 4:44, everybody with access to the internet knew about it, and the Facebook statuses and tweets and on-line news sources were filled with stories, quotes, statements of grief.  Ever since, I've been observing what feels to me like the biggest shared outpouring of sorrow, the most extended eulogy, of any person in a really, really long time.  In fact, to be honest, I can't remember the last time I had this feeling, of being part of an international cross-cultural cross-party everybody-at-the-table sense of loss.  Partly it's to do with our technology today, but that's just facilitating what's happening.  It's not the whole story.

The last big public death that affected me was Amy Winehouse a few months ago, which sent me immediately back to her music to marvel at her phrasing, her voice, her colossal talent.  There was truly a magnificence in her, even at her train-wreck worst.  But the response to her death was different, smaller.  

Jobs is on a whole other order of magnitude.  Wozniak sums it up best, I think, although I'm a little loath to admit it.  Yes, it did feel like the stomach-punch of John Lennon's murder in 1980, in my third month of college.  But absent that horror that comes of murder.  Death from cancer is tragic.  56 is too young, no matter the circumstances, but cancer and murder not the same.

Still, it's true: this is the way I felt in 1980 when Lennon was killed, like the whole world was grieving, was filled with stories about him, the reminiscences of friends and colleagues.  How many total hours of my life had I spent singing his songs, with my sisters as we slaved to clean the house on a Saturday morning, with my friends or just to myself.  I felt like he was a part of me, of who I am and how I see the world, and then, tragically, removed from our plane of existence.  I'm not old enough to remember JFK  or MLK, so probably Lennon is the only one I can compare to.

Is there something wrong with me that I can't remember a single other person who's died since 1980 whose death set the entire world to grieving?

What I find so fascinating is that Jobs wasn't a politician or a priest, not a movie star or an athlete, not a painter or a musician.  He was a guy with great ideas who made beautiful, functional stuff.  He made stuff that totally changed our world.  [As I write this, I am abundantly aware, thank you, that the stuff that Jobs made is not readily available to every person on the planet, that huge disparities in wealth mean many people don't have clean water to drink on a daily basis, let alone email on their smartphone.  I know.]  He's the guy who streamlined the look of my living room.  No more shelves and shelves of CDs, stacks of music everywhere.  All of that now lives in a sleek device that fits in the palm of my hand.

And seriously, don't get me started about the iPhone and how much I love that thing.  All I'm going to say is that when I bought my first one, it was just before we met some friends for dinner at a sushi place across from the AT&T store.  The entire time we sat at dinner with friends and delicious food, all I could think about was the phone in the box in the plastic bag at my feet.  When it came time to choose our next activity -- did I want to go see a movie or live music, I bailed.  And went home to set up my phone.  A more clever bundle of attributes just does not exist than that little phone.  All of the things it can do -- just amazing. No need to carry music, camera, address book.  Gorgeous and easy to use.  Soon it will replace money.

Jobs is also the guy that is changing my relationship to books, potentially.  I had just been thinking about how most of my stuff, most of the belongings that I've toted from one domicile to the next since I was 17, are vanishing.  No more records or CDs, as above.  And now, I wonder, no more books?  Soon, will all of those delicious pages of print just be replaced by handy electronic devices that weight just ounces? I had already been contemplating -- Kindle or iPad.  It's only a matter of time before another Jobs-inspired if not -invented device makes its way into our house.

Maybe what's more amazing is the number of great Jobs quotes popping up everywhere, his terrific message to do what you love, to keep looking until you find it, to never settle.  To stay hungry, to stay foolish.  His exhortation to stay weird, creative, individual.  

What a great human being, really, an inspiration to all of us. How lucky we are to live with his legacy in our hands and homes, and hearts.  If you haven't watched or re-watched his address at Stanford in 2005, do so below or read the text here.

Whatever that thing is that you love, are you doing it?  Are you listening to your gut and being the best You there is?  There's still time.  Do it.  Don't wait. 
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
RIP Steve Jobs. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dunce-cap show-off

Writing Your Practice, the writing course my sister and I are enrolled in, has begun.  Our first tele-class was Monday.  Even the time that we were on the call was precious to me.  I was at the shop, in one of the vacant offices upstairs -- the one I secretly dream is my permanent office, will be my permanent office.  For a little while Mr Burns was with me, having recently mastered the stairs (albeit only the Up part of the stairs, not Down), but then Joe came to gather him up, take him back to his office, once it became clear that Burnsy was awake and eager to play. Rain was falling, the first of the autumn.  All the sounds outside were hushed, the light low.  It was, honestly, just so peaceful on the one hand and thrilling on the other, to be sitting right at the center of what I love best and paying attention to it.  Having a goal about it.

Because it's what I do, when it came time for student-participation, I un-muted myself as instructed and spoke.  I went first.  This may not seem like a big deal, but I assure you that every time this happens, every time I do this, I want to do a little dance about it.  Jump around.

For years and years of my student-life -- high school, college -- I wouldn't say not even one word in class unless called upon.  I would be utterly mute for an entire semester, the very thought of squeaking up sufficient to make my heart pound and my cheeks heat.  Always terrified of sounding like an idiot, asking a stupid question, I'd remain word-less, ask-less.  And the longer I didn't speak in class, then the harder it became to speak up, as if I had to push against the weight of all those unspoken thoughts.

The Why of this silent is easy.  Although people are generally unwilling to believe it, I am (or was?) shy and a little anti-social, left to my own devices.  That + the terror instilled by super-mean teachers we had at French-American Bilingual School (who were not above mocking a child in front of the whole class, among other cruelties), and there it is.  Plus, let's be complete: I was raised by language- and grammar-nerds who will correct every wrong word out of your mouth, ignoring your point entirely, in the interest of cleaning up your expression until it shines bright like the sun.

So, afraid of the dunce cap, I'd keep my mouth shut always.

But I wasn't happy about it.  I hated it, felt like I had the dunce cap on anyway, constantly.  I felt completely limited, by my own choice, stifled by this quiet persona. Until I realized that the antidote was to always make myself talk the very first class.  Instead of being The Girl Who Never Talks, by force of will, with a little courage, I could transform myself into The Girl Who Contributes.  So much more comfortable, but also terrifying, in its own way.  But I know that I have to just throw myself out there, no matter what, from the start.

It's something I have to choose each and every time, an effort that must be made.  I made the choice on Monday, hitting star-6 on my keypad as soon as the invitation was extended, knowing I had to break the silence early in order for it to remain free of its grip.

What's funny for me is that now, instead of worrying about sounding like an idiot -- which was my big fear when I was afraid to speak up -- now that I talk, I am constantly questioning my tendency to show off, to brag, to tell stories about myself, aren't I so great, isn't this just the best idea you ever heard, aren't I just so interesting?   I guard against narcissism, against becoming a self-involved bore.  But I'd rather talk than not talk.

We'd been asked to go through an assignment we'd written, highlighting words or ideas that could seed further writing and exploration.  I'd highlighted, "I grew up coveting my mother's typewriter."  So on the call, when asked, I talked about the many directions I could take this seed image in -- how much I gloried in being able to lay my hands on that typewriter, to see and feel and hear the transfer of the letter on the key to the page, how satisfying that was for me, how that machine marked me, chose me, placed me here.  Oh, rhapsody!

Naturally, after I spoke, I questioned every word I'd used.  Did I sound like an asshole?  Or was I interesting?  These are the poles I bounce between -- idiot/braggart, dummy/show-off.  I try to stay in the middle, far from either extreme, but let's be honest: writing a blog is necessarily show-off-y.  I try to live a beautiful, interesting life that provides material for joy and for telling stories, so guilty of bragging as charged.  Sue me.

I still haven't done the homework, which is to spin out that typewriter theme, but I'm getting to it.  I'm still writing every day, which is the real homework, so I feel like I'm OK. I could make excuses but I won't. It's more a matter of carving out the discrete time and space, of turning away from the puppy and getting down to the work at hand, which is writing, on the one hand, but which is really more than that, on the other. It's writing AND it's spinning reality at the same time. It's doing the homework and it's doing the lifework.  I can't shake the feeling that writing about the typewriter's role in my destiny is itself a way of unrolling that destiny, writing about the dream makes the dream manifest.

Who put drugs in my coffee this morning, dude?  Seriously.

But I mean it.  This is intense, this process.  I am so grateful to Martine for doing the course with me.  Knowing that she was signing up too, made me even happier to dedicate the time, to commit 2 hours pretty much every Monday from now to mid-December + homework time, to making writing a priority.  I feel like this is it, there's no turning back.  We've crossed the threshold and we're off, boldly speaking up and making shit happen, authors of our own destinies for reals.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

saturday, sunday: how i love you

Oh frabjous day, being home all day on a Saturday and Sunday: so sweet, especially after the super-busy of last weekend when we were hardly ever together.  Not to mention that I'm delighted it's October --  really, truly my favorite month of the year.  I love the way the air smells and feels, the crunch of leaves underfoot in the woods, the end of the intense gardening season and the transition to winter.  And oh, the bounty of right now is so good. 

It's super apple-harvest time, and oh joy, we also dug up the potatoes, some of which we'll eat tonight.  The parentals are coming for dinner, so we've got a feast planned, bounty from the garden, bounty from the meat section.  There's the most delicious smell of marinating steak when you open the fridge right now.  So good.

But wait, while gardening yesterday, extra special bonus: a gigantic brown prayis mantis.  Unfortch, this photo is better of my sweetheart than of said-mantis, but still, you get the idea.

We let the mantis go in the tomatoes.  Which means it's probably the best thing about those sorry plants.  A second disappointing year for tomatoes, which we blame entirely on the fussy heirloom varietals we purchased this year.  I hate to say it, but what I wouldn't give for the Early Girls and Best Boys of earlier vastly-more-productive gardens. That's sad, right?  I know it's partly to do with the weird weather we had, but we have never ever had such a bad crop, so many ugly, rotten tomatoes on the vine, than with these Brandywines and Mortgage Lifters, etc.  I feel bad, but next year, in the interest of actually growing edible food, we're going back to the reliable plants.  Maybe one heirloom, but not exclusively like we did this year.

In a minute I'm heading out to pick the basil and make one final big batch of pesto to last us a few weeks. I say that, but last time, it was so delicious that we basically ate our way through it until there was no more. I may have to freeze some just to ensure that we actually some to eat in November. 'Cause that's the whole point for me. I like to grow things all summer, eat some and save the rest, to ensure that taste-blast of summer in my mouth in the dark months, when at best we'll eke some cilantro, lettuce and kale out of the garden.

Mmm, and yeah, we'll be making some kale chips today, too.

It just doesn't get better than this, I'm serious. Such a great day.

And those apples?   Pretty excited to eat them tonight after dinner in the form below, super-cinchy apple tarts thanks to the store-bought puff-pastry.  Yahoo!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

shhhhh, it's Secret!

My genius sister and I are starting a writing course together on Monday and, as such, have been added to a secret group on Facebook.  The word *secret* is cracking me up. Shhhhh, don't tell anyone. 

 All it really means is that those of us in the Secret Group are the only ones who can see the activities, posts, members of the Secret Group.  Still, shhhhhhh, it's a secret!! 

I'm really looking forward to this class, which will run from Monday until sometime in December, almost every week for 45 minutes or so. Naturally, I even enjoyed the homework -- since it meant I had to sit and think about the Why of taking this class and the What of my goals.  And since my sister's doing it and there's a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee, What The Hell, might as well jump in, see what happens next. 

My favorite thing about the homework, which was a long questionnaire, was answering the following question:

What type of writing are you personally interested in doing? Essays? Journaling? Poetry? Blogging? Fiction? Short Stories?

I am interested in non-fiction, first-person narrative.  I periodically write poetry, but a lot less now than in the past.  I would like to try my hand at fiction, but so far don’t feel like I have had a great idea.  Actually as I write this, I am remembering that I would REALLY like to write young adult fiction.  It’s a genre that I adore.  And I also have begun to sketch out a picture book for kids (and adults).

What a good question to be asked!  And what a great opportunity to sit and consider the answer.  

What might come of devoting 10 weeks to a writing group?  My biggest goals, as stated in the homework, are to develop some kind of schedule and some kind of plan.  Note the hedging (some kind of), but also it's me trying to stay open to possibilities, to not put any boundaries around what might be possible, what might emerge.  If nothing else, as above, it'll be something new to do with my sister, another source of shared vocabulary and stories.

I knew I wouldn't be able to go for long without some form of school in my life.  

Stay tuned.  Here we go!