Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Introvert's Manifesto


There is so much about winter that I love: twinkling lights, candles in every room, Christmas trees, Christmas services, presents, wrapping paper, cookie making, curling bows, wool everything (sweater vests, skirts, ornaments, farm animals if you're lucky enough to have them).  Someone congratulated me yesterday for not having to be pregnant through the summer and I said I would be a holy terror if I had to go through that. 

Of course, saying this out loud basically ensures a future pregnancy in Mexico in August, does it not?


Last night was our final childbirth class, given through a local hospital that boasts some number of national honors.  As usual, I left with heartburn, and my customary confusion: are they trying to get everyone to abort before it's too late?  The general messaging seems to be: this will be hard, hard, hard.  It's a good thing I didn't meet these people before we decided to get pregnant.  I don't think I would have the guts to go through with a thing. 

But, like most challenges, the further along this road of carrying a child I go, the stronger I feel.  The first three months of pregnancy were a nausea-fueled secret; at any point, I thought, I could still be making it up.  As my body changes, though, and I recognize the wondrous bubble I have seen on other women covered by my own clothing when I glance in the mirror, a tap root sinks further into the ground of my being, and I feel really tall, and strong, and indifferent to so many winds that used to blow me around like a sapling. 

I have been thinking about social bonds a ton.  I process things so internally, and my personality has always had a huge component of introversion, one which I did not always understand how to honor.  But this component is so present right now.  I haven't seen some of my neighbors in the longest time.  I was already pregnant when Bear died, and was changing jobs within my company at the same time.  I have been either processing grief or new life or motherhood for half a year, and I find myself with little energy left over for much besides my writing, my job, and my husband. 

Tim and I had been hoping for some terrific stories coming out of our childbirth class.  We wanted to meet the smorgasbordy, non-toast of our town.  We wanted awkward questions.  We wanted a comb-over at the very least, but we got the most normal group of folks, and I wonder if our collective middle-class decorum was the source of the class's over-arching dryness.  Let's just say, whenever a teacher asked, Any questions? she was almost always met by silence.  No one was opening up, ever.   

Still, leaving class last night, I was sad to not be able to see our non-friends the following week.  I had grown a little attached to the shy women, the eager men, the baby-faced couple I was sure would secretly beat the pants off the rest of us in birth - not because of their youth, but because their sporty, somewhat clueless look held a glowing charm within it: they were the sure underdogs. 

Tim joked, "I'm going to miss all these people we never talked to!"  I agreed.  Not quite ready to go to bed yet, he then drove us to a house blazing with Christmas lights, a house with its own low-frequency radio station.  At first, I didn't understand why Tim was changing the Cat Stevens on the radio, but once he explained that we were going to "hear the lights," I was game.  When he tried to drive away a minute later, all I said was, "I need to stay here." I was putty in the hands of whatever mad Christmas genius lived inside that house, who had synchronized music to the lights leaping around his yard. 

Sometimes I struggle with the fact that I like to spend so much time alone.  I worry I will wake up in four years and everyone will have forgotten about me.  I sometimes have to learn and relearn the limits of my social abilities when I get over-cranked and grow toxic inside.  Then, I know, it is time to put in my headphones and go for a walk, or drag out my art supplies and make a collage, or just rant and rant in one of my drugstore notebooks.  Whatever it is, I have to do something for me and me only.  It feels powerful to block out the world, even for five or ten minutes, and just be inside myself, listening.


Other times, like the present when my body is gripped by such a primal experience, I can't quite muster up the pep it takes to offer myself to others.  I feel very selfish right now, like I am saving everything for me and my baby, but I find it nearly impossible to care how I may appear.  I'm sure this is natural, and will someday pass, but I've never quite felt this level of indifference to what other people want from me.  It is freeing in many ways, and makes me wonder if real confidence is simply taking care of what you know you need, no matter what anyone says. 

In the Paris Review Interview with Jonathan Franzen, he discusses something I have often felt about the pleasures of writing fiction.  Speaking of his conversations with David Foster Wallace and the publication of his latest novel Freedom, Franzen says: 


The China piece came out of a question that Dave and I talked about constantly: How can we keep sitting in our rooms and struggling with fiction when there is so much wrong with the world?  During the summer after I signed the book contract, my sense of duty became utterly oppressive.  So much bad stuff was happening in the country—and happening to wild birds around the world!—that I felt I just couldn’t keep wasting months.  I had to go out and do something, get my hands dirty with some problem.  Only after the China piece failed to find a discernible audience or have any discernible impact did I get it through my head that I might actually have more effect on the world by retreating to my room and doing what I was put on earth to do.


I love to poke fun of this man, but I honestly have a lot of respect for his work and person.  He is trying so hard, and I find his focus enviable.  I also find myself watching his spiritual side develop in non-fiction pieces and, like some crazed old piano teacher whose students are off in the world now, I see myself cheer when he steps closer and closer towards some inner peace. 


Anyway, it is a busy but beautiful time of year, yes?  I find myself rooting around the kitchen often, brandishing impromptu cakes, just for the heck of it.  I think this is my version of nesting; the "nursery" is still a far-away idea, but a whole chicken waits to be buttered and stuffed with rosemary sprigs, and I am incredibly sad I can't do this before Christmas vacation. 

Some early presents for you: 

* An article about the healing affects of spending time alone, written by one of my heroes, Jancee Dunn, who used to write for Rolling Stone.

* 7 Reasons to Date (Or Marry?) A Guy With a Beard. Those of you with a weakness for beards, you can now proudly raise your hands.

* A beautiful post by my friend Amelia about her relationship to her father, who sadly passed away this Thanksgiving.

That is all!  Go out with the candles of your heart lit this season and, if you find yours in darkness, lean close to someone who can share the light from their own.

With so much love,
Kara



Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving, and Little Ones

 "...had he learned nothing from all those years of teaching Hawthorne? Through story after story he'd led his boys to consider the folly of obsession with purity - its roots sunk deep in pride, flowering in condemnation and violence against others and oneself.  For years Arch had traced this vision of the evil done through intolerance of the flawed and ambiguous, but he had not taken the lesson to heart.  He had given up the good in his life, because a fault ran through it." 
- Tobias Wolff, Old School

I can't remember where this picture came from!  I think it was this website or one of their friends

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays.  It ranks way before my birthday, and just may beat out Christmas considering how much I look forward to it.  There is something about celebrations with food at their center, and communities of people required to properly prepare it, with love and devotion, that really does it for me. 

So I hope that every one has had a great Thanksgiving, even if it didn't follow a proper script. 


Also, there is good news on the Sut Nam front: I'm pregnant! 
This baby, my first, is due in late March.  That means I have a little over four months to keep wondering how life will change before, presto, it changes. For someone who never knew if she would marry, or have children, it all feels a bit like I've won the lottery, complete with people who are now calling me a lot and keeping in good touch.

That will be me, on the left, a mama in the sun with her fine collection of logs and rocks, and new things to care for.

I've become a master of steaming vegetables, and taking vitamins, and odd habits of self-care.  I used to have fantasies of listening to music, writing for hours, and going for long walks.  I now find myself dreaming of free minutes to make a nourishing soup. My focus is changing and while it's exciting, it's also a little disconcerting.  I used to love waking early, over-caffeinating, and then dashing off for a run before work.  Now I'm just grateful when I wake in time to properly wash my hair. 

I've never had luck with long stretches of routine.  Discipline has felt more often like a holy ghost waking me at certain seasons for extra morning work, and other times leaving me to catch up on sleep and remember the animal warmth of my quiet, resting body.


In graduate school I kept a strict writing routine.  I also experienced headaches, back pain, and a depression that may or may not have been related to how hard I was pushing myself to keep up with linear plans.  It wasn't until I embarked on an extended road trip with Tim across the country that I rediscovered my love for writing.  Sleeping in tents, eating on picnic tables, driving with the windows down, sweating through our clothes - something about the primacy of driving and being outside all the time woke me from my fog of sadness. I started to write impulsively whenever I could, several times a day, like jumping into a twinkling lake. 


This is all to say, I haven't found the right balance yet.  Giving all my time to the physical needs of pregnancy felt great at first, but I realized recently that I miss my dives into creativity and, without them, may have been going slowly insane.

I have heard professors advise women to get their careers off the ground before starting a family, and I have heard from plenty of people that there is no perfect time to start one.  I think I fall into the latter category, where it seems to be that life is full a lot of the time, and other times there are luxurious gaps to work on big projects.

I'm at a full point right now, and it's about to hold even more abundance, but I'm grateful to be starting a family at this point in my life.  If I had started earlier, I would have had more physical energy, but so much less of the tenderness I want to bring to motherhood.  In short, while there is certainly no one way to do anything, there may not even be a good way to do some things.  At least, that's kind of how I like thinking about life.

Gas Station Yoga Break, circa 2009
It feels like a conundrum that I have not attained some of my goals and yet, my days are still full of miracles. Maybe, just maybe, everything can be explained by a little advice from Julia Child.

Also, here is Alan Jackson singing about being a work in progress, bringing me to today's koan: If your feelings can't be summed up by a country lyric, are they real feelings at all?

With love,
Kara

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Living Hearts of Compassion

Beannacht - John O'Donohue

O
n the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

After months of anticipation, my copy of William Todd Schultz' newest book, Torment Saint, a biography of the beloved musician Elliott Smith, arrived last weekend.  I stayed up many nights reading it, rapt in the story of a gifted artist and his arsenal of demons.  The book itself is a feat of research and devotion.  It is lovely.  You should buy a copy and send up a prayer for all the sensitive souls who find this world too much to bear.  

As extreme as many parts of Elliott's life were, there were parts of it that gave me real pause, as they reminded me of my own struggles through the years.  As I read about Elliott's onslaught of depression in his adult life, I kept thinking, Do all artists have trouble accepting who they are?  Do we create because we feel like weirdos and we need a place to be, a place where we feel safe and in control?  Or do we feel like weirdos because we see things differently and feel in constant need of connection? 

Honestly, I don't know.  What I do know if that I've felt like a weirdo my entire life, even and especially when I was a little girl.  Sometimes I think focusing on your differences as signs of weakness, rather than simply signs of who you are, is a human condition.  Very few of us are immune to bouts of self-doubt.  At other times, however, it seems to me an artistic state of being - constant questioning, constant unrest. 


On a different end of the spectrum, I somehow managed to stumble upon a GQ photo shoot with the band Fun recently, where Nate Ruess, speaking of the band's success (and speaking to GQ, no less) said: "There is a part of me that feels like we will never belong...and I hope that doesn't ever change."

It made me blink, hard, because earlier in the day I had been watching an interview with Elliott Smith in which he said something like, I'm the wrong kind of person to be a big rock star.  He was no doubt alluding to his perception of himself as either a regular guy or an anti-establishment artist, but the truth is, he was a prodigious talent, and like it or not, he was a star. 

I don't mean that as an indictment of anyone's reaction to success, although I think it's safe to say that Elliott Smith did not have an easy relationship to it.  I just mean, geez, I wish he could have seen himself the way other people saw him, which, according to Shultz' was: generous, compassionate, and hilarious, though troubled.  


In any case, I appreciated certain allusions in the book to depression as a breeding ground for compassion, and I related strongly to the feeling of being able to love others unconditionally while sometimes with-holding that devotion from myself. 

Which brings me to my point: it's funny how much I need my friends to show me who I am.  Sometimes, while talking to a good friend, emotional topics will pour out of me that I had not been aware of holding back at all.  I will realize I had been waiting for a safe place for my words, my story, to land.  And when I find those places in others, in someone who accepts the whole of me, someone who sees and still loves the painful parts, the wounded parts, someone who can in the same sitting show me the funny parts, the glowing parts - that is quite a healing. 


I once read somewhere that as you age it becomes increasingly important to stay in touch with the people you knew when you were young.  (I might have read this in AARP the magazine because, in addition to meticulous biographies about tormented artists; I also love me some AARP.) 

I think of this advice now when connecting on the phone with friends, or seeing my brothers, trading old jokes when we are together.  There is a wordless and deep remembrance that happens in the company of these people.  What am I remembering, exactly?  Perhaps who I am, or who I once was. And perhaps I am remembering what I knew before I grew older and sprouted adult concerns: that love is the ground for grace in my life - it is the one thing I am here to get right. 

Driving the dark, leaf-strewn streets of my town two nights ago after leaving work late, I listened to a good friend's voicemail and felt myself in disbelief at the kindness pouring through the phone.  I thought: this is what I need from friendship, and I am so so lucky to have it.  I have friends with whom I am in mutual disbelief, dazzling gems who remind me who I am inside, with whom I trade devotion back and forth with giddiness and gratitude, and I now believe true friendship should be no other way.   


Todd kept writing in his book that music was everything to Elliott, and when I listen to his music, I feel that so completely.  I stop in my tracks when I hear his voice, and it pains me to think that all the people who had the same reaction, the people who bought his albums and maybe considered him a big rock star, were not enough to convince him that he was a gem.

The saddest thing in life to me is the inner environment we are all contending with, the minefields we must walk on our journey to psychological and spiritual health.  Then again, some part of me believes that we are here to heal, simply and purely, and that wounds are invitations, too.  At the very least, when held with care, they can teach us to hold holy the souls around us.

To all of you, and the art in us all,
With love,
Kara

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rescue


A couple of weeks before we put Bear down, when he could still go for a proper(ish) walk, he stopped on the lawn of a small community church around the corner from our house.  He rummaged in the bushes per usual, then he did something he had never done before.  He led me up the steps of the church.  Someone was practicing a song, a tenor with a beautiful voice.  Someone else played an acoustic guitar, and the sound system they used wasn't shabby.  Bear wanted to go further inside, beyond the closed sanctuary doors.  I couldn't work up the nerve to bring a dog into someone's sanctuary, especially as a stranger, so I sat on a wooden chair just outside the doors and listened, while Bear breathed his raspy, old-man breath and tried to nudge us further inside.

I wanted more than anything to go deeper inside, to nestle up to whatever was calling both of us.  I wanted to sit at the feet of whomever was singing and let their devotion wash over me.

Recently, walking by myself after work, the autumn air cooled my hot work blood and I thought how walking by myself is becoming more and more tolerable.  (I almost wrote bearable, but that's not the right word at all.)  The first few times I went out without my partner at the end of his short red leash, it broke my heart.


But walking by myself recently, I remembered the church and thought how, although Bear was still mobile, his breath was already growing rough, and he was starting to do things like wander almost absent-mindedly into spaces he had never cared for before.

One of those spaces was the church narthex, and I wondered as I walked without him if that had been a moment of doggy last rites - if his spirit was needing a final blessings - or if, like always, he was helping me slow down and open my heart to the beauty in the world.  Either way, I am grateful for what washed over me in that strange church while I huddled with my dog, worried someone would come out and wonder what in the world we were doing there.

We walked on that night, and the next time we passed the church, Bear only sniffed their sign.  There was no one singing, no dog pulling me inside.  The curtains had closed, the window passed.  Part of me worries that things like that will stop happening when I don't answer the call.  I chose the world outside the church that night, as I have done for some time, but I want to remember that feeling, something tugging me toward it, something bright and glowing behind those doors.


In a more literal take on the subject, I went to a wild animal sanctuary last weekend and spent a full day with tigers.  There were lions, black bears, grizzly bears, and leopards too, as well as, curiously, two porcupines who refused to show their faces.  (I can't say we actually missed them.)  The website for the sanctuary says they rescue and rehabilitate animals who have been the subject of human "immoderation" - in other words,  people who thought they could raise a bear cub inside their house, or circuses who trained their animals with the handy aid of nicotine addiction before being shut down. 

My eyes welled with tears hearing about these huge creatures spending time in tiny spaces, at the will of people who do not understand or respect their essential needs.  But I love the discreteness of that phrase: human immoderation.  And it is true: that's exactly what keeping a bobcat as a pet is.  I don't know what happens when sanctuary workers rescue an animal.  I'm sure there is deep grief and outrage by all parties, on all sides.  I am just glad there is room enough on the Colorado prairie for these animals to live out their now peace-filled lives. 



There was a sign on the grounds of the sanctuary that read something like: Certainly, saving one animal cannot save the world, but to that animal, it means the whole world.  I've heard this about adopting strays too - meaning dogs and house cats; not, say, a bobcat - and it certainly is true.  There were two things I never forgot when Bear was alive and living with us.  The first was that he was an animal capable of summoning wild qualities at any moment.  He never turned on me, but when I crouched down to his bed at night when he was crankiest, or scratched his chest and tugged playfully at his muzzle in the morning when he was sweetest, I felt honored that he trusted me. 

The second thing I never forgot was the day I adopted him, and brought him home to my room in a spacious basement full of previous tenants' rick-rack.  He glowered at me from the corner of my bedroom.  Neither of us knew what the other was about.  I honestly didn't know if I would be alive in the morning.  I went to sleep worried about the shadow sharing my room, uncertain what he was thinking or what he would do.  He must have had similar questions about me.  It took a couple of years for Bear's glower to disappear, and when it did, I never forgot how far we both had come: me in providing a safe, cozy home for us both, and him in opening up and softening. 



And now I am crying at my computer.  Well, here's to the wildness in each of us: to its strength and ferocity, and striped, tender underbelly.

With love,
Kara 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wolves Underneath the Stars

I've been thinking lately about niches, how I might be more successful in the Web-o-sphere if I wrote say, a vegan cooking blog, or had an allergen-rich child who had radically altered my life, and I could now show you how to prosper in the brave new world of wheat-less living. 

I don't have any aces like that up my sleeve.  In fact, trying to come up with a list of rules I like to live by, the first rule of Fight Club came to mind: You do not talk about Fight Club.  Except for me, it was more like - the first rule of living is: there are no rules.

Tim likes to quote the guidance he read in a book called Blue Highways:

1) Don't go around hurting each other


and

2) Try to understand
. 


If there are rules in our house, those might be it, because there certainly aren't ones about cleaning things on time.

I guess rules are good for understanding how to live in community, how to care for one another, how to make space for those around you.  But I also think the human spirit is pretty intuitive, and when left to its own devices, I find it is a pretty benign, loving thing. 

I once wrote about how much wilderness means to me, and I've been seeing similar themes pop up here and there.  Lily at bigBANG studio wrote a gorgeous post this week about what wilderness does for her, and it made me think of this Wallace Stegner quote I've been sitting on, not quite knowing how to integrate it into the blog.  I guess the best thing is to just whack you over the head with it, so here goes (thump).


Have I mentioned reading Shopping for Porcupine, Seth Kantner's out of this world memoir about growing up in Alaska?  It is chock full of chipped, frozen knuckles, bear hunting, wolf hides, and moose.  In other words, my piece of heaven. 


I don't know how to explain how a girl who grew up in Connecticut, who hails from funeral directors and tobacco farmers in North Carolina, thrills while reading about harsh elements, extreme conditions, and homesteading.  I assure you, most of my free hours are spent day-dreaming on suburban streets, and wandering the fields of memoirs I adore, buns planted firmly on my porch rocker.  But still, I would only be half as alive, half as powerful, were it not for the wild spaces I love so much.


Here is another book that blew the door off my mind, about long-distance swimming in Arctic waters, of all things.  (If your library carries it in hard-cover, as mine does, it is a particularly beautiful cover.  When you get your hands on it, you should probably just sleep with it next to you like a big, watery promise.)

I suppose I'm getting at two things here.  The first is how important it is for me to explore in this life.  Besides woods and vistas and swampy lake curves, I probably enjoy exploring feelings best.  And the reason I love woods and vistas and swampy lake curves is because they resemble the un-tame parts in all of us - the messy, the scary, and challenging parts of being human. The not-easy parts, the one-size-fits-only-me parts, the parts that refuse to behave, and the parts that allow vulnerability and life-on-the-edge to rule supreme. 


Those are the parts of life I like to honor above all.  Anyone who can read can follow a list of rules.  Even more of a challenge, I think, is to let yourself howl wildly, a lone arc of hope across the crystalline night.    

I could end every post with a Josh Ritter song but try not to.  Here is one for you, though.  Do yourself a favor - go out and buy The Animal Years if you don't have it already.  Then go out and live your biggest baddest animal life.

XOXO
Kara

P.S. For those of you following the mysteries of my neighborhood, a family moved in down the street with, like, 15 children.  One of the youngest kids was out in the yard one night at dusk, dressed in a diaper, armed with a long stick, banging it with authority on a mound of dirt.  As Tim and I walked past, Tim joked, "Hey! A feral baby."  But seriously, that little boy took my breath away.  I don't necessarily want to be a baby allowed to run around in the dark past my bedtime without a stitch of clothing on, but the fact that someone out there is living an existence like that, and right on my street, well, that pretty much made my summer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Comfort


One of the most comforting places in the world for me is my grandmother's kitchen.  She is not a gourmand, although she will try to feed anyone who walks in the door.  Her counters are stocked with Lance crackers, questionably-dated fig newtons sharing zip-lock space with muffins some friend has recently dropped at her door, and miniature marshmallows hardened into a block within their glass storage jar.  She keeps mini Cokes and Sprites on the fridge door, next to home-made cinnamon pickles and, once upon a time when her husband was still alive, ever-dubious yet somehow fetching quarts of tangy, rich buttermilk. 

Her kitchen table sits on a rug that sits on top of plush white carpet.  When I was in middle school, I used to do calisthenics Jane Fonda-style on the kitchen carpet while her husband, the only grandfather I ever knew, fried sausage on the stove and applauded my discipline, his big belly couched in a clean white T-shirt. 

This past Sunday morning, I woke up and made a bee-line for the stove to cook myself some bacon.  The smell of bacon frying in a restaurant nauseates me but at home, it transports me to Christmas mornings at my grandmother's house, my grandfather frying something on the stove, my uncle in a flannel shirt drinking coffee with my father, my mother in a turtleneck and jeans, my brothers and I racing between rooms like wiry kittens, waiting for someone to swing open the sun room curtain and reveal the Christmas loot. 

When Tim and I were in graduate school on the coast of North Carolina, we were a three hour drive from my parents' town, where my grandmother lives, and were able to make the trip often.  When we visited, one of my favorite things to do, besides drag Tim on the same hike through hilly woods past a drizzly waterfall and coal-black cows in their pasture, was to sit on my grandmother's sun porch, my feet in the recliner, leafing through her magazines (Cooking Light, Our State, Southern Living). 

Lately, when I think about how I want to feel in my life, I think how I feel when I am in my grandmother's kitchen.  I think of its safety, its crackery abundance, the way oatmeal or peanut butter or sliced fresh peaches abound.  The woman has nailed cabin coziness despite the fact that she lives in a ranch-style brick house, owns a Cadillac, keeps a piano in her foyer, files away mountains of antique linens in her closets, and displays an impressive collection of miniature poodles. 

I hope everyone knows a place like this - somewhere with mystery and chotchke and coziness aplenty - and I especially hope everyone knows a place like this when they are growing up.  I used to be entertained just rummaging through drawers in her spare bathroom: powder puffs, pods of pink soap, matches, combs, Christmas candles, a washing basin. 

Okay, I still poke through the bathroom when I go there, and seek out the piles of rose-colored wash cloths, folded like neat doll clothes, in her cabinet.  It's a type of genuflection, I suppose. 



Lately, I've been hoping I might offer a place like that some day, a place of rest and love and total comfort.  In the meantime, while I work on my collection of snack foods and antique linens, I give you A Brief History of Visits to My Grandmother's House, featuring a young Bear and I.












With love,
Kara

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Life As You See It - Plus Cats


"Develop interest in life as you see it, in people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people.  Forget yourself." 
- Henry Miller

I once went to a fertility practitioner when my cycles became irregular.  She massaged ovaries for a living, and taught women to do the same for themselves.  She served tea in a basement room carpeted with oriental rugs and lined with peace-filled doohickeys.  I don't know what I was expecting, but I left feeling like a giant failure.  My cycles, however, snapped right in line. 

The practitioner asked a question about my relationship to my body, and I responded with essays-worth of material.  I tied my geographical location to various stages of esteem in this diatribe, at the end of which she took a giant breath and recommended a book called Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. 

For some reason, I felt humiliated. I felt like I had legitimately opened up about something and was responded to as one might address someone who simply needs to get a grip, and here's a Dr. Suess-sounding book for sad sacks like you, to speed you on your way! 

Wherever You Go, There You Are is a best-seller about mindfulness and meditation, and let's be honest, I really did need to get a grip.  The book is truly not bad, as I found out recently when I finally speed-read it.  Isn't that what you are supposed to do with spiritual books - skim them? 


I read a tip on the Harvard Business Review website about how to listen to someone vent.  (Never mind that a knitting blog and the HBR are two of my favorite internet reads.)  The tip said something like, help the venting person identify their frustrations.  Jumping in too soon with advice could make them smash their fist into your nose (paraphrase mine).

Anyhoo, during my speed-read of the Jon Kabat-Zinn book this month, I came across the following and thought, as Paul Simon might, Hey...that's astute!  (Why don't we get together and call ourselves an institute?)

From Wherever You Go, There You Are:

"Our esteem problems stem in large part from our thinking, colored by past experiences....The wounds are important, but so are our inner goodness, our caring, our kindness toward others, the wisdom of the body, our capacity to think, to know what's what.  And we do know what's what, much more than we allow."

I sometimes overlook the innate kindness present in myself, and instead measure my life in unhelpful and even competitive ways.  But more than any on-paper accomplishments I've earned, the simple ability to genuinely care for people brings me mountains of self-esteem.  Nothing feels better than raw presence and kind attention.  It's elemental, totally free, and doesn't make me feel like I need to order a book from Amazon to "get life."








I like the pathway Amelia detailed on the blog we share, Grizzly & Golden.  She wrote about healing jealousy by opening her heart to another being's happiness. It is really beautiful. Click here to read, and leave a comment if you are feeling extra-credity.  Even though it appears like Amelia and I just want to gab with each other, really, that space is for all of us.

For more inspiration and data on the human spirit, listen to part of Phillippe Petit's Ted Talk on NPR's Ted Radio Hour.  That guy is out of his mind in the best possible way.


And, for your next dose of Animals On the Internet, check out 15 Cats Who Are Leaning In.  Just look at all those feline feminists in the workplace!

That is it!  Go out and be yourself - your best, caring, innate wise self that counts 100 times more than all the problems you think you have.  Otherwise, I will be forced to recommend best-selling books and trust me, no one wants that.

With love,
Kara



 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lost Cause


I heard Beck's song "Lost Cause" this week, off Sea Change, and it threw me back to my twenties.  It's fair to say that everything throws me back to my twenties lately.  It's a little embarrassing. 

I think it has something to do with feeling comfortable in my life, and trying to reclaim the times when I wasn't so comfortable. 

Memory is a funny thing.  When I think of the three years I lived in New York in my early twenties, I was both tough and tender, both floundering and completely plugged in. 

It is funny, too, how my mind wants to cast judgement over specific years and call them one final thing.  The truth is, at all times we are both brilliant and stubborn. There are few years that can be bottled so easily.  Most honest labels would read something like:

Rooftop - 7th Street - Letters - Italians
Woods - Bears - Roommates - Wasps
Hurricanes - Surfers - Bricks - Timothy


In fact, it is an impossible mission, the labeling instinct, which is why I prefer stories and their many-limbed truth.


When I first heard Sea Change, I was newly standing on my own two legs, poking about the reeds of my life.  Certain things came slowly, like cooking, and steady employment.  Other things were always there, like optimism, and the belief that I would find love. 

For whatever reason, I have always believed that everyone in the world deserves a partner they are crazy about.  But while I was confident about the riches my future would hold, I was also wildly uninterested in the things that made a relationship work. 


I was dating myself, in certain ways, and perhaps this is what a young woman should do.  Even when I was in a relationship, I spent lots of time with the being inside me who loved walking for hours, gazing in store-windows, eating muffins from food carts, and treading her way slowly through the world. 

There are Q&As in magazines: What would you say to a younger version of yourself?  Believe in yourself, Go for it, are some wholly valid answers. 

But when I think of younger versions of myself, I do not think of pep talks.  Lately, I do not find many regrets at all.  Mostly I see a dreamy girl wandering along sidewalks, stopping to examine what interests her.  I feel proud to watch this drifting spirit.  I trust her and find her lovely. 

I want to say, Yes, girl. Stray.   


In honor of the heart's sacred catacombs, I give you:

* A warm, fuzzy, animals-on-the-internet link
* An awesome video by one of my faves, MGMT, who keeps it real in the weirdest of ways
* The latest Rabbit Hat Fix, in which Lukis and I fall down a worm hole of compassion

From the belly of August, I send you big dreams and bigger swaths of wilderness.  Get out there and roam, wherever you are called.

With love,
Kara



Tuesday, August 6, 2013

She Wants to Know the Stars

Genes
by Sharon Dunn

My eleven year son wants to fish,
he owns two rods, one saltwater,
one freshwater. He loves knives,
Bowie knives, Swiss Army
knives, "Knives like this one?"
my brother says, opening his desk
drawer and taking out a small
jackknife with antler handle.
My boy camps outdoors, begs to sleep
outside, is always shooting
arrows, rubber band guns,
he is lashing together a fort
in the backyard. He sails,
swims, kayaks and wants
to know the stars.
The outdoor hunting genes
are in the dark men in my family.
Yet I believe he is a son of light.
His joy in reading, cooking
and piano are fanned
from the tinderbox
of his father's heart.
He will save rainforest,
he will grow vegetables,
keep horses, fly his own plane.
He will make his own brave life,
he will not remake our lives
nor redeem us, nor pity us.

From Refugees in the Garden: A Memoir in Poems.  Copyright: The Rose Press, 2009.




My dad told me this story in a faraway voice full of tenderness and wonder.  There was no moral.  The whole thing had been both wonderful and terrible.
 
- Barry Hannah

During the summer when I was little, I often swam in my next-door-neighbor's pool.  The twinkling waters splashed over our little limbs.  We dove backwards from the board and floated on inflatable lounge chairs.  Secretly I wished we were in a cool, dark basement, watching movies and eating Pop Tarts. 

Tim teases me that I am cold-blooded, that I can't properly regulate my internal environment.  I roast in the summer.  I freeze in the winter.  Maybe he is right.  But I like alligators.  I don't mind being in their company - metaphorically, I mean, although if there is a walkway or a boat, I like it physically, too.   

On the other end of the spectrum, we went to Montana recently, to Glacier National Park.  I honestly didn't know this park was in our country until very recently. 

It sounded so Canadian, so Icelandic!  But the park borders Canada, so I wasn't too far off.



Anyway, I like it there.  Bears, cats, goats, and sheep live there, plus an aggressive grouse that charged me on an otherwise mild hike around a beautiful lake. 



I read this piece in the New York Times by Margo Rabb about the perils of literary idols and would like to say two things:

1. O, how I love George Saunders

2. I cannot behave myself when people take shots at Hemingway and Mailer.  I might have done a victory lap around the office when I read these words by Saunders:

You can read Mailer or Hemingway and see - or at least I do - that what separated them from greater writers (like Chekhov, say) was a certain failing of kindness or compassion or gentleness...a willingness and ability to look at all of their characters with love.


If you are up for a fantastic collection of essays, please read The Braindead Megaphone.  You will not regret it. 

Sending love, and an invitation to my newest business (see below!)
Kara