Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Very Merry Sut Nam Holiday List

I'm writing this in the morning minutes when my babe snoozes lusciously on the bed upstairs, competing with the steamy humidifier for the loamiest exhale.  It's indicative of my world, and Kapha personality, that this post is coming less than a week before Christmas. 

Shopping, like a great many normal activities, rattles me.  There are so many options, not all of them great.  The not-greatness should make things easier, but instead I get confused and over-analyze what I've put in my cart or arms or basket, and suffer what I've come to think of as mini-identity crises in the tiled aisles of stores and malls across America. 

My favorite way to shop is in "wander" mode.  (Okay, this is my favorite way to do anything.)  It's how I've been approaching things lately anyway, sauntering through the mall with my child, wooing and/or frightening salespeople with her zeal for jewelry, letting her manhandle the cheap boxes of perfume perched inexplicably at her knees.  (If they wanted to keep them safe, wouldn't they put them out of a miniature schnauzer's reach?)

Last week, while in wander mode, I bought a Mormon Tabernacle Choir LP.  I bought it because it reminded me of evenings around the holidays when my dad flips back and forth between operatic concerts, football games, and/or CSI reruns on TV, and also because someone had stuffed another record into its cover, one with children's Bible stories on its face.  I was morbidly curious to know if audible Bible stories could be any good.  Not really, it turns out.  So far Samantha is unimpressed but Adam is beyond hot, so it's not a total loss.  Plus, he and Eve had the good sense to keep a lama around.  Good people.

Recently, while journaling - that thing I used to do which I've been trying to bring back, with some success as my daughter organizes my piles of previously cherished stationary and moves kitchen items to surprising locales - I recently wondered what holiday present could actually bring happiness

You and I both know Willie is worth more than 50 cents.  Goodwill does not, though.

was the first word that came to me.  A can of them sat before me on the dining room table.  A tub of them sat behind me on my daughter's little play table.  There were also doodles scratched along the journal open before me.  I did not want for crayons in my life, you know?  But little makes me happier than slashes of color on a white page, and creativity, I suppose, if you need a name for it, is one of the happiest things on earth for me.   

So here is my wish list, or gift list, as much as I can be trusted to have one.  Because, honestly, if someone gets up earlier than me and makes the coffee, and I happen to get a hot shower and wash my wet-kale crown of long-ass hair these days, and there's a quasi-walk in my future and I somehow eat three vegetables in the day, I can think of almost nothing better, nothing more I need.  Except of course the last thing that isn't actually a thing at all: the place inside I keep to myself, that cave made of bear fur and blackness and stars twinkling through the ceiling where I go and drift away and find myself.

2015 Sut Nam Bonsai Holiday Gift List

1. You will never regret listening to Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats in any way: on cd, vinyl, or in person, especially.  He's the real deal, and he wears a neckerchief like any good roots musician.  If a train conductor had a love child with Van Morrison and grew up on Sam Cook, he might name his band The Night Sweats. 

2. Samantha got embarrassingly obsessed with Josh Ritter's new album Sermon On the Rocks thanks to early streaming on Tim's phone every day, but I'm still obsessing over his divorce album The Beast In Its Tracks. It's the perfect mix of melancholy, bewilderment, self-expression, and sweetly-nursed bitterness.  In short, a memoir in audio form!

3. Yoga and meditation teacher Sara Avant Stover has written a new book about navigating the feminine path of awakening, which tends to be cyclical, psychological, and completely foreign to our culture of achievement.  The Book of SHE is an incredible resource for women asking big questions of their lives, and every man supporting an emerging power-house. 

4. My friend Corinne is teaching what sounds like an incredible class at Hugo House in Seattle about prize-winning stories: "Rather than seeking to imitate, we will use this as an exploration of our own tastes, and what we, as readers and writers, are being told is great writing."   If you live in the Seattle area, check it out.

5. I freaking love color, tinkering compulsively about the house, and gold things.  My obsessions come together in Emily Henderson's work and she has a new book out that makes my palms itch.  (I don't have it, yet, but I might inject it into my veins when I do.)

I think that's it.  A very short list this year, because I'm not putting down all the things I really love to purchase in the world that mostly come from The Dollar Tree, things like colored tissue paper, animal stickers, and glue.  If someone wants to get me a real live pig or caribou and the farm they would live on, I'd love that.  I didn't put those expressly on the gift list, though, because I guess some people wouldn't actually be happy to get any of those things?     

Happy trolling the neighborhood, oohing and ahhing at the lights.  And if happy is a little far from reach this season, as someone recently put it, if you find yourself in velvet-black darkness, you may be closer to grace than you know.  It sometimes just takes an adjustment of expectations.  Trust me: I've been there more than a few times and I'm sure I will be there again, soon.  When I am squeamishly uncomfortable in my life, I try to remember what I wrote about in this post about being full of fear and unable to see progress but actually doing quite well.  

I guess that's my real wish this year: that I learn to honor the black bowl of night and keep staying up with the owls, getting comfortable there.

With a flame on every surface these days,
Sending big love,

Vail in the 80s meets the circus meets cowboy. 
OMG, yes, please! 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Last week, I started watching Milk for the second time, the Gus Van Sant-directed movie where Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, our country's first openly gay elected official.  My rapt viewing got interrupted by life but I finished watching it last night.  Today, I miss the camaraderie between people working for change, the sheer numbers of people packed into rooms, political mavericks inching the needle forward on civil rights, and James Franco's bewitching, perplexing, unabashed rotation of hairstyles.

In fact, I’m sort of unabashed in my fervor for Franco in this movie.  To be honest, the relationship between his character, Scott Smith, and Harvey, is a huge part of why Milk sticks in my mind whenever I watch it.  The wackado neckties four inches across at the knot and the manes of curls on everyone are also to blame.  And Josh Brolin who does a nice job as the jilted co-worker turned broken, vengeful man. 

Fun fact: I bought my copy of Milk for 25 cents at a library sale.  Even MORE fun fact: Tim and I got engaged after a library sale, after breakfast at a diner with friends.  Because of this, my engagement will possibly always be linked to bacon in my mind, and I guess I'm okay with that. 

On a related note (I hope) I also read Truth & Beauty for the second time last week, Ann Patchett's breathtaking memoir about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, with whom she lived for a year during graduate school.  My mom gave me a copy when the book came out in 2004 and I loved it then, but holy cow did I really truly wrap myself in its story this time around.

I have so many thoughts about Truth & Beauty but don't want to write a term paper on my blog again so I'll just say it's a book about friendship and writing and becoming a writer and anxiety about writing and devotion to a craft and devotion to a friend and growing up in different ways that don't always match your friend's life.  I love love love it (did I mention how I feel about it?) and I'm sort of struck by my feelings for Ann Patchett in my ripe old thirties.  Elizabeth McCracken makes a few appearances in Truth & Beauty, a detail I missed the first time around because I hadn't yet discovered her writing.  

Ever since I learned they were friends, I always thought McCracken would be my greater love, but Patchett's wry, understated prose is starting to close the gap.  It doesn't seem possible.  I loved The Giant's House so much, McCracken's novel about a librarian who falls in love with a young giant, I used to unilaterally hand it out whenever I could.  That book sort of strikes the same moody, melancholy, dark, devoted chords that are working in Truth & Beauty, come to think of it. 

The other thing I have been thinking a lot about lately is Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast, Big Magic, which I avoided for a long time, because her voice in the first episode drove me crazy with its hushed, patronizing tones.  I tried to get over that and mostly, I did. 

The episode featuring Rayya Elias was one of my favorites.  (Episode #8, The Pure Pleasure of Making Stuff.  You can find the whole series here.)  Of course I listened to it three weeks ago so now I all I have to offer you, basically, is: it was a good one!  Honestly, I find myself a little annoyed by Gilbert lately, and I find that pretty interesting.  Is it fame backlash?  Sexism on my part?  Am I annoyed by a woman who won't stop talking or am I just annoyed by this voice that's getting a lot of airtime and ready for more variety?  (Probably a mix.)  Anyway, I've found some of her tips (can't say that word without thinking of this) useful and nurturing, too.

Choreographer, dancer, and manic artist extraordinaire Twyla Tharp was on the radio recently.  Tim called and told me to turn it on, and I did so with a warm, sudsy, yellow-gloved hand. I'm proud of this fact because there are fewer ways I'd rather listen to public radio than while doing chores around the house with sun streaming through the windows.  At the close of the interview, when Scott Simon tells Twyla Tharp that she is fascinating to listen to, she says, "No.  You know what?  I just work.  And I’ve worked a long time.  And I like work.  That’s what I do.”

My husband believes in the idea that work is dignity, a concept I have warmed to very slowly in my life.  Amelia wrote about this on our blog and I'm returning to it now because that’s exactly what Twyla Tharp is talking about, at least in my interpretation.  Work has been Tharp's devotional practice, a way to listen to her life and collaborate with her genius.  I used to relate to this idea but my definition of work keeps changing.  If my muse is a team of horses straining at the reins, she is now constrained by the abacus of child-time, sliding ahead – and back – in quick flashes that are not at all what her ego wants to embrace.

When I surrender into what the moment needs, often along the lines of making a ruddy peanut butter sandwich when I’d rather be baking elaborate, perfect cookies, the room I’m in takes on illumination.  The LPs my daughter insists on dancing to bounce a little more richly through the floorboards.  Even the mailman becomes a friend (true story) and I start to breathe again.

It’s not easy, though.  I’m used to having time for my fantasy projects. We just returned from a road-trip to North Carolina and there are dishes on my desk because we had work done on the kitchen in our absence.  I just found a piece of bacon in my jacket pocket from our trip to Madison, WI, in October.  Life is a little scrambled right now, very full, very bewildering. 

I guess what I’m saying is: I don’t have it all figured out.  As much as I don’t like it, what if that’s this year’s teaching, after all?