Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Whoa Nelly

by Donald Revell

Yellowbird here for one day only,
I'm telling you
The trees here
Are children of themselves.  You can see it:
The deadwood in mid-air
Departing into mid-air,
And just below it,
Bright circles of emerald-green new growth.

The day is long when it is blind.
This morning, I find only darkness in me
Where yesterday I saw through countless eyes.

Yellowbird, I pray for change.
I dream about it,
The wild transformations,
Even as each day
The changes prove more terrible,
More set upon death and humiliation,
Even the humiliation of mountains.

I want celestial light, but not apocalyptic.
The end of the world is an old story.
I'm starting a new one.
Yellowbird here for one day only,
These emeralds are trees.
Fly fast.

This poem comes from a book called The Bitter Withy, from which I had the pleasure of hearing the author read not long ago.  I bought the book because it has a bunny on the cover (from Titian's Virgin of the Rabbit (Virgin and Child with St. Catherine) which we will all now go to Paris to see, okay?).  I also bought the book to remember the apocalyptic passion of its author, creator, reader.  I tell you, the next time I do a reading, if my bangs are not flapping like mad crow wings, I will not have done my job. 

Nevermind that I don't have bangs.  Or that no one has asked me to read.

I hate to start off like a bad thank-you note, but I cannot believe so much time has passed since the last post!  And yet, I can.  I realized this week that March was a subtly-declared Artist's Month, wherein I bought cheap art supplies, modge-podged everything in the house, stayed in my pajamas far too long, and baked lots and lots of sweets.  (I am so grateful for my hungry friends, and this is in the oven right now.  Mine slumps in a misshapen way that makes me feel great love for it and my whole life.)

I have also been reading Dr. Christiane Northrup's books and gobbling up her elegant wisdom.  She kind of reminds me of a sane Martha Stewart - someone with an intense amount of focus which she points toward nourishing subjects and pursuits.  Not that making your own crepe paper carrots is a waste of time.  I'm sort of serious here.  I read a blurb of a book that is coming out soon (by Sara Avant Stover, whom I have often mentioned), and here is what Nischala Joy Devi says about Sara's book:

"From the first page of The Way of the Happy Woman, I breathed a great sigh of relief. As women we are told to be warriors, smart, sexy, successful. We can have it all, but at what price? It seems all we really want is to be happy. Thank you, Sara, for helping us remember our true divine nature and making it so accessible.”

That part about all women really wanting is to simply be happy made a lot of sense to me.  (See also: The Pajamas All Day section of my personal handbook, filed under Crepe Paper Crafts.)

What am I learning?  Whatever creates happiness = Good.  Period, the end.  As long as it's not causing harm to others, I guess is the caveat.  No shooting bb's at passerbys, etc etc.  That's what fiction is for.  Which is maybe why I write?  Cause, come on, sometimes it's really fun to shoot bb's.

My friend sent me an article on writing advice recently.  In it, Geoff Dyer wrote:
Don't write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les caf├ęs . . . Since then I've developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.

I'm not sure I agree with him that one should never write in public places but I crack up every time I think about it being a lavatorial activity.  Writing is sooooo personal, and I do find myself muttering to myself, scratching my head like a dog with fleas, and employing other such unattractive habits, that maybe Dyer has a point.  (I just want to clarify: I want to go to Paris for the Titian, in addition to the cafes.)

Because Roddy Doyle's advice won my heart, and I have little understanding of copyright laws on the web (joking joking) I think I will post them here:
1 Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

2 Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­–

Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it's the job.

Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.

Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don't go near the online bookies – unless it's research.

Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".

Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It's research.

Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.

Do not search for the book you haven't written yet.

Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

And with that, I'm off to a piping-hot loaf of puffy, croissant-like cinnamon-pull-apart bread (I did this?), a novel that wants to call itself mine, and the whole month of April!  Which I have ambitiously declared Career Girl month.  I am still waiting to understand what I mean by this. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Poem 1: An Entrance
by Malena Morling

In the city
     of leaks
and ghosts
     just past
The Casket
on Van Rennselaer
there is a
with its front
And just
     above it
are the words:
     "No Trespassing."

Poem 2: Sunflower
by Federico Garcia Lorca

If I did love a cyclops
I would swoon
beneath his stronger gaze
sans eyelids.
O fiery sunflower, ay!

Poem 3: Sheba's Hesitation
by Rumi (of course)

Lovers of God, sometimes a door opens,
and a human being becomes a way
for grace to come through.

I see various herbs in the kitchen garden,
each with its own bed, garlic, capers, saffron,
and basil, each watered differently to help it mature.

We keep the delicate ones separate from the turnips,
but there's room for all in this unseen world, so vast
that the Arabian desert gets lost in it like a single hair

in the ocean. Imagine that you are Sheba
trying to decide whether to go to Solomon!
You're haggling about how much to pay

for shoeing a donkey, when you could be seated
with one who is always in union with God,
who carries a beautiful garden inside himself.

You could be moving in a circuit without wing,
nourished without eating, sovereign without a throne.
No longer subject to fortune, you could be luck itself,

if you would rise from sleep, leave
the market arguing, and learn that
your own essence is your wealth.

Hi!  It is a three-poem night, which you may or may not be glad to know differs a little bit from a Three Dog Night.  I have been reading a piece from Shambhala Sun, which my father once jokingly referred to as my "lesbian buddhist" magazine, because he didn't know what to do with its cover photo of a shaved-headed female teacher.  I'm guessing it was Pema Chodron, a favorite speaker and writer of mine. (Just to be clear, no lesbians or Buddhists were harmed in the making of my family.  It was a joke. A joke!  At least, that's what I'm telling myself.)

I have been interested in Eastern teachings ever since I can remember.  I don't know if it was passed down from my brother, or if was always something we both leaned towards.  I remember calling him once and asking what he was reading.  He replied, The Art of Happiness, by (His Holiness) the Dalai Lama.  The next time I called, I was delighted to learn that he had put down The Art of Happiness for a finance book that in my mind was, How to Get Rich and Retire Young, although I can't actually find a book with this title.  I may get in big trouble for writing all this, but this combination of true heart and honest earthliness is one of the reasons I love my big brother so, and find his company genius.

Anyway, that was a sidebar.  The real reason I am writing is to share the tiniest image in this article I read tonight called "Smile at Fear: Teachings on Bravery, Open Heart & Basic Goodness."  In the article, adapted from talks Pema Chodron gave on Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's book, Smile at Fear, Pema Chodron says, "Fear is like a dot that emerges in the space in front of us and captures our attention."  She goes on to say that it is like a doorway that go one of two ways: to awareness or to more fear.  Actually, you should read the article to see what she says about it, because I lost focus when this image of fear as a tiny dot was introduced.  It sort of blew my mind, to see fear as this pin prick of a black dot in the air, something so tiny that it is almost a dust particle, but something that, when focused upon, expands and expands until it opens up like a rabbit hole and our mind jumps in, followed by our sweet body, and our whole heart and all of our good intentions, and everything gets tumbled and scrambled and sort of lost.

The article actually talks about befriending our fears - "touching" them, as a path to befriending and loving ourselves unconditionally, as you would a friend. (But how many friends do you really love unconditionally?  As I contemplate this, it occurs to me that I might have some work to do in the unconditionals department - for myself and others.)  Instead of thinking about befriending fears, however, I was thinking about that damned dot, and how completely humongous I can let my fears become.  Pema talks about the pointlessness of running away from fear, or disguising it, or numbing ourselves from it.  But I just kept thinking about how small that dot could be, and how big I sometimes make mine.

I was talking about fear with a friend today. We said, "Why so hard to stay in the heart?  Heart, why you so hard to befriend?"  The truth, of course, or it seems this way to me, is that it is MUCH harder to be out of the heart than to be in it, but it is more acceptible to be out of it.  If we aren't watching, acceptability - rather than sincerity - becomes our training.

I want to pause to say that, of course, this isn't everyone's training.  The majority generally rules in the world, but I know children being raised with the most intentional, supportive parents, children who are truly wild and open beings, and I know LOTS of open, loving teachers - including my own family members.  I want to be very clear about this.  World, I believe in you!  It's verrry easy to bemoan, bemoan.  And yet, I come for something different.  A little sumthin called LOVE.  Just kidding.  About the tone, I mean.  But otherwise, I'm very serious!

Pema Chodron gorgeously defines spiritual warriorship as "working on ourselves, developing courage and fearlessness and cultivating our capacity to love and care about other people."  Wowwee wow.  So lovely.  At the end of the article, there is an exerpty- thing from Chogyam Trungpa's Smile At Fear book, which describes "The Tender Heart of the Warrior." He writes, "Warriorship is so tender, without skin, without tissue, naked and raw...You have renounced growing a thick, hard skin.  You are willing to expose naked flesh, bone, and marrow to the world."  

Now that I write it, that last part sounds a little alien-movie/Die-Hard 3: lots of flesh and guts and face parts ripping around everywhere.  But I really dig the emphasis on tenderness, and that word itself is so tender.  I also am taken with the image and idea of renouncing your shield.

The whole article is an address of unconditional friendship to oneself.  Holy hard task, batman!  But worth a shot, right? What else are we here for, but to love.  And how can we fully love another until we can give the same grace to ourselves?

It is time for bed, but before the dreams begin, I leave you with an image and a lyric from my favorite band in the cosmos (zee Wilco).  No laughing at my grandma-like understanding of how to post pictures on this blog, please.  The lyric is somewhat risky, because if you think of your emotions as the seat of your heart, the lyric sounds like a betrayal.  But if you think of your heart as the seat of truth, and emotions as the dust particles and sea waves that are part of the whole kerblanging cosmos, then it can be like a renunciation of panic with eye toward the pie, everything a remembrance of peace, peace, peace.