Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sanctuary (& The Women Who Watch Over the World)

The orchard at my husband's childhood home
I am writing to share something from the profound Linda Hogan:

"Humans want truth the way water desires to be sea level and moves across the continent for the greater ocean." (from The Woman Who Watches Over the World)

And to say: It snowed last night. Thank God!  It has been cold and icy here since our last snow, but without the quiet gratification of a blanketed world. There has been enough ice clear of the sidewalks to go running, but none of the light temperatures to invite much activity. I have been addicted to the indoors, with none of the excuses for it. So be it. But now it snowed. I have a legitimate reason to rise early and drink steaming drinks and listen to the quiet outside, to find it inside. And actually, isn't stillness enough of a reason to pursue its riches anyway?

Sometimes it's nice to have a little help.

I bit it two days ago on a patch of ice.  Now I have a ripe raspberry on my knee cap, just above a gash I obtained with the help of a file drawer at the end of the summer (which has blossomed into a terrifically vivid scar). Both marks tell me: Slow down! Watch your step. So I am beginning to listen.

I have been thinking lately about how to live a life: about what to say yes to, and what to pass by.  My father recently emailed me about the ways he makes decisions, especially work ones.  He said, "Sometimes work enjoyment is like stopping for a stop sign on a country road late at night. You are probably the only one that will ever know but still have to do what is right."

I love the core message of integrity in this metaphor, but also (of course) latch on to what it would feel like to pause on a country road in the middle of the night. Such stillness! And plant-breathing richness around, and animals snorting in their barns. It reminded me of something my dad and I had seen once together on an early-morning drive to the airport, when I was living in New York. I had spent the weekend with my parents at their house, and was reticent to leave the green world of North Carolina.  As my dad sped down the country road, we saw two brown masses bobbing up ahead. My mind had no answer for the questions my eyes were feeding it. As we got closer, my brain put it together that two horses had gotten loose and were galloping down the road. My father joked that they were coming back from a night of partying and trying to get home before their owners woke.

I could not shake those horses from my heart on the plane ride home. Their bodies were so powerful, and the sight of them galloping down the road summed up everything I felt about North Carolina: that it was full of comforting routine and familiar smells, and pulsing with magic, richness, and surprise.

I know that the metaphor of the stop sign offers endless contemplation for doing the "right" thing.  I also see that, more times than I can count, I have been shepherded by my parents into learning the right way to behave in certain scenarios. Even when I didn't want to believe them, they were usually right in their social, financial, and spiritual advice. But I am also awakening to the fact that my life is truly my own, and even though I have friends and elders I can consult about decisions, ultimately I must consult my own inner wisdom - and the way a decision feels in my body, my own life - to find the way for myself.

It occurred to me this week that I have a lot of control over my schedule at this point in my life. I have no children to tend to, a laid-back husband who is content to eat cookies for dinner, an old dog that lets me get away with one walk a day, and a job that I must show up for during certain hours, but outside of which, the world is my oyster. However, despite this, in my after-hours, I have been booking myself full. Why? Because I thought I should. And, in fairness, maybe I wanted to try on what it might be like to be that mythical Superwoman. You know what it feels like, though? Like I'm missing huge, important chunks of my life. 

So, like a restaurant the day after Valentine's, I can see now that the fridge is a little naked, and the cooks have singed all the hair off their arms.  It's time to take some time off - from extra-curriculars, from stretching myself thin. I am longing to literally or metaphorically sink into winter's pile of books. My experience with this sort of feeling knows that it is more than worth it to listen.

My friend recently wrote about the deep restoration she experienced while making time for a bath. She credited the idea for taking time off to my suggestion, but I realized as I read her post, that I have to credit my mother for this idea. For while she is a woman with lots of responsibilities and twelve arms waving around her community activities, whenever I visit my parents, I can usually locate her at the end of the day resting on her queenly bed, reading the funny papers or working a cross-word puzzle. She may be in a nightgown or a fuzzy pair of soft socks, and she is taking time for herself. She is paying attention: to what she needs, to what she loves, and what restores her, so that she returns to the world with that undeniable glow that feeds the world around her.

With this, I leave you to read more delicious words that my friend above has written, whose friendship restores me like rich, creamy soup. For the sake of the world, and yourselves, I hope you are making time for all that feeds you this week. And with prayers that your path is illuminated by holiday lights, and adorned with the profusion of treats and festivities, and drawn ahead by a proud horse or two, reminding you of the mystery we all come from, and the truth we long to return to.

With love,

Friday, December 2, 2011


I Imagine the Gods
by Jack Gilbert

I imagine the gods saying, We will
make it up to you. We will give you
three wishes, they say. Let me see
the squirrels again, I tell them.
Let me eat some of the great hog
stuffed and roasted on its giant spit
and put out, steaming, into the winter
of my neighborhood when I was usually
too broke to afford even the hundred grams
I ate so happily walking up the cobbles,
past the Street of the Moon
and the Street of the Birdcage-Makers,
the Street of Silence and the Street
of the Little Pissing. We can give you
wisdom, they say in their rich voices.
Let me go at last to Hugette, I say,
the Algerian student with her huge eyes
who timidly invited me to her room
when I was too young and bewildered
that first year in Paris.
Let me at least fail at my life.
Think, they say patiently, we could
make you famous again. Let me fall
in love one last time, I beg them.
Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present. Help me to find
the heft of these days. That the nights
will be full enough and my heart feral

There is a scene in The Kids Are All Right where Annette Benning's character is checking on the state of her daughter's Thank-You notes for the high school graduation presents she just got.  As a mom, the character comes off as somewhat of a nag. But she has a great point about not letting too much time to go by.  "I mean, you don't want to start them with an apology," she says of the required notes. 

That's a little bit how I feel this morning, a snowy twilight blue morning in Colorado, where I drink my newest indulgence - very hot, very milky coffee with two spoonfuls of sugar - and think about how much I have missed this time to visit with you, to sit and explore divine grace, and hear from you about your own life. 

So hello, old friend, dear heart.  How is your morning, this December day?

Yes, it is Christmas time - on the internet, on the calendar, and in my nostalgic little heart.  Yesterday I willingly listened to Christmas songs on Pandora, perhaps ruining the chance for giddiness when I happen into Barnes & Noble or Williams-Sonoma later on this month. 

By the way, did you know there are, like, 5 Christmas songs in the world?  It's true.  I got to hear them all yesterday, a million times.  Dione Warwick, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby...and those Coles - Nathalie and her dad - really have a corner on the market.  It was fun to discover the voices behind the names I have heard for years, or behind the faces I have seen on faded LP covers in Goodwill stores across the nation.

Speaking of Goodwills, I read this great little post about style yesterday that I share here because 1. It's a semi-tribute to her dad, and I have lately been thinking about how great dads are, and 2. I think her points about style are so true, and 3. because I am a little conflicted about my own style lately; in particular, my love for second-hand things.  I mean, no one wants to go around looking like an orphan, right?  Maybe some people do...maybe if I were in a different band, looking like an orphan would be perfect.  The band I'm in, by the way, if you can call it that, is making a cd this weekend.  Complete with rented studio and catered food.  But we're singing songs about divine love.  Which I really do believe is what everyone is singing about anyway - Old 97s or Krishna Das.  But everyone has their own channel they have to dial into.  Which is, I think, the real beauty, and hopefulness for the world. 

I know I was talking about clothing.  And I know this relates eventually.  And goes back to my love of mutts, too.

When we came home from Thanksgiving vacation at my sweet brother's home in Atlanta, and scooped up our doggy from my husband's generous cousins who watched the dog for us, we left his proper food and water bowls at their house.  So the little guy has been dining out of Cool Whip bowls all week.  First, you may be asking, what the H are you doing letting Cool Whip past your front door to begin with, let alone eating enough of it that you can rinse and use the bowls?  But my husband is from the Mid-West and I am from the South.  We know people who serve Jello salad with marshmallows at fancy meals.  Don't judge.  Second, our classy little pup (okay, grey-haired and pushing twelve) has taken to dragging his food bowl to his bed and licking off it there, just because he can lift it in his teeth, thereby elevating an already elegant Cool Whip dining experience to true, trailer-trash status. 

I read an article last weekend at a coffee shop I discovered nestled in a neighboring town between horse pastures.  This sounds very Colorado, and it was: everyone inside the shop wore Patagonia clothing.  But the decor was rag-tag and elegant, and the coffee table weighted down with New York Times Magazines.  I know I am saying nothing new here, nothing that hasn't been explored or turned into a movement, like Shabby Chic.  But I like old stuff and I like things a little worn.  My hair generally fuzzes out from my ears like an electrified squirrel the minute it is dry and I am conflicted about this. 

But the article was in Rolling Stone, a place where I had a great internship once, and the article itself was great.  It was a feature on Zach Galifianakis, and painted his warmth, honesty, and comic genius without distorting into celebrity worship.  One of the things that really stuck with me, besides the fact that the actor is from North Carolina (thank you), is that he reportedly still lives in the same dinky bungalow he bought when he was a struggling actor.  After seeing The Hangover, it may be no stretch of imagination to picture this.  And, granted, I would probably be the first person to buy a house on the beach if I ever struck oil, but I love this essential - I don't even know what to call it.  Philosophy?  Indifference?  Maybe integrity.  Honesty.  Or laziness.  Don't know.  Okay, I just love this fact (if it's still a fact.  The magazine may have been a year old).  It pleases me. 

I remember answering a question in graduate school, posed by a favorite teacher.  I don't remember the question itself but I remember trying to explain that the reason I write is to redeem my characters.  My professor said something like, Um, isn't that totally not what you should be doing?  I think she meant, in fiction especially, aren't we supposed to punish our characters, put them through as much hardship as possible, so that a) the reader has something to worry and care about, and isn't bored to tears by an orgy of good cheer, and b) Flannery O'Connor would not approve.  (Okay, I still don't know what she meant by her reaction.  I must go and ask her about this now.) 

But what I meant is that I write, not to redeem my characters, but to redeem the world--to myself.  And to lift that unveiled vision up for others to see.  So that we may start to see things as they really are - not as we need or want them to be.  In writing about details, I start to pay close attention, and learn again and again how to break through my judgment.  Instead of brokenness, I see tiny miracles.  Instead of despair, I feel the okayness of every moment.  When I am willing to look at the world from the small distance and renewed perspective which writing gives me from my obsessive, harmful judgments, I accept how it differs from my expectations.  Then my great fantasies melt into prayers of gratitude for what I already have. 

When I took my teacher training for yoga in graduate school, I taught my first class about accepting whatever it is that really makes your heart happy, whether that makes sense to your identity about yourself, i.e. how you want to think of yourself, or not.  Every week I teach a gentle class at a chiropractic office in town now. And every week I realize, Well shoot.  I am still teaching the same darned thing.  I'm not teaching the same poses, or series of them, or using the same words.  But I am essentially saying, Learn to see yourself as you, and accept, accept, accept.  And I guess that's what I care most about in this life - learning to do that for myself, and offering the space for others to do the same. 

Lots of famous writers have said things about the healing qualities of writing.  Here are just two:

Anais Nin: We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection.

And Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird: "So why does our writing matter, again?"...Because of the spirit, I say.  Because of the heart.  Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.  They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.  When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored.  We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.  It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea.  You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
So it is. 

For the pleasurable hour of being here with you - on this ship - I am grateful.  May you have a day full of whatever it is you love, and may you taste the blessings fully!  

P.S. A guest post is coming soon by a great friend (and so far non-blogger) about, yes, chickens!  And, here is a guest post by me on a site called Mystery Moor - a post about bats and kitchens (with a picture of me in an apron).  It would have been way cool to post this around Halloween.  You know what?  It just didn't happen.