Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Swinging the Hammer

For Tony

When you ask for a sip 
of the holy water I carry 
in my backpack like an offering 
to a minor god, tucked 
beneath the bird bones, 
gray and splintered, that rattle 
when I walk – 
sweet broken flight – 
I look at you, 
cat at the window, 
a coming-home sister 
who can’t arrive too soon. 

You were the rust 
on the side of the house, 
pink-washed blood 
on my spring-lace blouse.  
Now here you are, 
second birth. 

This roundness of family 
is wilderness itself. 
Our lungs billow 
with what surrounds us: 
alpine wind, teeth 
sharpening in the woods at night. 
We fear what others think: 
that what surrounds us 
has lost its holy pulse. 
But home stretches out before us, 
cord after cord of forgotten wood. 
We draw our lot in prayer. 

Tonight, in so many winds, 
the songs we sing 
tumble down the mountain. 
We peer to the well below, 
giddy with the sudden volume.

Some time ago, when I was at a loss with how to make the leap from at-home writer, miserably not producing, to full-time happy person, I had a nice long chat with my friend.  He followed up on our conversation by emailing me a list of viable professions.  If I remember correctly, one suggestion on the list was becoming a tennis instructor. 

I have to say, both my forehand and backhand are pretty awful.  I can whack the ball over the net - and more often over the fence - but my tennis game survives not because of skill or practice but more  out of sheer love for running around.  I would make a lousy instructor.

When I recently came across a summary of Gary Paulsen's pre-writing work career, it reminded me of my friend Lukis, and all my friends working day jobs that sometimes make us want to scream.  And it made me think of that list my friend emailed me, and how right he was in some respects, shooting from the hip to nail a career path.  Ultimately most of his proposals were pitiful matches for me, but his spirit was right on: it doesn't much matter. 

Happiness is an inner game, one to pursue recklessly.  It can be tempting to not allow yourself to play this game.  It’s easy to look foolish, and for some reason, it’s really easy to doubt yourself, and to give up on the big goals before you reach them. 
But, as long as I am active and actively learning, I don't care what I am doing: I am on the right path. 

At one time, I thought I had to be a Serious Writer.  But that thought – and practice - was making me miserable.  I am quite happy scooting around my office job now, and this morning read the advice that perhaps, instead of asking your art to support you, it’s more fruitful to support your art.

I have been taking a step back from all the pressures I have put on myself in the past few years to produce artistically.  I realized recently that I was acting as though I had something to prove – to others, ostensibly, but I think, more honestly, to myself.  I’d rather have something to explore than something to prove. Besides, I was producing a violent environment internally, one that was impossible to thrive in, and therefore impossible to productively create in.

I told my girlfriend, who is an artist, a musician, and an accomplished new doctor (who just got married in a radiant, Fitzgerald-worthy wedding this past weekend), that I bought a sewing machine recently.  Maybe she was just distracted (it was her wedding day, after all), but I found her understandably lukewarm reaction to this information reminding me of how, at one time, I would have thought that spending my free time on anything but writing was a complete and profligate waste of it. 

Now I feel deeply that the quality of my writing comes from my experience as a woman, and that, as a woman, my interests are varied, strange, and sacred. 

So, whatever your intuitive whisperings are, I hope you are listening to them, and taking sweet seconds (or whole weeks) to dance with them.  Let their messages wind themselves in your hair, take their arms hastily about your waist.  Let their secrets lead you through the barrenness of ego's caution, to the comforting thicket of your own wild and beating heart. 

And, if you are swinging a hammer, or learning to retrieve your sanity during your child's nap hour, or going crazy writing your second book, know that we are all in this life together, and that we are all doing more than all right.  And that I'm right here with you - knitting a blanket that stretches on like time itself, stumbling to my yoga mat and following my breath like the song of my old sleeping dog, gazing out of windows, lighting candles, holding out hope that there will be enough time, enough courage, enough connection, for us to make our way toward one another, and to share what we have found along the path. 

In study of beauty, and darkness, and the magic of untangling the deep, stirring dream,
With love,


  1. I can't find that list anywhere, in my email or in my memory. Was it that off the mark?

  2. No! The list was great. And miracle of miracles, I found it:

    school teacher
    tennis coach
    copy writer for ad agency
    something at a bank
    something w/ food
    proofreader at a hospital
    literary agent
    running a homeless shelter
    newspaper reporter
    city organizer
    intern at architecture firm
    write a tell-all memoir
    something w/ county parks
    animal trainer at the zoo
    something at a history museum
    bookstore manager
    freelance illustrator

    I loved that list, and your enthusiasm for life. Nothing seems to daunt you - and this I love most of all. Reading over the list now, many seem very suited to me.

    Perhaps I should edit my post, to properly illustrate your prophetic brilliance. In any case, thank you, sincerely!

  3. Someone should give me a job where all I do is come up w/ lists.

    1. I'd love a list! THANKS in advance.

    2. I think you just came up with your blog idea, S. In case you were looking for one.

  4. Karaaaaa! there you are! I missed you! But the wait was worth it. Yesterday, I had the day off and just didn't want to write. I just didn't want to, but more than that, I felt like not writing was going to be more productive for the project in the long run. So, instead of sit down at my computer, I cleaned the bathroom, went to yoga, had lunch while watching Giada At Home, went to Loehman's (sp?), and then went to the grocery store. When I came home, I felt like reading... and then, what do you know? I found myself needing to write down a few thoughts re: the project I'm working on, a few thoughts that I don't think would've come to me had I approached the day differently. I credit you for days like this! Days where I cut myself some slack and let myself do what I want.
    So, in short: much much love and thanks,

    1. p.s. The above strikes me as very much the opposite of the Gary Paulsen approach.

    2. oh goodness, i just finished (and started to putting into practice) reading a passage from martha beck's latest book on this very matter. she insists that to perform at our most productive, we should have two modes--play & rest. play until you feel like resting, and rest until you feel like playing. & the only questions you should ask yourself is (depending on your mode) "how can i make this more playful?" or "how can i make this more restful?" the brilliant part is that it works!

      i think we think if we step out of what we think we "should" be doing, we'll never want to get back on the course of doing it again...but it really does all balance out--suddenly you'll be struck by the urge to actually do *playfully* what ought to be done.

      i think the career/job moniker/concept is such a confusing misnomer i'll be happy when it eventually dies out as an antiquated relic of jargon (and i say this as someone who, in addition to trying nearly every job out there [including 5 that touch on your list], was so good at getting them, i started presenting my "method" at universities & coaching others).

      it took me landing and hating my own dream jobs and time and years and life experience before i had any cognizant inkling that i might want to write--or rather, the inkling was perhaps always there, but i needed swathes of life experience to really have something to write about--or be able to say with conviction, "*halt*, enough, this is literally the only thing in the world i really care about doing anymore, to hell with every corporation that would like to lease out my brain."

      but the point is, career track (as if there were actually a track you could get on) is nonsense or the notion that there are slots where people belong if only they contort themselves into one... everyone is on an adventure--full stop.

    3. I love this idea of play & rest! Thank you for sharing!

    4. Whitney!

      I LOVE that iteration of play and work - and it is so dang true. Allow me to steal my old classmate's quotation of this Osho saying (and please look at her radiant picture here - Isn't she wonderful?):

      “Don’t seek, don’t search, don’t ask, don’t knock, don’t demand – relax. If you relax, it comes. If you relax, it is there. If you relax, you start vibrating with it.” Osho

      Hooray world (and your visit to the sun tunnels)!

  5. Sweet Amelia!

    I've missed me too! It's so nice to be back.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed your day. I really believe in those sorts, as you know :) Next time, please swing by my house, and I will ride along as you errand...xoxo

  6. Oh Kara, thank you again. You are so wise, and your blog is so rich! I love it. And this post was brilliant. I think sometimes that the best and worst thing the MFA did for me was give me something to "live up to." In one sense, it keeps me writing when I'm tempted to quit, and at other times, it adds to the stress of writing (which can already be stressful all by itself!). It's hard to feel the "I should have published something by now!" pressure. I finished the degree four years ago. Four years! But, it's pointless to think like that, I'm finding. It doesn't make my writing any better, anyway, and isn't that what this is supposed to be about? Sigh...

    1. Hi Erin! I love your insights so much. Tim likes to joke that I got my MRS and my MFA in school - a possibly groan-worthy joke, but also true. I have had such a chip on my shoulder about studying writing, and I realized lately that it doesn't matter at all. Creativity is its own force, and we are lucky when we remember to listen to her!

      I read this article years ago in Yoga Journal about "easing into action" or something like that - discussing the balance point between effort and surrender. Both are essential, and intertwined, and so difficult to understand sometimes! But we keep trying :)

      Tons of love, and gratitude for your friendship,

  7. Dear Kara,
    I love the poem!
    Your post makes me happy. :)
    Thank you.

  8. Ah Cecelia, thank you! You make me happy!


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