Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creek Bed Full Moon: The Finding Place

My Meadow
by Hayden Carruth

Well, it's still the loveliest meadow in all Vermont.
I believe that truly, yet for years have hardly

seen it, I think, having lived too long with it -
until I went to clean up the mess of firewood

left by the rural electric co-op when they cut
my clump of soft maples "threatening" the lines,

this morning, the last day of September. My maple leaves
were spilled in the grass, deep crimson. I worked

with axe and chainsaw, and when I was done I sat
on my rock that had housed my fox before the state

executed him on suspicion of rabies, and then
I looked at my meadow. I saw how it lies between

the little road and the little brook, how its borders
are birch and hemlock, popple and elm and ash,

white, green, red, brown, and gray, and how my grass
is composed in smooth serenity.  Yet I have hankered

for six years after that meadow I saw in Texas
near Camp Wood because I discovered an armadillo

there and saw two long-tailed flycatchers
at their fantastic mating dance in the air.

Now I saw my meadow. And I called myself all kinds
of a blind Yankee fool - not so much for hankering,

more for the quality of my looking that could make me
see in my mind what I could not see in my meadow.

However, I saw my serviceberry tree at the edge
of the grass where little pied asters, called Farewell-

to-Summer, made a hedge, my serviceberry still limping
from last winter's storms, and I went

and trimmed it. The small waxy pointed leaves
were delicate with the colors of coral and mallow

and the hesitating blush of the sky at dawn.
When I finished I stepped over my old fence

and sat by my brook on moss sodden from last night's
rain and got the seat of my britches wet.

I looked at my brook. It curled over my stones
that looked back at me again with the pathos

of their Paleozoic eyes.  I thought of my
discontents. The brook, curled in its reflections

of ferns and asters and bright leaves, was whispering
something that made no sense. Then I closed my eyes

and heard my brook inside my head. It told me -
and I saw a distant inner light like a flash

of a waterdrop on a turning leaf - it told me
maybe I have lived too long with the world.

I want to make a T-shirt (I'm looking at you, friends with screen-printing supplies) that says: Imagination can save a life!

I talk about imagination a lot, but it's important to me - I guess because imagination, and humor, and seeing beyond the confines of the apparent world - dreaming up scenarios that feel better to me, and then making them happen - all feel like safety zones.  More than that, they feel like vitamins, like giant nourishing soul injections.  They feel like the point of living, to me. 

And Hayden Carruth says all this so much better than I say it.

Last night, I walked down to the Poudre River in town and sat on its noisy banks.  The moon will be full on Friday, and it cast its soft, pre-dark light over the cooling prairies and gargantuan trees, reminding me of ancient landscape paintings, the light soft and lush and beyond my normal eyes. 

I sat listening to the water bubble over the rocks and thought: this is here all the time.  When I am at home, bored and over-heated, when I am squabbling with my ideas for the future, when I am watching a movie inside on the couch - this water is here burbling over the rocky bottom of its bed, rushing forward, whispering and singing like this.

It's kind of a small miracle to stop and listen to water and trees, and watch tiny black birds flip and turn like kamikaze acrobats over dark water.  There is so much sanity in the world - it is just a lot bigger than the human mind.  And it takes a little bowing to, to reap it.

My husband and I once watched The Onion Movie, which is hilarious and ridiculous and offensive, as you might imagine.  A few sketches from the movie have stuck with us - most notable the alcoholic who returns from rehab with a "Nightmarish Addiction to Life," which has him ecstatically sniffing flowers and running through sunny fields with his arms open wide.  Tim teases: this is me, all the time. 

But, um, do you know how fun it can be to ecstatically sniff flowers?

In other news, I have just finished Jeaneatte Winterson's divine book, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  All you writers and language-obsessed loves out there...I don't even know where to begin!  Read it.  Read it, I say.  It's dark and funny and powerful and gorgeous.  Most of all, it is a testament to how hardship can drive us back into the corner of ourselves, stitching us forever into what matters to us. 

A little taste:

"So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any  of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language - and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers - a language powerful enough to say how it is.

"It isn't a hiding place.  It is a finding place."

Gorge, yes? 

Finally, I want to confess my adoration for Mark Duplass, an actor and writer (and director?) and former band-member, who has been in two recent movies: Your Sister's Sister, and Safety Not Guaranteed.  We watched Safety Not Guaranteed on Sunday night and it charmed my little heart right into its lush rainy Washington state-setting.  Hooray for indie films, Seattle-obsessed film-makers, and the rainy season (which I know nothing about in Colorado.  Sigh).

Love to all, keep playing!

Friday, August 24, 2012


I like horses.  I like their long noses, their ridiculous taught bodies, their sharp horsey smell.  (Am I still describing horses right now??) 

To be clear, I am coming late to the horse game.  I was not one of those girls obsessed with them growing up.  Sure, I had My Little Ponies, which I liked for their powdery plastic smell, and in fourth grade I went to horse camp for a few days.  My favorite part of that week was the sleepover night, where the horses were put away and we played Capture the Flag in the indoor corral's plush red dirt. 

You see where I'm going here?  I had two older brothers who played with GI Joes.  When they took their shirts off for games of Shirts Vs. Skins basketball in our upstairs game room (sounds impossibly Silver Spoons-ish, no?) I did not understand why I had to leave my shirt on. 

When I was little, we lived in a Victorian fixer-upper.  One whole room was full of antique crap, including a rusty gumball machine twice my height, and row after row of flaking, leather-strapped trunks. 

At least, that's what it looked like to my four-year-old eyes.  The game room next to the junk room was mostly empty, probs so we could play basketball there, and the game room led to a tiny fenced balcony that I wasn't allowed to stand on.  I wasn't allowed on the balcony, especially by myself, possibly because the bottom would have fallen away, or because my grandmother's little brother fell out of a window when he was three years old and died. 

My mother, who grew up in a family that owned a funeral parlor, has tons of stories like this - children burning in fires, babies smothering under sleeping adults.  When you grow up with stories like that, you don't let your own kids explore a lot.  I'd say that's pretty understandable.  No complaints here.  We played basketball - inside!! 

But these horror stories of bad things happening to good people rise up in my memory now, making me wonder why every artist in the country doesn't move to the south. 

I have friends who think the south is a scary place to live.  But for someone with a passport to it, who knows the back way into parlor rooms and who is welcome in the kitchens cupboards behind the historian's condemning study, the south is teeming with stories, and tragedy, and fierce love. 

I was once asked if I admire Faulkner by someone referencing a story I wrote.  "Not really," I replied.  "I admire my grandmothers."  

Happy horse with backward hoof

Lately, I have noticed that The Writer's Almanac featured Jim Harrison poems shamelessly, clumping them into the folds of August without a single regard for favoritism. 

I, for one, am not complaining.

So...what do horses have to do with Jim Harrison?  Or ghosts and family tragedies? 

If you are asking me this, you obviously haven't read anything J.H. has written. 

But I forgive you.  (I wasn't' actually upset to begin with.)  Here is a poem by this man about my new favorite animal - The Horse. 

Night Creatures
by Jim Harrison

"The horses run around, their feet
are on the ground."  In my headlights
there are nine running down the highway,
clack-clacking in the night, swerving
and drifting, some floating down the ditch,
two grays, the rest colorless in the dark.
What can I do for them?  Nothing, night
is swallowing all of us, the fences
on each side have us trapped,
the fences tight to the ditches. Suddenly they turn.
I stop. They come back toward me,
my window open to the glorious smell of horses.
I'm asking the gods to see them home.

Pretty, huh? 

Finally, I want to shout-out to my girl, Cecile, who translated an entire blog post for me, from German!  I am beyond honored.  (Plus, I have secret hopes for one day learning German.  Just like I have secret hopes for one day sewing properly on a machine, instead of re-learning how to use one every three years and then promptly forgetting.) 

Photo by Cecile at

I have not yet made Cecile's delightful (blue!) poppyseed muffins - not because I'm intimidated by a recipe that so nonchalantly calls for curds, although I am, but because it's been so (unfairly) hot and I break out in a rash when I even think about boiling water.  However, the high temperatures waned last week, and I recovered my zeal for life, in which I ventured toward zucchini bread-baking land.  All went well.  (Quote from that morning: "Baking on caffeine is so easy!")  I even shared some bread with the neighbors, even though I wanted to eat both loaves by myself. 

Soon, I hope to recover my normal optimism/ability to do more than spritz rose water on my face and feel sorry for myself.  When that happens, I will make these muffins. 

Photo by Cecile at

And toast this horse.

Photo by Cecile at

Finally (I already said that, but it's Friday, give me a break), here is a video that needs no introduction.  Actually, it needs a ton of introduction, but I suggest you try it on as I did - coming upon it randomly while looking for a different song. 

You will either kill me for getting this song stuck in your head, or thank me for making you dance so early in the weekend. 

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all had these leggings?

Blurry You Tube video...not *exactly* my fault
With love and late-to-the-game equine fanaticism,

P.S. I've been hearing that people have trouble commenting on my blog.  If you have a difficult experience like this, let me know:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Divine Love, On the Scales


Eagle Poem
by Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadly growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

I am in my second favorite office: the airplane.  My all-time favorite office is a cabin, any cabin will do, or a wood-enveloped room in a quiet house.  There is a room at my in-laws’ house like this, made of old barn wood.  Yes, please. 

I keep writing about easing off my personal goals, scaling back on what I need to do lately.  Every time I think I’ve scaled back enough, I hear a call to go further. It makes me think that I’m not the best judge of my own efforts.  I either think I’ve done a lot of work when I could actually go a lot further, or I have little to no insight into just how much I’ve done. 

In my day-life line of work, there is a lot of talk about metrics.  It’s perhaps telling that when I first started my job at the company where I work, I had no idea what people were talking about when they used the word metrics.  “Do we have metrics for that?” people would ask.  Or there would begin a new initiative to get some metrics around a topic.  I sat in meetings picturing a seamstress with her measuring tape, wrapping it around voluptuous hips.  That was as metric-educated as I was, and those type of metrics were something I had always resisted anyway, because they seemed shallow or controlling, and my own measurements, their numbers higher than my mother’s, and my whimsical nature combined to make me feel different from the way I thought I should have been.  Which is to say, small, silent, pencil-ish.  In other words: invisible. 

I’m beginning to think the only way out of the watery subjectivity of emotional life (have I been doing enough?  What have I been doing?  I feel like I haven’t done a thing, but I’m exhausted…) is a well-placed ladder of objectivity. Does this mean that, after many years of not owning a scale I might purchase one?  Probably not.  I’m not really talking about the body here, although the body is the best place to start, when considering mental health.  More likely, the kind of metrics I seek will come from friends, and people who love me. 

I wish I had been able to stand alone when I was growing up, without internally comparing myself to my mother or to other women, who all seemed bird-like in appearance, tamed and contained.  I often couldn’t hear my mother’s love for me, and now knowing what it feels like when I offer a compliment to someone and they reject it, think that must have been difficult to live with sometimes.  I once thought of our moments of glee, going to stores together and lunching in sweet cafes when my brothers weren’t around, as stolen gold.  But now I think they weren’t as anomalous as I thought.  They were in abundance, too, just as the critical voice inside me was.  

I have touched the space of acceptance in meditation and in writing, and I am learning to bring this practice into my daily life more and more.  It’s funny, because gratitude – so fueling and empowering – comes from a willingness to wade into the vulnerable places of the heart.  And yet, vulnerability is not the first word we think of when we think of strength.

But we were talking about business, weren’t we?  I currently work with someone who is an amazing leader.  What makes him so amazing to me is not just the quality of his decisions, but the openness of his heart.  In some ways, it is difficult to lead with an open heart.  But in lots of ways, it’s harder to live with a closed one than it is to suffer the pains that come with opening it.  I know because I’ve led in both ways.  I’ve embarrassed myself more with an open one, and said some stupid things and shared responsibilities so much that I wasn’t sure if I was even working or not.  But I’ve had more fun leading that way, too.  It takes humility and courage, and faith in not only oneself but in a greater mission.  A mission of one-ness, and of working to serve one-ness.  This sort of mission is a powerful thing to observe in action, and some days I think my front-row seat to this sort of show is the reason I love my job. 

So…I have said a lot here (and also, I fear, nothing at all).  I once was offered the beautiful assurance that the dreams of our heart are the dreams of God, and that I should trust them always, because they come from a divine source.  I don’t know if those words work for you, but I found them enormously revelatory, and think they point back to the strength that comes from a willingness to be vulnerable.  

Here is Denise Linn, one of my favorite authors, saying the same thing in her book,
Altars – Bringing Sacred Shrines into Your Everyday Life: “Remember that the longings of your heart are often your higher self asking to be born. The fact that you want to accomplish something is evidence that Spirit is leading you in that direction.”

As for metrics, I’m thinking that the words of a friend are the kind of measurement we should believe.  The words of our mothers saying how tall and handsome we are, or a girlfriend saying we are hilarious.  This is the language of devotion, and our hearts need this language like our bodies need food. 

I also read the following words in an interview with the late James Hillman yesterday in The Sun, and think it’s something we should all go around asking ourselves.  Hillman, who was apparently a controversial figure in the world of psychology, said, “It’s important to ask yourself, ‘How am I useful to others? What do people want from me?’ That may very well reveal what you are here for.” 

I may have once balked at advice like that, fearing it implied I should go around pleasing others.  But I like to think of it as serving others, and then it makes sense to me. 

Hillman also said, “Why is there such a vast self-help industry in this country? Why do all these selves need help? They have been deprived of something by our psychological culture. They have been deprived of the sense that there is something else in life, some purpose that has come with them into the world.”

Maybe this is the kind of metric we need.  What am I here for?  What am I good at that other people need? 

We are funny when we are being ourselves.  Or we are ineluctably sweet, or true.  We are a gift to those around us, when we live unedited, without shield. 

These are the kinds of metrics I want to have for myself – am I healing to someone?
  Am I listening to someone so deeply they feel heard?  Am I seeing the beauty in myself, wild and unkempt, like a fox in the living room?

To your own personal metrics, and the lives that feed them,
With love