Monday, August 29, 2011

Family In the Forest

The House on Broughton Street
by Mary Ann Larkin

Always it was a summer afternoon
I see my mother climbing the stairs
to the porch
My grandmother waiting
tiny but formidable
She'd been expecting her
the sisters smiling
brothers watching
My mother in her grey crepe
the white gloves she always wore
Her hair and eyes dark
among these fair, freckled people
My father shyly presenting her—
something of his own—
Shuffling, they made room for her
and she took her place among them
and between them
grew something new
Marie, they came to say,
This is Grant's Marie
She seldom spoke
but rested among them
a harbor she'd found

My father gave her a carnelian ring
surrounded by silver hearts
Before Grandma died
she gave my mother the diamond brooch
from Grandpa
My mother brought with her
fabrics that glistened
a touch of velvet
sometimes a feather
They noticed the light
in the rooms where she sat
And even thirty years later
after the lost jobs and the babies
after the mortgages and the wars
what they remembered most
was the way my mother
set aside her gloves

She was buried on Good Friday
There was a blizzard
After the funeral
the youngest uncle
read "Murder in the Cathedral" aloud

I have the carnelian ring now
the diamond brooch
I wear satin when I can
and I am attracted to old houses
where the light passes
across the porch to the windows, making
of the space between, a grace

I recently had a conversation with my mother where I apologized for moving so far from her.  We laughed about the apology, as if it were a reasonable thing to apologize for, as if I had run out on a family, abandoned someone and refused to pay alimony.  We both know that what Tim and I came out west to do was important to us, and how powerful it is to follow your bliss.  But I still felt the need to apologize, if only to say: I once thought I could change who I was by changing my location, but I see now that I am perfect the way that I am. 

Part of who I am comes from my mother.  My father.  My grandparents.  The glittering constellation of my inherited past. 

And part of who I am is all up to me. 

I am traveling this week, to the place I call home. I feel my life circling back to old business, to reclaim lost loves and tossed-away lives.  I also feel it opening up in whole new ways, as I discover new-to-me joys.  Between the old closing over and the new opening up, I find my full life.

I just read the introduction to a collection of short stories based on places set aside by The Nature Conservancy.  In case you haven’t noticed, place is a topic I obsess over. The introduction - written by Barbara Kingsolver - stood out to me for its articulation of something I have grown to understand about my own writing. 

Kingsolver writes: “…the natural world has always inspired authors.  From the early American novelist James Fenimore Cooper , who celebrated the ‘holy calm of Nature,’ to the contemporary writer Annie Proulx…who has said that ‘everything that happens to characters comes welling out of place’…our nation’s authors have been moved by nature and often incorporated it into their work.  Indeed…not long ago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor went so far as to remark, ‘Isn’t all writing nature writing?’”

Even though the quote addresses how the natural world influences writers, Henry Taylor’s words were especially relevant to my understanding of why I write at all.  Whether I am writing a poem or a letter to a friend, I write to listen to the babbling brook inside, to take from it what glittering rocks I find and lift them up to the sun.  I find my clearest self when I write, and discover both where I come from, and where I am heading. 

As I copied the above passage, my plane descended to the ground.  To North Carolina.  To my eternal practice: Find ground.  Sink in.  Take what you’ve been given, and water it.  Watch it grow, and give thanks for whatever shape it takes.

Wherever it is you are landing, whatever shape your life is taking, may you bring quiet attention to your loves and self today.  I leave you with sweet hope and blessings for our shared future.
As always and most sincerely,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

I baked a Leprechaun Trap Cake for my friend Amelia's totally rad blog and I'm pretty psyched about it.  Read all about baking versus cooking, and sugar versus love, here.

Then add Bon Appetempt to your Reader and have a magical day!


P.S. What's that?  A poem you say?  Certainly!  Hang on to your hats.  This one's a WILD one. 
(Stay tuned for a recorded reading of this poem by a fellow nerd...any volunteers?)

I am dedicating the inclusion of this poem to J.L. Conrad, who also writes wild poems about farm and circus and other beloved animals.  Check out her astonishing book, A Cartography of Birds, and see for yourself!

P.P.S. I went to my second-only county fair on Saturday night, which is perhaps why farm animals are on the brain. 

I once told Tim that I LOVE the fact that he is from Ohio.  He says that was a first for him.  Getting to the county fair on a date for the first time when you are 33 is just one of the perils of growing up in New England.  Just kidding.  BIG LOVE, Connecticut!  All the states I've lived in are rad.  Okay.  Now for that poem...

Although I Sweeten Myself with Sugar
by Rodica Draghincescu

My hands filled with sugar
(a new being? lucky?)
I met him along the railroad tracks
watching over his ruddy goats
good morning I MEAN CAN'T
the DAYS have turned to grass
and GRASS isn't good for these animals any longer
I've brought you sugar
the goats bleat whenever they feel like it
their bleating has stopped - in goat language this is called
FREEDOM - I'm about to experience the sensation that I've
that won't cause me trouble
Dear mr. goatherd I've brought you
I reach out my hand - I don't know
why it's said THIS WAY when in FACT
the movement is made with the root fastened
between shoulder blade and breast WHICH breast
is BIGGER: it's learned to sing and TO
TALK: NURSING this other condition
scares it depresses it leads it to droop it wishes
IT HAD EYES to scope out temptations UNDERNEATH clothes
although I sweeten myself
with sugar I'M ONE OF THOSE
WHO DON'T DO a lot of good for the REPRESENTATIVE
ORGANS now for INSTANCE grass
grown on THIGHS is poisonous to goats
THAT'S WHY I reach out my hand filled with sugar
DEAR MR. goatherd TASTE it
(meanwhile) the indifferent or CAPABLE goats
have stopped the freight train at the railroad museum
where the railroad clerk MR. SCOW was celebrating his WEDDING VOWS
they were sitting DUMFOUNDED wearing IN PERPETUITY
kaleidoscopic CARDBOARD flowers attached with SAFETY
(a SOLDIER escaped from his UNIT
was trying to remedy the error)
LET'S GET A MOVE ON  / farther ahead IT'S THERE /
the wedding OF dead goats
the museum's freight train is like a kind of LOVE
you've give up waiting for
(having a TOTALLY different OBJECTIVE
THAN killing goats)
(the goats were too greedy)
(AFTER ALL THEY can live without beings GOATS)
NO ONE will hold their FREEDOM
up to ridicule
good morning mr. goatherd
CAN'T you (EVEN) see IT'S
MORNING I'll take pains
to believe that the NOISES AND THE BLOOD
enveloping us will give FREE REIN to a new relation
between you and me
(my hands filled with sugar
I'll never be
Good morning mr. goatherd
the kid hawking the morning papers has spread
the news everywhere in town

(Translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Antuza Genescu)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mother Divine

by Jeff Tweedy

When the devil came
he was not red
but chrome
and he said
come with me
you must go
so I went
where there was no fire
no torture
no hate
everything clean and precise
towering polished diamond skyscrapers
glittering ice avenues
translucent blues and silver signs
marking every turn
I was welcomed
with open arms
all lines of defeat sanded away
I felt no fear

I received every kind of help
the air was crisp
sunny late winter days
springtime yawning
over the cottony horizon
hell is chrome
I believe in god
hell is chrome

Presently, a roofing crew blasts music through the neighborhood.  They have been working for a week on my neighbor's house.  One member of the crew, a particularly spirited man, sings along to the festive Hispanic music hopping out of the radio.  While hammers make perfect background music for meditation (wink wink), I love this man's uncensored joy. I find myself grinning every time he cries out in song.  A huge pine blocks my view to the house but I imagine this man leaning into the slant of the roof, crooning to each shingle as he slaps his hammer down.  Maybe he doesn't care for his work.  Maybe it is only the music he loves.  It doesn't matter.  He sounds as though he simply cannot help himself and this abandon delights me.

I have been thinking about fertility lately.  Not THAT kind of fertility - although I did watch When Harry Met Sally this weekend and appreciated Sally's line about your biological clock not really starting to tick until you are 35 in whole new ways.  No, I have been thinking about how gentleness is a quality I was not able to give myself earlier in my life, and how projects and days and relationships blossom under its loving influence. 

The summer after I got married (those storied 14 months ago!) I traveled to Santa Fe to visit a friend, and to reconnect with the old place I originally fell in love with on a road trip just after college.  Wandering around the square, I spotted a 12 foot high statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in front of Santuario de Guadalupe, the oldest church in the United States honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I was drawn to the statue like a downstream current, and I circled and circled her, taking pictures from every angle, soaking in her beauty.  I drank in the golden constellation of her robe and its Statue of Liberty-esque turquoise patina.  I puzzled at the child bursting from her feet.  And I bowed beneath her towering, benevolent, powerful head, her massive shoulders, and folded-prayer hands.  I was devoted immediately, though I had no idea who this woman was, or what her story was.  I didn't care. I was in the presence of something great and loving and gorgeous.  That was enough for me. 

I later learned about Our Lady of Guadalupe's story and symbolism, but feel totally unqualified to explicate it here.  In a book titled A Woman's Journey to God, Joan Borysenko offers this: "She identified herself as 'the Mother of God, who is the God of Truth; the Mother of the Giver of Life; the Mother of the Creator; the Mother of the One who makes the sun and the earth; and the Mother of the One who is near.'" 

I adore this last name: the One who is near.  I find it so intimate and comforting and sweet.

Borysenko continues: "One of the most interesting aspects of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is that she is wearing the cintz, a tassel or maternity bond, around her wrist.  She is a pregnant goddess."

At the time I discovered the statue, I was going through an intense questioning period in my artistic life.  My journey to Santa Fe was, in many ways, a homecoming to my creative roots - to the woman I had been, and had been becoming, before I muted my free-spirited ways in the rough years after college.  Unbeknownst to me, in Santa Fe, I was journeying to get them back. 

As I stood beneath this eternal mother in the clean sun, I felt something I had no idea I had been living without.  I felt pure, utter acceptance: acceptance for who I was, for what I had been born to do, and for whatever pathways made me happy. 

No wonder my devotion was instant!  I had accessed something ancient and healing. 

When my parents visited Santa Fe,  I'm afraid they experienced the heat more than any other aspect.  But what mattered to me was my recognition that a primal energy connects my mother and I.  She is the woman who created me, housed me in her body, nurtured my own body's growth, and, ultimately, is the woman who taught me how to be a woman, living in a body that can create new life. 

My mother was on my mind all over Santa Fe.  I wanted to show her everything I discovered.  I felt incredible gratitude for her, and for all the ways she nurtured me - especially in high school when my brothers had left for college and my relationship with my mother blossomed.  My experience with the statue initiated me, and reconnected me to the universal mother energy, and thus to myself as a woman with creative powers.  This experience, and the art, and the festive embrace of God, were some of the reasons I felt so close to my mother - who was states away on the east coast - while I was in New Mexico. 

This is the energy I have been thinking about lately: the pregnant goddess energy, the woman in her creative powers, ready to give birth to the moon and the sun.  When I am in contact with this energy, which yogis call the Shakti, all my human loves and relationships connect.  They swirl together and mix and play, because I am stepping into the current drawing closer and closer to the mother's heart.  Things make more sense to me when I am in contact with this energy.  At the same time, I become aware more than ever of the mysteries I can never solve, and of the underwater shadows I cannot name.

When I am truly connected, I accept these mysteries and shadows, and even delight in them. Safe in the discovery process, I rediscover faith.

I get it now, what people mean when they say faith is a garden you have to water daily.  I am finding that my garden loves gentleness - sweet attention and listening.  I bet most gardens do, but what do I know? As Jeff Tweedy says in an interview about writing poetry in The Writer's Chronicle, "I believe that the interior landscape is much more honest because I really believe that is the only thing you can truly know...I find that the more you can get to the essence of your interior life, it actually becomes more expansive than any world view you can try and impart."

Sometimes I find efforts at self-care daunting, haunted by failures past and future.  But today, I'll slop  water on the roses, plop the house plants in the sun.  Is it really so hard to nurture and care for the soul?  Aren't there a million good ways to do so?  My hope is that we all find our own ways.  That we give ourselves permission to delight and cry out in song, or to weep and massage the blood out of welters.  Whatever the steps we take home, may we honor and keep them.  May we know where they are, even in the dark.  And may we share what we find with each other.

Friday, July 8, 2011


One day I just woke up, the wolves were all there
Wolves in the piano, wolves underneath the stairs…  -- Josh Ritter

Fortunately Not Every Day Is Important,
by Sol Gordon


          feeling sorry for
          the plants
          like my love
          in the Fall of


         seek the sun
         among withered flowers
         and brief encounters
         where friendship lingers
         not for long.
         I am loved
         not enough to still the
         Exile.  I lit two candles to


         The way.  No one noticed
         What is a way to a
         Jewish holiday?


         responded, somewhat impatiently
         I thought,
        "For Heaven's Sake, Water The
         Plants, And Get On With It."

I’ve been thinking about food, lately—both what we put into our bodies and into our minds.
  I’ve been on vacation in Alaska for the past two weeks.  Besides the fact that my dog may never forgive me for leaving him (it’s true, I may overestimate the value of my company), it was a very good trip.  Whales breached.  Sea lions burped and roared.  Bearded men sold and fed me delicious hunks of fish.

I Heart Alaska.
  Truly and freely.

Packing my suitcase for the flight home two days ago brought the kind of sadness I feel when departing a loved one.
  It didn't surprise me, exactly.  I knew I was leaving the most perfect combination of wilderness and western culture that I have found to date.  Still, the usual things I conjure up to make going home easier--the comfort of my kitchen, the freedom of uninterrupted yoga practice, the note cards and papers waiting in my desk at home--failed to seduce me.  I felt that, were I in a different place in my life, Alaska and I might make one sexy duo.       

Still, I got on the plane.  I entertained the briefest fantasies of returning to Colorado only to pack up everything and go back to Alaska.  But I knew they were only fantasies, and here's why: because I'm tired of moving.  I'm tired of being far away from everyone I love, and getting to the east coast from Colorado is way easier than getting there from Alaska.

All this added up to another realization: I'm tired of chucking my heart onto passing trains and wondering why I'm so tired at the end of the day.

Before the trip, I had imagined being struck by a great epiphany while we traveled.
  Instead, I got thunked over the head by a dull club. A red-headed stepchild of sorts emerged from the depths of my being around the end of week one.  She was gap-toothed and freckled, and hung around the front porch of my mind.  When I asked what she needed to tell me, she said, simply, “You ain’t having enough fun.”

Knowing that opportunities for amusement were in abundance (boat tours, coastal roads, log cabins, sourdough pancakes), I dug deeper for what she was trying to tell me.  I struck upon it immediately: though my body was on tour in one of the most gorgeous landscapes of the country, my heart itself was in a cardboard box, stuffed at the bottom of my suitcase. 

Travel stresses me in two ways:

1. When I don’t have adequate space to mediate for several days, my emotions board the nearest roller-coaster and ride every wave of anger, despair, depression, and despondency, and take those I love with them.

2. I often have difficulty with food options on the road.  This makes me anxious and, when I make the wrong choice, very very cranky.

All this comes back to grounding.  When I don't take adequate care to do so, I suffer big time and, unfortunately, so do those around me. 

I often think of a van full of dogs that Tim and I drove to Florida once.  They were piled into crates, and those crates were stacked one on top of another.  We were delivering the dogs to safety, to a no-kill shelter eighteen hours away.  When I want to bare my teeth at my travel companions, I think about those dogs.  Often, I fail in efforts toward patience, and I growl and snarl--if only internally.  But those sweet pups that Tim and I were not able to let out for those eighteen hours--not even for a bathroom break--were silent the entire ride.  It was like they knew where they were headed, and just wanted to get there.  I'm sure they were frightened, or more than anything a bit confused.  But they managed their spirits better than I do on big trips.

What I learned on this trip, in addition to many marine animal facts and what a glacier looks like up close (Superman blue!), is where I am out of balance in my life, and how to go to those places and soothe them.

I also learned that rocks left behind by glacial morraines are sometimes soft to the touch.
  I’m not saying I want to rake through my life and leave behind only perfection.  Actually, I do. And that’s the problem.  I know, intellectually, that perfection isn’t my job.  Surrender to the craggy parts of life, and learning to love them as much as the luxuriously soft and impeccably credentialed ones, is.  That sounds like there are a lot of those impeccably credentialed ones.  And maybe there are.  But all I seem to be seeing lately are the big ass crags.

I know that surrender, not perfection, is my job.  But why do I have to re-learn it every darned day of the year?

I once learned that, traditionally, Quaker women leave one mistake in the quilts they craft, because only God is perfect.
  What a sweet combination of reverence and playfulness!  And who are these women who can limit mistakes to just one?

I’ve been reading the exquisite Journal of a Solitude
, by May Sarton.  Incidentally, this book has been on Tim’s shelves, which are packed to the gills, for years.  I have passed it several times a day, for several years now.  Often, all that I have seen are shelves that are in desperate need of some Feng Shui love.  Now that I have finally pulled out Sarton’s book and waded into its sweet attention, I think: how strange is life that I wanted him to chuck what I need most? 

Here is a gem from the bowlful of gems contained in
Journal of a Solitude

Found this in an old journal of mine – Humphrey Trevelyan on Goethe: “It seems that two qualities are necessary if a great artist is to remain creative to the end of a long life; he must on the one hand retain an abnormally keen awareness of life, must always demand the impossible and when he cannot have it, must despair.  The burden of the mystery must be with him day and night.  He must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted.  This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tensions is the source of artistic energy.  Many lesser poets have it only in their youth; some even of the greatest lose it in middle life.  Wordsmith lost the courage to despair and with it his poetic power.  But more often the dynamic tensions are so powerful that they destroy the man before he reaches maturity.” 

Must art come from tension?  A few months ago I was dreaming of a happy work, a whole book of poems stemming from fruitful love. Now here I am back on the rack.  But perhaps this is a sign of health, not sickness.  Who knows?

And, from a delicious book I picked up in Denali, called Small Wonders: Year-Round Alaska,
a little piece of advice on ground work:

…go out and explore the world gathered around you…The closer I look, the more there is to see.

So, here’s to despair!  Or, learning how to work with it.  To seeing the trees inside the forest, to piles and piles of beautiful books, to bear and moose-lovers, to art as food, to meditation as life, and to abundant, life-long practices of mindfulness and humility.

With love,

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ken Kesey & The Bear

292, Emily Dickinson

If your Nerve, deny you -
Go above your Nerve -
He can lean against the Grave,
If he fear to swerve -

That's a steady posture -
Never any bend
Held of those Brass arms -
Best Giant made -

If your Soul seesaw -
Lift the Flesh door -
The Poltroon wants Oxygen -
Nothing more -

I just got back from a class at a local Buddhist center.  The class was about contemplating emptiness and reminded me of the following Ken Kesey quote, pulled from an essay by M.C. Armstrong in the Summer 2010 issue of The Missouri Review.  It's long, sorry.  Do your best:

"When people ask me about LSD, I always make a point of telling them you can have the shit scared out of you with LSD because it exposes something, something hollow.  Let's say you have been getting on your knees and bowing and worshipping; suddenly, you take LSD, and you look, and there's just a hole, there's nothing there.  The Catholic Church fills this hole with candles and flowers and litanies and opulence...The Muslims fill it with rigidity and guns and a militant ethos.  But all of us know that's not what's supposed to be in that hole.  After I had been at Stanford two years, I was into LSD.  I began to see that the books I thought were the true accounting books--my grades, how I'd done in other schools, how I'd performed at jobs, whether I had paid off my car or not--were not at all the true books.  There were other books that were being kept, real books.  In those real books is the real accounting of your life.  And the mind says, 'Oh, this is titillating.'  So you want to take some more LSD and see what else is there.  And soon I had the experience that everyone who's ever dabbled in psychedelics has.  A big hand grabs you by the back of the neck, and you hear a voice saying, 'So you want to see the books.  Okay, here are the books.'  And it pushes your face right down into all your cruelties and all of your meanness, all the times that you have been insensitive, intolerant, racist, sexist.  It's all there, and you read it.  That's what you're really stuck with.  You can't take your nose up off the books.  You hate hate the fact that someone has been keeping track, just as you feared.  You hate it, but you can't move your arms for eight hours.  Before you take any acid again you start trying to juggle the books.  You start trying to be a little better person.  Then you get the surprise.  The next thing that happens is that you're leaning over looking at the books, and you feel that lack of the hand at the back of your neck.  The thing that was forcing you to look at the books is no longer there.  There's only a big hollow, the great American wild hollow that is scarier than hell, scarier than purgatory or Satan.  It's the fact that there isn't any hell or there isn't any purgatory, there isn't any Satan.  And all you're got it Sartre siting there with his momma--harsh, bleak, worse than guilt.  And if you've got courage, you go ahead and examine that hollow..."

I am a big fan of studying The Enneagram, which is primarily a tool of psychology that offers ways to transcend the patterns we personally create and which make us pretty miserable.  I read a spiritual take on this tool this year that described my personality's (for lack of a better word) fixation as fearing emptiness.  Whoa.  I thought about all the ways I prop up my environment with candles and music and pillows, and pump conversations full of questions...lots of ways that I busy myself during the day so I don't feel the throat-itchy, stomach-trembling knowledge of emptiness. 

In the beginning of the Missouri Review excerpt, Kesey says that all of his work is about wilderness.  In grad school, while I was writing a novel about a family that takes care of loons, I tacked up a picture of a loon and glued on top of it a magazine clipping that said, SAVE SOMETHING WILD.  I tacked it up for courage: the courage to touch the space of unknowingness that is the creative act, to venture into the emptiness of surrender.

When I told the teacher tonight that I am going to Alaska soon, he said, "Be careful!  There are bears out there.  They are empty," he joked, i.e. an illusion of separateness, "But they are still pretty big." 

Ahhh, Buddhists and their jokes! 

Another one: Why couldn't the monk vacuum under the couch. 

Answer: He had no attachments! 

I remember falling in love with this joke a while back.  I've never met anyone who likes it.  At least, they won't admit to liking it.  There are lots of groans when I tell it. 

I don't know what else to say about Ken Kesey and LSD.  Just that the part about the hand pushing his back gets very Bhagavad Gita-y for a minute, like when Arjuna wants to see the face of Krishna, and then is terrified and very "Just Kidding!!" when he is shown it.  So, I love seeing that in the excerpt.  It affirms literature and the mystery of the written word for me: stories as recipe for sacred text.  The circling dance of an author waltzing like a bear in the wilderness.
  It makes me wonder: Are we listening enough, we human beings?  What dark night are we willing to leaning into?  What, despite panic, are we open to and exploring?

During the class, while my eyes gazed at the dozen Buddhas on the altar behind the teacher, and my mind wandered all over the place, I thought for a minute about all of the stress I have experienced in conversations with Tim about where we want to live.  Lately I have noticed how Home seems to be something I believe in: a concept of perfection which keeps me from connecting to the supportive, nurturing, totally abundant homes that exist throughout my day--in friendships, poetry, food, and my own sweet house, where we build altars, dance, piece through confusion, and make ourselves giddy with silly jokes.  What, What, What am I waiting for that is not already here?  With this, and the wild eyes and open heart of Ken Kesey, I leave you. With love.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Open for Business

Forget safety
live where you fear to live
destroy your reputation
Be notorious

I have tried prudent planning
long enough.
From now
on, I'll be mad.

Last year, I discovered a list I made when I was very little--say 7 or 8 years old--detailing what I should do the next day.  It listed the hour to wake up, the time to get dressed, the window of time to eat breakfast in, and the time to go catch the bus.  I discovered this list in tandem with advice for the Pisces astrology group, of which I am a part, that Pisces should not overplan their days, as this stifles the innate creativity that is their primary guidance system. 

I go back and forth with this idea, because I am devoted to seeing the creative in all people.  As long as you are loving life, and intimately involved with whatever is unfolding around you, I don't see a need to discriminate between creative types and non. However, Pisces are described as highly intuitive types, and I think here is the necessary word difference.  I can say from experience that this sign sees best almost with their eyes closed.  Emotions are the guideposts as we edge our way along, often shyly, in the world. 

Upon discovering the list, I realized how long I have been trying to control my world. I have attempted this through scheduling, planning, rooting around in self-improvement schemes--generally all with limited, or tense, success. 

Along with my friend, with whom I shared an East Village apartment a few years out of college, I enjoy laughing at myself for the morning that I opened my bedroom door and stumbled upon a To-Do list that I had started the night before.  I had gotten as far as Get Dressed and stopped.  That pretty much summed up the state of my mind, then.  I was working as a temp, typing invoices at an office that had no ties to my literary ambitions, and I was sort of losing it. 

I mentioned in a previous post a desire to hide the details of my life because of anxiety about where my life was going.  But I had this brilliant little moment today, inspired by Byron Katie, who says things like, "How do I know I need to see my husband at the moment?  Because he just walked into the room."  This woman's message is of perpetual, radical acceptance. 

As my friend Dhara says, Why do we think reality is wrong just because we don't like it?  I have been thinking a lot about this, and trying it out.  When my dog scratches my leg incessantly and then walks to the door, guess what?  It's time to go outside.  When I see someone I don't particularly care for, heading straight for me on the sidewalk, guess what?  It's time to make peace.  It's time to speak to this person, openly, because they are showing me the reality of my life--that there are no enemies but those I create in my mind, and that there is some fear that I have buried inside, which is triggered in their presence.

So.  The big one: How do I know that I don't need a job right now?  Because I don't have one.  And how do I know that it's time to ask myself big questions about where I want to head in my life?  Because that's what I wake up thinking about. 

But panic doesn't have to be part of the equation.  I'm taking that out now, with a little help from teachers like Katie, and anxiety itself, which shows me when I have taken myself out of the present moment.  Worried about failure, do I feel the table that holds my arms and my computer, do I see the dog that makes me laugh out loud, do I remember the birds hopping around my lawn, who are digging up their own wonderful treasures in the world?  Am I meeting Reality, what is happening all around me, all the time--this beautiful gift that I don't have to do a thing to keep going?   

Isn't it great?  Even my spine stands up without me.  What am I so worried about?  I hereby declare life a worry-free zone.  Because whatever is happening needs to be.  Heart break, anxiety, death, illness...everything that I am afraid of still leads home.  And what is home? This is the question that I ask myself a lot these days, as my family and friends live their lives thousands of miles away.  But it's also the question I've been asking for most of my life.  Here is one answer, for today: Home is the seat of peace in the heart, the place where the mind opens and life sets up its real business.   

I will probably always make lists.  They help me organize my thoughts.  They help me see the unrealistic expectations I place on myself.  They help me, when I toss unfinished ones into the trash can, to let go the jailer in my mind.  But, as I make these lists now, I will ask myself, what am I planning for?  Do I trust myself to get dressed in the mornings, or do I still need to write that one down?

The best writing advice I ever heard was, Don't have a back-up plan.  Why would you plan for failure?  Just write.  And that's what I have the opportunity to do now, in my life.  Get Dressed.  Walk the Dog.  Write.  Why would I scheme up ways to worry about this most perfect present? 

To myself, and the places in us that worry, I say, the sky is not falling, Chicken Little!  Relax, have some fun.  No one needs you to hold up the sky.  Cut it out.  Take yourself out dancing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

At the Window

by Mary Oliver

Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience?  Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close,  I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive.  And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky - as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

from New and Selected Poems, Volume One

So, where to begin?

It was the middle of graduate school, a three year program for an MFA in creative writing, at the beginning of which, I was like, Great!  3 years to write! and, at the end of which I was like, What the F was I thinking?!  One summer, I had the great fortune of having a month off of both work and school.  My boyfriend at the time--my husband now--spent long days driving for FedEx, collecting sheaths of black grime on his hands and legs and arms from the open door of the truck, and returning home so dehydrated that we coined the term, FedEx Eyes, for the puffy lids that he went to bed with at night.   For my part, I spent long days practicing yoga, opening the windows, listening to lush coastal rains, writing a little, swimming in the ocean, meditating with the dog, and consulting the I-Ching about my future, which I desperately wanted to know about. 

I remember one particularly stormy morning, when the dark rain clouds came early, and woke me, and drew me out of the bedroom.  I lit a candle at the kitchen table and scrawled questions in a notebook.  It was late enough past dawn that Tim was already out in the world.  I called the dog to my side and settled on my meditation cushion (which doubled as a movie-watching pillow, back rest, dinner tray, and yoga prop). 

The day was a big one for me, for an answer came, in the middle of my rainy meditation.  The questions I was asking of the greater world were new to me.  For once, they had no agenda, no real attachment to particular outcomes.  I was not, as I did in my youth, holding a little Yoda doll with a black-bottomed robe that flashed variant answers such as, Certainly It Is So, or Not At This Time, when I tipped it upside down.  I was not asking questions such as, Will I get to stay up late and watch movies and eat cookies tonight?, with greed clearly on my heart.  I was asking about the meaning of life, literally--mine.  Should I marry Tim.  Should I keep writing.  Should I keep on the path I am on. 

And an answer came.  The moment that I heard this insight rise up in the center of my being, I felt my skin open at every pore, as if a bear's hide had fallen away from my shoulders.  I knew I was being led to unveil the truths of my heart, which were tender, vulnerable, and terrified of the light.  At the same time, this instruction felt
like the deep weight of suffocation finally leaving me. I was not given specific instructions.  No real answers at all.  But in what I was given, I found both the permission I needed to be myself, and to keep going with trust that all was well. 

I have been listening to Byron Katie's audio presentation, Your Inner Awakening, which at first I hid under a blanket in my car so that passing neighbors could not see the title and have cause to snicker.  I wonder why is it so hard to own my spiritual curiosities.  Like a child hiding under a table, I think that if I do not confess to being there, no one will see me.  When, everyone knows I am under the table.  Everyone else sees it so clearly!   

Katie says that the things we are afraid of revealing about ourselves are laughable when they finally reach the light.  These secrets we carry are simple pieces of fear that have grown inordinantly more powerful because of their place in the dark, and it is our job, our gift to our life, to bring them out where we can see them. 

I am remembering here a giddy scene in Fletch Lives, which is an excellent '80s movie that dates my sensibilities.  In the scene, Chevy Chase play's a newspaper reporter who momentarily hijacks a televangelist's show and tells audience members that God wants them to reveal their deepest secrets.  A man called forward says, Are you sure?  Chevy Chase assures the man, yes, yes.  Confess your afflictions! he says. OK! the man says, pulling down his pants on live television, and confessing to a struggle with hemmoroids. 

This is not the sort of laughable that Byron Katie has in mind, I'm sure, but it is the sort of comical turn that revelation can take.  Uncensored confession is easy to make fun of, as a general pursuit.  But what makes deeply comic laughter possible is when we spot the self-inflicted terror that our secrets have caused us, and root it out, and set it free.   

I made a cd last night, recording some poems I wrote.  I made it for a friend who has always supported my shy processes, always been curious about my creative life, and jubilant for my weird crushes, the surprises of our hearts.  I spent time with a very wise woman today, and rejuvenated my inner witness to the divine, mysterious currents that draw us along our holy paths. 

I have lately noticed that I am emotionally hiding, because I have been looking for answers to more questions about the future.  And I can see now I've been more than a little attached to their outcomes.  But today I feel it - grace around me, telling me to settle my mind and open my heart to the answers within.  The wind brings the silent wings of blackbirds overhead.  The birds swoop and flit and land on the signpost at the end of my street.  They say: We are here.  All is well.  We are here together.   

So rise, little wings of the heart!  Flap and fly on your merry way.