Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday Morning

That Little Something
for Li-Young Lee
by Charles Simic

The likelihood of ever finding it is small.
It's like being accosted by a woman
And asked to help her look for a pearl
She lost right here in the street.

She could be making it all up,
Even her tears, you say to yourself,
As you search under your feet,
Thinking, Not in a million years...

It's one of those summer afternoons
When one needs a good excuse
To step out of a cool shade.
In the meantime, what ever became of her?

And why, years later, do you still,
Off and on, cast your eyes to the ground
As you hurry to some appointment
Where you are now certain to arrive late?

Hi!  It is Saturday morning and I am listening to the super dramatic music of the soundtrack to The Assassination of Jesse James.  I haven't seen the movie but I am reminded of my high school years when I used to lock myself in my parent's beautiful living room (sinky leather couches, deep red walls, shelves lined with old classics untouched for years, and cupboards stuffed with rotating family trinkets - an old gavel, pewter steins, someone's old corduroy bunny) and watch broody movies like Legends of the Fall or The Ice Storm, my limbs lifeless under a heavy blanket, icy Connecticut snow outside, and whole afternoons left to my moody, melancholic disposition. 

On the subject of melancholy, I really want to talk about The Enneagram here!  But I won't because I have other things to say.  My friend Amelia thinks the Enneagram is a comically made-up word.  So is the word psychobiography, I think.  I discovered this word on Wednesday when I started reading An Emergency In Slow Motion, by William Todd Schultz, about the work and psychology of Diane Arbus.

Any word that forces one to pronounce the long o in psycho is just scary, no?  At least the word psychology lets that sound slip into a soft o, and ellipses the frightening term, psycho.  Somehow the long o in the word psychobiography sounds just awful to me, and makes me think of a murderer's tool chest.

This not what Emergency in Slow Motion is about, thank goodness.  I won't go into the author's definition of the phrase psychobiography, but I have been curious about Diane Arbus and her work ever since Tim's brother bought us a cast-off copy of the movie Fur, starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr., from the Blockbuster sale bin one time that he visited us in grad school.  My friend Corinne found the movie comically gratuitous, in terms of its portrait of desire.  I sort of loved it for this factor, and still feel a little guilty that I like the movie, but I will honestly watch Robert Downey, Jr. in just about anything - perhaps because of the fact that Zadie Smith declares in her collection of essays, Changing My Mind.  Smith declares RDJ one of the biggest screen hogs of our generation. 

I have been thinking about Diane Arbus, in general however, because of conversations with Amelia about artistic figures who commit suicide.  When I was younger and somewhat confused about what I wanted out of life, I could not read the literary work of people who had eventually killed themselves.  It seemed too dangerous, like I could catch their thoughts through the page and one day find myself more lost than I already felt. 

Lynda Barry says this in a much funnier way on her awesomely goofy cd, The Lynda Barry Experience, which pretty much sounds like a seventh grader in a closet recording skits on the B-side of a mix tape.  In "Naked Ladies" (Track 3 for those of you following along at home) she says: "Around then, you had to be very careful about looking at Playboys, because, you just might be a lesbo by accident!  It was like, when you sit by a high window, and you’re scared you just might throw yourself out."

I once confessed my squeamishness about getting too close to the material of people who commit suicide to another friend who responded, "But they weren't sick when they made their art." This may or may not be true, but it worked for me, and I can now appreciate what an artist is trying to say, regardless of how sordid their personal life may or may not be.  In short, I don't know if personal lives say anything about a person's work or not, and I now find myself able to mourn someone like Arbus' suffering, and learn about it, without judging or fearing it. 

Emergency In Slow Motion makes the great point that art is not "intrinsically therapeutic."  Instead, Schultz says, "it can be an immersion in products of self-expression that mirror our troubles back at us so that we see them metaphorically, but still glaringly. Then it's a matter of what we do with this information, what we make of it. We can turn away again, re-repress what we've inadvertently discovered, or try some means of assimilation." 

I wanted to write about this, because I felt profound sadness reading an email Amelia sent, responding to my question, "Did Virginia Woolfe kill herself?" (Obviously, I have not seen or read The Hours, and I doodled through too many lectures in high school and college.)  Upon my learning that Woolfe did, indeed, drown herself, Amelia wrote, "It's a difficult thing to accept: she seems so NORMAL in her letters. But she never really wrote during her spells of mental illness. That seems weird to type, but that's kind of how they describe it in the the book I'm reading."

At a conference panel, the writer Richard Bausch once said, "I don't always love writing, but I love
having written.  To write is to be healthy."  This is true for me.  Sometimes I think of writing as floss for my brain.  Without that sort of artistic hygiene, darkness can build.  I don't mean to suggest that not creating art will lead to bad things, or that not creating is a sign of bad things already happening.  I just mean, these things are mysterious, and complex, and I hope that we all pass through them in tact, or as in tact as we are meant to be.

I have posted before what I love about writing - how it returns the world to me in new light.  It helps me to see things more purely, un-fogged by the screens of my own psycho-spiritual judgements.  At the same time, it helps me to accept more mystery, to fall in love with people, and events, and places in deepening recognition that what I thought was, may not be.  This is a gift to me - a great humbling of my mind and expansion of my heart's eye in the face of everyday, unstoppable miracles.

A New York Times article about Lynda Barry says, "Narrative, Barry believes, is so hard-wired into human beings that creativity can come as naturally to adults as it does to children. They need only to access the deep part of the brain that controls that storytelling instinct. Barry calls that state of mind 'the image world' and feels it’s as central to a person’s well-being as the immune system."  

I leapt out of my chair when I read this articulation of "the image world," because I am always looking for different ways to talk about this fact of healing, a fact that feels as clear as day to me. 

Several years ago, when my friend Dhara introduced me to her guru, Neem Karoli Baba, I latched on to his loving message quickly, because his big thing was feeding people.  He said, "God comes to hungry people in the form of food.  Feed people, love people, remember God." 

Sweet, huh? 

Last night, I skipped Kirtan to go out with my husband's Fed Ex friends, and eat at a silly, beach-themed restaurant in the middle of town.  This choice makes me think of my friend Rachael Crawford-Goolsby's definition of freedom, a combination of her own philosophy and that of Douglas Brooks:  "Freedom is choosing to bind to what is meaningful."

I love this so much, because what is meaningful to us personally is so diverse, and only we can define it for ourselves.  It is empowering to think of life in this way, and this is one of yoga's - or any practice's - gifts: a return to the sanctum of the heart, and the riches there which can never be disturbed, which can only be distracted from or covered over.  The definition also paints freedom so accessibly - in the present life - instead of the
idea of freedom; a dusty, high-way traveling way of being.

I do love highways, though.  Don't you? 

Finally, I want to share a fantastic interview that my friend's boyfriend did a while ago with the musician Jesse Sykes.  In it Sykes says, "I am an artist and music is my medium."  I guess I believe that we are all artists, in our own way, and we all just need the courage, excuse, or self-granted permission to find our medium.  This is my prayer, anyway.  That everyone finds the medium to bridge their confusion to clarity, their suffering to peace, and their heart's natural hopes for brilliance to the fulfillment of those hopes.

My stereo has switched from the sonic ocean of Nick Drake's soundtrack to the upbeat tempo of Justin Townes Earle's boot slapping on the floor.  Tim and I saw this formidable artist in January, on a local stage, turning and sliding around the little oriental rug with his guitar, his slinky back-up singers flanking his intense concentration.  It positively looked like a man dancing with his woman in the privacy of their living room, like the audience was an after-thought, a privileged set of onlookers witnessing this man's intense ballad to, and dance with, his love.  I held my breath through a lot of the performance, afraid that he would suddenly remember he was not alone and stop his awe-striking activity.

We all have the capacity for this devotion to our gifts, I believe.  People like Earle who bring it out of themselves so ferociously take my breath away, and this, I believe, is the gift that artists bestow upon the world.

With this, I say Happy Saturday, beloveds.  Go forth and bestow!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Wheel

"Simon explained truth to me," Thomas said. "If there's a tree in the distance and you run to get there, run across the grass with all your heart, and you make it and touch the tree, press your face against the bark, then it is all true. But if you stumble and fall, lose your way, move to the city and buy a VCR and watch cowboy movies all the time, then nothing is true."     
- from Sherman Alexie's "Special Delivery," in The Business of Fancy Dancing

Me looking serious, with my laptop and Tim's unexplained collection of air fresheners.
In lieu of a passage from my journal (wink!), I give you something from a book called Material Culture, by Henry Glassie.  It is from a chapter titled - beautifully, I find - The Potter's Art:

"...Fevziye will not pursue the potter's trade when she marries and moves to Germany, but she will not lose the strength she gained in her apprenticeship. She will become a woman of the modern world, but she will remain free of the debilitating anxieties that bedevil people who have never known creation in their own hands.

That is one purpose of art. It brings confidence to its creators. Those who make things know who they are. They have been tested and found able..."

I stumbled on this passage as I lounged in a luxurious blue reading chair at Christmas.  My brother-in-law (TMTA) was reading the book, and I picked it up because my eye kept reading its title as Maternal Culture, clearly a sign of where my heart was on those long, cozy vacationing days.

When I opened the book, however, I found some of its contents not far from what I might find in a book on maternal cultures.  Trent and I launched into a discussion of what makes art valuable, i.e. what to pass on to students, what makes art good, etc etc.  Lots of coffee may have been consumed by that point in the day, you see. On my part. All on my part.  I was arguing that there is no way to define what makes a work of art good, except by the individual, and Trent, bless him, was listening. 

When I first started grad school, and read Lorrie Moore's Birds of America, I latched onto one of the lines therein, something glib and brilliant, something like, "But she did too much yoga and nobody listened to her anymore." After that, at school, I always worried I was The Yoga Person in the room, which was otherwise full of True Intellectuals.  Keep the fluff to a minimum! I warned myself, half-joking, half-serious, and 100% conflicted. 

I don't know what to make of that conflict anymore.  The Henry Glassie passage above moves me so greatly because I know now what it means to find my own rhythm, a secret knock that no one else knows, the tattoo by which I find myself again, and this is the gift of art, I believe.  At least, that is how I found it - by leaning into the voices of creation inside, and bundling this sacred flame again and again as I visited my computer and colored pencils, which often reveal more to me than hours on my meditation cushion. In my experience, the act of creating something takes me inside, and it is there I find joy.  Sharing what I find there is light-giving - to the communicator, and to the listener.  And this is all I need to know when I see or read or touch a creative piece: Where is its light - for me?  Where am I traveling to, in the hands of this work?

Over Christmas, Trent and I talked about what happens when he doesn't make it into his studio.  In short, problems loom larger than normal.  In my own life, it is the same.  Those who are called to create (which we all are, in our own way) find
themselves when they create.  In yoga, there is a lot of talk about co-creation.  This is in the Bible too, by the way, in the concept of free will.  However you look at it, without participating in the act of creation - with creative forces that are bigger and wilder than our own possible invention - we lose our way.  The path grows over itself.  Shit gets stale. 

The only way to clear the way is to bring to it the attention required by creation.  This is what we practice in meditation - bringing the attention back.  But with art - or writing, or cooking, or learning the guitar - it is a more extended meditation.  And it is one, I believe, that can heal us all.

And so, onward beloveds!  To whatever craft, scrapbook, and poem calls your name.  Or calls Her name - wanting you to bring it into form. 

Here is a video about the art and bliss of balanced containment, courtesy of my friend Amelia, whom I once shied away from because I find her gorgeous.  What a reaction!  I grew shy in the face of something I admired, which is maybe a little weird.  But Tim said this week, when I couldn't believe that an old friend missed me and loved me as much as I love her, that it's only natural. When we love fully, we are vulnerable.  And that vulnerability makes us act a little weird and squishy sometimes. 

Perhaps fittingly, the video briefly describes the happiness that comes from finding and protecting your own inner sanctum, and it features a woman with curly hair.  I approve of curly hair, and I also like the underlying follow your bliss message at which the video hints. 

Speaking of bliss, tomorrow I travel to my beloved North Carolina to visit friends, kiss the ocean, and retrace some of the paths I've walked.  For the rest of this week, and cherished, cherub-filled February, may you clear the way for bliss - however she makes her way to you. Or more importantly, however you make your way to her.

All love, all bliss,

Thursday, February 2, 2012

At the Altar

Dear Lonely Animal,

Last night I wanted nachos again,
a big plate of nachos covered in
cheese and black beans and

salsa, sour cream, guacamole--
did I mention cheese?
Animal, sometimes I want

nachos so much that it distracts me
from what I should be doing,
I mean, pursuing, I mean,

my career. How can one person's stomach
be so hungry for snacks?
It was Easter today and the local cafe

hid adhesive eggs under some people's
plates. I found an egg, but it
belonged to somebody else. People

were putting their plates in the dirty bin
without so much as a glance underneath!
Hel-lo!, I wanted to say, There's an egg hunt

in progress here, People! Later at a buffet,
different people put their drinks
on top of a grand piano--on the body

of a grand piano!--and their paper plates too
of crummy, half-eaten hors d'oeuvres!
Hel-LO!! Don't they know

how amazing a piano is?
What if somebody built that piano
with his bare hands

and lined up every hammer
and every key and every
damper and stretched

every single wire and tethered each one
in place? Somebody made that piano,
Lonely Animal, and its beautiful

wood-encased body, all arched and
elegant, a whole piece of wood
swooned into shape like that,

persuaded to the curve. And anyway,
I'm so stupid and scared. I didn't say
a word. I just let those people

put their soggy old plates
right on the instrument
and their sodas too, condensing

right on the wood, everybody laughing
and carrying on, not even
seeing it there, what it once was.

Like a coward, I came back
at ten o'clock at night, when the whole house
was empty except for me and the piano,

and I apologized to it. I opened up
its keyboard cover and the keys were
chipped and dirty, and the strings

were out of tune. I opened up the lid
and its body was filled with dust and even
a gum wrapper. Lonely Animal, I played then

the most beautiful piece of music
that I know, right there with all those
sour notes. The most beautiful

piece I know is the third movement
of Chopin's 3rd sonata. That's
a lot of 3's, but on repeating numbers,

you sometimes get to make a wish.
I didn't know what to wish for, but anyway,
I hope somebody somewhere made a wish.

- Oni Buchanan

I have a bad habit of not finishing things.  This, I am working on.  I am still making a wedding gift for a friend who got married 3 years ago.  You know what?  I'm okay with that.  I am working on it, and that is an improvement from the heaps of projects I have begun in my life and, much like many boyfriends, lost interest in after a bit of time, and swiftly deposited them in the Past pile (that grew and grew and grew). 

My mom HAS to finish a novel, but I say, life is short.  If I am bored by something, see ya later alligator.  Which is how I know that I really love something: I keep it around.  My husband likes to joke that he and the dog are really lucky because they are the only things I haven't tried to return yet.  He adds the word "yet."  I know that they have won me over and I am keeping them, if they will have me, that is. 

One of the perks of my extreme devotion to freedom (see also: commitment issues) is that books call out to me from corners of the house.  I used to feel a bit afraid of this.  A little, I don't have time for you right now, random author!!  But now I embrace a book's call.  After all, there are plenty of two-minute moments packed into a day that can open up everything and clear away the spiritual dross.  I now search out whatever book is whispering from the room corner, flip it open, and see what text was so antsy to reveal itself to me. 

I recently stumbled upon a passage from An Open Life: Joseph Campbell In Conversation with Michael Toms.  (My dad introduced me to Joseph Campbell, a fact I find about the coolest thing ever.) Here is what Campbell says:

...I can't talk about what's happening in India, because I'm not an Indian....But I can say something about the East coming to the West, particularly in the field of religion and mythology.

Our Western systems have been institutionalized from way back....Our mythologies are institutionalized and salvation comes from membership in an institution...."Go to Church," "Read the Bible."  That has to do with one definition of a religious life.  You can't find it in yourself; you find it only through Church.  These men from the East come - whether they're Indians or Japanese or Tibetans - and they tell you that the real mystery is yourself.  We have that in our mystic tradition also - not what the Church advertises. Finding the divine not only within you, but within all things, is not favored by either the Jewish or the Christian or the Muslim religion. And what the Orient brings is a realization of the inward way. When you sit in meditation with your hands in your lap, with your head looking down, that means you've gone in and you're coming not just to a soul that is disengaged from God; you're coming to that divine mystery right there in yourself.

...There are two responses that are quite natural to the guru. When anyone becomes a model for you, you tend automatically to imitate him...The second phase is finding your own self."

What struck me in this passage was the simple articulation of something I have been thinking about recently, and that is how we can mistake the outer garb of an activity (say yoga, say meditation cushions) for making real progress in our lives.  We might think we are sifting through karmic lessons, getting bigger in heart, when really, we have only changed clothes and, inside, are still carrying around whatever abusive judgments we had before.  This sort of limited update - an ideological clothing swap - can be a real spirit-block.  The trick, for me, has been to seek that "own self" that Campbell mentions above, no matter where I find myself physically or ideologically.  In my experience, finding this own self is the profound outcome of truly going inside - beyond the mental traps of self-satisfaction, of mimicry - into the vulnerable center of my being, which is, ironically or not, also the greatest seat of power. 

I am overly aware of the hypocrisy that has come out of some Christian communities. For this reason, I consistently feel shy about my devotion to the sanctimony of church.  I don't like to talk about it much.  It feels too big for words, too soupy in the heart.  I feel like I need ten years to explain my relationship with it.  But it was calming for me to read about the confusion that can happen inside a West-meets-East moment, I suppose, because I have experienced that same confusion, and have come out the other side of it liking myself, and my tradition, all the better.   

Campbell says this: "I think that wearing Oriental clothes or assuming Oriental names is not the correct way to go about it.  You've displaced again; you have mistaken the clothing for the message, and not everyone who says, "Lord, Lord," is going to get to the kingdom of heaven; not everyone who wears a turban is a released spirit. That's one way to get caught again.  Then you mistake a certain attitude or manner of living that has nothing to do with the spiritual life."

I think that taking a new name, and wearing certain clothes, can all remind us of our desire to stay close to the divine.  I think that's beautiful.  But I also know that, for me, resistance to drinking a whole glass of the Kool-aid serves me better than glugging it all down.  I like my blue jeans, I like my Jesus.  I like turbans, too, and books and poetry and rock and roll.  I like people who see the divine in everything.  And I like seeing it in everyone, too.  This is Tantra, and I like that word, because right now it means so many things.  It is alive with mystery and misunderstanding and thus, with invitation.

Back to being finicky, and not needing to read a whole book: I believe that commitment can heal a life, but that obligation can kill a spirit.  If you want to quit something, you have my blessing.  Go free yourself up for what you really need, I say.  It will find you when you make the space for it.

I like this.  It's about being yourself, and vulnerability.  I believe in these two things, in case you couldn't tell!

Lots of love

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Little Piggies

One of a bajillion signs that my husband takes pictures of while out wandering the world

Two posts in a week!  Have I caught a bug?  Why yes, yes I have.  It is raining outside, and I am in North Carolina, in my parents' house.  It is too drizzly to go running, perhaps.  Perhaps not.  I believe I write about running more than I actually run, and I am okay with that.  You?

Before I say anymore, I want to beware what my husband calls the "I'm having a great time, F*ck you" postcard, wherein a writer/friend waxes poetic about a heaven-on-earth experience they are having, without any real regard for the reader, or any grounding in the fact that they will one day be embarrassed by their exuberance, and remember it only as a drunken moment.  I also want to say, however, that drunken moments can be pretty fantastic!  And it might be possible to write about delight in pure, un-expositionist ways.

I do believe that this sort of writing inspires others to seek out that which truly delights them.  So I am writing to give you a bug.  I have turned on the computer this morning to say two things.  Let's see if I can keep it to that.  I have no faith in this intention but here goes:

1. My brother-in-law is part of an AMAZING idea/event/happening in Madison, WI (the only other town my husband and I talk about moving to on a consistent basis besides the sleepy city of Greensboro, NC, where we would surely grow inches of happy fat around our middles, a true feat for my six-foot-five husband). 

I am already talking about other things besides No. 1 & 2.  Shoot. 

Here's what I am trying to say: My brother-in-law, hereafter known as Trent Miller The Artist, or TMTA, organized this event.  It might have even been his idea.  And I cannot stop thinking about it.  There are, admittedly, a million things that can go wrong with this event taking place all day in an empty library as it transitions for a renovation, but TMTA is embracing the energy of the original idea and running with it.  And I wake up every day thinking about this event.  Which means two things: I should probably be flying to Madison to attend the event (although I am not, at this time, because I am reconvening with my kirtan friends to cut a few more songs for our cd), and, when we stand in our true power, and embrace the edges of life, and move forward in the face of fear, we are expanding the energy of the universe.  One person's soul-expansion is a victory for us all.

2. (I arrived!  Hooray.)  I read a blog post by Leonie Dawson this morning about giving away all of her books.  If you have known me for more than a month, you have probably heard me discuss the volume of books that my husband owns, and my errant desire to call a dump truck to the house one day to cart them all away. 

I know, I know.  It is not quite a pure desire.  I mean, it IS a pure desire.  Believe me, I have desperately wanted to do this, to have more breathing room in our house, many times.  But it is not quite a pure intention.  I am looking for an easy solution, rather than facing the task of sorting favorite books from the extraneous ones that we gleefully, recklessly acquired for 25 cents at library sales over the years.

Anyhoo, I am at my parent's GORGEOUS home this weekend, and looking around at a. the boudoir-like red lamp shades in their living room, b. the proliferation of ceramic bunnies that would blow the mind of even the staunchest teaspoon collector in spinster history, c. the remarkable carved wood furniture all about.  And I am seeing it all (finally) with eyes of love.

I have spent a number of years moving about the country, and as such, have not had the ability to take much with me.  When Tim and I moved to Colorado from North Carolina after graduate school, we filled half of our traveling trailer with boxes of books.  We left behind a great old file cabinet that may or may not be from World War II.  We left behind my favorite bookshelf, given to me by a friend who now lives in Portland, OR, whom I hardly speak with because of schedule differences and mileage distance, but who lives in every grain of the shelf's painted red wood, and who speaks to me and hugs me every time I pass it. 

I guess what I am trying to say is complicated, and also, I want to wrap it up.  So here: there are stories in objects, and I miss populating my home with the objects I love and their stories.  I don't care anymore about perfectly clearing out a house.  Dust bunnies mate behind the stacks of Tim's books back at home, and I no longer feel rage about this.  Instead, I feel cozy.  I feel like I am home.  Home is sometimes comically abundant, and a little pig-styish right now, especially since the re-wire job that left forgotten bundles of junk mail misplaced, and laundry in foreign corners.  I am okay with that.

I recently found a picture of me sorting through books during grad school.  I was trying to thin things out. It was the time for that then, as I was swimming through books, ideas, teachings every day.  My spirit felt a little soggy, which is one of the reasons we moved to the arid West. 

I wish I had that picture to show you right now, but it is on another computer (we have 16, don't you?).  I love the photo because a. I am wearing running clothes but haven't yet gone running, b. I am sitting before my favorite red shelf, and c. I am surrounded by books, swimming through them, deciding which ones still speak to me, and what ideas, authors, and visions are meant for someone else. 

I used to have a rule about shopping, that whenever I brought something new into the house, I had to give something away.  It feels shrewish even typing about that rule now.  As a household, I think we're in an accumulation phase. A very modest, thrift-store themed, Fed-Ex-salaried accumulation phase. I know we are in a transition, too. 

Running out the door to work recently, I noticed that my closet looks increasingly like my mother's.  Not necessarily in its objects, but in its composition.  Or rather, its windswept ways.  I used to feel some tender horror in the face of all my mother's shoes comingling in a soupy pile at the bottom of her closet.  (If you don't hear from me in a week, it is because my mother has killed me for writing publically about her closet.)  My closet is starting to look a lot like this: scarves growing one to the next like a stack of tail-eating snakes, heels stuck into snow boots stuck into suitcases stuck into our wine rack, raincoat wedged between wedding outfit, next to my cardigan for work.  It's a little chaotic, but more than that, it's fun.  When I dress in the morning, it's like opening up a genie's bottle: What the hell can I make happen out of this mess today?

That is all.  I leave you to get back to your busy, chaotic, splendid lives.  To myself make something of the day.  Or not.  I might make this for dinner, for my dad.  If I do, I will take a picture for you that I won't be able to find later, and I will tell you all about it someday.

With tendeness, with love,

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Found photo from some forgotten thrift store.  I like its myriad stories.
I want to say hi. And that, as much as I declared a winter holiday for myself, and started reading The Brothers Karamazov, just certain I would have time to finish it (this time), I have been super busy. It's true, some of that busyness has been in my head.  For this I blame the winds outside my door, and a complete electrical re-wire of the house. Another part of that busyness, however, has been catching up on some much needed couch time with Twin Peaks (lovingly referred to as Schwinn Peaks in our household), the movie Junebug, and a pretty bad documentary about Joan Rivers that, I swear, sent me to bed with my blood boiling.

Which reminds me of something I came across this weekend, and something on my mind lately. In unprecedented shamelessness, I will now share something from my journal for the second time on this blog! I'll try to not make this a habit. 

Ahem. The words: I'm not sure I know how to feel anger - in my body.  How to let it blow open my heart.  And I think this is linked, somehow, to action - to taking action in my life.

I wrote these words weeks before watching the Joan Rivers documentary, but it is perhaps important that each reminded me of the other, because Joan Rivers is well-known for paving the way for women.  Women comics, okay, but I think all women, too.  She said things on national television that you just didn't say...okay, this is according to the documentary, because I admit, I have never been a Joan Rivers fan.  I know, I know - shocking, considering my love for profanity and crassness.  I mean, profanity and crassness are the essence of Sut Nam.

See?  Even sarcasm doesn't work for me.

Anyway, my point (please!) is that I think a lot of women can relate to my original statement, that I don't quite know how to feel anger in my body.  Culturally, an angry woman is not an attractive thing.  Not that I live to be attractive to others.  I swear!

Could this conundrum be more than a peculiarity to my family, my particular history?  I think it is.  I know from watching my friends with kids how difficult it can be to teach children to honor their anger. To teach them how to feel it, so they know what to do with it, and how to work with it.  The behavior that results from an overload of anger is unattractive in even the cutest of beings.  It's also funny, if you have enough distance.  (See also, childless woman at her friend's house, watching friend's child throw tantrums).

In my own life, my dog scratches at the front door, demanding a walk, leaving deep claw marks, when he is finally fed up with his owners' laziness on Sunday mornings.  This is not attractive.  But it is kind of funny.  His brain has (apparently) boiled past the point of boundaries and normal behavior.  Somewhere inside that formidable little noggin of his, he thinks this sort of domestic vandalism is okay. (Incidentally, in one of the all-time miracles of rental history, so does our landlord.)

How about road rage.  Or temper tantrums in the middle of Marshall's (I'm talking about toddler's again, thankfully).  From enough distance, there is an opportunity for wonder - just what is happening inside the human brain in these moments?

It occurs to me that even this wonder is a signal of my discomfort with anger.  I have abstracted it.  But what if I was on to something when I said that my dog's brain boils past the point of boundaries?  What if I am afraid of anger because it is not polite and does not behave?  What if I am ultimately terrified of this loss of control, decorum, attractiveness?

For a big part of my life, I have been asking myself, how do I surrender anger, without surrendering to it?  But maybe the better questions is, how do I surrender to it - experience it, taste it - without acting it out? And is the distinction, not acting it out, but rather, acting on it?

That's a lot of italicizing.  Forgive me.

Yesterday, I had a moment where I was so angry my eyes crossed.  I don't mean this metaphorically.  I felt them screw tighter in my head and blur.  For a blip of a second, my head became a bull's head.  I felt rage course through it.  I might as well have blown steam out my ears.  I had to leave the room so I didn't say something I would regret.  My father has long had this ability to leave the room and decompress.  I think I have traditionally stuffed anger far back into my gut, where it nests like one of those sticky burrs our Cocker Spaniel growing up used to come home with loads of on her fluffy leg hair.  But where can stuffed anger go from there, but deeper into my body?  Where it grows like a cancer, or sullenly remains like a stuck caramel.

I keep a picture of a chapbook on my desk at work.  The chapbook was letter-pressed with a picture of a shovel.  The shovel points down, and words above it read Dirt, the title of a section of the book.  I keep it there for two reasons: 1. I work at a cell-phone accessories company and love my job.  But some days, I need to feel close to the poets I know, and the poetry that is humming beneath the business of the day, and 2. I want to remember that I walk on holy ground, the earth itself that knows what to do with emotions, confusion, anger.  It soaks it up and neutralizes it, turns it over and transforms it, like how the company of a good friend can neutralize the worst of days.

But what if this isn't enough?  There is also the cliche in our culture that a woman is hot when she is pissed.  And maybe she is.  I have certainly seen this happen in our household, where I erupt with requests for help with housework, or whatever complaint I have, and my husband finally sees me, and hears me, and is respectful of me in a new way.  Not out of fear, but recognition, because my personal power is finally being expressed. And we laugh at how angry I have become, not because we are ashamed, but because we are relieved. Because truth is being revealed, instead of being stuffed away.

So.  Go forth and throw tantrums!  No no, no no.  This morning, and most, I have no real answers.  Probably, the times I think I have them are when I am furthest from the truth.  The art of openness is understanding how squeamish I am in the face of things. And learning to stay open despite misunderstanding, confusion, and fear.  I do know this: it may not be enough to pray away anger.  It might not even be the thing to do. Anger may be a holy catalyst for new ways of being, a call of distress from the soul.  We get to choose how to listen to that ruckus, how to lean in deeply and ask what we need to know.  Thank goodness we have friends, and art, to work through the squeamishness.  Big skies and walks in the woods.  Work, too.  Work is dignity, my husband always says, probably quoting someone far off and biblical. It is hard to tell sometimes when he is quoting brilliance or simply being it himself.  In any case, I am grateful for these ways to explore what we are here to explore.

With wide open prayers for 2012, for you and the ways we are connected,


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.