Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Good Friends

Fishing in the Keep of Silence
by Linda Gregg

There is a hush now while the hills rise up
and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship
of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully
as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.
He knows the owls will guard the sweetness
of the soul in their massive keep of silence,
looking out with eyes open or closed over
the length of Tomales Bay that the herons
conform to, whitely broad in flight, white
and slim in standing. God, who thinks about
poetry all the time, breathes happily as He
repeats to Himself. There are fish in the net,
lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

When I first graduated from college, I moved to Denver, Colorado for a year and lived in an apartment by myself.  I often met my good friend who had her own place a short distance away, and we drank coffee, took walks, and watched movies together.  That year was a little piece of heaven, although I was confused as hell.  In the middle of all our coffee dates, grocery shopping, hikes in mountain lion country, my friend and I helped each other through the absolute cluster-fudge that is one's first year after school, and together we survived. 

Maybe that first year isn't so hard for everyone.  Maybe some people know exactly what they want.  Maybe they line up real jobs and have real relationships.  Maybe they move to sensible, medium-sized cities where they know someone with genuine laundry skills, someone who makes a decent pie crust. 

That would have been a good way to go, but I took a different route.  Many different routes, in fact.  My twenties were full of newness: new apartments, new relationships, new cities, new jobs.  On some level, I was probably searching for a home.  My parents had recently moved away from the town where I had grown up, and I no longer knew who my community was, much less where they were.  On another level, I was simply uninterested in anything I was supposed to be doing.  It wasn't that I was stubborn - though I was.  And it wasn't that I was driven - because I certainly wasn't.  I guess I was just hungry for a place that felt right, hungry for a piece of my own self which, because I couldn't always see where others ended and I started, I kept unwittingly slipping out of.  I wandered many streets, exploring, hunting, sniffing.  I wasn't sure what I was looking for and sometimes when I found it - in sun-drenched writing hours, in kind, smart friends - I did not always recognize that I had.

Living in Denver, my friend and I came up with a saying: It could be worse, we could be in Cheyenne.  For some reason, Cheyenne, Wyoming, a short drive north, represented to us the most desperate place in the world.  However we came up with it, our saying stuck.  We wrote it in letters we mailed to each other over the years, occasionally across the same town.  We said it on the phone, drinking coffee in our kitchens states apart.  Occasionally we got to say it in person, tipsy on our bar stools in New York, or driving mountain roads in North Carolina.

Many years after that first one in Denver, I moved back to Colorado, this time with Tim, to whom I was engaged.  We lived that first year in poverty, self-appointed but grueling nonetheless, for as Jeanette Walls writes in her astounding memoir The Glass Castle:  "Too much hard luck can create a permanent meanness of spirit in any creature."

Tim and I were lucky.  Our dip into poverty was short-lived, and not character-forming.  But it was a glimpse into a meanness I had not ever imagined.  Resentment formed a crust over many areas of my life.  It took months, even years, to thaw them. 

I don't regret it.  In fact, in many ways, the bleakness I felt was a doorway to strength. At the bottom of my sadness, I found something that couldn't be taken away from me, and that was creativity.  Making things.  Stories, blog posts, stationary for friends.  A life with Tim.  A home together.  Creating things built me.  I got to know myself, piece by piece, one humble revolution at a time. 

That first year, Tim and I drove to Cheyenne, tongues permanently in-cheek, and celebrated Valentine's Day at a restaurant chain.  I wrote my old friend from Denver and confirmed it: I had hit rock bottom.  I was celebrating a romantic milestone in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Worse yet, I liked it. 

The restaurant was a sea of cowboy hats.  We waited a long time for a table but didn't care.  We watched people: the sprayed hair, the tasseled boots, the belt buckles.  Cheyenne's slogan is Live the Legend, something that cannot be said without a humongous HA! afterwards.  But part of that slogan is also true. 

Wyoming, like all things I love, is a little rough around the edges.  Okay, a lot rough.  It has dirt in its teeth.  It has time to kill. The land itself reminds me of what the American frontier might have looked like at one time.  But the towns have bookstores and craft breweries and generally are not as scary as they might at first appear.
This past weekend, I was in Cheyenne again, this time to see Alan Jackson perform.  Tim sat next to me on the grandstand overlooking a rodeo pit.  An elderly woman in front of us wore ear muffs. In July.  She was there to see Alan: I didn't judge.  Besides, it was chilly.  Tim lent me his hoodie and we huddled under a near-full moon. 

In short: it was heaven.  Big, redneck, irony-rich heaven.

And now, for the hard part. Last Friday, we put down our beloved dog, Bear.  We estimate that he was 13, a noble (and notable?) old dignitary.  He probably had cancer, but honestly, who the heck doesn't these days?  He was tired and had gotten finicky about eating.  He had lost mobility in his back legs, a surprise to us all, especially regal, independent Bear himself.  He made the best of it, succumbing finally to our help with the stairs, but, well, it was just time

It absolutely broke my heart.  That dog was one of the finest friends I've ever had.  I don't know why, but I was surprised, too, by the tenderness that rushed within me after he was gone.  I felt myself totally raw and open.  It reminded me of the oft-quoted, golden Leonard Cohen lyric:

“Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there’s a crack in everything
that’s how the light gets in”

I never would have guessed that such a devastating event could hold so many kernels of sweetness inside it.  I felt myself grateful, so grateful, to have loved so completely, to have opened myself in spite of loss and all its risks.

May we all love so bravely, without remorse.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Not Even Close to Famous

The Country
by Billy Collins

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

From Nine Horses: Poems. © Random House, 2003

Summer speeds by with handfuls of cilantro and spritzes of lime.  The weather has been blissfully varied, with afternoon rain storms, cool mornings, and very few mosquitoes here in northern Colorado.  I tack this summer's weather onto my gratitude list every day, along with my lima bean-shaped dog, and my husband, who has my back in so many ways I cannot begin to count them. 

Mentally preparing for warm weather this past winter, after getting blasted by heat and wildfire despair last summer, I told myself: I will go swimming.  I will crash kiddie pools if I have to.  I will wear slippery tank tops and jeweled sandals.  I will drink fruity drinks. 

I have done all these things, except the kiddie pool.  Is it embarrassing that I am only now reaping the benefits of grounding, of following the seasons, when I am thirty-five?  Don't answer that!

I caught myself listening to The Strokes this morning, remembering years when I lived in New York after college.  Those years were a somewhat grave miscalculation of what I need in an environment, to say the least, but there was some good mixed in with the confusion. 

One of the good things was a brief internship at Interview magazine, where I was working when The Strokes album Is This It? crashed onto the scene.  For two weeks, I transcribed interviews between famous people and other not-so-famous people while The Strokes bounced around the cultural zeitgeist.  The magazine's offices were incredibly dark, arranged with important desks near windows and others, well, let's just say the room I transcribed in could have doubled as a broom closet.  But I loved the work, though I was completely intimidated by everyone around me.  I eventually had to leave because I had also applied for an internship at Rolling Stone, and when you get a call from Rolling Stone magazine, you answer that sh*t, you know? 

I had the great fortune of being a music intern there for the greater part of a year while I explored New York and various phases of my life.  At first I lived in catatonic disbelief that I reported to work on Sixth Avenue, and salivated nervously every time I was asked to do something cool.  On my first day, Roger Waters called to be patched through to one of my bosses, one of the kindest people I had ever worked for.  I met my brother down the street for coffee some days for lunch, and others grabbed a sandwich and walked to Central Park with another intern, a gorgeous young woman who went on to work in Bollywood and write a book about it. 

What is my point?  I'm not sure, except sometimes when wandering in a thicket of questions about my life, I try to remember other times I've felt lost.  What I recall is that, not only were good things happening during those times, but I was being cared for - by myself, by my friends, and possibly by some great, all-knowing love that I can't even guess at. 

Has anyone seen the movie Smashed?  I don't recommend it.  Like, at all.  But there is a scene in it, in which two recovering alcoholics piece through the journey of the younger alcoholic, who is newly sober.  Her sponsor, played by Octavia Spencer, says, "It's hard to live an honest life."  I think about this all the time now, and think, That's right.  That's what I'm getting at when I catch myself thinking that life is hard.

Because maybe life itself isn't so hard, but keeping your heart open for all it's trying to teach you is. 

Sometimes I think I could have embraced the opportunities I had in New York more, but other times, I see that I was slip and sliding all over the place spiritually.  I was doing the best I could, at the time.  Isn't that all we're doing anyway?

In honor of environment and culture, I give you:

1) The above poem from Billy Collins, which makes me ridiculously happy with its mice mouths and matches between tiny teeth. 

2) Some quotes from one of the greatest interviews I've read in my adult life, from the June 2012 issue of The Sun.  The interview takes place between interviewer Ariane Conrad and painter Ran Ortner, who said that thing we all loved about supporting your art instead of asking it to support you. 

* A culture is made by those who have a willingness to encounter life fully, to feel the storm of it and bring it back to us, so that we can put on Mozart's Requiem and listen to the fullness of the human heart...

* Awakening is a collective effort.  The more we can awaken individually, the more we will awaken collectively...

* ...I think that making art is profoundly and fundamentally life affirming.  To make art is to give, to pour yourself into life, so you don't die with the music still inside you.  You give it to your culture. 

Did you hear that?  Get your fine selves out there and give to your culture, please! 

Sending love,

P.S.  Completely coincidentally, Lukis and I posted an episode on our podcast this week about the movie Almost Famous, in which a young character gets assigned to write a story for, yup, Rolling Stone.  I never followed a Zeppelin-like band, or even a Skynyrd-like band, for weeks to write about them.  I barely left the office.  But the movie is fun, and discussing its merits and demerits was even more fun.  Hop on over to listen, if you're curious! 

P.P.S. I am now changing my blog's name to, Kara Reads The Sun.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Leaving Home

The year before we married, Tim and I lived in the attic apartment of an old Victorian home.  On the first floor of that house, a woman I never met practiced her piano every night before dinner.  The landlord wore sunglasses at all times, even at night, and wrote letters that began, I'm writing to you today primarily about the bats.  On the second floor lived a tall thin redhead with a tall thin bike, and next to her lived a jittery man who seemed to be building a go-cart or bomb, though he denied any relationship to buzz saws when questioned. 

Writing about this man's mysterious noises and strange intensity reminds of The Burbs, that kinda bad 80s film with Tom Hanks and Corey Feldman, of all people, who is a topic himself we don't have time for now.  But do you guys have that sort of neighbor?  Like the ones down the street from us now at our new place.  There is a house with about 18 different kids living there, tight-jeaned, sallow boys like members of a Conor Oberst band.  Every weekend, different boys are out weeding dandelions, setting up sprinklers, and working on cars in front of the house, as if they have to pull their weight to share in the drug supply they partake in the rest of the week.

It's all weird and I love it. These are the things I think about when I swing on our front porch at the bungalow where we live now.  Looking all yuppy tidy with my black dog and cold tea and fat book, I'm really sitting there making up lurid stories for the real, boring strangers I live nearby.

Bad 80s movies aside, in the months after moving into our attic apartment four years ago, I suffered a series of, what to call them?  Identity-crises?  Panic attacks?  Simple tantrums?  We had painted the office a putty-brown color.  My rickety desk was tucked under a cramped, slanting eave.  My family and community lived thousands of miles away.  The landlord creeped me out, and I worked in a dying bakery with peach-colored walls and refrigerated display cases that hummed numbly all day long. 

It also rained a lot the first fall we lived in Colorado, a miracle to my now-parched skin.  I was drowning in the putty-colored office, squashing around the neighborhood in wet sneakers, muttering angrily as I dashed from work through the rain, and trying to keep my wits about me for my devoted fiance and good natured dog. 

I managed all right, except the one night I ran away from home.  I loaded myself and a stack of cds into my dusty Jeep and motored east into the night.  I drove over the highway and into some fields outside of town, pulling over not thirty minutes from my home.  It was the desperation and determination that mattered.  I climbed onto a pile of dog blankets in the back seat and listened to the rain outside, my feet on the window, a wild compilation of Indian chants playing on the radio.  I  collapsed in a state of despair and surrender.  And, because of that, I found a lightness, a bemused curiosity for what the hell was coming next in my life.

Sometimes, it is essential to just Go.  The Where doesn't quite matter.  It is the power of going somewhere by yourself, sometimes with a little anger running in your veins, that can save a life.

No matter what budget I am living on, I always make room for a cup of coffee out by myself.  As a friend of mine recently joked, some days spending $5 can be the difference between a nervous breakdown and a damn good time. 

Growing up, I rode my bike through the dark streets after dinner, cool air running over my body like a dark, mysterious love.  In college, I jogged in the neighborhoods behind campus at night, nearly invisible, my feet small drums on the pavement.

Now I take myself out for cake or little treats of time with a bad or good book in a sinky coffee shop chair, imagining the lives of people around me.  I haven't felt the need to run away from home for years.  Sometimes I tire of conversation and grab the dog for a quiet walk in the cooling night.  But I've learned how to balance many of my more difficult emotions simply by giving them space. 

I once read something in which Miranda July said she finds it important several times a day to just give up. I think about this all the time.  Giving up gets a bad rap in our culture, but sometimes it is necessary to simply surrender to the darkness engulfing you, to admit you don't know what the hell you are doing, and to ask, on an exhausted, open, energetic level, for a little help.

Can you see why I like the Beats so much?  According to the super reputable Blues for Peace website, the original street usage of the word "beat" meant exhausted, at the bottom of the world, looking up or out, sleepless, wide-eyed, perceptive, rejected by society, on you own, streetwise.  I remember studying this definition in high school, too, so there's more street cred for you skeptics out there.

Anyway, I am sending great big gulps of air your way, wherever you are in your journey: in darkness or in light.  For the truth is, they are two sides of the same coin, brother and sister to one another, parent and child.  We need them both - shadow and sparkle, cold night and hearth.  May you explore them both in spite of fear, and find the bridges between.

With love,

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


In Spite of Everything, the Stars
by Edward Hirsch

Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
Think of dazed stones
floating overhead, or an ocean
of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,
like a conductor's expectant arm
about to lift toward the chorus,
or a juggler's plates defying gravity,
or a hundred fastballs fired at once
and freezing in midair, the stars
startle the sky over the city.

And that's why drunks leaning up
against abandoned buildings, women
hurrying home on deserted side streets,
policemen turning blind corners, and
even thieves stepping from alleys
all stare up at once. Why else do
sleepwalkers move toward the windows,
or old men drag flimsy lawn chairs
onto fire escapes, or hardened criminals
press sad foreheads to steel bars?
Because the night is alive with lamps!
That's why in dark houses all over the city
dreams stir in the pillows, a million
plumes of breath rise into the sky.

"In Spite of Everything, the Stars" by Edward Hirsch, from Wild Gratitude. © Knopf, 1992.

Today's poem comes from Edward Hirsch (obvs) courtesy of The Writer's Almanac where it was featured yesterday.  Generally, I try to be more creative than blatantly copying Garrison Keillor, but sometimes a poem jumps off the page (screen) and grabs me by the collar (homemade necklace).  Such was the case with In Spite of Everything.  Please forgive.

I had a bunch of ideas to write about last week, but I was like, I'll just wait a little.  Advice For Everyone Alive: Don't do that.  Ideas need to be grabbed and ridden like dying comets.  Slap away your boss when she requests something.  Drop that carton of milk in the worst supermarket you've ever been inside of and run, always run, for the page. 

In a delightful turn of events, The Sun magazine's June Issue features an interview between John Elder and someone I once knew, a writer named Leath Tonino. 

I met Leath the summer Tim and I volunteered on a birding project for the US Forest Service (pictures and thoughts on that experience here), and became smitten with Leath's youthful exuberance.  He reminded me of someone I once had been - ambitious, open-minded, hellbent on exploration - before years of twenty-something bewilderment and confusion churned me up and spit me out.

Leath was a returning employee of the field season, fresh from undergraduate college.  He bunked that summer with a friend of his, a quiet man with a charming, if suspicious, twinkle in his eye.  Like a pack of neighborhood kids, the two of them did everything together.  It was beautiful.  I once climbed the waterfall behind camp to discover them rigging up a galvanized tank in a pool of water, a kind of jerry-rigged tub for cooling off.

Tim had just finished his graduate degree.  We were engaged and moving from North Carolina to Colorado.  I was on high alert finishing a novel for my thesis project, writing wherever I could in the car, in the cabin, in the rec room before the crew awoke. 

Our summer spent volunteering was a chance to cut loose, explore the west, and give back to the earth.  We spent weekends driving to various national landmarks in the desert, eating out of milk-crates in the backseat, making meals out of pistachios, raisins, and oatmeal, soaking in the bliss of an an open window.

We saw incredible things, met nice folks, and look back on that time with overwhelming gratitude. 

We also had a spectacular fight in a KOA, a fact that just explains itself.  To this day, neither of us can remember what in the world we were so worked up about.  All we recall with certainty were the bunnies hopping from thorn bush to thorn bush, like some fuzzy, psychotic alternate universe we had stumbled into. 

In that time, I had some of the most electrifying conversations of my life with Leath in the government-issued turquoise Jeeps that we drove over the Kaibab Plateau while looking for bird nests.  He was in love with John McPhee.  He wanted to be a writer.  He had a girlfriend I imagined as smart as or smarter than him, as plump and adorable as an Etsy owl.

In addition to a deeply satisfying tan, those days bestowed upon me one of Leath's invocations, the advice or quote from somewhere I didn't write down: You become the object of your intent

It's little more than an iteration of more cloying New Age sentiments - the Power of Attraction, etc etc. - but the simple intellectual decisiveness of it appealed to me, and I latched on.  I wanted to become a writer.  I wanted to become a stable human being.  I wanted to know something some day, about kindness, compassion, and living a good life. 

I also wanted to again start acting like Leath seemed to act - focused, angry, enthusiastic.  In other words, fully alive. 

That was four summers ago.  My delight at seeing his name in The Sun,
all growsed up, is the delight of an old neighbor, someone who as a girl once prayed out her window at night, rooting for the pure souls, the ones who carried their minds on fire, like comets. 

Today I have gratitude that a writer's work pays off.  That intentions come true.  Desert-cowgirl straw-hats off to you, Leath!  And hats off to all you working writers and creators out there, setting your sights high and working your tails off to get there. 


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Shuffle, Snort, Cry

The Lives of the Heart
by Jane Hirshfield

Are ligneous, muscular, chemical.
Wear birch-colored feathers,
green tunnels of horse-tail reed.
Wear calcified spirals, Fibonaccian spheres.
Are edible; are glassy; are clay; blue schist.
Can be burned as tallow, as coal,
can be skinned for garnets, for shoes.
Cast shadows or light;
shuffle; snort; cry out in passion.
Are salt, are bitter,
tear sweet grass with their teeth.
Step silently into blue needle-fall at dawn.
Thrash in the net until hit.
Rise up as cities, as serpentined magma, as maples,
hiss lava-red into the sea.
Leave the strange kiss of their bodies
in Burgess Shale. Can be found, can be lost,
can be carried, broken, sung.
Lie dormant until they are opened by ice,
by drought. Go blind in the service of lace.
Are starving, are sated, indifferent, curious, mad.
Are stamped out in plastic, in tin.
Are stubborn, are careful, are slipshod,
are strung on the blue backs of flies
on the black backs of cows.
Wander the vacant whale-roads, the white thickets
heavy with slaughter.
Wander the fragrant carpets of alpine flowers.
Not one is not held in the arms of the rest, to blossom.
Not one is not given to ecstasy's lions.
Not one does not grieve.
Each of them opens and closes, closes and opens
the heavy gate - violent, serene, consenting, suffering it all.

I pulled down my collection of Rumi poems from its shelf tonight, the one titled The Essential Rumi, the one that kinda makes me want to have a Greatest Hits collection of my own someday, like Tammy Wynette, some kind of CD that pulls all my critical successes together in one place.  Never mind that I'm not a musician, and could never wear the sparkly ballgowns Tammy wore, or that all my successes are in the personal vein lately, and that it's kind of hard to package a perfect two-second handstand with a sweet set of emails I really nailed at work last week and make it all saleable.  I'm sure Google will figure it out someday. 

In the meantime, you'll just have to wait for that collection, or check in on Amelia's impression of me as a rock star at Grizzly & Golden, where Sinead O'Connor currently steals the show.

My whole point about my Essential Rumi book is that it had two inches of dust on it.  In general, my poetry life is a little rusty, so if any of you have poems stabbing you in the heart lately, please send them my way.  Also, if you have a cleaning service, please send that my way, as my bookshelf dusting schedule halted back in 1997.

The 90s and the topic of a Greatest Hits collection makes me think of the Prince double-disc set that I was married to in college, and the fact that I used to wake to the song Pop Life before 8am somedays.  Sorry, roomies.  Sorry for lots of things. 

Speaking of Prince, however, can we just have a moment for how he pulled himself together through the years?  I mean, boyfriend really took a stand for his hair over time, and damn if he didn't learn a trick or two with some tweezers.

That is neither here nor there, obviously, except to say I'm certain there is a graduate-level thesis or even PhD dissertation lurking in the twin subjects of Rumi and Prince.  If I had more time, I might discover it. 

But the real reason I'm writing, of course, is donuts (which my husband recently called a Super Food).  I read an article last week with a pretty self-explanatory title, and I just had to share it here.  Apparently, You Experience a Silent Rage After Exerting Self-Control.  If you click on the research behind the article, you gain access to a real world psychology experiment that, I swear, tests peoples reactions to insults after they have denied themselves a donut. 

Or something like that. I admit I didn't read the whole experiment.  But it did bring back my early Psychology classes in college, where I first discovered my disdain for statistics, and my awe and pity for the graduate assistants who walked us through them week after week.  I much preferred sitting in my dark French Film Studies class and, weirdly, Intro to Biology, where I'm sure we never dissected anything, but I remember clearly a splayed frog on my desk. 

You can skip the article about Silent Rage, but you probably should see The Five Year Engagement, a movie that sometimes feels five years long itself, but ultimately packs enough silliness that I was chuckling about it for weeks after I saw it in the theater last year.  It too contains a psych experiment around donuts, and some not-so-silent rage. 

That is it!  Except to say that in her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says that vulnerability is the first thing we look for in another person, but the last thing we want to share about ourselves.  I have written about the freedom you gain from exposing yourself before (and the humorous perils of the improper use of that word, expose) and I'm realizing, more and more, how true this is in my life. 

The more I talk about the things that trouble me, the easier those things become to manage. Showing these tender underbellies in ourselves is also a fantastic way to build trust.  So get out there and tell the world your secrets.  Or, a shy dandelion will also do. 

Speaking of tender underbellies, and the exhilaration that comes with new ventures, the podcast I've been developing with Lukis Kauffman has now launched into the pod-o-sphere!  Please welcome Rabbit Hat Fix to your ear-buds as soon as possible, and subscribe on iTunes if you are so inclined.

Okay, that's really it now.  I leave you with a little quote also tilled from Brene Brown's book: "Art...most closely resembles what it is like to be human." -Nicholas Wilton

Sending love to all you radiant humans and messy art-in-the-making,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Instruments of Grace

by Frank O'Hara

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn't want to be faster
or greener now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

Dear friends

Spring has deigned to show her fine self in Northern Colorado after all.  Tonight I walked the dog, a little dazed after a yoga class, and stood dreamily in front of a branch trying to ascertain why I was suddenly so happy.  Lilacs! I realized, my nose inches from their new buds.  It's not that I had given up on spring, exactly.  I had just not seen the point in waiting around on her. 

It's like my college roommate used to say about dating: If you keep your expectations low, you'll be pleasantly surprised. 

It's been a while since I wrote.  I've been averaging a post a month, I realized today, which is a wee sad.  I'll try to do better - in case you are just dying without regular poems in your diet.  (Older brothers, that's exactly what you were thinking.)

Speaking of poetry, I've been wanting to write about May Sarton on this blog, both because she has a fascinating perspective on the writing life, and because my friend Amelia wants to read a book she wrote called Journal of a Solitude.  It's a book I've read over the past two years, picking it up and putting down intermittently, a bit like you might read scripture (if you read scripture). 

But first, a warm-up to Ms. Sarton's exacting prose.  Ladies and gentlemen...I give you...

Another Quote From My Own Journal

The artist's job is to raise to the surface, to the consciousness around them, that which needs to be addressed.  What makes art good or bad?  Sometimes it is healing to the maker.  Sometimes it wrecks him in the making.  But it is about revealing that which is hidden, or that which wants - needs - to come to the surface.

I wrote this in the middle of March, and later wrote on the same page, It's amazing how dogs think and talk with their paws, so please do with this what you will.

The above job description for an artist is skewed, for sure, leaving out qualities of entertainment, connection, communication, yada yada yada.  But it is, I think, why I write - both to pay attention to what is happening inside the rush of my days, and to call out the uncomfortable, the unformed, and unhealed, and integrate them all into my life.

It's time for May Sarton who says this all way better than I do.  In her book Journal of a Solitude, Sarton wrote, "I feel sometimes like a house with no walls.  The mood is caught in a photo Mort Mace took of this house all lighted up one March evening.  The effect is dazzling from the outside, just as my life seems dazzling to many people in its productivity, in what it communicates that is human and fulfilled, and hence fulfilling.  But the truth is that whatever good effect my work may have comes, rather from my own sense of isolation and vulnerability.  The house is open in a way that no house where a family lives and interacts can be...It is poetry, then, that lights up the house, as in Mort's photograph." 

In addition to being awesomely productive, and having obvious chutzpah publishing many many journal entries in books, Sarton intrigues me because she deliberately chose to isolate herself both physically and romantically so she could write, but was often not able to concentrate anyway.  I find this comforting as a modern writer, with many responsibilities and needs I must attend beyond my own artistic ones.  It takes the pressure off a little, on days I berate myself for having little energy left for writing at the end of the day.  There's no perfect scenario, I think to myself.  Then I make a hot chocolate and sit down to work, a bit friendlier toward myself.

On the subject of productivity, and the question of how to find the time and space to create, especially when one is married, Sarton writes, "It is harder than it used to be because everything has become speeded up and overcrowded.  So everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow cycles of nature, is a help.  Gardening is an instrument of grace."

Again, the idea that a woman who lived by herself fifty years ago felt rushed and harried makes me think we've all got it either really good or really bad - however you want to look at it.  And maybe it is how we look at it that matters.  Maybe life hasn't changed that much on the basic, human level.  Maybe the essential desires of an artist are the same across centuries.  It takes focus, renewed diligence, and a sort of deranged hopefulness to snatch moments and quilt them together, all those pieces like downy little chicks, peeping things that will hopefully grow someday and make it out of their ugly cardboard box.

I don't garden.  I even wrote a mini-essay about this fact for a friend of mine, who has yet to collect it.  It's ready and waiting, if anyone needs a guest gardening column.  Don't everyone speak at once! 

My gardening - my instrument of grace - takes any number of forms, depending on the day.  Yoga, walking, drawing, writing, baking, and sous-chefing slow me down, force patience, and take me back into cycles of nature, as Sarton puts it. 

Sandra Cisneros posted a charming interview on her website, where she answered questions about her writing life, put to her by middle-school students.  I admire a lot about Cisneros and especially love when she says, "I no longer look as I did when I was younger, but I would never want to be young again. When I was younger I had more energy and was beautiful in the way young woman are, but too often my energy was wasted on silly things and silly people that weren't important." 

This is a topic my friend Lukis and I talk about a lot in our new podcast - which I really can't wait to share.  I know I keep saying that, and need to follow up my enthusiasm with a link to our site.  In the meantime, know that we are giving technology our all, in between day jobs, child-rearing, dog-photographing, and trying to eat more than just mac-and-cheese occasionally.  (Child-rearing happens in his house; mac-and-cheese in mine.) 

Here, I leave you with a quote by the incomprehensibly wise, caring, and daunting J. Krishnamurti, whose books, speaking of scripture, I like to pick up, open to a random page, and have my mind blown. 

His talks are kind of like the I-Ching, without so many fox analogies.  In Meeting Life, he says:

"Truth is not something to be attained, to be experienced, to be held.  It is there for those who can see it.  But most of us are everlastingly seeking, moving from one fad to another, from one excitement to another excitement, sacrificing...thinking that time will help us come to truth.  Time will not do that."

Weird, right?  Good weird, though.  Just the way I like it. 

Keep cool and keep the lilacs blooming!  Or, as the woman's shirt in New Orleans said, when Tim stood in line for Crawfish Monica at Jazz Fest last week: I can't keep calm, I'm Creole.

With love,


Friday, April 26, 2013

The Splendid Torch

"It was just dreadful.  But it was precious, I tell you.  It was my art."
-Barry Hannah

Dear ones,

Do you remember when I got really into Barry Hannah's total devotion to his friends?  That was kind of fun.  I still don't know enough about his fiction, and still gobble up whatever Oxford American wants to dish out about him.  The above quote comes from a piece they published online recently.  If you have time and a bit of tolerance for wide open compassion, and for Hannah's full-on acceptance of his responsibilities as a writer, you can read it here

Speaking of devotion and acceptance of responsibility, I've been musing on accountability lately.  It's not a word I've ever been fond of, but I find it running through my head multiple times a day.  Accountability has to do not just with accounting, as in, exacting some judgment - where you fall in or out of some right space.  It has to do with being seen, I think.  A willingness to stand up and be seen.

Thinking about accountability has made me recall the Leprechaun Trap Cake guest post I wrote for Amelia's blog close to two years ago (gasp, on many levels).  I'm not sure why accountability and a massive baking project are linked in my mind, except that I was practicing being really honest with myself at the time.  Being honest is a helpful practice at all times, but there are periods when honesty's call is louder than others: the inner alarm ringing, to wake from the watery dream. 

George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying the following:

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die...Life is no brief candle to me.  It's sort of a splendid torch which I've got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

The first time I read these words, they sort of lit my mind and heart and some weird part of my hamstrings on fire.  They were embedded in Page 299 of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which, you might remember, I could not effectively get through.  But that is what serendipity and copy machines are for, and now I wish I had either read or photocopied more of the book than this one page, because the end of Page 299 says, "We can choose to reflect back to others a clear, undistorted vision of themselves. We can affirm their proactive nature and treat them-"

Treat them how?!?  Well, we will never know.  Unless one of us picks up a copy of the millions of copies of this book and reads it.  I probably won't be the one to do this, but godspeed to anyone who is.

Unfortunately, while Stephen Covey's writing style and publishing success are somewhat fascinating topics, they were not my original inspiration for writing about community, accountability, and honesty (although maybe they should have been).  Rather, I find myself deeply in love with certain aspects of friendship and the magical support it affords me lately. 

There was a period in my emotional life when I had to paddle out to a mental island far away from everyone I loved, or more weirdly from everyone who loved me, so I could get very still, and meditate on some core issues that were bothering me, and that were preventing me from progressing in my life.  It was lonely work sometimes, digging into the solitude, listening to the waves of my mind.  My prayers departed endlessly from the shore, and while periods of expansion brought their salty tongues crashing my way again, other times they went silent with departure, sliding away.

Somehow, I felt the desire to isolate myself in certain ways, both physically and emotionally, to learn skills I needed to fully enter adulthood.  Now I wonder how necessary all that solitude was. 

I'm proud of what I was able to do: the fears I was able to cure, and certain traumas I've overcome.  I'm stronger for what I have learned about myself over the years, especially what I have learned about my weaknesses.  Transforming searing events into vehicles for greater understanding is a practice dear to my heart, and equally essential to my success as an artist, but I'm glad it's time to be around people again. 

It is perhaps the greatest feeling in the world to offer kindness to another being - perhaps because we are all connected, or perhaps because how we treat one another is a reflection of how we are able to treat ourselves.  I believe we are here to get things right, but patiently - one languorous day at a time. 

Speaking of friends, I currently have the supreme pleasure of developing a podcast with my very talented friend, Lukis Kauffman of The Storied Commute.  We are busy recording some very silly episodes now, and I can't wait to share them with you.

And, since I (obnoxiously) linked to my own writing a hundred times above, I now offer you a passionate plea for sanity from the insanely talented Steve Almond.  Here is a New York Times Magazine article he wrote last year containing a call for community that may still take us decades to embody. 

Let's start now.

To the sun-drenched wisdom in each of you I bow, and to the wandering ways you take to find it.
With love,


P.S. My sister-in-law just launched a new website featuring her wild, rollicking poetry.  I wish everything were as pretty as her site!