One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Landscape of Questioning

While thousands of writers are madly dashing off a first draft in NaNoWriMo this month, I have been actively not writing. I mean, it’s an actual activity, this not-writing. It takes thought and discipline because the routine of writing for hours everyday is a hard one to break.

Why am I ‘not-writing’? Because after twelve years, it was starting to feel like a rote process. I wrote because…well, that’s what I did. You have to do something, right? I’ve told myself for years that it’s a good thing to do, that it’s important for me to be doing it and that, in and of itself, it has value. But I think, every so often, we need to step back and look for some kind of proof for what we have allowed ourselves to believe.

Or maybe I’m just having a mini crisis of faith.

When you first start writing, you work hard at establishing it as a pattern in your life—you have to carve out space and let go of the myriad of other things that gobble up your time. It’s essential. And then you have to focus, give yourself over to the process. Also essential. All of this single-mindedness is a good thing, but it can make you a bit myopic and because of that, I think you also have to occasionally step back and consciously consider what you’re doing, how you’re spending your extremely precious time and ask yourself if this is what you’re suppose to be doing—what you want to be doing. You have to ask yourself “why?” The question of value always looms large in my heart and soul. Which is why I think it’s so important to make sure whatever you’re doing, you do it consciously.

So I’ve made the conscious decision to step back and look around me for a while. To put myself more physically in the world. Plus, after spending the majority of time in my head, pounding virtual words into my keyboard that then vanished into my laptop, I’ve felt the need to make something solid, something physical, with my hands. I’m just not yet sure what that solid something will be…

And so in the past few weeks, I’ve been going to galleries and museums, I’ve been thumbing through some old sketchbooks, I’ve pulled out my bag of wool fleece and felting needles, I’ve sorted through a closet full of half finished craft projects. I’ve also spent a good deal of time talking to artist friends, asking why they make art. And I’ve been catching up with some other old friends that remind me of where I’ve been and the parts of me that go beyond ‘writer’.

It’s funny how these ‘why’ questions seem to always go deeper and deeper and turn out to be part of this search for the meaning of life.

The other thing I’ve been doing is reading what other writers have to say about writing and about living and have come to realize how much my life has been guided by writers. I picked up Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim At Tinker Creek—a book that resonated so strongly for me in my twenties. Now that I’m a unapologetic urbanite, this book doesn’t touch me in quite the same way as it did when I was living in a tiny cabin on an island in the Puget Sound, but what it has done is lead me to some of her later words that, when I read them a few weeks ago, shot through me like an electrical charge—they rang so true:

“We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. Buckminster Fuller hinted at a reason we are here: By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even. A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.”

Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed…Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house…We create things—buildings, gardens, music, art, stories—to counteract the flow of entropy. Not only that, but also, perhaps, we create things as a physical act of bearing witness and of giving praise. Maybe each act of creating something could be seen as a kind of prayer, a form of saying grace.

This week of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the many, many blessings in my life. My family. My friends. The animals who make me more human. This jewel of a city on the Bay. And for all of the makers, all of the creators making things as a way of noticing, as a way of praising and to counteract the flow of entropy.  And to all of the writers who have and continue to guide me with their words. Without them, I would be truly lost.

Take Good Care,


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Happiness Project, Gratitude, and the Point of It All


As you can probably see, I missed a week!  Sorry about that.  My life has been… hmmmmm… full is a nice way to put it.  Bursting at the seams is, perhaps, a more real way to explain it.  (And even that is the rated G version of what I want to say…) A lot of work, every single person in my house has a lot of work right now, from us adult-types to the kid-crew, all of us are burning the oil fast and furious.  And the day feels so short.  It is short, right?  Dark before we know it.  I would say, perhaps, that my household has NOT transitioned to fall with a tremendous amount of grace. Very klutzy.  We are very klutzy and confused over here.

But we are muddling through...

One of the things I keep telling my kids (especially my son, who is really struggling to find his joy right now, in the midst of a tough 7th grade workload and looming puberty, oh boy oh boy, and also my middle daughter, who is hard at work wrestling with anxiety) I keep reminding them that it is up to us to find the moments in our day that make us smile, laugh, hope, and bust out with energy.  Part of that seeking is, perhaps, shifting our schedule or routine. But part of that seeking is also a perspective shift. 

Much easier said than done, I know from personal experience---we all do---but it is so so vital to do all the same.

My very cool yoga-therapy teacher taught me this two minute grounding exercise. It's a sort of coming home practice. I sit quietly for a few moments and simply feel what I am feeling.  Then I name the feelings, a sort of calling out to them, a validation of them. And then I figure out where they reside inside me.  Most of the time they are right near my heart, but sometimes they are lower, like in my belly. I sit like that for another few moments.  Then I viscerally place myself in the here and now.  What do my feet feel?  What do I hear?  What do I see?  And then I get up and go about my day. 

This is a bit of that perspective shift.  Simply being.  Not trying to fix or argue with or hate wherever I am at.  Simply being.

Or here is another version of this perspective shift. My very cool 6 year old daughter* grabbed her hula hoop last night (the kid is a champion hula hooper!) and told us all ("Ladies and gentlemen," she said, as she turned the lights off while we were eating dinner, "come join me in the Circle of Love…") to stand in a circle holding onto the hula hoop with both hands.  She then instructed us to go around the circle, each of saying something we liked about the person to our right. If we managed to use the word love or heart in our statement, the person we were talking about got to stand in the middle of the hula hoop!  Well, we dropped dinner and engaged in this Circle of Love activity…and it was, as you can imagine, kind of stunning. 

(Until the two older kids got inside the hula hoop together and began bumping bums. Then it wasn't as much stunning as chaotic and nutty… our standard in this household…)

The point is, though… well… okay, so I recently came across this very cool TED talk by Louis Schwartzberg, and he showed a short video called The Happiness Project. 

The Happiness Project is the point.  If you haven't watched it, I urge you to watch it here, below.

The young girl in the video says: the path, it could lead you to a beach or something…and it could be beautiful.

And the older man says, you think this is just another day in your life, it's not just another day, it's the one day that's given to you today…it's given to you, it's a gift. it's the only gift that you have right now.

Yes.  Those are the points.

The video kind of wrecked me. In that good, breaking-down-so-there-is finally-space-again kind of way.

My friend Sarah Tomp wrecked me this morning too. I asked her to read a manuscript of mine that is almost ready to go out into the world. One that I am too close to, at this late stage, to have any real perspective on. Sarah's perspective is one I cherish. I trust it, I believe in it, and it always teaches me something about myself, and about the world. Her perspective on this story was no exception to that. And exactly what I needed right this minute. 

Sarah is the point.

And then she sent me this poem. It is the point too. Yes yes yes.  

Permission Granted

You do not have to choose the bruised peach
or misshapen pepper others pass over.

You don't have to bury

your grandmother's keys underneath

her camellia bush as the will states.

You don't need to write a poem about

your grandfather coughing up his lung

into that plastic tube—the machine's wheezing

almost masking the kvetching sisters

in their Brooklyn kitchen.

You can let the crows amaze your son

without your translation of their cries.

You can lie so long under this

summer shower your imprint

will be left when you rise.

You can be stupid and simple as a heifer.

Cook plum and apple turnovers in the nude.

Revel in the flight of birds without

dreaming of flight. Remember the taste of

raw dough in your mouth as you edged a pie.

Feel the skin on things vibrate. Attune

yourself. Close your eyes. Hum.

Each beat of the world's pulse demands

only that you feel it. No thoughts.

Just the single syllable: Yes ...

See the homeless woman following

the tunings of a dead composer?

She closes her eyes and sways

with the subways. Follow her down,

inside, where the singing resides.
                                                 David Allen Sullivan

With gratitude, you all.


*My 10 year old daughter and 12 year old son are pretty cool too… :-)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Earth, Water, Fire and Air

I’ve been away from home for a while. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been to Death Valley, Alabama Hills, Mammoth, Mono Lake, and Lake Tahoe. It was a driving trip—a get away.

The landscapes we witnessed and wandered were all stunning, extreme, and different from each other. And all strongly defined by the elements. Earth, water, fire and air.

Death Valley, the largest National Park in the United States, is distinct, partly, because of its apparent lack of water. There’s a whole lot of rock and clay, baked by the fiery sun that burns at up to 130 degrees in the summer months. The air is dry, the sky expansive. The sun is intense. Water that seeps to the surface evaporates almost immediately. We watched the sun set over Zabriski Point and the sun rise from Harmony Borax Works, home of Twenty Mule Team Borax.

Mono Lake is the oddity that it is because of a loss of water. In 1941, the tributary streams were diverted to supply a growing need for fresh water in Los Angeles, resulting in the collapse of the once vital ecosystem. The water volume halved while the salinity doubled and the water level dropped 25 vertical feet, creating the bizarre stalagmite-like mounds of saline deposits in its wake. Now the only life that can thrive there are brine shrimp and alkali flies. It is evocative and thought-provoking in it’s strangeness—and you can’t help but notice that nature is out of balance here.

Lake Tahoe is a really big body of water. It’s the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest in the United States, rimmed by dramatic geology—mountains of rock down to round boulders of granite—warmed by fingers of sunlight intensified by the altitude’s thin air. You have to breathe deep, work a little harder to get enough oxygen to fill your lungs. And yet it is, I think, the most balanced of the landscapes we visited because of the harmony of the elements.  

Here's the part where I admit I am one of those strange people who believe in the probable existence of elementals—the spiritual presence or beings that infuse the elements—the gnomes of the earth, the undines of the water, the sylphs of the air and the salamanders of fire. The nature spirits. (Now, before you get too freaked and call the men in white coats to come haul me away, understand that I’m not saying I believe there are little guys in green hats living underground, or little ladies in flowing gowns and glittery wings zipping invisibly through the air! I’m just saying that I believe each element has an energy that also contains a distinct spiritual aspect. And I’m not exactly sure what that looks like, so don't ask.)

All I know for certain is that the balanced presence of all four in a landscape feeds my mind, body and soul. It’s cleansing, strengthening, nurturing and healing.

Likewise, it has been said, and I strongly believe, that trying to use the four elements in our own creative ventures contributes to balance and harmony. Partly because it is appealing to the senses, but also because it makes the end product whole. All of life depends on the four elements, so it only makes sense to me that their presence can help bring a creative endeavor to life.

I'd love to hear your own thoughts on this. Does anyone else out there think about the four elements as you go about your day?

Take Good Care,