So much churns and rises to the surface during the night. A few days ago, I sat with my coffee and journal as I do most mornings, trying to capture my waking thoughts. As usual, only after my inner compass steadied could I turn my gaze to the headlines and other people's stories. Though I am enamored with the world, I don't know what magnets may swing too near my needle as I sleep so nearly every morning I do this scan of my inner horizon, as if it's an object on my nightstand, to ensure true north is where I left it the night before. If I can engage the first half hour of the morning with my pen steadied over the page, I rein in some otherwise missed understanding of the world. I write, listen to the hum of the refrigerator or the chatter of finches across the street, and sip my coffee. Sometimes, when there's little to sort out, I just write about the refrigerator and the finch. I aim for at least three pages of anything, and no matter what I write, mornings like that start out well.
The break of a new year is much the same. As one year's clepsammia thins, I hold my inner compass to the events of the previous twelve months. How does my living measure with the map I envision for my life? Have I lived aligned with my values? When the hourglass inverts, I face the future and envision how to rebalance lopsidedness from the previous year and further build on past progress.
As I began to write my way across the transition from 2017 into 2018, though, I noticed a distinctly uncommon wobble in my journaling. My compass seemed to be spinning. When I asked What did I do with my time? I felt unmoored, and then understood: The November before, not to over-play a broken record, had named the loser of the popular vote the winner of our last presidential election. Though I believe people can change, I don't think Trump will, and I didn't buy some commentators' hopes that his election season manner would temper after his swearing in. Instead, the weight of all the injustices ever wrought against women -- the silencing, the harassing, the violence, the unfair narratives, the pay gap -- pushed at my back and pummeled me through the gates of that new year. I had crossed threshold with a heady mix of anger, fear of the unknown, and a whopper of an election hangover.
Between the election of '16 and the swearing in last January, with my usual New Year's reckoning, I somberly acknowledged that the creative and professional plans I had thought would be my focus of 2017 had been based on an election outcome much different from what came to pass. Instead, I saw, 2017 would be not a year of embarking on new journeys, but on rehashing tired arguments for why, dammit, women need access to reproductive care; why, dammit, people for whom skin color has been the primary correlating factor for economic disparity should benefit from affirmative action; why gender expression or sexual orientation should make no damn difference when it comes to employment, military service, marriage, bathroom access, safety, or equal rights of any kind; why health care, particularly for the very old and very young and very sick and very poor -- and every child, like ours, with Type 1 Diabetes -- should be, in every civilized and wealthy society, guaranteed, accessible, and affordable; why we must be aggressive and progressive against industries that exacerbate climate change; why we must be diplomatic in our foreign relations; why we must encourage and support advancements in science, the arts, and education; and why, dammit, the individuals we choose as representatives should represent us at our best, not just for political reasons, but because, for god's sake, the children are listening.
This week, as I tried to clarify my retrospective of 2017 in order to create my vision for 2018, I saw too well that the past year, instead of moving forward, had been spent going back over the leaks in the boat we'd already built and had thought was airtight. That was the wobble. It came from the gravitas and boredom of battles re-waged. It came from tamping down celebrations; pulling back recording projects; setting aside money for the ACLU and NARAL and other organizations with other letter combinations; and delaying creation of new books in order to have time to consume more articles analyzing what had caused this great ship to dip, and how to simultaneously bail out the water and repair the leak before we all go down.
You many think I'm being overly dramatic, but that's part of what I love about you and me: we are not identically the same in our passions. And sometimes we are.
Still, the point is that 2017 has ended. To honor it, Darby and I chilled a bottle of prosecco and holed up in his recording studio to reclaim what was left of the new year. We staked out the final hours and marked them as our own, getting back to making music and writing stories.
We finished the year like that, never getting to the Prosecco, and woke up on January 1 to continue our work, which is on the Bliss Drops record that we first started over a year ago. Never mind the past. Through this New Years Eve and Day, we picked up where we left off before the election fiasco of 2016, with what is called "the Guru mantra," a Sanskrit chant that I've put to melody and chords, and which Darby has dressed up in groove. Gu = darkness. Ru = remover. Seems a fitting way to start anew: removing the darkness to bring in clarity, truth, healing, and joy.
"By reciting this mantra with a sincere heart," activist, musician, writer, and yoga teacher Sharon Gannon writes, "you will see that the power that enlightens is all around you at all times. [...] The guru is your own self, the inner guiding light."
To you, dear reader, I wish a very happy 2018, filled with love, joy, good health, creative inspiration, and the light of truth so that you may see more clearly in the darkness.
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara, Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri guravay namaha
Brahma is the force, or guru, of creation; Vishnu, that of preservation; devo Maheshwara is behind the trials that transform us. There is a remover of darkness nearby (Guru Sakshat) and one beyond the beyond (param Brahma). I make my offering (tasmai) to the beautiful (shri) remover of my darkness, my own ignorance; I honor that guru with my life (namaha).
Six months ago when Darby and I planned to run off to a yoga retreat the second weekend of November, we had no idea how much we'd need the reprieve from the city on this particular weekend. All the emotions from last week's election - the despair, the rage - are still with me. Now, though, they've softened from a weekend of breaking bread with a group of compassionate, creative people, sleeping in a tiny cabin in the woods, and unplugging from media storms and news updates.
Something shattered last week. For weeks, for months, we thought it would be a glass ceiling. It turns out it was something else entirely, and things feel very fractured, very much in pieces. Many of us are not only grieving the loss of what we almost had -- and that loss is great -- but now we are also gaping wide-mouthed at the mammoth clean-up job we hadn't seen coming. Many of the values so many of us hold dear have slipped, and how far we can't yet say.
But at the yoga retreat I remembered a story from years ago, and that reminded me of a simple lesson that my kidlets learned back in their horse riding lessons: Where you look is where you'll go.
I have no delusions about our new president-elect. He spent the past year telling us who he is and what he stands for, and it is the exact antithesis of everything I would want in a president. But I don't want to assume that half the nation voted for him out of malice. I don't want to focus on the hate and fear. If I rubberneck those values, I'll either crash into the folks who are on the road with me or end up U-turning and joining the other pack. When I look around at my fellow travelers, the ones committed to the direction of social progress and positive change, I see fierce intelligence, compassionate justice-fighters, inspiring artists. They are kind people, people who believe that lifting others up will help us all rise.
This weekend helped me remember to keep looking forward. Oh yes, I'll keep a scrutinous eye on the new administration. But I'm not going to rubberneck the election or speculate on whether what I hate in the president-elect is what those who voted for him love. Where you look is where you'll go. I want to go to a place where diversity is celebrated, there is equity and equality for all, we care and try to keep safe the most vulnerable among us, and we protect our natural resources. From now on, that's where I'm putting my attention.
"Trust in the synergy of the things that are coming together, and don't fret about the rest." – Amy Sage Webb
My AULA creative writing pedagogy mentor, Amy Sage Webb, said the above last December in an exciting seminar I attended during that particular MFA residency. They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears; in that moment, I knew I would enroll in the Post-MFA Program in Creative Writing Pedagogy just to have the opportunity to study with Amy, who is also Co-Director of Creative Writing at Emporia State University in Kansas. What I didn't realize at the time was that it was a two-for-one deal with co-mentor, Tammy Lechner, a teacher and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist - talk about synergy. Since mid-June, with Amy and Tammy and my small Post-MFA cohort comprised of six other writer-teachers, I've been in constant discussion about what makes a great teacher, what the best college teachers do to create engaging and stimulating learning environments, and how to bring these macro-ideas into the composition and creative writing classroom. We've discussing questions about authority, gender issues, learning theory, teaching philosophies, how to evaluate creative work, what higher education politics mean to our budding careers in academia, and how to develop learning objectives that foster discipline-related intellectual growth alongside personal growth in our students.
Concurrently, I opted in for a double-wammy of enrolling in a Post-MFA Professional Development semester focused on book coaching and online creative writing pedagogy. With author and teacher Kate Maruyama, and writer and pedagogy specialist, Curt Duffy, alongside guidance from Amy and Tammy, I've been developing a community online writing course to teach later this autumn. The course idea comes from something I've been fired up about lately: weird writing structures, a/k/a lyric essay, a/k/a where poetry and prose meet. The course is meant to inspire first drafts of new work for seasoned and new writers alike, and will explore non-traditional forms to find inspiration from the mundane moments of every day. Since the course will be in feast-centered November, with my lifelong interest in cooking and food I couldn't resist adding a little twist. The course is called "Feasting on Form: Noodling Around with Experimental Creative Nonfiction." That whole month (the course is 4 weeks), we'll explore bite-sized ideas taken from grocery lists to lonely snacks to shared meals -- all ripe for narrative discovery -- and share brief essays that we write inspired by these moments. I believe some students will leave the class with solid drafts close to submission-ready for literary journals.
I’ve frequently thought of Amy's words about synergy since receiving my MFA degree in June. As I query literary agents for my memoir, continue to lead the editorial team on Lunch Ticket, work through my Post-MFA courses, occasionally squeak out a new essay or a few words in my novel-in-progress, and plan the yoga and creativity retreat in January, I could wonder if my head-down work ethic blinds me to the viability of making a professional career of writing and teaching. After all, one agent who recently turned me down wrote, “I really like your writing—I really do!... but, I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had the shittiest time placing memoir lately.” But after repeating the synergy mantra since December, it comes unbidden now, and I truly believe it. I’m not fretting very much. I trust in the synergy of the things that are coming together – the retreat! My studies! My writing! It all feels too good to fret about. And in any case, I’m having fun.
The other night, my writing group gathered for our twice-monthly meeting at my house. We've been meeting together for more than a year. Lately, my increased pedagogy coursework leaves little time for creative writing, so I depend on these friends to keep me accountable to my artistic side. This week I only had three pages of new work for them to read, but they were three pages I wouldn't have written otherwise. Inspired by my group’s feedback, I’ve already redrafted the piece and shipped it off to a literary contest.
Before we settled into the meeting, one writer in the group confessed to me about feeling concerned about her future job prospects. She's about ten years younger but we've shared some similar life paths through music, writing, communal living, and honest day jobs. She asked me about the coursework I've been doing. Will it guarantee a job, she wanted to know. How can I answer that, after my strange career life: a touring musician, a chef, a photographer, an artist model, a newsstand clerk, an administrative assistant, a yoga teacher, a production supervisor at a music label? How do you answer a question like that in today's gig economy in which universities depend on adjunct faculty the same way for-profit companies avoid benefit payouts with outsourced consultants?
But Amy Sage Webb’s words come back to me. I need to remember to share them with my writing group. “Trust," Amy says. By its nature, trust is about the unknowable, the uncertain. Trust is about things just out of sight, just beyond the bend, though not as far away as, perhaps, faith.
Trust reminds me of the E.L. Doctorow quote, "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." When I’m stuck midway through a chapter of my novel and start fretting about where it might be heading, I think back to this quote. But it helps me even more when I lift my head from my school work. “Trust in the synergy of the things that are coming together.” The road is beneath the tires, I can see as far as November to the month-long writing course, and as far as January to the yoga and creativity retreat. Ten years ago, I didn’t have this kind of trust that things will work out fine, but perhaps, more than anything, that’s what the decade has taught me.
This time next year? I have no idea. But I’m not fretting. Where we put our attention is how we define our reality. And like I said, I’m having fun.
This post appeared in the online journal Lunch Ticket on June 27, 2014:
They say cardio is the first to go, which I suppose explains last evening's huffing and puffing through my first run since the day before residency began. Normally I'm a runner - around 25 miles a week - but last night it was hard to tell. Each step on the asphalt was foreign. My lungs were weak. Despite what the passing cars may have seen, I was the Stay Puft Marshmallow man.
The first time I heard "M.F.A.; My Fat Ass" was at a closing event at the end of last term where the graduating students spoke a few words reflecting on their journey through the program and, particularly, how they fared in the final semester. A fiction writer with a lighthearted countenance and an admittedly soft middle offered the above definition of the degree he would be awarded the following day. His cohorts chuckled in agreement.
That's all I remember about him, but it struck a chord, and I made a silent note-to-self. We writers do, after all, sit a lot.
But just like writing, exercise has been a savior for me. We could get into self-image and how women are depicted in the mass media, we could even get into childhood issues--blah blah blah--but the fact is, what's done is done. I am a woman in this culture, with this upbringing, with this mind chatter. The antidote has been physical activity. Running, yoga, cycling, hiking -- whatever it is, the mind chatter changes from This body is not good enough to Damn, I am grateful for this body. Physical movement quiets my mind chatter. Every time I hear "M.F.A. = My Fat Ass", I cringe.
Admittedly, during the 10-day residency our schedules are tight. A single day at residency looks like this: hour commute, followed by an hour blogging, two in seminar, a (seated) lunch, another seminar, a workshop, perhaps dinner, and a two hour evening reading with four graduating student writers and one featured guest writer. Then the commute back home. Nine days of it. Thirty miles driving. My body moved barely an inch.
I’m not whining though – the residency rocks – but what about the other five months of Project Period? For me at least, at times of my life when I’ve been particularly sedentary, it’s more of outlook than schedule. There are a ton of myths about being an artist. And just like the media's image of women, I have at times bought into those wonky narratives. Hook, line, sinker.
* * *
Myth #1: Poor artists.
Ten years ago I was in another graduate program. (Some people buy cars; I collect almae matres.) Berklee College of Music gave me some scholarship money; I packed my bags. Instead of finding $75 for a soft-shell guitar bag, I bolted industrial-strength straps made to move pianos onto my hard-shell case and carried the weight on my back like a tortoise. Instead of picking up a long, warm coat for the Boston winter, I shivered in my leather motorcycle jacket, which was just long enough to assist the freezing rain in sliding down my back and soaking my jeans from belt to boots. I was broke. Adamantly broke.
Myth #2: Starving artists.
At Berklee, dinner was usually rice and beans; breakfast was rice pudding from the leftovers. My roommate and I split $200 for food each month. The mono-nutrient diet upset my belly and my energy was low but when I caught my roommate spending $2 for a slice of pizza between classes -- 1% of our food budget for the month on one meal -- I nearly slid into a rage. I stomped home and sulked over another Tabasco-doused rice bowl.
Myth #3: You need to suffer for your art.
I walked two miles to Berklee each day, through the snow, uphill both ways, barefoot. Okay, it’s a bit hyperbolic, but you get the gist. Each day my shoulders were burdened with instruments like my body was a pack mule. Every day that damn guitar case tried to kill me.
Myth #4: Talent is innate and "making it" is a concept only available to a privileged few.
All my classmates were rockstars or the offspring of rockstars. Talented. Beautiful. On their way to successful careers doing exactly what they were born to do. I, on the other hand, was a folk-singing daughter from a very normal family. I wasn't a prodigy, nor were my parents. My pedigree, I believed, would be my ultimate handicap.
Not surprisingly, despite graduating with honors, then signing, recording, and touring, the way I burned out was less like a Bacchanalian feast of cocaine and backstage groupies, and more like a balloon flying through the air, coming untied, and simply dropping to the ground, useless, spent.
It took me years to realize I had done it to myself: I had bought the myths.
* * *
Things are winding down here in low-residencyland. Those of us not graduating have already disappeared into an online world called Project Period. During the next five months we will strain to stay connected through Sunday check-ins, monthly reading conferences, Facebook groups, occasional coffee dates for the locals, and, most celebrated, through online magazines and literary journals where, hopefully, we'll see our colleagues' bylines. Writing is a solitary activity, but the residency stokes a warm campfire. The re-entry back to day jobs and family life is welcomed, but strange. Mostly, it is a welcome return to normalcy.
I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my family, catching up on sleep, eating a simple meal at home. Basically, finding balance between mind, body, and spirit.
And at the top of my to-do list is exercise. Over the past eight days, my thighs have become a wee bit bigger. My belly is somewhat more rotund. And oh, my hips, my hips, my hips. Thankfully, the mind chatter hasn’t started, but I’m not going to wait for it. I don’t buy into the artists myths anymore. It’s possible to live the creative life as an artist and the balanced life of a healthy human. Even as we make time to write, eat, sleep, we must make time to care for our physical bodies. They carry us through this creative life. They are the only true vehicle we’ll ever have.
Family, home, paychecks.
Heartbeat, breath, sweat.
Body, mind, spirit.
Yesterday was Meltdown Monday.
It was exactly the way it plays out in movies about high school when the list of who made the team or the spring play gets posted in the hallway. The hopefuls crowd around the post, straining their necks to see around their classmates. There are high fives and tears, celebrations and breakdowns.
The equivalent here is the mentor selection. The list is taped to the wall outside the Program Office at 1pm. I actually missed the crowd since my seminar didn't get out until 2:30. I thought of sneaking out "to the bathroom", but skipping out of class or needing to hear news at the very moment it breaks is not my style. So at 1pm, I simply glanced at the clock on the wall and then turned my attention back to the discussion. At 2:34pm I read the news that I was selected to study with one of my top choices for mentor this semester.
I got what I wanted.
And then I proceeded to have a complete meltdown. As my eyes scanned the list once, then twice, I felt my mood plummet.
There were some compounding circumstances having to do with almost no sleep since last Wednesday, low blood sugar, and a poorly made salad at the little sandwich shop here on campus. It's all ridiculous, really. There's no place I'd rather be than here, now, and the mentor I was assigned to is exactly the person I had been hoping for since attending her seminar and reading last semester.
So, this is what it's like at a low residency MFA program. Months and months of silence, working alone, feeling disconnected to my fellow students between the monthly reading conferences. Reading reading reading, writing writing writing. And then an intense two weeks of running ragged, pressing inspiration and ideas into my mind like flower petals, hoping their vibrancy will linger at least until I have a chance to re-type my notes.
Just now, on my way into the lounge to jot down these thoughts, I passed a colleague in the courtyard. She was resting on a bench under the stand of sequoias, reading. She offered a seat for me, but I was on my way here to write. I know how comforting the sequoias are. I know how peaceful I feel in the moments I steal to be outside in the soft breeze of the natural world. And yet I choose each morning to hole up in this fluorescent lit room, staring at my MacBook screen, typing out my moods and thoughts about the day before. I know how to nurture myself, and yet I put it aside because I am hungry to grow, thirsting to develop this craft, yearning to write in a way that reaches deep down through muck and pull up gems, to write in a way that heals my personal hurts while touching someone else, helping them to heal.
When I teach yoga, I end every class with the same prayer:
May I be at peace.
May my heart remain open.
May I know the beauty of my own true nature.
May I be healed.
May I be a source of healing in the world.
It is a question of balance, and sometime balance does not mean standing on both feet. It means wobbling, leaning far out to the side, getting knocked off my center, and then finding my way back. I want to grow, and so need to reach beyond my normal range. Later, next week, I'll catch up on sleep, eat well, get to my yoga mat, go for a run at the park, and find my way back to normal.
This, at least for me, is the beauty of my own true nature. I go out on limbs; I sometimes melt. May I be at peace.
Today I am full of doubt.
Now, in the black and white font of this site you might take pity on me, or feel bored with this typical and on-going issue, or not care either way. The latter I cannot help, but regarding the pity, don't give my mind-chatter any moment of compassion. I'd rather it not be fueled by any attention whatsoever. The moment you engage, it's off to the races.
I've heard mind-chatter described like a television channel or radio station, but I don't agree. Those boxes can be changed or turned off at will. You can turn down the volume. Walk out of the room.
Mind-chatter is more like an eight-year old kid. Do you happen to have one around? If not, I'll tell you - they are on constant chatter. They bounce from topic to topic. They talk like drunks. The moment you open a book to read, they lay on top of it. They climb on the back of the couch, let Cheerios lay where they fall, and leave the box of crayons spilled across the couch even though they've moved on to choreographing a dance. They ask questions, and then shift gears the moment you try to answer. They are hungry, starving, and hate the casserole you've made. And did they tell you about the game they played at school? Yes? Okay, let them tell you again. There is no inner dialog for an eight-year-old that does not, without filter, become the outer dialog.
Like the eight-year-old, the mind will chatter. Like the heart will beat, the lungs will breathe, the inner psyche will run on and on with an endless stream of story-line. The main difference between the heart and the mind is that while the heart beats regardless of the attention you bestow upon its actions, the mind wants attention and will try any and every way to gain it.
"I am beautiful" is, apparently, not interesting dialog. There's no inner turmoil in that, no engagement, no drama. It turns out that simple love stories won't do. A thought like "I am beautiful" is tossed out as soon as it arises. But give me soap operas and I'll be hooked all afternoon.
When I sit down to write, as I have done today, all I think is "I am boring", "I cannot do this thing", and "why bother trying - someone else can do it better". In light of my recent readings of Herman Melville and Virginia Woolf, it is so easy to go there. Their books are extraordinary, and so that's where my mind-chatter goes. Like the eight-year-old, the mind wants attention. It will use every trick in the book to get it.
I texted Darby a few minutes ago:
Me: "afraid to write. afraid of being boring or having poor judgment or telling a pointless story."
him: "i totally understand. what you write might be all of those things... or not. you just gotta write. it's not your last piece. nothing rides on it. some hits some misses. and brooke just brought over some yummy donut creation. if you write, you can have some..."
I'm not above coercion, or anything doughnut related, but what I would give for useful mind-chatter. How about something helpful like "ah, this is how we will develop the structure". I mean, shouldn't my mind and I be on the same team? A good-natured chat like, "hey, Arielle, there's a cool simile - come on, try it out" would be very welcome.
So I've been thinking - practice makes perfect, right? Well, it seems I've perfected saying to myself things I would never think to say to someone else. Sure, I make mind-quieting meditation a regular practice in my life. That has helped me calm down, be present, let go. But today I'm starting a new practice. This one is not a practice of quieting the mind - it's a practice of writing my own script. I'm going to start small - just as I did with the mind-quieting meditation six years ago. Two minutes. Two minutes by the clock of meditating on a new mantra, in plain, simple English.
I am talented.
I am extraordinary.
I have a talent for storytelling.
I have a way with words that the world wants to hear - through stories, through songs, through teaching.
I need more stories like these chattering away in my mind, so I am going to start practicing them today. After all, I am a writer, aren't I?
Hi ho, it's me here, a/k/a "Sick As A Dog", writing to you from a miraculously upright position. Granted, I can tend toward the dramatic, but I'm a little p.o.'ed that the cold everyone has gotten this winter has hit me TWICE. This, without even one airplane trip or snowstorm.
On the upside, my office was closed for the long President's Day weekend and I had no other official plans, so after getting through the idea that no, I would not be running eleven miles around Griffith Park, and no, I would not frolic along the mulch-y Mount Baldy riverside trails with Darby, I felt no guilt about tucking into bed for two days. I am convinced that yoga speeds recovery time, helping as it does to circulate the blood, breath, sweat, and lymphatic fluids through the body, so I did manage to roll out my mat each day. The first day wasn't pretty, but I got 'er down. The second day I was strong and a tad bit more flexible. Tonight's practice will (fingers crossed) cure me entirely.
The other upside of being sick is that between naps I had no energy for anything but reading. My next MFA mentor-group reading conference (think "online book club for writing craft nerds") is on Moby Dick, and while I've got a ton still to do in our whale of a book (hehe...), I've been dying to finish William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways first.
The reason for Blue Highways is that it's a journey book, and I've been on-and-off at work on a piece (short story? book length?) about my time on the road with my band. In Heat-Moon's own words, "I took to the open road in search of places where change did not mean ruin and where time and men and deeds connected." He was philosophical. In 2006 I simply packed myself, my then-husband (aka, the drummer), a bass player, and a bunch of instruments into a van fueled on vegetable oil so we could play some gigs.
As it turns out, Heat-Moon was also way more self-aware than I was. And more patient. What I felt in Alabama after a few weeks took him till Minnesota on page 284: "Before I left home, I had told someone that part of my purpose for the trip was to be inconvenienced so I might see what would come from dislocation and disrupted custom. Answer: sever irritability."
On our tour, my bandmates and I were tethered to each other, the gig calendar, and a map. We slept mainly on people's floors, sometimes their extra beds, a handful of times in motels, and once on a bar room floor after the club closed for the night (WI). There was one waterbed (PA), two laundromat gigs (CA and TX), more vegetable oil fuel than we could stow (GA), fried peanuts (also GA), a cowboy reporter with purple boots (TX), a hookah bar in an airplane hangar (NC), a martini named after me (OR), three shows in Manhattan (NY and KS), and an ex-brothel (AR). We went through two sets of tires, one windshield, and countless gallons of vegetable oil. I was charmed by Kansas, smitten with Texas, adored Ashland, and wanted to love New Hope, PA but had a nervous breakdown instead. In the end, I crossed from Atlantic to Pacific twice and Pacific to Atlantic once. The last A-to-P was sans bass player - we left him in Virginia without so much as a hug good-bye. Being on the road is tough, but it was a true journey in many ways.
And although my then-husband is now remarried-with-child and settled back on the east coast, I'm a born-again California girl. Just yesterday, despite my cold, I said to Darby, "You know, whatever hardship comes along, there's always the fact that we live in beautiful California." He agreed.
Incidentally, in my current state I have learned that I am not actually sick as in "sick as a dog". This phrase apparently has its origins in the fact that dogs will eat anything and as a result become sick to their stomachs. Nor am I "sick as a parrot", as the British say, which is also more like the stomach flu due to seafaring parrots' taste for the rotting fruit aboard sailing ships. Nor am I "under the weather", a phrase also supposedly taken from the sea, for the sick were sent to the more stable below-deck rooms to ease their suffering. (For your information - and note to myself - my brief research revealed that many of the feelin' illin' idioms come from sea travel. This reinforces my aversion to vacation cruises.)
What I am is simply tired, congested, head-achy, and sneezy. I can't find a single cute idiom for it. Given these forthright symptoms, you'd think I might find a suitable over-the-counter remedy, however neither Dayquil nor Sudafed have helped my condition. I am open to your suggestions. For now, as much as possible, I'm resting, reading, and yoga-ing. Also, for whatever reason, I have been craving tapioca pudding, and so have indulged to my satisfaction.
"Instead of insight, maybe all a man gets is strength to wander for a while. Maybe the only gift is a chance to inquire, to know nothing for certain. An inheritance of wonder and nothing more."
- From Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
I write a lot about doubts because I have so many. I spent the first half of my life -- actually, perhaps the first two-thirds -- accidentally incorporating other peoples' fear-based beliefs into my own psyche. Metaphorically, in a right-handed world I was a lefty who was taught, and later bought, the story that right-handedness was the way I should be. An artist must struggle, according to the lore I was handed, and can either starve or give up the art. I tried both of those options for years before I became suspect about the credibility of my source.
These options -- to either starve or give up -- are not the only possibilities. That emperor has no clothes. There is actually nothing to support that narrative except the perpetuation of that story.
When I moved to Los Angeles seven years ago, the city itself cracked open the false front of that narrative. It is a fear-based and limited story, and Los Angeles reveals the ridiculousness of it every day. This city is built on and by creative artists of all types. L.A. is a testament to the power of vision. You can talk about the smog or the traffic jams or the sky high real estate prices, but if you really want to talk about the essence of L.A., you've got to talk about dreams, and that dreams come true.
In sixth grade I participated in my class's lip sync contest, bouncing around the gym in colorful '80s leg warmers, mouthing the words to the Starship hit song that year: We built this city on rock and roll. I've rarely thought about that song since. Were they singing about Los Angeles?
The other day in the Breath and Writing workshop, we focused on the physical act of breathing, and also the way that breath comes across in writing. Then, after two minutes of matched inhales and exhales, we put pen to page and were asked to write about the thing that resides in the deep, hidden folds of our breath. I found myself bored with fear and doubt. I've written enough about those things. Instead, I flipped the coin over and explored a new story. My pen tested out another line of thought, one about possibility, limitless and authentic expression, accepted and applauded vision.
There's a story I sometimes talk about in my yoga classes about a man walking down the street and falling into a pothole. Perhaps you've heard it before. A man walks down the street, and everyday stumbles into the same pothole. One day the man walks down the street, and while he stumbles into the pothole, he sees it first. This is his awakening. He still falls, but he is aware for the first time that the pothole is his pattern. Later, the man walks down the street, and sees the pothole before he stumbles. That day he instead has the consciousness to walk around the pothole. In the final piece of the story, he eventually takes a different road entirely.
I am not yet on a different road. I've been writing about the pothole, still often stumbling in, sometimes able to walk around it. Sometimes I end up circling it for days on end, peering into its depths. In the Breath workshop this week I took a test stroll down another street. It was sloppy and I felt the pull back to my old familiar territory.
Doubt and faith are bedfellows that cannot occupy the same space. I've been sleeping with doubt for too long, but faith is still a new companion. Seven years in Los Angeles, and every year I find a little more faith. Who would have thought that this city of heathens would teach me this, but it is, and as time unfolds I learn more.
Here is a David Whyte poem that I always remember, nearly every day when I am gripped with self-doubt. I am thinking of it again today.
I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,
faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.
But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.
Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.
-- David Whyte