Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Like How a Puzzle Fits Together"

One day I was looking at Facebook and a friend had shared an image of a broken ceramic bowl that had been mended with gold.  Something about the image resonated with me--the way the bowl seemed to glow by having streams of gold threaded through it.

The technique is called "Kintsugi". It originates from Japan and is centuries old.  The idea being that instead of throwing something away once it's broken, to repair it with something precious. The item is now more valuable for having been shattered and joined again.

The idea of "Kintsugi" came back to me recently when I was at Oasis--a family focused retreat designed to offer connectedness to the Earth, to Community, and to one's Spirit.  There are workshops and discussions, drumming, and much laughter and singing around communal camp fires.

This was my second Oasis and more than anything I looked forward to seeing the faces of friends I made last year and deepening our understanding of each other.

I don't think this happened more than in the workshop I attended titled "Songs that Move Us". It was facilitated by Peter J. Watts in which myself and several other people sat together and listened to music for two hours.  Participants shared songs via media devices, and would maybe tell a story about where the song came from and what meaning it had in their life.

It was impossible for me to hear the song and look at the person sharing it and not feel a part of what the song meant to them.  I would look across the room or to the person next me and see tears and it would unleash the tears from my own eyes.  The same was true of laughter and exultation.

Music truly is the language of the soul and if for just a brief moment in time allows us to experience the emotions of another.

During the workshop I closed my eyes and the image of the Kintsugi bowl came back to me--and a thought came into my mind as if someone was speaking it directly to me, "How lucky are we that we are broken and cracked," said the voice. " How lucky are we that we are flawed?"

When we're born we are shielded from the pain of the world. Babies are bundled and cared for like precious jewels. Yet, as we grow it is understood we have to gain experiences in order to survive. That experience begins in the form of scrapes and bruises and then as we mature emotional pain becomes the invisible wound. These are the splinters of spirit we carry within us, and though at the time it feels as if the pain will not subside, the crack could never be filled, we find ourselves smiling.  The embrace of a sister, the gift of artwork from a child, voices shared in songs of remembrance. These things are the golden currency of our souls.

The week before Oasis, a member of our community had passed on and from my computer portal in Minnesota I could feel the waves of love, loss and grief that members of my Oasis tribe were experiencing.  This was a person who I and never met, but I knew how her work both in the Pagan community and on National Public Radio had influenced so many people.  I speak of Margot Adler.  Although I did not know her, I was grateful for the work she had done and I felt a crack in my heart for her loss.  During Oasis I listened to stories and was able to pay tribute to this remarkable woman. How lucky am I to know people who were so positively affected by her friendship?

And then like all good things, Oasis came to an end. I came away with so much; I came away with my cup filled.

And so quickly it felt like it had been emptied again.

I returned to work the following Monday, and when I came home I was met with the news of Robin William's passing.

I have never grieved for a person I had never met in such a way as I have felt grief this past week.  This morning I saw that one of my fellow "Mara"'s had written blog post about her emotions dealing with the loss.  Mara Wilson says so much of what I have felt this week.

I have been questioning why this death has affected me so. There are obvious reasons: Robin Williams reminds me so much of my own father, who I seldom see.  "Mrs. Doubtfire" was about a father and his three children all trying to navigate their way through divorce, which was exactly what I experienced growing up.

Then I realized that even though I have sincere grief over this talented artist,  it is also a a trigger for  me concerning loved ones I have lost to suicide. To respect their families I will not go into specifics, but as Mara Wilson talks about in her piece, the feeling of "this person will always be there, I won't loose him" only to find they have gone is an experience I have had to deal with due to suicide. The regret of not saying often enough that I cared, or tried often enough to reach out, to pick up the phone or send a letter or email is something I struggle with constantly.

I have cried this week because of the impermanence of life. I have experienced anger over the unknown. I have raged internally for my severe lack of power over what others choose to do.

And then I again return to the Kintsugi bowl.

Where there are new chips and pieces missing, the people in my life, from those I work with to those I play with, will fill those cracks.  You are what is precious to me.  Thank you for being part of the puzzle of my life.

So again I ask,  "How lucky are we that we are broken and cracked? How lucky are we that we are flawed?"

I did not have a chance to share a song during Peter's workshop, but if I had this would be the one. 

"The Puzzle" by Patchouli

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On Books and Love: A Tale of my Inexperience with Literature

***I originally wrote this 4 years ago, on July 10th, 2010. It was a Saturday. It was very hot and I remember we had a very BIG catering to do that day. I present this in it's un-edited glory, mostly because I think it is still sweet and still very true. And, No, I did not finish The Children's Book, but will give it ago again someday down the road. ***

What is it that inspires the love affair between a person and reading? "Love Affair" may seem a little over-indulgent to some, but to me it is entirely the correct term to describe what connects people and books. For the people who make writing and reading books their life, there is certainly a love that comes from it. Reading is one of the only things I can say with certainty that I truly Love. Promiscuity with books is not looked down upon; you pick up a book, you fall in love. There is passion, there is anger, and then the inevitable end. "And then what happened?" as Neil Gaiman asks. What happens is you move on, and maybe you return to re-kindle that romance with a particular book or author, but it is never quite as exciting as finding the perfect book for the particular time in your life and experiencing something new, something different, something experimental.

Love is what got me through working full-time as well as taking on a full class load during college. Love is what inspired me to enter into college in the first place. I love books, so naturally an English Major was my calling.

Though I can remember at least one occasion after graduation that I cursed my college experience. "What did I pay for?" I asked myself. I should have saved that money for something else. I could have been traveling the world, learning to blow glass or ride a unicycle...I could have been working on my novel. Why did I put myself through strict schedules, sleepless nights and the feeling of isolation from my peers. I was an unconventional student-a few years older than the rest, living off campus and working. I didn't have the "university experience" so many 19 year olds have and it sometimes left me wishing I was more interested in house parties and football games than literature and photography classes. Now, when I think about what my life would have been like had I not gone to school, I chide myself for ever wishing I had done something differently.

For if I hadn't taken classes with Professor Butterfield, I would have never learned how "not to simply read books, but to allow ourselves to be read by them" as Mark Edmundson states in his book Why Read? This was such a beautiful concept to me. The idea the reason why so many young people find classic works boring is because we the reader have not matured enough for the book. Edmundson quotes Lionel Trilling's experience with his first unsuccessful trysts with writers like Kafka, Joyce, and Proust: "Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better,they came to have more sympathy for me and to understand my hidden meanings. Their nature is such that our relationship has been very intimate."

I found this idea inspiring when I was in school. It helped me with the sense of failure I sometimes experienced with a classic work of fiction. The notion of myself being too young for a book gave me hope that someday I would be mature enough for that relationship to work; I had something to strive for.

October, 2009, two years after graduation, I find myself walking the streets of Philadelphia with a group of talented and creative individuals. A Photographer, an Actress, an Australian Scholar traveling America to work on her thesis, and a young but successful Editor from Chicago. I met all these people through the magic of the internet and we were together to celebrate the marriage of the Photographer to the Actress. It was quite the unconventional procession; it being so close to Halloween we looked like we were going to a costumed ball rather than a wedding party as we walked several blocks to where the festivities were being held. It was one of the most exhilarating and humbling walks of my life.
As we walked, our conversation turned to one of our most beloved commonalities: books. The Photographer mentioned how much he enjoyed A.S. Byatt's Possession, a book about two young contemporary scholars discovering a relationship between two Victorian Poets, and in the process of this discovery finding their own hidden meanings. Several people in our group chimed in how much they enjoyed Possession, but I said I found it difficult to read and slow moving. And the Photographer, a man I greatly admire not only for his creative abilities with his camera, but also for his ability to inspire creativity in others, says to me something along the lines of "Really? I quite enjoyed it...probably because I was an English Major". Now, imagine how I feel at this moment. I'm walking down a street in a strange city, having traveled some distance by train from Wisconsin to attend the wedding celebration of two people I really admire...and I basically have told one of my artistic role-models that I disliked one of his favorite books. One word will suffice: Mortified.

Not only that, but I was an English Major as well! What did he get from the book that I didn't? I felt so inadequate, so inferior, so young! The night went on, and I tried to put this small conversation behind me. I am often prone to bouts of nervousness over things I have said or done that I perceive as being very big deals, but in reality no one even notices. I hoped the Photographer didn't think me a total undeveloped cad, and I am sure if it was brought up to him now he probably wouldn't remember anything I said about the book.

It got me thinking about it despite myself; and the next day after the party, as I made my way to the train station and visited Washington D.C. for the first time in my life, and then back on the train bound for my home in Wisconsin-really, what was I missing from this book that everyone else found so captivating? As I sat on the Amtrak I vowed to myself I would dig the book out of it's resting place in the garage when I returned home and give it another go. I was going to read this book, beginning to end and hopefully come out differently on the other side.

I followed through and read the entire thing, but something happened when I finally made it past the first 50 pages that were so difficult the first time I tried reading it and then put it down. I understood it. Not only did I understand the motivation of the book better, but there were words I understood I knew I didn't recognize the first time around. I understood and even appreciated the style of the book, the intricate layers of poetry, letter writing, and footnotes. I began to cherish the footnotes, because it was all fiction cleverly disguised in the best way as fact. When I finally made the plunge down the rabbit hole of Byatt, I came out the other side knowing what all the fuss was about.

That is when I realized the reason I didn't "get" the book the first time I tried it was because I was reading it before I was in college. I had just moved to Wisconsin from Montana and was in a terrible relationship and grossly homesick. All I could remember from the book was the deceptions that take place, and it hit a little too close to the heart. I was too young for the book, I was boring it. The book wanted to take trips through France and visit museums; I wanted to read comic books and go to the movies. A serious case of bad timing.

As I finished the book, I understood the reason I now appreciated it was because of the education I had made myself endure. Just like the Photographer, I too enjoyed the book because I was an English Major, not only because I was more well versed in classic literature, but because the book as a whole deals with academia on many levels and it is something ex-students are bound to identify with.

Now I am finding myself quite engrossed with contemporary Victorian Literature. Recently I finished Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, and I found A.S. Byatt's recently published The Children's Book at my library. This time with Byatt I know to be patient, not to try and rush things. As I grow older I begin to understand some things are better enjoyed slowly, but there will always be the youth inside me ready to dance and go wild when the right book comes along.
No matter what, I know that what motivates me above all else is that desire to try something new, to find a new fiction to fall in love with and to maybe learn something new about myself on the other side.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The girl in the blue overnight bag.

Self portrait, 2005.  The things I could do with a little point and shoot camera. Getting very excited for my typewriter to arrive. Feeling very taxed by certain outside influences, including the weather. I really should have made the trip to Vegas in February.

Friday, March 21, 2014

All Sales Final

A thrift store rug. 
A bridesmaid’s skirt. 
A handful of flowers,
brought home from the 
corner store.
All sales final.

Self portrait from around 2005.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Typewriters and Paperbacks.

Two and a half weeks ago I went on a journey.  Leaving at 3:30 AM on a Thursday morning I took a shuttle from Rochester, MN to the Mall of America Transit Center near Minneapolis. Here I connected  with the Blue Line Hiawatha light rail to meet the Megabus.  The Megabus dropped me in downtown Chicago where I took a taxi to meet my friend at her workplace.

That is simply how I got to the journey.  The actual travel happened in my mind at the spiritual and creative retreat I attended that weekend.  This is the second retreat of this nature I have gone too, and it certainly won't be the last.  One of my favorite sayings at this specific event is "those who are supposed to be here are here" and I find it to be very true. It's not just true at the retreat, but it is something I recite to myself in daily life. I have control over my actions, but what others do, they simply will do and what will be will inevitably, be.  I change what I can, and the rest will just happen.

I made the effort to attend this retreat because the presenters were both women who focused their talks about the need for creativity, art and play in our daily lives. I could relate to that need.

Just yesterday I watched several TED Talks on Netflix, (The Life Hack season if you are interested) and just about every topic spoken of at the retreat was reiterated by the TED Talk presenters:

Make Yourself Feel Powerful by making your body feel big and beautiful. Feel free to take up space.  It will change the outcome of difficult situations.

Make Time to Play and do what makes you happy.  It will help you heal yourself and better your quality of life. 

Give in to your Whims, like watching internet cat videos or looking at pictures of baby animals, or buying a typewriter because you want to feel nostalgic and need tactile things in this age of digital realism. 

This is all just a long introduction to the fact that I bought a typewriter today.  It is an idea I have been molding around in my mind for a couple of years--ever since I went to the evening at the Sanfillipo Estate and met about a dozen distinguished authors and teachers, and I realized I was sitting there in the midst of some serious talent because this is what I am supposed to do...write.

Sometimes a person asks for a sign from the universe and maybe they are lucky enough to get it. In my case, the universe has given me a severe concussion. Or I could just be reading into situations that have no meaning at all, but I like to believe in something just a little bit mystical.  I am going to take these occurrences as signs.

 Since that time a little over two years ago, I haven't written much fiction prose...but I have written.  I have written blog posts, and personal journal entries.  I have written letters, recipes and long form notes to my staff.  I spend a fair amount of time composing thoughts at the computer every week.

Today, all the little bits of fiction I have jotted down in the past year I compiled together, just what I have typed on this very computer...and found I have  almost 7,000 words.

It isn't much.

But it is a start.

The problem, and for me it is a problem, is once I get passed a few pages the digital writing form starts to loose me.  First, I become distracted.  It is all my fault, I find my internet community just too interesting.

There is also the problem of being in a fixed point.  I purchased this particular computer set up to help me work on photographs, not to write long form fiction.  I do think I have one of the best corners of the house, but I know Spring is just right around the corner, and damn me to hell if I am going to sit inside all Summer with the windows open looking out to the backyard, instead of actually being in the back yard.

I would write these stories out by hand, long form...except I cook and bake for my day job and my hand and wrist tire out pretty quickly.

 I am not just making excuses, but I also feel really nervous committing so much to virtual memory.  What if my computer dies? What if there is a power outage? What do I do then?  Yes the typewriter is electric, but whatever pages I write I can at least go through and make corrections.

In the end, this just feels right.

There is a nostalgia to it, that is to be certain.  My grandmother had a typewriter in her family room.  During the few years I lived near her while in grade school, I loved using it to compose reports.  It felt professional.

I don't need to justify anything, this is simply an act of acknowledging what I know works for me, or in other words, what turns me on.

Two summers ago I won a Kindle Fire at the annual staff summer party.  It was a superb feeling, I never win anything that huge! It has been a great tool and fun to use.  I have read a few novels on it and used the device to listen to music and even took it to the gym a few times.  Currently, I am experimenting with using it in conjunction to knitting projects that have downloadable PDF's for the instructions. I will make use of it.

That winter a friend gave me an amazon gift card for Christmas to use on the Kindle, and I thought, "hey this is the perfect opportunity to delve into some Stephen King."  I had always wanted to read certain novels of his so I thought I would start with "The Shining." I enjoyed King's writing so much I thought I would start the next book on my list, "The Stand".

I have memories of "The Stand" that pre-date the memories of my grandmother's typewriter.  I think my earliest memory of this book is being dropped off at the babysitter's home very early in the morning.  My parent's were divorced by this time and my father was still active in the NAVY, he had some very early morning duties that required someone else to get myself and my sisters ready for school.

I remember being brought into the sitter's home, my sisters still asleep in pajamas and being laid down in another room of the house. Since I was a little older, I didn't need to go back to sleep.  I remember seeing the book on the kitchen counter, so huge, as big as a dictionary, bigger than the Bible.  And the figures on the cover, a man with long hair holding a sword ready to swing at the scary raven demon with sharp pointed fangs filling his pointed ugly beak raising the scythe above his head.

My interest in the cover must have been a little too obvious because the book was always out of reach after that morning.  Looking back at publication dates, this must have been the 1990 re-publication of the book, uncut and complete the way King wanted it.

This would have made me about 6 years old. There was something about the cover that has always stayed with me, and I could tell even then, there was something in those pages I wanted.

A few years later my father, sisters and I were living on a Naval air station base in central California.  I had begun to share my father's love of horror films.  Freddy Krueger was often a common villain in the games with my sisters.  One of my favorite things to do was to pull the Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors movie poster from its hiding place and put it over my face like a giant grotesque mask and chase my sisters around the house, growling at them.

This may be one reason for our stunted communication skills, but I digress.

It's 1993 and I am 9 years old and I get to stay up each night the mini series The Tommyknockers airs.  I am so excited because Jimmy Smits stars and he was my favorite character from L.A. Law!

 Are you noticing a trend here? I definitely was being allowed to stay up way past bedtime and watch show most parents wouldn't consider even remotely interesting to 5 and 6 year olds. Please don't even get me started on Tour of Duty and China Beach, two other childhood favorites.

I am sure at this point in time I had already seen "Misery" and I'm pretty sure I was no stranger to "Carrie" either so I remember after watching the mini-series feeling The Tommyknockers seemed a little tommy-tame.

1994, the mini-series "The Stand" airs, and oh! how I couldn't wait to watch it each night after dinner.  Unlike The Tommyknockers, The Stand lived up to what I had already built up in my mind as a "scary story".  I hadn't read a word of the book yet, but just those two fighting figures illustrated on the hardcover dust jacket was enough to tell me this story was some serious business.  My dad recorded each installment with our VCR, so we could re-watch it again.

It was around this time my sisters and I started going to a new babysitter after school.  Most of the people on the Navy base were enlisted, but many of the mothers were stay at home parents, some running daycares for other parent's children.

 After a particularly bad experience with a daycare provider who lived in our cul de sac, my dad set us up with a really nice family, the care taker being a mother of two younger boys.  The mom was formerly Amish. I was so interested in what it was like for her to grow up.  I remember a particularly interesting story about her having Barbies. I was surprised she was allowed to play with them, but she said they had to make different clothes for the dolls to wear.  She didn't talk much about her life before getting married, but she was warm and very kind to me, and despite her different upbringing didn't seem to balk at my curiosity. In fact she seemed to fully support my interest in trying to learn Spanish from the collection of how-to audio cassettes her family owned.  She also didn't ask me to put away their uncut and complete copy of Steven King's "The Stand".

Finally, I could look inside these pages.  I already knew what happened in the end from watching the series, but to anyone who has thumbed through the book or has read it in its entirety will remember the illustrations.  Those drawings pulled me in.  My dad wasn't into comic books, but now I know the word for these pictures: Graphic.

After watching the movie, I was determined to read the book (another childhood characteristic that has come with me into adulthood).

I tried and tried, but I just couldn't get past the first few pages. At ten years old I was still too young to handle the magnitude of the story and probably, considering the size of the paperback, could barely prop up the hardcover copy to even keep it open.  I resigned myself to watching the miniseries on VHS and moved onto other books like "The Hobbit" and "The Secret Garden".

Nearly 20 years later when I have downloaded "The Stand" to my new and shiny Kindle, having it backed up on my Cloud (whatever that is), I begin to read.  I'm educated now. I have a college degree in English, this book should be a cakewalk.

And again, I cannot make it past the first few pages.

This book has haunted me since I was 6 years old, it is now truly at my fingertips, and I cannot read it, and it is because I cannot see how much there is left to read. After two decades of knowing that someday I would conquer this huge book, I realize that unless I can experience the physical act of turning the page I would not be able to go on.

An afternoon of attempted reading I turned off the Kindle and bought the paperback copy, complete and uncut.

I devoured it.

I took it with me on a Megabus trip to Chicago, the one in which my bus broke down for two hours. It didn't matter, I had an terrific read right there, in real paperback time.

I read it in the bath, where I accidentally dropped it in the water, and it swelled by half its size, but it didn't short circuit. I didn't have to put it in a bowl of rice to see if it would turn on the next morning.  I just kept reading, turning the pages, albeit a little more gently for a time.

The point is, I need pages. Not with everything, but if I am going to write, seriously compose a story of any great length, I need to see it form onto actual paper pages.

I cannot be distracted by a 'Word Count' function.

I cannot accidentally leave the page before my last thought was auto-saved.

I cannot trust this digital age that much.

I know I am capable of writing, and certainly capable of writing more that 7,000 words.

In this journal entry alone I have put down over 2,220...whether anyone reads it or if it is worth reading at all is another matter.

And the word count isn't the point. The point is the focus.

There are things I have tried to say that I simply cannot do in this manner.

It's time to try an old thing in a different way.

Peek A Boo

Self Portrait 2004. Likely the earliest self portrait I posted on the internet. I remember taking this photo is my very small bathroom in the efficiency apartment I shared with my ex shortly after moving to Wisconsin. It was a one room apartment with a walk in closet and bathroom. The kitchen was in the bedroom, the refrigerator at the foot of the bed.
I cooked all my food on an electric stove top for an entire year. This was a change for me, as the apartment I shared in Montana had a beautiful gas stove and oven, and I had been working at a bakery for three years, enjoying on a daily basis fresh baked bread, scones, and cookies.
It was this first year of living in Wisconsin that I really began to experiment with digital photography. I hadn’t made many friends yet. I lived far from the downtown scene and I traveled by bus to my job at Goodwill. I remember this being a really lonely and confusing time—I didn’t think it would have been possible to feel homesick for a place I couldn’t wait to get away from, but that first year of living in Wisconsin and into the next year and a half I struggled with depression, even seeking medical attention and counseling for a time.
If I hadn’t had online communities like livejournal and deviantart to go to, I am not sure what would have happened to me.