Sometimes things you drag your feet on turn out to be heaven-sent. I was excited to sign up for a day-long iPhonography workshop a few weeks ago, but when I woke up this morning, I had a sinus headache and an insomnia hangover. I wanted to roll over and put a pillow over my head, but I got myself together and showed up, and it was a brain-dazzling day. The visiting teacher was amazing and inspiring, and I learned so much that I felt like it would all pour out if I tipped my head slightly. As I get older, it’s a challenge to keep challenging myself, especially since I get bored easily and tend to give up on something if I don’t master it quickly. I may never master taking photos with my iPhone and that excites me instead of defeating me. Even though my primary skill is writing, I love switching gears and focusing on the visual arts. Gouache, oil painting, linoleum block prints and photography (even creating simple little posters like the one above) all bypass my brain and make a beeline for my senses. It’s easier for me to get into a flow zone when I’m doing something with my hands and eyes than it is when I’m writing because for me, writing is struggle and pain and constant self-doubt. I can’t not do it, but I rarely can forget my Self long enough to take joy in it. My identity is all tied up with writing, but that’s not the case with art. Vanity doesn’t come into play and curiosity is free to come out and play. It didn’t matter if my photos were not as good as the others in the class because I was so absorbed in doing and making. As I drove home, I got stuck in beach traffic and glanced up to see a colorful but simple kite flying against the intense blue sky. I took a photo in my mind and thought, “This is heaven.”
I admit it — I’m high-maintenance. I don’t like to camp (or at least, I suspect I don’t — I’ve never really tried it.) I love room service (coffiee in a little pot all my own?!). I don’t like to rough it (maybe because I spent my honeymoon with my husband’s parents and siblings in a concrete floored, spider-ridden house on a Kentucky fishing lake). Yes, there’s a reason I was a poodle on the test to see which dog you most resemble. Which is either puzzling or explains everything when you consider that I spent most of my childhood without indoor plumbing or air-conditioning. I love good hotels and expensive shoes and everything-cashmere even though I mostly have to admire and walk on by. I’ve been lucky to experience luxury in my life as well as penury, and maybe you need a bit of both if you’re not going to be a complete saint or sinner. But lately I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to make me happy in ways I rarely stop to count. The summer view from an open window with the sound of insects and the wind blowing the curtain back and forth and a vine that’s inched its determined, green way between panes of glass and the screen. Making okra and tomatoes (I’ll master gumbo next). The anticipation of picking the next book for my summer reading assignment once I finish Henry V. A new pedometer. Finally getting one of the town’s big blue bins on wheels that don’t require presorting my recycling! I know it’s easy for me to appreciate the sweet honey that glues daily life together when things are going well — harder when I’m worried, anxious, depressed with mortality and money and making-do on my mind. And maybe this day, this afternoon, this little list is ephemeral and fragile, but what a luxury.
I have a project for the summer. No, I’m not going to summit a killer mountain, go to a remote monastery in Bhutan, or do a solo sky dive. I’m doing something much harder, more daunting, more strenuous. I’m reading two pages of Shakespeare a day. Henry V to be exact. And it’s damn hard work for someone whose brain has the attention span of a monkey on cocaine. I wasn’t always like this. I used to read really long books and understand them. Like Ulysses! I also wrote long, cogent, creative papers in college that got great grades on them and snagged the amorous attentions of my professors. But that was before the internet. That was before I started trying to come up with witty twitterisms like the ones that made Kelly Oxford famous, that got her a book deal because of her 140-character “thoughts.” Yes, bitch, I read and anaylyzed Ulysses, and you got a book deal for quipicisms. A real book, with chapters and all. Blogging has reduced me to writing in short bursts of thoughts that I can only sustain for a paragraph at most. I can’t even seem to write a grocery list without giving up and just drawing pictures of bread, candy bars and wine bottles that serves as some kind of pitiful semiotic to-do list for dopes. And you know how you go around all day holding internal conversations with yourself? Well, my little brain can’t even sit still for a dialogue with itself in complete sentences. Now, I’m actually ironically hashtagging myself:
“I shouldn’t get rid of these perfectly good shoes,” I muse. #solesurvivorguilt, I murmur.
If Shakespeare can’t restore my self-respect, I might have to get a job writing TV crawl captions or those words of quasi-Zen wisdom found on the insides of green tea bottle caps. I want to relearn powerful metaphors, loops of logic, liquid poetry. I want to get lost in the written word instead of losing my train of thought after a paragraph. I want to feel language bloom in my head again and make its way out my fingertips. (#RxShakespeare)
”Greed leads to pain because the ego is never satisfied for long, it always wants more.” Alan Chin
I”ve been thinking about this quote all week because my XXL ego is a bottomless pit. It gets home from one trip and starts wanting another. It nags that writing a blog is not enough, that I need to get that Great American Memoir published. It wants to be a writer instead of to write. It thinks it’s always missing out on something — the hot new restaurant, the hippest people, the next best thing. There’s something scary about giving up the ego’s hunger — who will I be if I let go of all the bright shiny toys that I think it needs: my identity as someone who started a magazine, my identity as someone who keeps up with what’s happening now, my identity as someone who might still get another Big Idea. But it keeps me trapped in the prison of my same old unchanging patterns and strapped to the wheel of pain. So I decided my ego needs a snakebite antidote, and it probably needs to be prayer and meditation. Prayer?! Yeah, prayer–some kind of crazy-ass, non-Christian prayer to the non-Messiah. I pray to the universe, to a nearby muse, to the great weaver I hope is out there somewhere designing some new flower species, quirky little ocean creatures, quarky little black holes, clouds that will blow my mind, lost planets,new colors for our delight. If I pray to one of those no-name deities before I start writing, shit happens. I don’t pray to write a masterpiece, only for it to come from someplace pure and to be words that are true to me. I’m not looking to save my soul, find Jesus or be part of a church community. I don’t even think I believe in prayer, but maybe I don’t have to for it to work. I hesitate to describe how has worked for me or to put it in writing for fear it will disappear, but I’m flinging it out there anyway in case it rings a bell with someone else. As for meditation, I know it’s the medicine my mind craves and yet I’ve resisted setting aside 10 minutes to dip into the world-wide consciousness every day. After all, you can’t feed your ego while you meditate. But the more I read about it and try it and fail and come back for more, the louder I hear the siren call. I don’t want to give up my curiosity and the urge to create, but I want to learn how to set aside the ego that holds me back from doing that, the ego that can only cry More! More! More! and never Enough. Feeding my ego is a full-time job because I’ll never have proof from it that I’m worthy, only more and more things to accomplish, buy, consume, long for or chase that won’t make me happy. I’d rather be free to write.
A Slow Friday in Fridaville
I have been loving the torrential rain all week, and the weather has given me a perfect excuse to nestle into my house. I feel so grateful to have a shelter, and I never take it for granted. Always in the back of my mind is the fear of losing it, of being a burden on my kids, of having no private place to be myself. I’m not sure where or when that particular dread was born — I’ve never been homeless, never missed a rent or mortgage payment, never had to depend on the kindness of strangers. Maybe it was the chaotic way I grew up that left me with a tendency to what-if my future, but my word for 2013 was NOW and I’m really trying to live it. Whenever I got frantic today about not having achieved all the writing I meant to get done, I reminded myself that I’m ahead of schedule on the July Skirt!, that I accomplished some XX work, that I made a good work plan for tomorrow. Friday in Fridaville should be slow like honey that is not made by killer bees, so I took a walk and felt good about my body instead of beating myself up about taking a time-out. And when 5pm rolled around, it found me on a nearby beach watching a friend surf while I sipped a Hendricks gin and tonic. I was a tiny insignificant speck surrounded by wind and water, sunshine and whipped cream clouds. I wasn’t worrying about Saturday or regretting Thursday, and when I climbed in the truck to go home, my hair and skin felt blessed by salt air and sand, my soul sanctified by the sea, my body balanced on the beam of Now.
Some Things I’m Loving This Week:
* Waiting for Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley’s documentary about her mother to open.
* A surprise gift in the mail from an old friend: a pillow cover embroidered with flowers and the slogan, “Someone Somewhere Loves You.”
* A subscription to Bon Appetit, because it reignited my love of magazines.
* An upcoming iPhoneography workshop which I hope will reignite my love of taking photos.
* Discovering the Panorama option on my iPhone and taking photos like the ones above near Yosemite last week.
* A new singer I just discovered – Lindi Ortega. My favorite song: “Cigarettes and Truckstops.” I wish that were the title of my memoir.
* “The Great Cauldron of Story” episode on OnBeing.org — why fairy tales have meaning for adults, too.
* My new Trish McEvoy lip pencil in Nude. So expensive I have to use it right down to the stub.
I’ve spent the last week in and around Yosemite National Park, first with a group of writers and lately hiking every day in the park. Coming from Charleston, which is flat as a pancake in every direction, the mountains are literally awe-inspiring. Awe in the sense of evoking emotions of reverence and fear at the same time. Yesterday, I stood across the road from El Capitan, 3,000 feet of granite rising from the valley floor, and watched through binoculars as climbers — visible only as specks (if that) to the naked eye — scaled the sheer granite face. As I zeroed in on a pair of climbers, one of them had to swing from side to side on the belaying rope to get enough momentum to reach a spot where he or she could get a foothold on the next ledge upward. I have an intense fear of heights and just watching from the ground below sent adrenaline shocks through my body like electrical zaps. At the same time, I envied them, and I was transfixed by the focus, confidence and insanity that it takes to believe that you can scale a mountain. I thought about the mettle required to let go of where you’re standing and swing out in midair in hopes of finding another spot that will hold your weight. I lack that courage in many aspects of my life, especially in my writing. I don’t count blogging or writing for Skirt! because it’s a different process, one that doesn’t involve fear of falling or fear of failure. It’s been years since I’ve attempted a full-length essay, and I mourn the part of me that seems to have gone missing. If I tried it, maybe I’d find that I don’t have anything to say that requires an essay, but I wish I could just let go and go for it and trust that I’ll find a place to land.
When I go for a walk, I’m usually focused on the ground at my feet, the sidewalk in front of me, the problems in the back of my mind. Pausing to look up periodically gives me a different perspective. My worries begin to seem pedestrian. My viewpoint shifts and expands outward. My soul feels poised for liftoff to a planet of possibility. Sometimes I start to feel so trapped in the physical space I inhabit — my house, my town, my routine. When that happens for too long, I can sense my ideas getting smaller and smaller. Looking up reminds me that I live in a cage of my own making. That I could sell everything I own and be a gypsy. That I could live anywhere I want to if I’m willing to take the risk of being lonely and afraid at first. That I don’t even have to do any of that in order to free my mind. I just have to look up and out of myself.
I’d forgotten how a Friday night alone feeds me with something I can’t get in a bar or restaurant. Tonight, I made a bison burger and slaw from scratch. Added a couple of glasses of Malbec and an all-Sinatra playlist and I could feel my soul curl up like a cat in a patch of sunlight. Alone but not lonely. Remembering but not regretting. Sometimes it feels as if I rushed through my life, with one crisis or passion or loss piling onto another so fast that I couldn’t stop to assimilate them. But when there’s no work or man or worry to distract me, all the ghosts come to the campfire. The ones I loved, the ones who slipped through my fingers, the ones I struggled with, the ones I didn’t fully appreciate, the ones I never made amends with — their stories elbow me, demanding attention, asking for someone to remember them. I have a barely born hope that their stories will begin to come through me someday.
When I decided to go part-time with Skirt! in order to work at home more and focus solely on the writing/creative side, I didn’t expect to be consumed by a totally different side project. But life continues to surprise me with what comes out of its piñata — from a late life love affair to jumping into politics feet first. A friend and I tired ourselves out with bitching about how difficult it is for women to run and win an office in South Carolina. We have ONE woman in our state senate, for instance, and one of the most powerful boards in our state — the Medical University of South Carolina — has ZERO women. Oh wait, they used to have one woman, but our female governor replaced her with yet another white male. Just as she ousted Wall Street financier Darla Moore from the University of SC board of trustees, despite her experience and national reputation, despite the Business School being named for her and despite her pledge of $70 million to USC since 1998. And she replaced her with — surprise! — another white guy who donated to her campaign. That leaves the USC board with one remaining woman. So it’s not just the good old boys who are the problem; it’s the lack of moral and ethical leadership that keeps us stuck in the bad old days. And don’t even get me started about the legislator who asked a female candidate for the Public Service Commission (a paid position) what her child care situation was in the screening interview. And no, none of the male candidates were asked that question. Project XX is right now working to have more women appointed/elected to state boards and commissions in order to reflect our 51% female population. Politics in this state is a dirty, dirty business. I’m not an extrovert and I have no political experience — both of which make me feel like a piece of meat being thrown in a lion’s den when I spend the day at the SC State Assembly. So sometimes when I’m working on XX at night after a day of also working on Skirt!, I want to say “screw it,” but I believe in the saying that if women don’t have a seat at the table, they’ll be an item on the menu. And I’m tired of not having a seat at the grownups’ table.