Crows

I’ve always had an easier time writing out my thoughts and feelings than speaking them. I feel uncertain and fearful of being challenged if I speak. Even with close friends, I have the habit of self-censoring, because I somehow believe that my perceptions are wrong or will be dismissed.

I feel safer writing. I suppose that’s why I don’t share most of what I write, never have. Don’t want to be rejected for my thoughts and feelings. I fear the harshness when people express their disagreement. Truly harsh, or perceived as harsh by me? It matters not, it’s how I feel, my experience of such moments.

So, writing a blog post everyday during NaBloPoMo, ditdoteven with just a handful of readers, is a challenging task. As trivial as my post may be, I am putting my words out there.  Reflecting on yesterday’s self-doubting post, I know that some of my FLS project paralysis is rooted in this fear that nothing I have to say has merit. I know that I can string words together nicely, which I think is a result of being an avid reader all my life, but the validity of what I have to say is eternally in question.

Reading the newspaper this morning, I found that I am reflexively refusing to read any of the articles about GOP plans for the future, the progressive protests again those plans or analysis of the American electorate. I just won’t look at them. I don’t need or want that information in my brain right now. The same goes for the endless FB posts, shared by people who are angry, looking for or offering some form of hope or just generally struggling with the change that is upon us.

But I did read a piece about the Comics Come Home event last night at the TD Garden. A white, male comic made jokes about raping women on the cobblestone streets of Boston and tossed out anti-Semitic comments. And people laughed.  Meanwhile, comedienne Wanda Sykes, a black lesbian, was booed for her commentary on the election. Here’s a link to the Globe article. One thing that I find interesting about the coverage is that there is video of Sykes, but none of DiPaola’s routine is included. What’s up with that?

I don’t want to talk about the damn election, but it creeps in and provokes rage and sadness. I don’t want to give up my energy, my life force, to this negativity. I want to hoard my time and my fire and use it creatively.  Time is of the essence.

After I wrote that, I had to look up the expression. It comes from contract law. Oh, boring. The Urban Dictionary defines it as meaning: Time is the most important thing in the world. I’m not sure about that.

Crows. I heard crows this morning and I felt space open up around me, evoking the same sensation, in a way, as the stones I wrote about the other day. As a child, I heard crows in the morning while at the farm in Vermont. It was so quiet there and then I would hear the crows. My body and heart still respond to their cries with a rush of those childhood feelings of safety and spaciousness. I know that many people consider them ‘a bad omen’, but for me those cawing cries offer a promise of serenity. Funny, is it not?    nablopomo_badge_2016

Wandering

Searching for something to write about for the blog today, I scrolled futilely through dozens of old pieces of writing. I thought ‘maybe I can just recycle something or maybe I’ll be ‘inspired’… But nothing pops for me. Too many pieces that are examinations of past miseries and I want to be done with that stuff, in the same way I do not want to dwell on the results of the election. Gotta move on somehow.    trails1

Another batch of the old writing, which I find more interesting, relates to my long-standing project of collecting Food Life Stories. I must say that ‘long-standing’ is an apt description, because it seems that the endeavor has been standing still for months. Months which add up to years.

A conversation with friends at supper last night rekindled my excitement about conducting the interviews and gathering these stories. But I still don’t know how I can use the raw, first person data I’ve accumulated.      I need a writing coach!         Wait, I am a writing coach. Physician, heal thyself.

I think I’ve returned to the topic of time. I’ve already acknowledged that managing money was never a strength of mine.   Many years spent reading what writers have to say about writing has underscored the fact that it takes commitment and sacrifice to write. I have echoed this simple fact endlessly during four decades of teaching writing and coaching writers. To cop a line from the Declaration of Independence… I hold this truth to be self-evident…

Perhaps I am stuck on the sacrifice, as much as the commitment. To give up time with friends and family seems impossible. To deny my desires to read, cook, garden, nap or (now) draw can seem equally difficult. So, once again I conclude that I am not really a writer. And I trash myself and my aspirations.

Yeah, how’s that working out for you, CJ?        nablopomo_badge_2016

Well, its not.

Stepping Stones

Stones are quiet.  I love stones, an affection I have always linked to the contented hours I spent as a girl sitting atop an old stone wall in Vermont.  There is safety in stones.  I trust stones.

Almost fifteen years ago, as I turned fifty, I decided that I wanted to put a small Zen garden in the back corner of our yard, behind my vegetable patch.  The unmistakable irony is thatpath-to-tree1 the commuter rail trains pass by about twenty feet away.  Nonetheless, that was my plan, but the dream remained a dream.  Until this week, when the stones arrived and the work began…

The path starts at the entrance to my redesigned vegetable garden.  (Elevated beds have made gardening a joy once again.)  The path will continue up into the corner, leading eventually to a small stone bench beside the little weeping cherry tree, planted about ten years ago.  There will be three standing stones,  bamboo (in above ground boxes, I’ve heard the cautions about bamboo spread), other plantings and eventually a small statue.

The dream lives on and dreams take time to manifest.  So, something good did happen this week.  Here are a couple photos taken by my darling daughter (whose talented arborist boyfriend is installing the stones…)

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Patience

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So, I have been doing these ‘dot drawings’ as I call them. Someone called the method Pointillism, but that seems too fancy artsy for me. Mostly I am doing freeform patterns, just as they evolve, without actual planning. I drifted into doing a few that attempted to represent something, but nothing like the work of Georges Seurat or this famous van Gogh self portrait.

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I’ve only shown the drawings to a few people, but a frequent comment is that the detailed work of placing all those dots requires a lot of patience. And that truth I will own. I have and have always had a lot of patience. It serves me well when taking care of crying infants; I am calm because I know they will quiet down. The title of an Adrienne Rich collection of poems: A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far has always resonated deeply for me. You might say it has been a mantra during some difficult times. My life pace is that of a tortoise and like a tortoise, I can be as unmoving as a stone.

Many of the best experiences of my life: becoming and being a mother, learning to make furniture, writing, gardening, cooking… have developed because I was/am patient. Some might say stubborn. The thing about patience, or stubbornness for that matter, is that it doesn’t feel that much like a choice for me. It’s just who and how I am. Sometimes it has not served me well, when I wait patiently for something that (figuratively) never arrives.

Wasted time? I guess that’s the question. No answer today.

Thyme

thyme I am not punning, although I do enjoy puns. Yesterday’s post was drafted the day before, since I knew that I would be spending a full day involved in funereal affairs. Wish I could share some of the stories, but I believe it is best not to broadcast family business, especially when it is dicey.

Last night I was too depleted to fully register my exhaustion. Today I am body tired, brain tired, bone tired, heart tired, tired to my core. Tired and sore, actually. I think the sore can be traced to the effort it took to ‘hold it together’. The muscular tightness required to behave ‘like a lady’ in circumstances that cried out for extreme name-calling and the release of minor physical assault. Okay, that is enough.

So today, I spent some quiet time sifting through my thyme. A bundle of the herb, which I harvested a few weeks ago, is now fully dried. The fragrant and delicious leaves must be separated from the tiny twigs. It is at once pains-taking and soothing. I only do a small portion at a time, building a little nest of discarded twigs beside my winnowing basket. The connection with the tiny-leafed thyme growing in my summer garden and the winter soups, stews and roasted chicken that will receive large pinches of these leaves brings me pleasure. This is time well spent.

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No savings account for time

No savings account for time.  Never is this more apparent, more poignant, more obvious wavetunnelthan when you have spent the day at a funeral. There is no way to save your time. It is finite and the quantity is quite unknown. There’s no bankbook, statement or electronic accounting that you can look at and feel pride. Well, let me think about that. You can feel pride, about how you have spent that time. Absolutely. What you cannot do is save it, set it aside for a rainy day, to use later.

What about the idea of ‘saving time’ by doing something more quickly? It is a curious concept. It may be more like a Peter/Paul situation. I’m referring to the financial idea of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, which may have biblical roots, since those are both apostle names. I’ll check on that. [They are the names of apostles, but the facts of the origin are quite murky.  Here is one link from Britain that proposes some answers…]

But my point is that when I ‘save time’ by taking a shortcut while driving, I am spending less time driving and transferring those minutes to an occupation before I drive or after I arrive somewhere. Time is not saved, merely re-appropriated.  As for the ubiquitous practice of multi-tasking… My opinion is that there are no savings there.  I might say there can only be loss when doubly or triply occupied.

In general, we have the option to make choices to improve our health, with the goal of extending our lifetime, but there is no FDIC guaranteeing our time account.

At times I think I’ve been a time spendthrift (an odd word, being composed of spending and its opposite, thrift **) I spent decades busy with excessive care-taking, prioritizing the needs of others, mainly because I did not know what my own needs might be. It wasn’t until I began to feel the drain of ‘life energy’ on a physical level that I was forced to stop and consider my options.

I’m happy to say that when I take an inventory of those years, I have no regrets.  I had all kinds of adventures and more significantly, met and briefly traveled beside many interesting people. Some I remember more clearly than others, some I am fortunate to still have by my side, but all that time was not wasted. There was and is value and satisfaction, fulfillment and pleasure in spending time with other humans. And cats. But…

I still struggle to find a balance between time with people and quiet, un-peopled time. Although there cannot be a savings account for time, I find myself choosing to be miserly, more and more unwilling to spend my life energy/capital out in the world. I am going inside; I am loving going inside, sitting alone and writing or drawing.

I will give it to you straight: I am becoming a time hoarder.

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**Spendthrift: a person who spends in an extravagant, irresponsible way.   The word derives from an obsolete sense of the word “thrift” to mean prosperity rather than frugality.

Spending time like money

Choosing what I want to focus on and how to spend my time becomes more important to  me every day. I will confess that I’ve never been particularly adept at making or keeping to green-dotsa budget. This is true of my relationship with money and perhaps more tellingly, my relationship with time.

The thing is, the world keeps me on track about money. Bills must be paid, food and clothing purchased and one must plan for eventual retirement. Therefore I am forced to pay attention to money. Time, with the exception of hours committed to an employer, appears to be more fluid, less quantifiable. So much gets spent without a thought and when it is used, it is gone.

I am reminded of a book, written by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin and published in the 1990s, called Your Money or Your Life. It is a fascinating and challenging guide to transforming your relationship with money.  Definitely a book worth checking out. Full disclosure, I did not even come close to completing the nine steps in the process. It was too challenging for me, but I did read the book and many of the concepts really rang true for me.  {Quotes taken from an online summary of YMOYL.)

For instance:

Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.  Our life energy is our allotment of time here on earth, the hours… available to us. When we go to our jobs we are trading our life energy for money …Life energy is tangible, and it’s limited and irretrievable and because our choices about how we use it express the meaning and purpose of our time here on earth.

And this:

When we are not taking our identity from our jobs, we are identified as consumers. According to the dictionary, to consume is to ‘destroy, squander, use up.

Ouch!

One question from the book that has stayed with me over the years is this: “Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction and value” from this thing on which I spent money?

Fulfillment, value and satisfaction. When I take this question and apply it to how I spend my time, I am dismayed at how often the honest answer is ‘no’. And I ask myself, so what am I doing?

“How we spend our days… is how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard from The Writing Life

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Focus: to draw toward a center

What an evocative phrase.      sfpt5

For me, centering and grounding carry a connotation of calm and safety. Rootedness. Of course these are concepts that have gained meaning for me over the years, not the preoccupations of my youth. Perhaps the idea of focus shifts as we age, away from a multitasking, forward motion, activity aimed at some future goal. In my seventh decade, I am more aware of inwardness, the gathering of my life’s experiences thus far. Cherishing those events and now cognizant of choice.

Yes, the reality is that many things simply happen ‘to us’. It is the sensation of being buffeted or buried by those events, which was the primary experience of my youth, which I am beginning to see is not inevitable. Instead I can try taking a stand, (oops, ‘stand your ground’) and choose not to tip into the whirling, sucking downward spiral. Opting instead for a different focus.

I am reminded of lines from a poem I wrote back in 1975. It is quite self-indulgent of me to quote my own adolescent work. But writing a blog is or can be self-indulgent, is it not? And I am always tickled to find some old writing that appears to be a scrap of wisdom delivered before I really knew what I was saying. Here are a few lines, copied from the old mimeographed page, edges browned, unearthed from my bottom desk drawer:

I was there steady at my oar, all the time

And that’s what shook me up…

…before when my heart splintered

or the turbulence of others

beat me down,

I would break and drown…

…this time I was

quiet and still beneath the crashing waves

grateful that I did not have to pick up the pieces and

start again, because there was no break,

my stroke was steady.

Now this is all sounding rather trite to me, and perhaps to any reader who may encounter this post. I’m not trying to be profound or deep, just trying to make sense of my days. (Medical tests were fine, btw; quick and easy.) My father-in-law died last weekend and his funeral is on Saturday. My spouse’s siblings will gather here, with their families, arriving tomorrow. Arrangements are entirely in the hands of their father’s wife and the situation is messy, complex and emotionally fraught. My focus is handling the logistics of feeding people and providing comfortable places for them to sleep. And I will also be trying to follow through on NaBloPoMo and post something here every day. There is so much more to say about focus, choice and time. Anon.    nablopomo_badge_2016

Focus

I want to begin by sharing a painting by Yannima Tommy Watson, the artist I wipu-rockholementioned yesterday.

It’s called Wipu Rockhole. And I love it.

Now, about focus… Back in the day, and I do mean w a y back in the day, I received training in Transcendental Meditation and as I recall, it was at the end of my training that I received my mantra from my instructor. I thought of it then and now as a secret word, although it was more of a sound. When meditating, I was told to focus on this word.

Over the years, I have read about other focuses or foci that are used during meditation, like the flame of a candle. When studying MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) a few years ago, the suggestion was to focus on your breath. The intention is to stay focused on the present moment, becoming aware of sensations within your body and in your surroundings. The breath makes sense to me as a focus, so that’s what I do.

Another way to think about focus is to focus on a task and that, it seems to me is about narrowing my attention, focusing like a camera lens or the way a beam of light through a magnifying glass can heat paper until it begins to burn. Laser focus is used as an expression of this kind of intense focus. Piercing, concentrated and sharp.

When I write, I try for another kind of focus, one that is a little more relaxed and fuzzy at the edges. There are edges, because I want to keep distractions at bay. However, I am seeking an intuitive space that allows for the flow of thoughts and ideas. Permeable, if you will. Working with writing students and clients, it is usually a challenge to help them learn how to stay focused within the flow of their writing. Real world distractions abound and the chorus of inner critic editors is always on the job.

I often stroll through Roget’s Thesaurus when considering a word, in addition to seeking a formal dictionary definition.  Found this one under focus:  “To draw toward a center”.          I like that.  It opens an entirely new way of considering the word.

Which brings me to focus and choice. Today and every day I get to choose what I focus on. Some days, I find it difficult to stop focusing on anxiety and busy-ness. Today I am going in for a medical test and I am trying not to focus on that, because, of course, my body responds to that focus with stress and it’s companion chemical surges. Thus begins a circular disruption of ‘the peace’ that is no fun at all. However, choosing to focus on ‘the good stuff’ doesn’t always come easily. Gotta work at it.  More about this tomorrow…

Day One

nablopomo_badge_2016I’m not sure whether I want to do this or not… I certainly have no real idea why… But I am drawn here on November first to begin NaBloPoMo for a fourth time.  Because I write; that’s what I do and pretty much always have done.  I read and I write. Mostly I have written for myself and that has been a good thing.  I’ve worked through quite a few ‘troubles’ by writing.  In fact, I am forever telling friends, family and strangers, when they are struggling with something, to Write.

Five minutes, ten minutes, on paper or on the computer.  If the latter, just turn off the light on the screen so you can’t see what you’re writing and begin to overthink and mentally or literally edit yourself.  I’ve gotten feedback from a few peeps, telling me that this method has been helpful.  But I know that there are millions of people like me out there, billions, maybe, who write because that’s just what they do.  Many of them may be involved in NaBloPoMo or it’s sister project, NaNoWriMo this month.

About five years ago, or was it six, my writing led me into playing with color and, gasp, actually drawing things.  If you have ever looked at my EAW site before, the backstory is there, over and over, ad nauseam.  So, as much as I enjoy telling the tale, I will not repeat it here.  I’ll tell you instead about a shift that happened in that drawing activity. At first they really were just ‘drawings of food with words wrapped around them’ and they were fairly crude drawings.

Then one day I drew a half of a grapefruit that really looked like a grapefruit and I was hooked.  So for a couple of years, I did food drawings from life, if that’s the right expression.  I would have the Swiss chard leaf, the radish or the lemon in front of me and I would study it as I drew.  That was/is really fun.  A bit more like work, but quite satisfying.  Sometimes I was frustrated and hated the drawings (do not ask to see my multiple attempts at cauliflower!) and sometimes I was pleased and felt proud of my efforts.

In early September, I got some new Japanese markers and fell in love with their colors and the easy flow of the ink.  They are called ZIG Clean Color Real Brushes.  They are used by manga artists, which makes me feel cool.  I highly recommend them.  They are available on Amazon and at dick blick art supplies.   Then in mid September, something unexpected happened.

We went to see an exhibit at the Harvard Art Museums (which are free on Saturdays from 10 AM – noon, by the way), entitled ‘Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia.’ I was blown away. Can’t really explain it, but these artworks spoke to me the way no other art ever has… They got inside of me.  I went home obsessed and started doing drawings inspired by what I had seen.  I also wandered the web, following a chain that started with Yannima Tommy Watson, whose work was featured in the show.  Here is a youtube video of him painting.  I encourage you to take a look at the links here and I would love to hear any comments you might have.

So, here is one of my drawings, just for the heck of it.

mywipu