Saturday, January 29, 2011

Befriending the dark thinness

I have been really moved this week reading a book I picked up purely for fun, Frankenstein's Monster.

CONFESSION: I am a fan of old horror movies, like Dracula, Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein. Not the current-day slashers, but the ones that push us to explore or own inhumanity by questioning the humanity of those called other.

It's really shadow, that we all carry, rather than inhumanity. I have always been intrigued by the idea of shadow and have come to  understand that as the parts of ourselves unexplored, unassimilated, misunderstood, untended and unexposed. They are not necessarily parts to judge, but rather parts to integrate if we seek wholeness.

It occurs to me that my delight in shadow may have been triggered by a very early experience that I always felt wounded me: being told as a preschooler in Sunday school, no less, that my heart was black with sin. I instantly knew that was not the truth though I was in no position developmentally or cognitively to contradict the lesson or trusted authority figure. Perhaps the teacher was merely projecting her misunderstood shadow.

So this past of mine got caught up in the story of a being created from dead humans who had no say in his origin being rejected and hunted over and over. He has violent tendencies, yet prizes purloined books and brief encounters of kindness. He learns to live in the shadows because of the misery exposure surely brings. He has many more parts to assimilate than most and one begins to wonder what residual the parts of assorted others that form him can be quelled, let alone balanced.

It's as if Victor Hartmann is an opposite: his first breath emanates from the shadows and his lifelong struggle is to shine the light completely on himself. And he does, shaking loose others' expectations of his monstrousness and setting the intention to live as a man.

Victor finds his light. The question for us becomes, can we discover our shadow?

• When do I first recall my own shadow side?
• How have I explored or played with that?
• How do I reconcile myself to that darker side?
• What riches have I discovered there?
• What lessons?

so very easy to
sweep it all into the shadows

and not bother with it

the parts that annoy, disgust or provoke fear
the unknown self that seems to lurk
always there, though thinly

what if I befriend that dark thinness?
calling it into the light
exploring, knowing, perhaps, even loving

what then?


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Finding the spaciousness in life

A room of one's own ...

• Drop off, then pick up cat from two overnights at the clinic – CHECK
• Start new, part-time position – CHECK
• Get first colonoscopy – CHECK

I've had a full plate the past few days and am begrudgingly into the cultural current again. A flow I desperately wish to slow. That's the one really big lesson from my week alone: I need the space and time for myself in order to create, be fed and feel whole.

That spaciousness of life that I require to be fully alive is so hard to attain amid family, work and obligation. I recently had a conversation about incorporating the writing life into raising children and a friend, also a writer, said some women never get to write and others, only after the kids are gone. The creative fire burns so greatly in me that I can not wait. It is my calling.

I think I have to move the idea of a room of one's own [Virginia Woolf] from the literal (I do have a studio) to one I can mentally create when and where I need. Perhaps that will be my new spiritual, creative practice. I so loved the luxury of living that life alone 24/7, answering to no one, rolling out of bed and doing nothing, but making a pot of coffee until I needed a break from the computer five and six hours later. It was pure joy, Certainly, it was work. But it wasn't busy work.

I was graciously offered a very part-time job at our Quaker meeting house in the office and with some more creative endeavors. It sounds like such a small slice of time, but I have to be certain I'm not trading writing time for what may be work that merely occupies me. I understand the intent of those offering was to also encourage my other writing.

I am reinterpreting my role as a journalist. For so many years, I carefully collected the stories of others and tenderly strung them into narrative to share more widely. I loved that role. Now I discover I am a journalist of a very different sort: one who uses a traditional and online journal to explore myself and, in doing so, encourages others to do similarly ... or at least consider it.

But I am also an artist, who barely finds time to pick up a chalk. Somehow, it seems ok for now as I move toward finishing my collection of writing and paintings. That has been an amazing journey that continues to unfold and has continued far longer than I ever expected. However, what I am creating is far better than I ever imagined and I am evolving right along with the process.

But that process requires time and space.

• How do I find time for creative expression?
• What happens when I don't?
• What happens when I manage to step out of the cultural flow?
• How can I build some accountability into finding that creative time?
• How can I share my progress and stumblings with another?

lingering fires
loads of time to find the right words
no rush
no schedule to hem me in

and then back to reality

and I find I can't stand saying yes before I have my time

I don't think I am supposed to

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seen from without

                                                                                                                                                                      Tad Barney photo

Two art openings and my favorite ceviche were a good antidote to feeling snowed in this week.

It's always wonderful to be around artists, photographers and other creatives. Yet, there was such a stark contrast to the minimalist third-floor gallery with gray floors, white walls and spare windows framing Over-the-Rhine at dusk as the sun cast its amber rays on once vibrant factories and breweries being reclaimed and the plush, more-known hotspot on the ground floor. The upper gallery honored its working-cass roots in its simplicity and the subtle photographs by talented locals. That was the show that drew us. The other was just fun to visit if only for the people-watching [ok, so some of the same visited both], the Picasso, Lichtenstein,  and Dubuffets. The monumental ceramics were impressive in stature alone and wrought at the hands of someone with international celebrity. This space made me anxious with so many geometric, strictly-lined and ordered paintings. As if an analyst were hiding and recording reactions. One set of paintings reminded me of a first-year college art project, then my husband told me they were famous. But he agreed.

There were classy older women trimmed in faux fir, young women with short skirts and impossibly impractical boots, raucous toddlers, Goth young adults and an interesting character suited in black, who resembled Pete Rose with a long mane he methodically and cavalierly tossed. Interesting, eclectic mix. Jet set on one floor, starving artists and their menageries on the third. Both mixing between spaces.

It aroused interesting feelings as to what qualifies as important art and who serves as judge. Is being born with a creative energy and acting on that if only for yourself enough? Acknowledgment. Being seen, appreciated and known for what emanates naturally.

Isn't that what we all desire in some way?

• Are you more comfortable with the lively, ambitious crowd or the quieter, lesser-known group?
• What does that preference suggest?
• Introversion or extroversion?
• Creativity or productivity?
• For what do you desire to be really seen?

I am who I am

not more
or less

I have reached a place
of comfort and acceptance within

and yet,
sometimes wish to be seen from without

Friday, January 14, 2011

Undoing myself or doing unto myself

Back to reality: days of marching to the schedules of others, finding the sugar secretly spilled and left behind the canister, cats who circle my feet waiting to be held and I, trying to hold off so I can breathe. No going to bed when I desire, waking, hitting the coffee, then the computer. No long spurts of uninterrupted creativity. Back to buying pounds of store-brand cheese, not exotic nibbles of whatever strikes my fancy.

I am acutely aware of how I let others influence my rhythm, pace and mood. I understand that I gave up the life of solitude when I married and bore children. What I have not realized until this recent week away and alone, is how completely I give myself away mothering, volunteering, freelancing and tending others so that there's nothing left for me. I know those in my circle of care would not want it that way.

So, existence for me – something richer than merely tolerable – lays in the balance of where and how I tend myself and others. With fibromyalgia, I have been so busy catering to my physical needs, I didn't seem to notice that others existed. Regular swimming and yoga, a vitamin-and-supplement regimen, Sunday worship, avoiding a host of foods and daily sinus dousing does not a complete life make. Yes they are things I must do to care for myself, but so is regular meditation, time in my studio, being in nature, basking in the sunshine in all seasons and writing daily. OK, I am an introvert, but have not articulated it until more recent years.

I re-learned that last week and it totally fed my soul. Interestingly without some of my physical necessities and eating foods I usually steer clear of, I experienced no pain. Two days home and it has returned.

Makes me do more than wonder; I need to change my life to work in things my soul requires before some of my other efforts. A few years ago, when looking at Jesus' words [and universally those of so many other traditions and cultures] to do unto others as you would do unto yourself, I realized I had practiced it backwards. "Do unto others before or better than you do unto yourself."As a mother and nurturer, that's the natural inclination.

I will do unto myself as I do unto others, which means I may come first occasionally. I know no one else will mind. It's myself that must grant the permission.

• Have I ever craved time away or for myself that I have not taken?
• Why not?
• If I have, how do I function solo?
• How is my rhythm or pattern altered?
• How do I incorporate that into my regular life?

the kids, the kids, the kids

yes, yes, yes

then exercise, so I may function for others

go, go, go
do, do, do


then start all over

wait a minute ...

I want more from life.

I desire to be fed, nurtured and truly alive
in my own right and just for myself

me, kids, exercise?
me, exercise, kids?
exercise, me, kids?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sweet rewards of reTREAT

Fourth day of a writing retreat and I am finally in the groove. It always takes a couple of days and I have been balancing the solitude and work with some treats and treks into town, which have taught me as much about myself as any retreat. For example:

• INDIANA hits a chord with me; one I never expected. It's middle-of-the-road, middle-of-the-country, not flashy or flamboyant. What you see is what you get. People here are who they are, be it the edgy college students or the farm folks sloshing into town for supplies. Whenever I jaunt into Bloomington, I pass Baker's Junction Railroad Museum, more like a rusty hobo camp still dressed in skeletons from its haunting season, and Ned Fleetwood's grander-than-life fiberglass animals – small giraffe, large giraffe, giraffe sideways on a crane, elephant, wide-mouthed bass, gorilla, buffalo and Pepto-Bismol pink pig – vying with the twisty road for my attention. Both make me smile and grateful to have to pass them.

• Exploring a COLLEGE TOWN transports me to my own coed days and the student experience that universally transcends time. Doesn't hurt that the IU campus is so very Gothic that I feel Professor Dumbledore will appear any minute. A  draft at the local dark bar and spin through the food coop preserve the flavor of memory.

• Stumbling into the ART MUSEUM with its unexpected Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Rembrandt, Monet, Pollock, Duchamp, Daumier, Henry Moore, Walker Evans, Ansel Adams and Max Beckman pieces was an inspiration to keep pushing my creative process no matter what the outcome in my lifetime.

• Meeting the self-proclaimed TOWN CONCIERGE and learning how the Dalai Lama's brother and Tibetan Cultural Center (as well as another that may be a cover for the Chinese government to keep tabs on the real one) landed in Bloomington was a grounding human connection during a time of silence, writing and imagining.

• Attending the local QUAKER MEETING, feeling called to minister about the importance of acknowledging shadow, even loving those dark and messy parts, and being told it touched another affirms the work I am undertaking and provided corporate accompaniment.

• Bending to NO ONE'S SCHEDULE and whims but my own creative call has negated a lot of guilt and freed energy for work, play and reflection.

• LIVING MORE SIMPLY with only the things I immediately need and not spending time and energy needlessly offers a pace and flow my mind, body and spirit relish and periodically require.

• BEING ALONE reinforces that I really do like myself, contrary to negative self-inflicted messages, and is an experience I will remember and draw on when I have episodes of self doubt.

Wow – all of this and also making progress on my book! Such a gift.

... that's it ... tapped out on queries and after notes because of the book-shaping process

Friday, January 7, 2011

Stingy geodes and broken soles

Lesson for today:
Don't attempt to dislodge a geode from where it's probably been embedded for centuries.

Or you'll rip the top layer off your boot sole and it'll flap all the way home in a mocking rhythm of "leave me alone" or "told you so," negating your intention of a silent walk.

And I had thought the rock was just there waiting for me to choose it and pry it free. Silly human! Guess it desires to keep its secret contents just that.

I had not given much thought to geodes since I was a kid until I met and heard Quaker singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer at a fall writing colloquium in – where else? – Richmond, Indiana. She has a unique way of looking at the world, distilling it into song and pulling the listener in immediately:

"Some say geodes are made from pockets of tears,
Trapped away in small places for years upon years.
Pressed down and transformed, "til the true self is born.
And the whole world moved on like the last notes of a song,
A love letter sent without return address ..." [link to Carrie below]

That stubborn old rock is a wonderful metaphor and just imagine what it has experienced in all of that time.

Not only experienced, but absorbed and observed as it sat in silent detachment. I need that silent detachment periodically and it's the reason I am spending a week away, by myself, holed up in a beautiful condo in the woods, by a lake with more amenities than I need thanks to a very generous F/friend.

I did not even open the front door for the first 40 hours, just immersed myself in the silence and returning to edit and refine the book I desire to publish. Such a luxury: to only look after myself; leave all of my notes, journals and papers strewn about; work my derriere off; take a break whenever I wish; and return at any hour of the day or night. OK, so it's really only my second full day and I may be climbing the walls in another 24 hours or so.

But, I don't think so. I want to remember and emulate the lesson of the rock. I desire to be the detached observer, finding my natural body rhythms warped by the holiday push and return to my work on my terms and not in rushed snippets of time.

I was ready to explore the outside natural world this morning and find winter hikes exhilerating as the world seems more dense when quieter, hibernating and less cluttered with people. The morning's colors were striking as I walked along the lake: geodes and sedimentary layers in rusts and russets, bumped up against bleached branches resembling animal skulls like a Salvador Dali painting. And a steeling blue-green-gray lake etched with powder. The styrofoam debris and discarded, corroded pipes marred the serene canvas, yet are part of the package and a reminder the lake is man-made for flood control.

Control? Man in control. That's what I am trying to lose while I am here. I wish to be guided by the Divine and not my worldly urges and motivations.

Perhaps that's another lesson of the stingy geode: I could not possess it.

• When was the last time I picked up a rock and noticed?
• What did I experience?
• If I think about it, what lessons do rocks have for me as an adult? 
• When I was a child?
• How can I become the detached observer?

Past the garages
down the stairs

along the worn path,
littered with a limp lawn chair

and finally to the lake

with a narrow passageway 
around its perimeter

suspended in ice
dusted with sugar

uprooted trees provide
fairy haunts

a surprised bird brushes its wings

and I call an apology
for upsetting this
natural balance and silence

but I see I am not the first
nor will I be the last

yet I am grateful for
this taste, this escape

even now sitting
at my monitor

To hear Carrie:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Unwinding in the heartland

I had not expected that the journey to the friend’s condo where I am staying a week to write and “be” would have been so eventful and evocative. I had been warned that once I exited the highway, it would be scenic.

I am discovering that many of my recent pilgrimages have been to Indiana, the heartland, in an unconscious sort of way. I adore the countryside here. The Hoosier flair is distinct from that of the Buckeye. There’s more of a “homey”ness and charm. A simplicity and acceptance of a plainer, yet richer, life.

The first hour was about unwinding and remembering who I am. Just me. Not me and anybody else or their needs. Merely mine.

At the hour mark, I was retracing an old and painful path to a job I had over a decade ago at a casket company in the middle of Nowhere, IN. The stark, contemporary structure still stands again the farms and spires as it did then. The memory of spilling up the steps with the other clones every morning is as clear as a zombie movie. Like lemmings marching to their death in a mindless trance. For the first time, I encountered the glass ceiling. I drove 65 miles each way for three years and tapped that angst today. I’m still waiting to write: “Whose dream is it, anyway, to work at the casket company?” 

With a sigh, I passed Batesville and veered off the freeway a few exits later and immediately into farm country: extended barns collapsing into the road, muddy white peaked houses, laundry fluttering in the chilly sun and wonderfully snaking two-lane roads.

Until Columbus, IN, a contemporary architectural Midwest marvel I visited as a Girl Scout [the few years I wore a very constrictive uniform … never to be repeated] that had mesmerized me with the juxtaposition of soaring art rising above the cornfields.

More curves and I was breathless passing through very familiar territory: a state park and environs we frequented as kids; one of our family’s favorite haunts. I had not had time to study the route, so this leg was a gift of time travel. I took a quick detour through town and spotted the local restaurant still there, decades later, and the antique shop that used to boast a real-live skeleton in a coffin; a highlight for us kids. What is it with me, Indiana and death?

On toward Bloomington and the GPS rankled me, undermining the written directions I had from the gracious condo owner. It sent me the wrong way on a one-way street. Instant terror easily overcome by climbing the curb. Not to be repeated [hopefully].

Finally ending my journey in the woods overlooking a lake with nothing but me, my computer and book calling.

• What's my current journey?
• Am I taking the time to travel the scenic route?
• What's unraveling for me along this journey?
• What places is it touching in my memory?
• How is it shaping my future?

hurriedly leaving
slamming the trunk closed
and taking off

only aware of getting away

for the beauty
of the journey

because, often,
the journey
is the destination

only we seem to forget

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unwrapping the naked me

Where's the balance between letting go and using our gifts in making things happen?

I tend to swing one way or the other and am a novice at the balancing act. As I wrote last post, I am jumping out of my skin to get away by myself and settle into my real work. Not organizing after the holidays or busywork. But the works that tugs at my heart. Namely, re-packaging the 12-years of journals I have been compiling into a more artful and reader-friendly fashion thanks to the help of a respected editor and a later inspiration AND finding myself again. The naked me beneath the mess of gift wrap, knotted body from overextending and fragile self that now seems lost.

I must confess that the lost fragile self is not as lost and fragile as it previously had been, just somewhat worn from the barrage of the holidays. That self seems to have emerged from the cocoon of fibromyalgia and rearing young children and, in struggling to shed its casing, searches for the best place to land. Not any place. The best place. The one God calls.

I have had an offer of consistent work, not freelance, not contract and not a client. Very part-time with people who know, love and accept me. It's not the sort of position I would have dreamed I'd ever take. But it is an anchor. One for which I am searching. I am not certain it is the right anchor.

So, I need to retreat to sort all of this out.

I had a wonderful suggestion for this get-away, but it was not dependent upon the person who proposed it. I grew impatient in the waiting because my mind, body and spirit would not wait. So I put feelers out several places and had other bids. One unsolicited.

I have choices and though one clearly seems like the answer, I am overwhelmed at the generosity of others in helping my heart find peace as well as its pace.

Yesterday, however, I was a mess. Anxious about where I would temporarily land, knowing my soul needed a boost by being away and uncertain about the offered job. I felt the creative force in me would erupt if it did not have a definitive resolution to when it would be let out with no distraction. When I mentioned this to several at Quaker meeting yesterday, I was met with empathy and understanding. And some yearning, I suspect.

Today, because I pushed, I have the right solution. For me, for now. If I had left it alone, I would still be waiting for something that may or may not pan out.

Today, my soul is peaceful and joyful knowing it will soon have its own space.

So where's the balance?

• What lessons have I learned about letting go?
• And about using my gifts to make something happen?
• Where does the balance lay for me?
• Must I decipher that case by case with discernment?
• What can my prayer be in these times?

all balled up

from too much tinsel
and feasting and family

too concentrated
no spaciousness

which is what I require

to thrive and listen to God

my soul panicked,
but now rests

knowing it will soon
have its chance to shine alone
sans the obligation, tradition and protocol

with only God's call