5.10.2015

sunday



     "What?! So you spent Mother's Day alone? Why, that's terrible! It must be so hard when you have no children or grandkids close by, and even your husband out of town! Poor thing. What did you do? That must have been pretty lonely."

      "Yes, it's true, I was by myself. Let's see...I slept in, then had my favorite decadent pastry for breakfast, then got back in bed and read my book with a diet Coke. Then I went for a perfect run around the lake. Then I spent an obscene amount of time in a hot shower, then painted my toenails while I watched an episode of a guilty pleasure on Netflix. Then I took myself out to lunch. Then I went to a movie I've been wanting to see that no one would have wanted to see with me anyway, where I enjoyed another diet Coke and splurged on some candy, too. Stopped by a bookstore on the way home, since I finished my book in the morning, and browsed to my heart's content. Gorgeous walk at sunset. Then I curled up on the couch with the remote and fell into a crazy binge with a show that's been in my queue forever. I finished the day by climbing into bed early with my new book and reading until I dropped it.

So I guess you could say it was lonely, technically, but I somehow forgot to dwell on it. But you've still got a houseful! Tell me about your day. Did they spoil you?"

      "Well...hmmm. Now that I think about it, Mother's Day seems a little confusing. In fact, it's quite possible the whole world has been doing it wrong."



4.10.2015

friday




Morning

a bra lays by the side
of the road as I drive past
dirty pink cups
straps askew, still
perked straight up but careless
over broken glass, and I
must ask myself why she took it off
who convinced her that she
should, or was it her idea, did it
get her what she wanted
won’t she need it 
once she wakes but also, how 
did we all get to where we are
right now, this place, and will we
ever find the thing that has been lost?


 

3.09.2015

monday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


30.

If I hadn't dropped myself, perhaps I wouldn't be left with these million loose pieces and no idea what the picture is supposed to look like. I'm currently engaged in picking them up, inspecting the edges for something that looks familiar, trying them together, hoping to find a few that fit, things that will form borders or corners from which I can build. 

This is what happens at some junctures in life. We are forced to begin the process of reinvention, and we don't always have a clear image of exactly what we're aiming to create. We lose parts, we gain parts, we become broken. However it happens, somehow the pieces we find ourselves with no longer fit together to form the thing we used to look like. So we begin the puzzle again.

In this particular personal transition, one thing I've noticed is that in my new box of pieces I suddenly find myself with a support group comprised of older friends. I'm hanging out mainly with people who are a good 20 years further down the road than I am. I'm not sure why, but I'm beginning to suspect they've been sent to help put Humpty together again, because they're not only older, but also wiser. They've already fallen off lots of walls, and somehow picked themselves up and gone on. 

I'm trying to watch and learn.

I just spent an enjoyable weekend with one such dear friend. We've only recently become well acquainted, but already she's proving herself an indispensable piece of my new picture. 

One of the things we did together was attend an art show, at which we both enjoyed the work of one artist in particular. My friend would truly have loved to take home one of the paintings, and had the perfect place in her home to hang it. But the work was out of her price range, and mine as well. As we were walking away, she stopped me, took my arm and explained that her mother had once taught her a valuable lesson about such things. There had been a pair of shoes she had desperately wanted as a girl, but the money was simply not in the family budget. Her mother had said, "There will always be beautiful things." She explained how that phrase had helped her many times when she'd had to cope with similar situations. 

As if to illustrate the principle, I watched with pleasure as she found a perfect blue vase later in the day that, although it wasn't anything like the painting, she was extremely pleased to be able to add to her collection.

Those words struck me with some force. She was right, of course. In my own life, I've seen it time and again. There is forever something else coming along that I want just as much as whatever it is I think I can't live without. I need only wait. It's not always an exact replacement of course, but there's definitely no shortage of beautiful things in the world. 

Life is nothing but a process of learning to let go, and she should know. She's recently lost her partner of many years, and even though such loss becomes quite likely when one reaches her stage of life, it doesn't make it any easier to accept or to bear. Her puzzle's been unfairly and undeniably dropped, once again reduced to something unrecognizable. But already I can see her beginning to pick through and examine the pieces, looking for clues, and doing it with tremendous grace. I'm determined to watch and learn.

Every day we're confronted with loss. We encounter things we'd like but can't have and things we used to have but no longer do. Even though we sometimes get our hands on what we want, we're allowed to keep nothing, really. Not even ourselves. Our lives are a journey of gradual personal diminishment. Each day that slips by is one we will never have back, and as they go they take a little of us with them. 

Sometimes the worst ones take enormous chunks. 

All we can do is keep reassembling the pieces with which we are left to create new versions of our picture. But sometimes the changes can be good. We're allowed to pick up new things as we go, wonderful things we never expected. They're not an exact replacement, of course, but they might fit with what we have in uncanny ways that work around or even fill our holes better than we ever imagined.

I'm going to try to remember those wise words in a larger context than the one in which she offered them. After all, in my life, she is a tangible illustration of her own principle, for which I'm grateful. Perhaps the idea can bring comfort to her as well, a gentle and hopeful nudge toward next steps, whenever she's ready to take them. 

There's no hurry to do anything now though. Plenty of time to take stock and decide which parts to pick up and put back together, and which to let go to best allow the new picture to emerge. She may not see any way to make sense of the pieces she's been left with yet, but with time new pieces will surely continue to present themselves. 

Good pieces, essential pieces, beautiful, unexpected pieces, because I can see her mother was right and it's absolutely true: 

There will always be beautiful things.


3.08.2015

sunday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


29. 

Short Stories (cont'd.)

i) When the bird first started following her around, she wasn't sure what to do. It took her awhile to figure out what was happening. At first she thought she just had a tune stuck in her head that she didn't recognize, and she couldn't figure out why. Then she realized the song seemed to be something she was actually hearing, not just imagining. One day she finally noticed that when she would walk, the song would continue and when she would stop, the singing would stop too. She spent an entire day testing it to see if it was true, walking a few steps, then stopping abruptly, running a bit, veering into an alley, ducking into a building. But every time she resumed her walk, the song came right along with her. 

Eventually she turned around and saw it. The bird lit just above where she was standing, a brilliant blue flash in the tree. She walked right up beneath it and looked it squarely in its bird eye. There was no flutter, no blink, no ruffling of feathers, no recognition. There was no reaction at all. Only a silent, patient stare from between two leaves, just above her head. 

The next day she had a crazy thought. It occurred to her that perhaps she'd wished for happiness for so long, she'd actually wished it into existence. 

Once she'd made that connection, she couldn't stop thinking about it, wondering if it could possibly be true. The more she thought, the more she began to worry. Soon she couldn't even enjoy the song anymore, for fear that it wasn't really true and the manifestation of her new happiness might one day suddenly disappear. What if the bird actually meant something quite different? What if it didn't mean anything at all? What if the song she'd taken to humming constantly was only a silly thing she'd thought up herself? 

These thoughts filled her with anxiety. She began to check the moment she woke up in the morning to see if the bird was still there. It always was, just waiting to begin their daily walk together. At night, she would creep from bed when she couldn't sleep and shine a flashlight into the tree to make sure it was waiting for her while she slept. 

Soon it became difficult to concentrate on anything else. She became desperate to keep it, but was painfully aware she didn't have any real ownership or control. The bird always stayed just out of reach. She thought that perhaps if she could just lure it into a cage, she might really, truly feel like it belonged to her and be able to relax and enjoy it again. 

She bought a net and tried unsuccessfully to swipe it off the branch. She put seed in a dish on the windowsill and offered it quietly. She built a small nest to wear in her hair, hoping it might lure the bird closer. She began leaving the windows open in the apartment, thinking it might unwittingly fly in so then she could slam them shut. Eventually she became fearful to leave home, worrying that if she caused the bird to follow her it might find someone else more interesting, or become lost, lose sight of her or even fall prey to some tragic outcome. 

But every day while she worried inside, the bird continued to stare, blank and quiet, from the tree outside.

Days passed in silence. 

Then one morning she realized that if she wanted to actually hear the song, she was going to have to begin moving again. It was obvious she could not own the bird, and its song was not a thing to be kept or chased, but rather a thing that must be allowed to follow her. Of course, that would require her to keep looking in the direction she was moving instead of in the direction of the song itself. It was difficult, but she began to train herself to listen for the song and focus on enjoying it rather than obsessively scanning the trees for the source. 

She had no answers or explanations about what it might mean, or how long it would stay, but then she didn't need to know. Because as long as she kept walking, she had not only the song, but also the bird itself.


j) Every day when he got on the train, he noticed the giraffe sitting in the seat at the rear of the car. He wondered where she worked. He had no idea what kind of job a giraffe like that would find in the city. He'd never noticed any giraffes in the building in which he had his office, nor in the streets surrounding it where he would sometimes walk during his lunch hour. He wanted to sit down next to her, to comment on the elegant curve of her neck, the uncanny way her spots mirrored the irregular brown ones on his own favorite tie. Had she noticed that too? 

He observed that she mostly stared quietly out the window, sometimes absently chewing leaves. No one ever seemed to sit next to her, nor in front of her either. He thought about how that must hurt. It wasn't as if she were threatening in any way. It wasn't as if the chewing were loud or obnoxious. But admittedly, there was something slightly unnerving about the fact that she was a giraffe. 

And yet, those spots. 

The long, gentle sweep of eyelashes that he thought of every night while looking at his own unremarkable eyes in the mirror as he got ready for bed. 

Some day, he was going to work up the nerve to say something. It would be awkward. He needed to think of just the right way to strike up a casual conversation. There would be the height difference too. Some women weren't comfortable with that, but hopefully she'd give him a chance. Surely the spotted tie was a good omen. It was, after all, a complete coincidence! It seemed so unexpectedly hopeful. Somehow he felt certain he'd never before tried to date someone with whom he had so much in common.

3.07.2015

saturday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.



28.

Short Stories (cont'd).

e) Once he stopped wearing hats and began wearing his thoughts instead, things became at once both simpler and more complex. For one thing, he had to begin paying attention to whether or not the words coming out of his mouth bore any relation to the ones currently being displayed. It required actually thinking while he was speaking, something to which he was completely unaccustomed. He noticed it also became more difficult to tell believable lies. On the other hand, wearing his thoughts eliminated the need to speak at all much of the time, which simplified communication. For instance, he could tell someone how much he disliked their cooking merely by looking at them across the table, and there was a certain amount of relief to never having to articulate an answer to the question, "does this make me look fat." So far, the biggest challenge seemed to be finding the correct thoughts to complement the pink and purple flowered tie his wife had given him most recently. Almost any words he tried on with it seemed to complicate not only the outfit, but the circumstances of his home life in general.


f) By keeping the chicken in her purse, she completely eliminated the problem of the eggs breaking and making a mess all over the papers in her briefcase. She didn't know why she hadn't thought of it sooner. The first time she'd tried to cover up the mess by pretending she intended to prepare an omelet in the board meeting, it had been awkward because she had to at the same time feign embarrassment for having forgotten to bring a hot plate. She dealt with that problem by bringing a hotplate with her to all subsequent meetings, so as not to be caught off guard again, but it was difficult enough to get everyone at the table to agree on whatever business matter they were discussing, let alone what kind of cheese they'd like or whether they wanted tomatoes or peppers. It made it hard to present her ideas effectively, which she felt put her at a distinct disadvantage compared to the men in the room who weren't trying to simultaneously cook. Even while she resented it, she couldn't help but wonder if she was bringing some of it on herself. When she finally found a purse that was big enough to provide something approximating a cage-free experience, she snatched it up immediately. And from the very first day, she could tell she might really be on to something that could have a significant impact on her upward mobility at the company.


g) The moment the mother opened her suitcase, she could tell something was wrong. Her daughter was a mess, having somehow gotten into the lipstick and nail polish and decorated not only her own cheeks but also her brother's forehead and elbow. He had obviously retaliated by snatching her goldfish crackers, flinging them around on top of everyone's clothes and stomping them into fine orange crumbs, which he proceeded to water in with his sippy cup, leaving everything sopping with milk. That had started the crying of course, because as soon as he poured out the milk he became thirsty (he always seemed to be extra thirsty when traveling; she was going to have to make a note of packing extra drinks in the future) and it appeared the hitting and hair-pulling had probably started before his tears were even dried. All that rough-housing had left her husband's golf shirt in a wadded up mess, and she knew he wasn't going to be happy. He was particular about his golf shirt. She half wanted to just zip the kids back up and put the whole mess in the closet. But now it was time to get everyone ready to go to dinner, and she could see there wasn't a single thing left in the entire suitcase that wasn't going to need washing and probably ironing too. She had no interest at all in doing either of those things while the family was on vacation. Plus they both needed baths. It wasn't fair. Of course the airlines never seemed to lose luggage when it might have come in handy for teaching children a lesson.


h) Of course, he was going to have to think up an explanation for the hole. He knew they would notice; it would be hard not to see it no matter which angle they were viewing the painting from. Anyway, as soon as the hole had appeared, all the red had fallen in and completely vanished, and just that fact had compromised the design quite substantially. Without red, it was hard to even tell for sure what it was a painting of. The blue was beginning to look unstable, like it might go at any moment too, or maybe he was just losing his confidence. It was hard to tell. Anyway, the whole thing was becoming a tremendous bother. It was a terrible shame to have such a thing happen on a commission, and for picky clients too. Perhaps his father was right; perhaps it was time to give up trying to make it as an artist and just get a real job.


3.06.2015

friday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.

27.



Short Stories.

a) She grabbed the rim of the cup with both hands and pulled herself up and over, dropping into the saucer and then wringing out her skirt. Of course, that left her standing in quite a puddle, so she knew it was going to be difficult to get very dry by sitting around where she was. Which was probably fine because she felt sure if there was tea she shouldn't have to wander too far in order to find a cookie or, if things turned out really well, maybe even cake.


b) It came as a surprise the day the clock started playing music. It could play the greatest hits from any decade, but it only played old songs. It was completely unable to compose new material. By nature, clocks are not very forward thinking, and marking time as it passed had always been considered enough. Besides that, it only knew one tempo, so most of its selections didn't make for very good dancing. Feelings of inadequacy surfaced that had never been a problem before. Performance anxiety became a concern. Sure, in the end, the whole thing didn't live up to its initial promise. But that was okay. No one expected much.


c) There was a pause in the conversation. There could have been no way for him to anticipate that she would turn out to be an actual cow, and he had no idea what to say next. He tried not to notice the incessant chewing, the tail that couldn't seem to sit still. It's not that those were necessarily deal breakers, but it was hard to read what she was thinking. Usually he could tell where things might end up. There was an uncomfortable silence while they both tried to avoid eye contact. He worked on his salad, checked his phone. Eventually, she wandered away. And he didn't even pretend to get up. He just let her go.


d) They lured her off the highway. She followed because they waved, or she was pretty sure one did. It was not the kind of thing she'd normally do, but for some reason they looked like they might understand. Anyway, they knew what it was like to be stuck. So she followed the trees. She didn't know whether trees could feel love, or whether it hurt when they shed their leaves, whether it pained them every time they had to push a thousand new buds out at once, and then open them all up too. Whether all that dying and giving birth year after year connected them or isolated them. She didn't know whether trees were more interested in asking questions, or coming up with answers. They were trees, so they couldn't really even understand each other. But when one of them waved, she figured she may as well stop.


3.05.2015

thursday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.

26.

I loved the sleepy nights of childhood spent in the back seat of the car, cheek pressed against the door, marking the rhythm of lights as they'd lean in through the window one by one. The drone of the same conversation resumed in the front seat, lulling in its familiar cadence. The press of too many of us crammed in back, but liking that too, because I'd have it that way forever, if I could. The whole family in a pile and me secure under the weight of it all. Those were times I liked being alone with my thoughts, they could roam safely there with my entire world in an enclosed space and all of it in my father's capable hands. Nothing to do but doze. Perfect.

Which brings me to the hole in my ceiling. I go into the new dining room addition we're building, in which we have taken great pains to preserve the original ceiling, which was that of our old porch, and I look up to see what progress the builder has made today, and there's a gaping hole, front and center. Right next to where they're going to hang the uncharacteristically, irresponsibly expensive chandelier I splurged on to be the centerpiece of the entire effort. I've been imagining its glorious glow for months, bathing my entire world in the warm light of everything finally being exactly the way I would like it to be. Because I designed it, and chose it all. For myself. Perfect.

We've owned a lot of houses, and every one of them has had its selling points but also those things that made me wonder what kind of idiot built the place--light switches in wrong spots, thermostats on walls obviously better suited to art, gold bathroom fixtures that should never have happened, lights and wallpaper outdated long before the house was even built. And that Formica that tried to look like wood? Oh dear.

This is the first time I've ever been in the driver's seat, so to speak. This is my chance.

And now I have this big hole in my old wood ceiling. He explained to me in the planning stages how the vents would need to be toward the middle of the room, and how I wasn't going to like it but he would try to minimize it as much as possible, and I'd agreed that I could live with it, if he promised to do his best to tuck them out of the immediate sight line and behind a beam. He agreed. But then on the day they cut the holes, my contractor, with whom I'd had that conversation, wasn't on site. And I was in my studio typing or out for a run or in the shower or somewhere, and instead of any of those more discreet places, they cut that hole right in front, as the first thing you see when you walk in the room. Right before you notice the chandelier. Even 18 inches could have made an appreciable difference.

It violates all common sense. It's the kind of mistake that would be in a house I'd buy, but not in one I'd build. I was not happy.

My contractor said, "I wish we could fix it. I really do. Things aren't perfect. We're human. We live in imperfect houses. I can tell you 16 things I'd like to change in my own, and I built it." A shrug, as if that should make it easier for me to accept.

I've built a world I loved in each of my imperfect houses, truth be told. It's one of the things I enjoy most. I build nests, and I've cushioned the many moves for our family by recreating our familiar brand, new-and-improved variations on a comfortable old theme, everywhere we've gone. It's something I've tried at as a parent. It hasn't mattered so much where we've moved, because our distinctive home has moved with us.

Even so, I've always wanted the chance to build one for myself, from the first twig up.

So it's been funny to me that I've felt paralyzed from the moment we started this project. Can't decide on tile. Can't choose flooring. Dread picking fixtures. Can't decide whether I want to do the project at all. And even though I have a pretty good eye, and I've chosen things I love, I am positively haunted by the fear that I'll not be happy with the end result, and then I'll have no one to blame but myself.

But I've learned something useful from my resistance to the whole experience.

I've learned that I'm quite at home in the realm of arranging the pieces that I'm given into something I can live with. Obviously much less at home going out and getting my own pieces. There's less risk involved in just making the best of what you have. If you don't like how it turns out, you can always blame what you started with. It explains a lot about my life, actually.

It's much easier to just relax and enjoy the ride snuggled up in the back seat than it is when you're driving the car. My father probably could have told me that from the front seat. I wouldn't have been paying attention, of course. I was busy doing things like closing one eye, then the other, noticing how whatever I was looking at jumped back and forth and thinking I'd invented something big.

The problem is, part of the work of growing up is figuring out what pieces you want and having the gumption to go out and get them for yourself. You can't be a passenger forever, eventually you have to drive the car if you want to get to the real destination of your choice. And yes, you might get lost or stuck or encounter mechanical difficulties or even crash and burn. All the possibilities exist, and if you're the one driving, you'd better be prepared to deal with whatever comes up on the road.

In some ways, I believe I've been dozing in the back seat of my own life.

I'm deciding to make friends with the hole in my ceiling. We're human beings. We live in imperfect houses. And at last I'm going to have the opportunity to live in one where I understand the unsightly, imperfect, unfortunate hole and exactly how it came to be there, knowing that I was right in the next room the day they cut it but still wasn't able to prevent a visible flaw from popping up exactly where I didn't want it no matter how much I stressed about it beforehand.

But I'm still going to end up with a really beautiful room, anchored by a truly lovely chandelier. Perhaps giving up control in small ways could actually mean taking control in larger ones. Putting down the million tiny things I've been trying to carry in order to pick up the bigger thing with both arms. It's not the only thing I've been a little slow figuring out.

Are we there yet?



3.04.2015

wednesday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.



25. 

I read that a downside of writing memoir is that if you do it right you will have told the truth, and no one will ever love you for telling the truth. And I want to be loved.

This is why I will write fiction.

I'll tell stories that never happened to anyone I know. Stories of giant fathers who work and fly on airplanes and build worlds, commute, play ball, carry wallets and are encyclopedias, men who made themselves out of nothing but somehow are in everything; stories of mothers who have been there since before anyone can remember, beautiful women who are ironing or ill, on phones or having their hair done, cleaning, cooking, napping while reading or waiting in cars, watching TV or running errands, buying lunch, making threats and cookies or singing to themselves while they vacuum; stories of brothers and sisters who slam doors or tell secrets, invite or shun, share or withhold, fight or invent the universe, play chopsticks and hopscotch, build and borrow, snack and steal, hide in forts and sleep next to each other every night to begin again the next day; stories of grandfathers and grandmothers, larger and older than history, secret keepers who carry all of the legends in their heads, answers and indulgence in their purses, and in their pockets, candy. Aunts and cousins who blur lines and read for other parts. Strangers who come along and change everything. Houses with closets, dens, kitchens and a wide variety of couches. 

In my stories people will be born, love, tell lies, do heroic deeds, start fires, pray, get bored, die, hit, kiss, suffer, cry, wrinkle, learn truths, grow, disappoint, fail, win, dance, forgive, come home, yell, act surprised, eat ice cream, drive convertibles, make families, write letters, break hearts, bake, and travel alone to new and exotic places.

There may be pets.

If you see in any of my stories a small girl, short hair, haphazard and in homemade clothes, squinting or shivering, observant, still awake, overly talkative and generally anxious, unremarkable but who seems somehow familiar--I cannot explain, so please don't ask.

I'll refer you instead to my policy which is official, starting now, and says this: Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.



3.03.2015

tuesday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


24.

One night, driving across the Nambe road toward Santa Fe, a friend said something I'll never forget. She'd been fighting an epic battle with pancreatic cancer, and she'd wanted to go to the Sanctuario and put her hands in the famous healing dirt, as she explained with what seemed to be a touch of embarrassment where none was required, because anyone in her situation would have done the same thing. She was covering her bases. 

Afterward, we'd gone to dinner at the Rancho de Chimayo where we'd lingered, soaking up the best of company in a favorite place, made even more sweet (despite the glare) by the spotlight unexpectedly turned on the fleeting nature of it all. 

And as we headed back, stuffed with pleasure and beauty and sopaipillas, the car was quiet and so was her voice saying simply, "I should have had one more chile relleno."

And it turns out she was right. She should have.

I was remembering that this morning, wallowing in myself over breakfast and trying to think of a single thing that made it worth having a shower and getting on with my life, and it reminded me that I had plenty to regret, and just from yesterday. Regretting the big things seems to be of little use. The big mistakes and lapses exist to propel us forward into what we can become. Regret takes time away from that job.

But there's plenty to be had from a moment now and then spent regretting all the little things we rarely notice. And yesterday:

I should have asked my question.

I should have called someone, when I was thinking of them. Anyone.

I should have spent 5 minutes less doing things that matter only to me, and 10 minutes more doing things that matter to someone else.

I should have gone for a walk, even though it was raining. Rain is a thing I cannot make for myself no matter how hard I try. I should have appreciated the gray gift when it arrived, and sent thanks.

I shouldn't have worried about things that didn't happen.

I shouldn't have wanted to go faster.

I should have listened to someone else's opinion. I might have broadened my own.

I should have learned something.

I should have read more, and scrolled less.

I should have been kinder, even to myself.

I should have said "I love you" more than once. Even if they knew.

And I should have gotten one of the black-and-white cookies at the cafe that they don't have every day, but they did have yesterday. They're amazing.

Mostly, I should have enjoyed it more. All of it. And noticed it as it went by. At least I realize that now, which is a place to start. Thank goodness it's not too late, for Tuesday anyway.

(I've missed the rain, although I could drive over and see if they've still got the cookies.)



3.02.2015

monday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


23.

Things I never told include
some things I stole, some things I broke
some things I said that happened, or that didn't
things I never should have said, or thought
or things I wanted, some I got
but never should have had
a time my heart was ruined and will not be fixed
the things I ate in secret, every bite
alone, the times I watched the clock all night
and watched, and watched and hated someone else
for sleeping, all my madness, days
I said I would but knew
I wouldn't, secrets I should not have told
but did, and now I've just remembered, since
I was a little kid, a fascination:
things like hippies, danger I could feel, and walking
right along the edge of something secret. This
is not complete, I'm sure, but now
at least you know--

Really, I have wanted to be bad.


3.01.2015

sunday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


22.

It was 2 days before Christmas when I got the call. It was an emergency. They needed Easter bonnets. They needed them within the week. In New York.

Did I mention it was 2 days before Christmas? On Christmas Eve their contribution to the project arrived: they sent paper napkins they wanted me to use, and I was to supplement with tissue paper. It was inconvenient, a ridiculous sounding project, and downright inconsiderate. I couldn't say no, because I needed the money. And the job. And more importantly, the one after that.

When I went to work on the project December 26th, I was not feeling inspired. I had a houseful of Christmas staring at me. I had children out of school. It was December in Minnesota, which is the very opposite of springtime. And I didn't have the faintest idea how I was going to make Easter bonnets out of paper napkins.

But the resulting photo shoot ended up yielding one of my favorite magazine photos. I took those paper napkins and I somehow managed to make a little magic. To this day I have no idea how it happened.

I'm telling you that because I want to illustrate why it's worth saying yes to something like a creativity challenge. The value of it is that basically, it gives you a job, and you show up to do it. I know, you probably already do that every day. But the catch is that this job requires you to pull something out of thin air. Every day you have to tune into something--in the world around you, or inside yourself--and use it to make something else. Simple alchemy. Cold fusion. Magic. None of which really exist, and that's just how possible it feels some days.

And you do it anyway.

Anyone who has done creative work as work knows what I mean. If you haven't been privileged to experience that (excruciating/wonderful) life, then you're probably like everyone else who wonders, "Where do you get your ideas?"

And says, "I have to wait to be inspired before I make/write/create something." 

Or, "I can't think of anything I want to paint/sculpt/design."

And having worked as a designer against hard deadlines for years, I can tell you: you just show up. You show up to work, and the project will meet you. You might have to look around until you recognize it. You might have to eavesdrop on the elderly couple at the table next to you reminiscing about their old Pontiac, but that's okay because it will remind you of your old Pontiac. Which magically reminds you of what you showed up to do.

You might have to make 63 false starts. You might have to sort the piles on your desk. You might have to look at a magazine, or read someone else's beautiful words, or look at something you've already written. You might have to romance it a bit, buy your idea dinner.

You might have to break the seal on the page somehow, before you can get inside. For instance, you may have noticed that every day I type, "30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal," at the top of the page, and follow it up with a number. I do it because once I've typed those words, I've already started.

You might have to type the word Nothing 725 times on a Tuesday morning before the next word in the sentence magically comes out of your fingers, but it will. And word 726 will be gold. By Tuesday afternoon, you'll have accomplished the impossible.

It will happen eventually if you just show up.

Erma Bombeck talked of "snow blindness" from staring at the blank page. I've had it. I've had it in the past week. In fact, the worst case occurred on Day 14, when I ended up writing what has also been my favorite piece from this challenge. Every single word was digging out a sliver with a dull needle. That's how much fun writing that piece was.

But what exquisite pain! I wouldn't trade it for anything. It made my brain hurt, and I don't often work my brain hard enough to make it feel like that. I'm lazy, when it comes to working my brain.

I've noticed my brain got pretty excited from that exercise. It's been standing by the door with its leash ever since, staring at me with those eyes. It wants to be allowed to run again.

Speaking of which, I've been a runner for about 15 years. When I'm on a run, after I've hit the wall and run past it, I feel strong. And that is unbelievable: Me, being strong. Because I spend most of my life feeling weak.

I love the feeling of moving under my own power. I love the feeling of being a tiny speck under an enormous sky. When I run, I feel like I'm doing something that not everyone can do, and it is something I earned through really hard work that always begins by putting on my shoes and showing up.

Running also puts me in the zone more reliably than anything else, for my creative work. And I think that's precisely because it is so hard for me, but I push past that. And I do it again, and again, and again. Every run is to prove to myself that I can.

When I run, it is just me and what I can do. My thoughts are only mine. My breath belongs to me. The music belongs to me. The pain belongs to me. The euphoria belongs to me, because I made it. It is my world, and I create it for myself.

I did a 365 day challenge a few years ago, in which I did a drawing every day. Right in the middle somewhere is a big chunk of goofy drawings I had to do with the wrong hand, because I had arm surgery. Those drawings are even worse than the ones I did every other day of the challenge with my right (meaning left) hand. They're worthless. But they're also some of my favorites, and that's because of what they represent.


They're me saying "I can do this thing." And then having proof that I did...even with one hand tied behind my back.

Creativity is not alchemy or fusion or magic. Creativity is not even a talent. Creativity is only a habit. Mostly, it involves paying attention, then thinking about, then doing something as a result. Sometimes things just flow, most times they don't. But if you keep showing up for work, eventually you're going to end up with a job. And whether or not it turns into anything worth keeping doesn't matter at all, because 99% of creating is for the creator. If we get lucky, the 1% we're privileged to share is just icing on the cake.

Trust me. Get your shoes. Your brain wants to go.

2.28.2015

saturday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal!


21.

Get out of your jammies,
Get out of your bed,
Step out of your mirror,
Get out of your head.

Get off of your sofa,
And open your door,
Start packing your suitcase,
Get set to explore.

Get ready to listen,
Get ready to look,
Get out of your headphones,
And put down your book.

Get out of your houses,
Get out of your cars,
Get into the sunlight,
Or under the stars.

Get using your arms,
And get moving your feet,
Get drumming your drum,
To your very own beat.

Get moving and shaking,
Start doing your dance,
Get rid of your stockings,
And roll up your pants.

Get tapping your fingers,
And snapping your toes,
Get doing your thing,
Because anything goes.

Get testing and trying,
Just giving your best,
Get off on your own,
Get away from the rest.

Get waving your banner,
Start shouting your name,
Get off of the sidelines,
Get into the game.

Get out of your closet,
And off of your shelf,
Get on with the business
Of being yourself!


 


2.27.2015

friday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.



20.

Desert

This is where I live, waiting
for the rain, the next,
and next drop
sent to keep me

going, slow growing
pinpricks against empty spaces
lean, straight, hungry
miles, my curve the shadow
bent to tracking days

Nothing deep, you see
it all, except my reach
fingers just beneath
the surface, miles

of roots that watch forever
hands cupped
open-mouthed, amazed
at anything that finally comes


2.26.2015

thursday

30 days, 30 pages with writing on them. That's the deal.


19.

A long time ago, my Uncle Junior sent me a box of everything. It was big enough to hold all the stuff from his basement, plus anything he thought looked like something I might be able to use to make something else. One day, it just landed on the porch. Unannounced.

First, imagine a box big enough to hold an appliance. Then imagine it's full of things like broken jewelry and old pipe-cleaners. Now you're thinking of the kinds of stuff you might find in that box. And a whole lot of it.

But don't forget a pair of rubber bare feet big enough to slip over your shoes, with bright red toenail polish on them. Cracked rubber fingers and a nose to match. And an eerie black-face wig of human hair. These things called up the cellar of the house they came from, and made me a little afraid to dig.

Other finds included a plastic bride and groom (with an extra groom); a small, worn Tarzan costume; one very tiny leather kid glove; old souvenir cactus-seed packets, still rattling; a fake parrot made of feathers (one eye missing); stacks of paper doilies in all sizes, velvet flowers and table favors; everything useful for decorating ladies' hats; half-stitched embroidery kits, careful in their yellow baggies of thread (and still waiting to be resumed); boxes of buttons old enough to have come from underwear and shoes. 

And of course, all the cards ever tucked away for safe keeping.

Story bits.

But wait! Here's something I found just the other day, in a box of those old cards I never fully examined. First, let me lay out some details:

1) The same day one sister married a vaudeville musician, she invited the other sister, who wasn't married, to move in with them.

2) The vaudeville musician was part of a well-known duo. His partner had an unusual name. In that time and place, their names together were as familiar as ketchup and mustard.

3) Both men raised families that were pillars of the community (a few of their grandkids got tangled up down the line, but that's a different story).

4) The sister never did marry. She ended up staying in the spare room forever.

5) Now, just about a hundred real years later, from the bottom of Uncle Junior's box, a valentine. It's addressed to that spinster sister, and on the back, it says, "From Your Little __________." (fill in that unusual name) 

So far, I've turned it over in my hand a hundred times, in my head a thousand more. What kind of pictures might you make if you started connecting the dots from one page in your coloring book to the dots on a different page?

6) Even the most well-rehearsed plot can suddenly thicken.