Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thanksgiving: One Year, Tens of Thousands of Words

Last year, I wrote an entry for Thanksgiving.

A prose poem, it described my visit on Thanksgiving morning by a group of wild Turkeys, who came down from the mountain behind my home, and hung around under my windows for a couple of hours.

They were magnificent creatures, and their arrival on Thanksgiving under my windows was for me as a mystical experience, for they connected me to things larger and wiser than myself.  Their appearance inspired a quick google into Native American legend and lore about these noble birds, and what followed was that I experienced the interconnectedness of land, history, and life’s collective consciousness, a broad, sweeping, and elusive reality.

I felt in awe of these birds who I saw as grand, teachers of a higher order.

As I remembered their visit this past week, I double checked when I wrote the entry.  I thought it must have been at least two years ago; two, maybe three.

No, just one.

I find what I have accomplished, learned, and created this past year extraordinary; more precisely, what I’ve made myself available to, and how its shaped me.  There’s no will involved, it’s willingness, and it’s a flow.  And there’s been more than a year’s worth of life lived these 360 plus days.

Last year, about this time, I was reeling from a broken heart, and the loss of a misguided love who I believed was the one; I had no idea where or how the book’s narrative would take shape, and I was at a loss for its future; and for all of my optimism, I still hadn’t learned to settle into the present moment.

I was still a creature of anxiety.

After countless miles in the mountains (an exaggeration, but a nice turn of phrase), tens of thousands of words (an understatement, because the hours tossed in editing are difficult to acknowledge), a summer of gardening, reconnecting to my visual art, a month-long fast, reading and listening to endless books on writing and self-development, nurturing relationships, hours and days in meditation, and learning to breathe and appreciate in stillness, life has done what it does: grown and proliferated and effortlessly opened itself.

 

*****

 

This past week, I thought about my first gardening this past summer.  I brought my pots in a month or so ago, and the basil and parsley and cilantro have eked out an existence in the back room, until I can afford a grow light.

The basil sits on the windowsill.  It’s leaves turn toward the diminishing sun, struggling for every minute of available light; the oversized tub of parsley that sits on the floor sends out long shoots, reaching for the window, determined to get what it needs, the light of life.  The cilantro, less so, because it’s slower grower and in a smaller tub, and its shoots are modest in their aspirations.

It’s an overworked metaphor for the soul, the plant growing in the light, I know.  But if you’ve never raised plants from seeds, watched them proliferate under the summer sun, and then seen them struggle for what they need and want, there’s an inevitable lesson: we are here to reach for the light that makes us grow.  It’s not metaphysics, it’s what it means to live.

To grow and thrive, we need our soul’s light, water, and fertile soil: and what makes one grow and flourish, may well be toxic to another.  This is the beauty of difference.  Orchids and parsley and asparagus fern don’t thrive in the same soil, sun, or watering conditions.   The conditions we need to flourish  aren’t  necessarily given to us, it’s our job to create the best circumstances for ourselves with what we have, and through our choices nourish our psyche, spirit, and body, until they work and grow together, day by day, as we turn our faces toward our light, the things that make us open ourselves to life, until we stand like a regal sunflower spreading its petals in late summer.

I’ve learned that life is simple, and thriving is our rightful nature as beings on a soul guided journey: to turn toward what inspires and nurtures, and then grow.

Writing tens of thousands of words has been part of my growth, part of my life’s light, writing until I hit my truths, the things waiting to get out, the discoveries sitting like dormant seeds.  As I work on life, the seeds start growing, and they find their way on the page.  The relationship between art and life goes back and forth, a loop that eventually dissolves the boundaries between inner realities and outer ones.  Eventually, in my mind, the distinction between inner and outer appears only as a convenient myth: everything is connected, and what I have understood as meaningless, isolated fragments wait for me to uncover their meaning and beauty.

They wait to find their place in my story arc, and this unfolding arc shows how one life relates to that great elusive life consciousness: a story connecting the individual to the universal.

In this entry, the waiting discovery planted itself last Thanksgiving morning.  The morning marked by the visit of eleven wild Turkeys, who I saw as master teachers, ancient souls visiting under my window, messengers offering me a totem of things to come.  “Abundance, fertility, nobility, awareness, connection with Mother earth, ” the animal symbolism website informed me.  Did I think a year ago that tens of thousands of words would allow me to discover more about love, life, and growth than I’ve previously known?  Did I expect that a summer of gardening and books and art and new relationships would begin nurturing parts waiting to come alive?

No.  I have lived more this year than any year before, creating, breathing, exploring, writing tens of thousands of words (in fact, hundreds of thousands), including a prose poem written a year ago, under the morning sun, and prompted by the visit of eleven magnificent creatures whose promises carried more weight than I imagined.

Tens of thousands of words later, a year having passed, and I recognize that I barely comprehend everything for which I should be grateful.  So I surrender myself to the feelings that ripple through me and travel into the ether: the joy of being alive and grabbing the scraps of happiness that float around me, catching one, letting it go, catching another, letting it go, hoping that someday I’ll see the big picture better, grabbing scrap by scrap, until the horizon’s filled with nothing but glorious scraps of bright colored tissue paper like happiness .

For I have another belief, one supported by science: as my gratitude grows, it spreads, and these feelings shape an incomprehensibly resilient and achingly fragile world, as water shapes stone.

Happy Thanksgiving.

May you see your meaningful totem, and honor its importance.

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Random Thoughts On Writing, Part II

“A word after a word is power.”  —  Margaret Atwood

Last Sunday, I completed a proposal, after a marathon of writing and editing.

I began my last editing go-around about 7 a.m., and apart from a couple of small mindless meals, a bath, a meditation, and then a brief nap in the early evening, these to clear my mind, in service to the proposal, I worked until about 11 p.m.

I don’t remember living that day.  I remember only sentence fragments running through my head, the cursor’s movements, and the endless revising until an idea was clear and well phrased.

This was just the last day, the last sixteen hours to get it in.  The days and weeks spent before, I haven’t a clue how many weeks I invested.

Here’s what I find amusing: I am certain this proposal won’t land a deal.

I am not undermining my work.  There were moments of stunning writing, and I reached an important goal: I am proud of this submission, gave it everything I had, and a little more.  I found themes, made connections, and the contours of something larger than I imagined emerged.  Creatively, I hit good notes, and I’ve catapulted myself into a better space, more confident, more focused, clearer about where I am going and what I need to do next.

Artistically, there were images, word choices, sentences that flew off the page from imagination’s ether in the way that writer’s hope to get, every so often.

But for its many strengths, I don’t believe this publisher will buy it.  Wrong story, wrong publisher.  I’m okay with that; I don’t want to bend my words into something not true.

I’m happy with whatever happens, and I don’t take that state of grace for granted.

I submitted the proposal electronically a little before midnight.  My mind and body fatigued by the work, and the feeling of failure, no matter how good a sentence or two may look after the fact, was overwhelming: when your audience isn’t present, the vacuum of uncertainty opens wide.  No applause.  No encore.  Just silence.  And you can love your darlings, briefly think them the most glorious creatures ever born, but the little darlings are more work than anyone can possibly imagine.  There’s an inevitable failure fatigue that comes after weeks of work, hundreds of gutted pages, and then the sixteen hour marathon, knowing that this isn’t the one, but you learned what you needed to.

There was something else I learned in the past weeks, or felt deeply for the first time: the writer’s vocation is nothing more than the most sacred sanctuary of their life.  It’s requirements are no less than those of marriage, parenthood, or priest: and like any of these relationships, to spouse, children, “God,” there are moments of indescribable joy and satisfaction, and moments of sheer emptiness and frustration.

But the commitment is worth it, for until the heart finds a thing that it loves more than itself, a place that banishes the ego’s pettiness and myopia, the heart will never soar as it was born to.

It is the quest of finding our deepest human self, and running with it until there’s no more.  Whatever that thing is, whatever it is that wants to make us die empty, and leave something in and for the world that says, “I was here.”  Running, writing, music, painting, teaching, gardening, whatever that thing that makes us loose sixteen hours effortlessly, while working ferociously.

So J. K. Rowling’s words struck me differently after Sunday, having just completed a fresh marathon of writing.  I’ve done writing marathons before, but this one was new, involved several layers of creative engagement, and comes with a renewed relationship to my craft.  Sixteen hours of nothing but words on a page, and not even realizing that it was sixteen hours, lost as I was in the words, sentences, paragraphs, story.

Readers rarely understand what writers do, the commitment to sitting only with one’s self behind the screen, or with a paper and pen.  It’s one thing to parent, it’s another to parent well.  It’s one thing to marry, it’s another to share life and love and laughter well, for a very long time.  It’s one thing to receive ordination, it’s another to serve well and selflessly.

It’s one thing to write, it’s another to aspire to write well, with everything in you, and create something from the heart and mind, a landscape of unknown design whose revelation comes one word at a time.

“They really don’t understand what we do.”

No, they don’t.

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Random Thoughts On Writing

I ran across an article this past week.  Stephen King tells a story about himself and J.K. Rowling.

They were both being interviewed, at different times, and after her interview, she stormed into their shared waiting room.  “They don’t understand what we do, do they?  They really don’t understand what we do,” with a few profanities sprinkled in, out of frustration, according to King.

King replied, “No, they don’t.”

The irony amused me, because neither King nor Rowling knows what they do, and they have said so.  This is not me pontificating like a know-it-all, this time; this is what they have said, in print.  No, they don’t know what they are doing.  They just do it.  They write.  They do it over and over.  They do it until it feels or sounds or looks like they have hit that thing waiting for discovery.

Over the past two weeks, I reread King’s stunning “On Writing.”  It’s a remarkable book, and I’ve never read a King novel, am not a devoted King reader.  But if there were only one book that an aspiring writer could choose to read, in a hypothetical universe where the starry-eyed-would-be-writer may take only one book on writing with them on the road to perdition,  it’s that one.

I’ve read a lot of books on writing, especially this past year.  It’s part of what I do, as someone who works with these strange marks, collects them in words, lines them up in sentences, organizes these sentences into paragraphs, believing that I am strangling meaning from marks, words, sentences, paragraphs.

When it comes to crafting meaning, I believe writing’s soul is best revealed in Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want To Write: A Book About Art, Independence, And Spirit.”

But the work, the psychology, the habit of writing, the muse’s mystery, to which there is no mystery, King conveys with shining skill.  When I write shining skill, read: “work.”  Because the reason he’s successful is that he writes every day.  He writes and writes and writes.  And he writes because he loves it.  He doesn’t write for the fame or the glory or the money.  He writes because, in his words, “I love it.  I fucking love it.”

King has never written anything for money.  Only for the writing, the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, the story.

And because he loves it, it’s all about writing, revising, writing, revising, listening, writing some more.

It’s all strange, and nobody who does it knows how it works.  I say this because that’s what they say.  They being the ones who do this thing called writing, the ones who do it really well, the ones who connect to things bigger than us all, and then bring those things to us.

I have these pages here that I’ve been working on relentlessly for weeks now.  Hundreds of pages, gutted, because it wasn’t going where it needed to, wasn’t singing.

King says, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings.”

Endless hours, numbing at times.

I sacrificed the children for the greater good.  Art.  Clarity.  Story.  Meaning.  I’m not certain for what yet, but the darlings are dead.  In the age of word processing, there isn’t even a wastebasket full of paper.

But there was a moment after said death squad visits, that I returned to the page, a day or two later, after letting the survivors breathe, and I had no idea know where some of this stuff came from.  I know that I didn’t write it, I didn’t recognize a word.

There’s someone running around my apartment who has some skill . . .

I haven’t a clue where they are hiding.

 

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Words

3 a.m.

the iPod plays

monks chanting in Latin

and I think how appropriate.

I drift in and out

of sleep until 4 a.m.

then drag myself out of bed.

I pour myself the green tea

made the night before

so I can think

while the world

sleeps.

 

I light a candle

and the thick sweet

smell of caramel

and bourbon-vanilla

burns beside my

simple writing sanctuary,

a couch where

I word by word

forge meaning

from memories

and see realities

kept invisible

until these endless days

spent wrestling in their

pain and perfume.

 

I struggle

to bend words

so that there’s

something like

monks chanting

a candle burning

or the infinite spaces

of quiet and redemption

shimmering effortlessly

at 4 a.m.

 

But words are like

insecure lovers.

No matter how much you give

they demand more

and their meanings

run away

at the moment you

believe them

finally true.

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