What she said: Listen to the Mojo Mom podcast


Earlier this week I had a conversation with Amy Tiemann, author of Mojo Mom and the upcoming, updated Mojo Mom. Amy has been a steady guide and influence for me. She was an early supporter of my work. She brings a scientist’s mind, a seeker’s eye and a mother’s heart to her work as a writer and commentator on the issues that matter most to women. And what’s more, she does something about it! She turned our conversation into a podcast and I hope you’ll listen to it here. You can do it even without an iPod, and heck, you might even win one in Amy’s giveaway.

We talked about writing. What we write, how we write, when we write and why we write. Or not! I had mentioned to Amy that, of all the questions I get at book readings or talks, a whole lot are about writing. From my perspective, questions about writing aren’t really about writing. They are about ourselves and who we are, and what unbounded greatness we have within us if only we dare to find out. This matter of writing, of writing about writing, about doubt and desire and devotion to writing, is the stuff I read daily. Because I read you. And you. And you. And you.

And when I do that I find myself multiplied many times over. I find the tenderness and uncertainty, the dedication and the courage, that leaves me nodding in wonder and recognition, repeating numbly, “Oh, yeah! What she said.”

Inspired by what she did, I’ve recently expanded my blogroll with the new feature that shows the continuous feed from your posts. Here you’ll find longtime friends and new ones too. I will expand this list regularly. If you aim to write, I aim to read. Let’s give this to each other: a continuous loop of live listening so that you as a writer know that somewhere, someone is nodding in soulful solidarity, muttering the three-word thumb’s up that only we can give: “What she said.”

Listen in right here. And know that I’m speaking to you.

***
How perfect that this post comes on my mother’s birthday. I’m still listening deeply to what she said (and to what she didn’t).

Summer cut


And like that, school’s out.
Time packs up its fractional interest,
its dewey decimals
and skips out of this slow motion town.
The hair, the shoes, the smudgy silver lunchkit are
suddenly so
last year.
The endless days might seem to stretch
but not one
not even one
will keep its shape.
Who can refuse to enjoy the view?

Wake up and start coloring


From time to time something happens to remind me there is a buddha in the backseat. And then I realize there is one in the front seat too.

“Mommy, has the world always been in color?” she asked.

Hmmm. That’s a good question. It’s been in color for as long as I’ve been around.

“Same here,” she said.

***
What she said: There’s still time to cast in on the BlogHer tag line voting in which your correspondent, kmiller, is contending. And if you’re telling me that you can’t vote because you can’t register because you don’t have a blog, this could well be your invitation to start one.

252 ways to complicate your life


I can remember years ago when a certain magazine debuted. I was kind of stumped. Four hundred glossy pages of advice and ads on how to live a simple life? Twelve times a year? I could think of one way to really simplify that. And in that spirit, I offer this post so that you can have the sheer pleasure of ignoring it.

Simplifying your life? It’s not so simple, according to these 18 ways.

Feeling productive? Phooey. Why not kill time reading these 8 ways to save time.

Need to exercise? Wait! First build up your motivation these 31 ways.

Losing weight? Don’t start without digesting these 80 ways to lose weight.

Going on vacation? Don’t leave the house before you read the 7 sites you must check out before checking out.

Making a decision? Don’t do that! Just decide to read 13 ways to make a decision.

Getting stressed? Stress even more over these 6 ways to de-stress.

Watch too much TV? Surf these 9 ways to go back and watch some more.

Exhausted by all the advice? Stay awake even longer reading these 10 tips on how to sleep.

Still breathing? Hold your breath until you read these 5 reasons to monitor your breathing.

Are you even still alive? Take your pulse with this easy 39-point checklist on how to live.

Feeling better? What a waste! Think hard about the 8 reasons not to be an optimist.

Have I shot myself in the foot with these good-natured jabs? Wish I’d consulted these 10 simple ways to keep from messing up my life.

Now what should I title this post? Wise up and read how to lure readers by palming off useless information, time-wasters, drivel and common sense in 8 compelling ways.

One way to make my day

Updated for yet another relocated link.

Please vote for my entry in the BlogHer ’08 Conference Tote Bag Tagline contest which is going on right now.

One night I was browsing as far away as I could get from lists of how to complicate my life, and I chanced upon the invitation to submit a tagline for the Conference tote bag. I couldn’t resist offering up my two cents in three simple little words. And good golly my submission made it into a list of seven finalists. You know how I feel about lists of seven things, so let’s just marshal our voting power and reduce it to one.

Go here and vote for my tagline, “What she said.” (You’ll need to register on the site if you haven’t already. But once there, you’ll find about a billion ways to make your day better.)

They’ve been crafty about moving this page around of late, and BlogHer itself was down for most of today, so apologies if the link doesn’t take you straight to the Vote! BlogHer ‘08 Tote Bag Tagline page.

Thank you from the bottom of my tote and the end of my list!

The hereafter

I won’t die.
I won’t go anywhere.
I’ll always be here.
But don’t ask me any questions.
I won’t answer.

– The Death Poem of Ikkyu

I’ve been keeping up the memorials this week, lighting incense and saying chants, which are like prayers. You might wonder why. At the bottom of things, “why” is the only question we ever ask.

Why?

Some people are drawn to the spirituality of things, the sentiment, but are not so comfortable with the ceremony, which they don’t understand. I tell people that no one understands ceremony. Not understanding is the ultimate understanding.

Although we might be averse to religious things, to what we see as pomp and posturing and mumbo jumbo, we use ceremony all day long in our everyday activities to keep things sane. We get out of bed in the morning, we eat our breakfast, we brush our teeth, we put one shoe on and then the other. These things are ceremony? You might scoff. But consider how the orderly sequencing of activities dignifies and sustains our lives, keeping us healthy and whole.

And so in our tradition we have ceremony to enliven and activate our intentions. When we remember, we don’t just remember with a thought, that triggers another thought, and another, and back into the shadowy depths of inexpressible despair, we remember with an action. Stepping forward. Lighting incense. Reciting chants and names. The place where we take action – right here – is the place that real transformation occurs. The magic is right in front of us, not in our imaginations.

So I counsel you, if you have someone to remember, if you have grief to bear, express it in ceremony. Mark your calendar and do it – light incense or a candle, say a verse or prayer – without ever knowing why. It is the least that you can do, and it is the very most.

Several years ago, my mother died on April 13.

A year after her death, I showed up one Saturday around April 13 at my Zen Center. A fellow priest came up to me without prompting and said, “Would you like to do a memorial service for your mom?”

I was surprised that he remembered the date. “How did you know?” I responded.

He said, “I’ve been doing services for her all along.”

This is how doing the least thing becomes doing the most. Isn’t it amazing?

We just keep going.

***
All this week, and on the first Sunday of every month to come, I’ll be memorializing lost children and unborn babies in services in my garden. To include the name of a child, just leave a comment. All names and sentiments will be recited. Children from any faith tradition are lovingly included. And I thank you.

The farthest way


When death occurred to the child of Marpa, he cried so bitterly that his disciples flocked around him and asked, “Master, didn’t you say that the world is only an illusion? Why are you crying so brokenheartedly just because your son has died?” Marpa answered them, “Yes, everything is an illusion, but the death of a child is the greatest illusion of them all!”

Yesterday I stepped into the garden to do a little weeding before the afternoon memorial ceremony. I saw that a bird feather had fallen just feet away from the Jizo. I knew it wasn’t an accident. Minutes later my husband called to me from the far side of the house.

“The heron is here!”

I heard its sonic wingstroke, like the B-52 of bird flaps, and saw a broad shadow lifting.

Herons feed at our backyard ponds in the spring and fall, so a visit is not unusual, although this was an unusual time of year and time of day. And yet, given the day’s purpose, it was right on schedule. Herons are auspicious guests because they symbolize long life.

Awesomely elegant, herons are nonetheless enraging to us. We stand helpless to protect our fish from the birds’ appetites at dawn and dusk. The flick of the kitchen light in the early morning can trigger a sudden takeoff from waterside, and we’re left with the gut-puddling certainty that we’ve been robbed.

Herons symbolize long life, I wail, for everything but the fish!

I am ashamed to tell you how cruelly, how uselessly, we tried to fight back at the beginning. But that was before I saw what was really happening.

In an instant, you see, a fish is transformed into a bird. Released from one universe and reborn in another. Nothing is lost, but all is transformed. That’s the fact. It takes faith to see it.

The mourning couple brought flowers, pinecones, pictures, candy and tiny treasures to leave behind on our altar of impermanence, which is called the Earth. I gave them the feather to take home. It had drifted down from who knows where to the very place they stood.

And still, we sob.

***
All this week, and on the first Sunday of every month to come, I’ll be memorializing lost children and unborn babies in services in my garden. To include the name of a child, just leave a comment. All names and sentiments will be recited. Children from any faith tradition are lovingly included. And I thank you.

The hardest gone


This Sunday I’ll be conducting a memorial ceremony in my garden with a couple who learned, heartbreakingly, that their son would not live after he was born. He was born, and then he died. We will remember and ritualize this passage; we will light incense, stand, chant and cry together.

I am so honored to keep this family company now and forever.

This matter of loss – death– of born and unborn children has been circulating around me of late, and that tells me it is time to take a look at it for myself. All next week I want to share with you writings, customs and practices that can help us face our unfathomable grief. I will be doing a service – a chant – every day next week for this baby, and for every child, unborn or departed. I offer this because of the perfect accident of having a Jizo statue in my garden. You can read more about Jizo here.

If you have the name of a child you would like me to include in my services, please note it in the comments, which you can make anonymously if you prefer. Hereafter, I’ll be conducting children’s memorial services on the first Sunday of every month, and I will include all the names you send. Please consider forwarding this to anyone you think would benefit. The world moves in mysterious ways.

Just the utterance of names and sounds, you see, begins the transformation. Nothing else is required. Nothing else is possible.

And while I will find things to say in my future posts, little I say will likely be as full or rich as this, the inspiration I found lying open in my hands last night:

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;

Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,

the whole of the flower, the whole of

the world is blooming.

This is the talk of the flower, the truth

of the blossom;

The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

– Zenkei Shibayama

Instructions on burning a barn

Haul the dog to the vet – she’s perfectly healed.
Sort the mail – a small stone glimmers from the stack.
Reluctant to cook – the lemon and basil take over.
Morning madness –the earth and sky kiss me at the door.
Can’t find your way – let the barn burn itself to dust.

***
Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon
– Masahide

8 years, 4 stitches, $5K, a lot of itches

My Poem
by Georgia

When I was a child
I was quite wild.
I banged my head on a piece of metal.
Years later I got stinging nettle.
I won a huge award.
Our dog had surgery that we could hardly afford.

Early and often


More of my excerpt from the new anthology, The Maternal is Political. Go back here to read the first installment.

I was not, I thought, unduly anxious about my daughter’s educational prospects. I was not among those employing literacy tutors for my three-year-old. I did not use an Excel spreadsheet to track the application process to private kindergartens. I did not angle playdates with the grandchildren of private-school directors. I did not donate a wad of money to the schools at the top of my wish list. I did not even make a list. I simply believed that one day, when the luminous sheen of my daughter’s wonderfulness was made known, something fantastic would happen.

“Who’s John Kerry?” she asked one day, seemingly out of the blue. It was not out of the blue, but rather right out of the red, white, and blue bumper sticker on the SUV in the preschool parking lot. She pointed to it and revealed that, while I wasn’t looking, she had begun to read. It seemed early, the reading, and early too, the electioneering, although I happily took both signs as foretelling a fabulous outcome.

I had been crushed by the presidential election of 2000. Heartbroken, enraged, and then quietly, insistently, optimistic again. Four years was unimaginable, but four more was entirely impossible. Not with truth on our side. Not with smart money. Not with the Internet. And so I found myself doing what I’d never done before, not in my more than twenty years of informed and, sometimes, impassioned voting. I took the phone calls. I made the phone calls. I sent tens of dollars. I sent hundreds of dollars. I walked the precinct. I wore the button. I slapped on the bumper sticker, then saw the stickers everywhere, and not just in the parking lot of our high-priced, progressive preschool. Democratic values were alive and never wealthier, it seemed. The republic would be saved.

We took our daughter to the polls on election day of 2004. And what seemed to matter most going in—truthfulness, courage, effort, and ideals—mattered nothing in the end. One measly vote in one dinky town in one irrelevant state didn’t count for much. The republic was not only broken, it was no longer ours to fix.

“Have we ever voted for someone who won?” My daughter’s response reflected her brief life history of losing, 0 for 2, in presidential contests, but the dejection was universal. We had come to the irretrievable end of hope. And the loss, we realized, was truly hers.

***
To continue reading. To continue listening. To be continued.

Grateful dead


From naive simplicity we arrive at more profound simplicity. – Albert Schweitzer

Is there anyone who doesn’t look at this discovery and say, well . . . duh?

***
May you find your own place to rest in peace this weekend. Back to school on Monday with more on my latest learning curve.

Big gulp


I’m looking out the window
for my baby to come home
because today she left without me
while I stayed behind and mopped up:
the floor, the walls, the ceiling,
the stickiness of me

I’m looking out the window
for my baby to come home
because today I spilled over,
supersized with my own wonderfulness
when I asked, “Want some Coke?”
(Which I never do, you see, since Mommy says it makes kids stop growing
and that settles that.)
I poured this one-time specialness over ice in a cup,
toasting my good-motherness,
our happy-togetherness,
handed it to her
and instantly it spilled,
emptied over homework and folder,
onto table and chair,
soaking the Crate and Barrel rug.

The poison rose in me like foam over a tumbler
streaming down the sides
puddling on the counter
my long tongue lashing out the blame
lathering the shame
my arms and legs erupting
in a crazy-lady dance
saving wet pages
wet carpet
letting her wet face dry by itself.

How awful, how inane, over a pause that refreshes?
Sugar water and dye.
I’ve had my pause. I’ve died.

I’m sick and sad and sorry to be
looking out the window
for my baby to come home
Standing alone
where I can catch the first gleam
It’s what moms do
we do it forever
even before we are moms.

The waiting is worth it.

* * *

For Denise. In fullness. Of time.

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