Rock paper sawdust


The other weekend my daughter implored my husband to help “her” build a trundle dollbed for her “sisters”. She was about to take possession of yet another doll, a doll she didn’t need and had nowhere to put but that “she” had duly earned. More about that later.

My husband, being the creative type that he is, “helped” her draw up plans and set up shop in the garage. When I came in a few hours later, Georgia was “working” on the construction from behind the walls of a corrugated “house” loosely assembled with the 24 empty cookie cases we have laying around. Less about that later. Mounds of sawdust had been swept into a landscape. She’d laid a “carpet” of rag towels and discarded sheets, and she was curled up in her cozy make-believe, casually supervising the ongoing carpentry. And she wouldn’t come out. All day, she wouldn’t come out. She was in bliss. And I thought to myself,

Oh my, I have made this childhood thing far more complicated than it ever needed to be.

Thus I was inspired to offer the first ingredient in my personal program to cultivate childhood creativity:

Ingredient Number 1: Paper

One of the things I feel so self-satisfied about is the investment I’ve made in drawing pads for Georgia over the years. (Target should feel good about that too, but the last time I checked, they weren’t yet satisfied with the sum total of my purchases.) A surviving remnant of my daughter’s preschool days is the crate of writing and drawing supplies that resides by our dining room table. It ends up collecting a lot more than writing supplies, but I cull it at least once a year and feel self-satisfied about that too. Here are kept the rubber stamps, stickers and pens, the paper and glue sticks, the maze and puzzle books, the crayons and colored pencils we still use every day, and a veritable landfill of Happy Meal toys.

Georgia is a terrific reader and writer, as I’m annoyingly quick to boast, and I like to think that I contributed cleverly to her early literacy.

But now I see that a piece of paper – the fundamental building block of my personal program of creativity – doesn’t have to be a piece of paper. It can be a box. Or a rock. Or an old towel or sheet. It can be sawdust. It can be string. It can be just anything.

Just anything is the one thing that I consistently withheld from my daughter in her formative years. I never wanted her to use just anything, and I seldom allow it still.

Let’s say I’m a creative work in progress.

***
I’m making a mound of sawdust out of creativity this week. Here’s what got me started.

In estimation of snails and elephants


There is a lot of show and tell about creativity these days. I understand the interest. Not so much now, when I can see and delight in my daughter for how colorful she already is, but in the earlier days of child-rearing when I was certain that someone other than me – a specially trained music teacher, art teacher, or storyteller – could do more to prime my daughter’s creative instincts than I could. I sought out those uniquely qualified people, I entrusted the both of us to their able hands, and my daughter and I got out of the house and enjoyed ourselves immensely. These activities were creative exercises, but they were not at all necessary to cultivating creativity.

I was doing it backwards. I thought of creativity as one of a myriad attributes to be managed; an aptitude to instill. Now I see creativity much differently. All children are creative and all adults are creative because life is creation itself. Spontaneous, dynamic, unpredictable, inexplicable and rich with inherent and inscrutable meaning. Creativity doesn’t always look like what we think it should look like, though.

***

The feeling that we lack creativity has given rise to a naturalistic movement – which could soon dwarf even Martha Stewart – giving us lush pictorials on creativity. Everything in displays of this kind defy my imagination: handmade, homemade, artistic, ingenious, and productive beyond human comprehension, or so it seems to me. After absorbing these images, soaking in a simmer of envy, disbelief and despair, I often feel my inspiration evaporate, more certain than ever that I am creatively disabled and DNA impoverished. I am, to be sure, no elephant among artists.

This is not at all the feeling I get after visiting at a certain address in Madison or resting under the blue sky in Virginia, each of which makes me feel right at home with my own kin.

And not so with Ginger Carlson, author of a new book called Child of Wonder. Ginger is an education consultant, teacher, speaker and mother who contacted me a little while ago and offered to send me her book. I instantly agreed for reasons of universal karmic indebtedness. Having plowed this tough turf myself makes me eager to pay back the kindness of strangers. Ginger’s work is full of practical, encouraging, well-researched pedagogy and sane advice for nurturing creativity in your children and yourself. And get this: not one of these ideas requires that I sew, knit, embroider or quilt; grow my own leeks; gather fresh gooseberries; keep small farm animals; make my own curtains; distress my own hardwoods; or hold a paintbrush in my nostril. Those are all clever and worthy ideas but they are ideas that I’m not likely to use today unless I twist them into a switch and beat myself back into my cozy snail shell.

***

Ginger covers many of the same bases but without an outcome-orientation. In other words, her take on creativity isn’t about how it looks, but about how it acts. Her approach to being creative is more than crafts. To wit, some of the unintentional Zen wisdom I gleaned from her pages:

“Let your child be alone.”
“Step outdoors.”
“Don’t ignore the wind.”
“Move your eyebrows.”
“Collect paper clips.”
“Don’t underestimate snails.”
“Question your agenda.”
“Say yes more often.”

In short, I liked Ginger’s use of the everyday and everywhere, the breadth of material and resources, which touch on all the ways we fear we will fail our children’s natural curiosity.

What I liked most about the book is that Ginger asked me to read it. I, for one, recognize that single act as a creative leap of the boldest kind.

And that gave me the creative opportunity to say yes.

Furthermore, she has inspired me to inch along all next week talking about creativity, during which I will make almost no apparent progress and few will call it pretty, least of all me.

Overrating is overrated


Now for something completely now.

I’ll admit I was a tad off-put, mildly aggrieved and recklessly endangered by a glib comment made recently by someone (who, like me, can be forgiven her off-the-cuff pronouncements) lecturing along the lines of living in the now is overrated . . . something that only monks and yogis can do . . . and that the key to happiness lies in having fond memories of the past and plans for the future.

Huh? And from a “spiritual” memoirist?

Let me go on record as saying I am all for happy memories and titillating trips. I’m all for champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Pile up my pasta bowl. Save me a first-class seat. Fill up my glass and pour me a second. In a certain way, there’s nothing quite so happy (or sad) as a memory, and nothing quite so invigorating (or agitating) as the future.

But the comment plays to the conventional misunderstanding about time and how it can be fully lived. The past and the future aren’t real and no matter how many times we stamp the passport, we can’t live in imaginary places. No, we have to stay right here. And for some of us, with full houses and real lives, with crying, whining kids that we love and even hate sometimes; gimpy dogs with diarrhea; husbands we haven’t left; broken bones; busted bank accounts; and all-day laundry to do, the facts of life are not something that we need to detour around. Again.

Life isn’t always a day in Polynesia, that’s for sure. You can keep sneaking out the back door and racing out the front door and squeezing past airport security but you’ll never end up anywhere else but now.

You know where I’m heading, but I’ll say it again anyway. The only place we ever live is now! There are no other options whether you’re a monk or a millionairess, a yogi or a bear. You can’t underrate or overrate it. When we call it “the” now it suggests a certain kind of now, a different now, a better, special edition now that is attained, as one fan cynically dismissed, “by the old idea of meditating on a rock and wishing for enlightenment,” or by what someone else testified against, “living in a vacuum.”

Oh the dust we do indeed stir when we live in a vacuum which I haven’t yet tried but I suspect with my new slimline Dyson to be that much more impossible for me to attain.

No one has to master living in the now. It’s impossible to live anywhere else, rock or no rock, wish or no wish! Just as you can never leave now, no one will ever take away your past or withhold your future. Effortlessly, your past accumulates. Instantly, your future arrives. What matters is that you notice your life while you can still call it “alive.” That’s called now.

Or at least it matters to me and my still-beating heart.

There’s really nothing more to it. For your own peace of mind, get rid of any three-letter word that you might automatically insert before “now.” As in “the.” Or “not.” Take those out and put nothing else in. Get rid of the idea that now is anything else or anywhere else or anyone else.

You are now. There! Life just got easier still. “Now” may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but the real problem with it, I suspect, is whether we think it’s enough.

And special thanks to Liz. Because she inadvertently prompted this awakening, along with many hours of hedonistic reading, she is to me what we rock-sitters call a bodhisattva. We should all look that one up while we have the eternity otherwise unaffectionately known as now.

***

Hoppity Dog Update: Thank you for being Super Dog’s duper best friends! Although we’ve been assured it’s not an emergency, and we could leave it untreated and expect our girl to heal to at least half her former self, we’ve opted to award Molly with the most expensive medical treatment our money can’t quite buy. (Thank you home equity!) She will have her surgery next week, while Daddy and Piddly Dog are in Kansas City and Mommy Dog is in Orange County doing her doggone best to speak, girl, speak at this parenting conference. Come down and join me in a romp. I’ll be off-leash, which I seem to be already.

Tearing my heart at broken knee


If the boat were empty, He would not be shouting, and not angry.
– Chuang Tzu

Early Saturday afternoon I pulled into my driveway after a regular morning at the Zen Center. I saw my husband walking our dog Molly half a block up the hill.

I later wished I had rolled down the window and called to them. He might have turned back. Then I could have taken Molly for her walk as I do every day, sometimes twice a day, a comfortable habit.

But I didn’t, and about 10 minutes later he shouted into the front door. “I’m taking Molly to the vet!” It didn’t quite register with me. He already told me he had a list in mind of things to get done that I really wanted him to get done: fixing the sprinklers, picking oranges, taking my car in for tires and alignment. I wandered into the kitchen to investigate. I saw then that Molly was limping on three legs, her left rear leg hiked up in an awkward clutch.

“Molly hurt herself,” my husband said. “She was chasing a squirrel and I didn’t see it. She must have tripped on a hole in the ground. She didn’t cry.”

“You had her off leash?” I gaped. He took a half a minute to tell me the particulars. Yes, she was off leash up at the wilderness park at the end of the street, a place he liked to go instead of walking all around the block, a place he liked to take her off leash to satisfy what he thought she really wanted to do, what dogs should do, sprint around after birds and squirrels.

“I never take her off leash up there,” I said to his back as he left.

* * *

We have a big yard, and although I thought it would be ruined when we adopted our dog, she has made a peaceable kingdom of this place, and we all get by.

Sometimes she saunters out back through an open door and lounges in a pool of pure sunshine on our grassy hill. Other times she barrels off at top speed from a standing start, chasing a dart of shadow or sound. Her sleek flanks ripple in a bronze shimmer of grace and power. She launches these feats from an invisible, intuitive surge. We call her Super Dog.

Saturday afternoon I sat at my desk behind a picture window overlooking the north yard. I saw Molly outside accelerate across the turf and out of my sight toward the perimeter fence. I later wished I had called her in when I saw her bolt, but it’s nice to leave things be when you’re otherwise occupied. She must have seen people strolling on the sidewalk beyond. Maybe neighbors walking a dog.

A minute later I heard her paws click on the parquet behind me. She was limping, her left rear leg hiked up in an awkward clutch.

“What happened to you, Molly?” I spoke gently, in a radiating stillness. There was no way to guess or judge. No one else to ask or blame.

* * *

It’s not so uncommon for dogs of Molly’s size and type to tear their anterial cruciate ligament. It’s a knee injury that tends to end the careers of the fleet of foot, like football players and lion hunters. Because Molly is still young, we have the inconvenient option of unaffordable surgery and an even more excruciating recuperation – weeks, a month or so, crated and immobile, on drugs.

We were shocked for a bit, foggy about what to do, veering toward the least, the easy, the nothing. Thankfully, we now have a clear-minded vet in the sisterhood, and she answered my question. We will do all we can to make our dog well, and soon.

My heart is broken with sympathy and concern. I shudder with fear and doubt that I can manage her long convalescence and confinement. This morning I’m scrubbing rugs, washing and bleaching towels and rags, releasing my fragile hold on normal. As a result of her stress or medication or both, she cannot manage herself through the night. Today we’ll schedule her surgery and see what happens next.

All of that is trouble enough. But what rends me in two is that I cannot yet reconcile the difference in the two stories I’ve told you of how it happened. I have not emptied the boat. Until I can, I too am unwell, and I spread even more pain in these broken down places.

Setting Tom straight


Mommy, last week in class we were supposed to give each other compliments, and do you know Tom, the boy with the dark hair?

Uh-huh.

He told me I was short.

What did you say?

I told him, “That’s not a compliment! That’s a threat and an insult!”

Spoken with the force of nature that topples a wobbly head and rules a steadfast heart.

The girl will be OK.

Where the going gets good


I’ve been doing a little bit more running lately, because a little bit more than nothing is a quite a little bit more. The reason for all of it will roll around soon enough. My friends on the road thought I needed a touch of optimism to shade me from the harsh realities.

This morning I put on my new hat and my daughter saw it for the first time.

“Oh,” she said, accustomed to a world encapsulated in logos, “you must have gotten that at the Life is Good store.”

Yes, honey, I did. I got a lifetime supply at the Life is Good store. Let’s see how long it lasts me this time.

Sowing basket


My karma ran over my blogma.

There is an often mentioned yet little understood law called karma. It is not hard to grasp; no, it is always in the palm of our hands. Still, most of us persist in thinking that karma is something beyond us, some unseen force that arrives – shazam! – as random fortune on the whims of fate. Not so. We are karma, and we produce karma. Our present is the product of our past; our future is the product of our present.

And I do mean present. In a series of interwoven, yet still unexpected karmic consequences, my basket has lately been filled to the brim with presents. I array them here for you now, in accord with another fractured axiom, “You read what you sow.”

First, Irene sent me this. It is made of the kind of magic only rarely seen and quickly disappearing these days. Catch it while you can.

Next, Jen sent me this. It was a smash sell-out, but you can still begin at the beginning. I suspect there’s more where it came from.

Then, Kathryn gave me this. She had already delivered the prequel. Do you see the way the circle turns?

Mika, the mommy musician who always sounds a true note, sent these amazing sounds. You’ll be blown far, far away.

Laura, who once worked with me, kindly skirted the issue of mints. In the intervening years I’ve become well-aged but she’s become the big cheese.

Keri made my wish true. Now I wish to return the favor a million times over.

That brings me to Bella, who along with Meg has come up with a way to fill the basket forward. This is your future calling. Bless it.

Thump in the night


To all ye perpetrators of holiday deception laboring with the weight of your well-meant betrayal, the fear of future reckoning, this is how the veil is pierced: with a cottony soft tail and whisker kiss:

Mommy, will you remind the Easter Bunny to come?

How gingerly, how tenderly she asks so as not to shatter the dyed green eggshell of my illusion.

Neither parents, nor parents’ secrets, are much mystery to their kin. And this truth-in-common is what we celebrate, indeed, what we should celebrate, every day.

I’m betting the place is hopping tonight.

Ingredients on hand


Using what’s at hand, he finished up the yard. He could use it and know when to quit.

Time after time I’m refreshed by this obscure line from a nearly forgotten verse on a 7th century koan I studied long ago. When you first approach a Zen koan, through meditation, you can get lost in a labyrinth of intellectual incomprehension. Using what? Whose hand? Finishing what? The yard where? And then you might stop wondering for a second and the instructions surface, clear and direct. As clear as picking up a rake, for instance, or sweeping with a broom.

This is how life is. We always have at hand everything we need to finish up. We know how to do what needs to be done and we know when to quit too. It’s what we don’t need to do when we don’t need to do it that is so puzzling.

If I ever wrote a cookbook, this would be my sole instruction: Use what’s at hand. That stark brevity means, of course, that I could never write a cookbook. But I could make dinner out of limp celery and garbanzo beans, as someone once said.

Similarly inspired by the forlorn kale, spongy mushrooms, forgotten carrots, patient potatoes and canned tomatoes in my kitchen yesterday, I made ratatouille for dinner. Not that it was ratatouille from a book, mind you, but what I simply called ratatouille in a spark of who-me individuality and why-not invention. My daughter was so engaged by the prospect of dinner a la Remy that she instructed me to thin-slice the accompanying sausage and array it like “fallen dominoes” around the circumference of the mush. See? She knew.

We always have the ingredients on hand to finish what we already know how to do.

As I write this, by hand, the sun has just risen in the mists between the surf and the cliffs of Orange County, California. I followed a medical transport van here in the wee-hour darkness, a van that carried my sister. Last week, on the first of what was to be seven days of Colorado skiing, she broke her ankle and her wrist. Back home now, she’s doing what she knows to do using the help at hand. Today, surgery to re-set and secure the bones and hasten recovery.

The thought, the mere thought, of losing the use of one leg and one arm is paralyzing, isn’t it? But here she is, with a medical transport taxi to get her to and fro, a couple of good doctors, a home health attendant, and a sister in the waiting room. I would be here anyway. But now, by virtue of life’s passing, I am her next of kin, her domino.

It turns out none of us is paralyzed.

Today I write with my hand the words that you read. It is the writing that makes for reading and the reading for writing.

We all, each of us, come together where we are, as we are, to make one savory stew, one delectable taste, interdependent and whole. In the way my sister is grateful for me today, I am grateful for you. Together we make a meal.

Planet Lazarus


Last weekend I sat in the middle of more than a dozen newcomers who participated in the Beginner’s Mind retreat at my Zen Center, and it was a remarkably powerful experience. Powerful because it always is. Remarkable because attracting more than a dozen people out of the drunken sunshine of a lazy LA Sunday to practice eight hours of silent self-discipline is a miracle. A miracle, I tell you.

Now it’s nothing much to boast about compared to what they’re calling America’s most popular church, the church of Be as Rich as God Wants You to Be.

And it’s a pittance compared to the self-styled gospel worshipped at the altar of Be as Rich as You Think You Should Be.

But it is a miracle in the plain and ordinary church that I frequent, the church where, invite as we might, many are called and stubbornly few ever choose to step even one foot inside, the church of Be.

Sitting there all day in this simmering brew of effort, willingness, endurance, open-mindedness and sincerity, sitting with strangers in a slow bake of solidarity and mutual encouragement, percolating in the intimacy and acceptance of a shared experience, I was overwhelmed with delight and gratitude. When it was over, we all left on weightless wings, sailing on gusts of freshness, into the lives we had, only eight hours earlier, been desperate to leave behind.

Truly, miraculously, we raise the dead.

Please come next time. There is always a next time, and there is always room for you.

Department of flying pigs

With intermittent frog downpours. As soon as I rhapsodize on splendor in the grass, heaven freezes over.

(It’s technically hail, not snow, but still.)

Hail by hail.

Revolutionary new weed treatment.

Weed by weed


I wrote this post yesterday and I was holding onto it for later, but holding on is not at all the spirit of this post, or the teaching of the weed.

I used to know a deeply intuitive and provocative woman, a woman of many arts and aptitudes, who said she was going to write a book called Start What You Finish (as opposed to that book we’ve all had recited to us a billion times, Finish What You Start). I well understood her point. Before we even start something we are already mentally rounding the curve toward the steep and sticky part, the complex, exhausting, immeasurable length of it, the part we can’t imagine doing, and we stop before we’ve begun. How to keep from doing that would make a great topic for a book.

We lost touch with one another, but as far as I know, this was one project she never got started.

This morning I sat down to work on the kind of work I get paid to write. Honest, I don’t get paid much or at all to write this other stuff. So I’m looking at my options on this wide-open morning: to crack into the research brief entitled “Competing on Analytics,” or the “Encyclopedia of Statistics in Quality and Reliability.” (I’m not making this up.) Or maybe I’ll just scroll one more time through my primary source, the white paper I already wrote once, “Making Performance Measurement Work.” I need to pull together an outline and key messages to ghostwrite an industry article on “Operational Dashboards.”

I give up. It’s not happening today.

Today, I’ll weed.


We used to enjoy having a carpet of green weedy ground cover across our rolling backyard garden. I say enjoy but I really mean accept because what, in the end, is more enjoyable than simple acceptance? Our vista looked neat and green, but the ground was mostly weeds. Then when our nervy neighbor began hoisting his two-story addition overlooking our home and garden last year, we raided the retirement fund to landscape the whole schmeer with towering bamboo and darling little mounds of grass called “dwarf mondo.” Isn’t that the cutest name? Dwarf mondo, i.e. little big. Because it’s a little thing that can cover a big space.

We replaced all the topsoil with rich, fragrant dirt and planted precious little plugs of mondo across the roaming whole of it so that now I still have a green grassy ground cover but I do not enjoy it nearly as much. No, I have replaced that sense of carefree disregard with the drive and agitation I imagine a surgeon feels as he surveys his upcoming schedule of life-and-death procedures. Now, I am a backyard neurosurgeon, prying sprigs of weeds from between the delicate roots of my baby mondo, my vast and miniature world, my little big.

When I look up across the endless stretch of the job before me, I surely want to quit.


But if I manage to regain my focus on what’s at hand I realize it’s just one weed. There’s always just one weed to do next. I do it weed by weed, and the weeds always show me how.

I’ve come to believe that every impasse, obstacle and impossibility is just that: one weed, saying, “Pull here.”

I don’t ever finish. But I always start. Weeding is something you start but you’re a fool if you think a gardener is ever finished, if you think a garden ever stays put.

Today I’ll weed. And when I return to the job I’ve set aside, it will start in an altogether different place, a different space, with different openings and perhaps, greater ease. Everything moves through this one place in time, the infinite and unimaginable totality of existence moves through this one moment of motion: the tug, as I dislodge a weed from the earth. When I do that, I dislodge it all.

Starting anything is starting everything. The finish, if you want to call it that, takes care of itself.


In homage to a certain treatise on birds.

Rescue mission


Twice a year or so I get this kind of telephone call.

We’ll be in your neighborhood next week. Do you have any donations of used clothing or household goods?

And right away I say yes. Without even knowing what the donations might be I say yes.

The outfit that comes by is called Rescue Mission.

There are things that you and I probably don’t want to know about the used clothing business. There is re-marketing and profiteering. I’m never sure how much of what I pack up will be used, or used by someone who really needs my shredded sneakers and faded khakis.

There is more to this than meets the eye, I’m sure. But I don’t need to know. I always say yes because the time is always right and the need is always great. Because the call has come and the closets are full. Because children grow and parents do too. Because I use my clothing well but I never quite use it up. Because when you have more than you need things grow heavy and dull, dusty, dark, airless and dead. I say yes because it’s a Rescue Mission, and the one being rescued is me.

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 ... 53 54 55 56 57 ... 66 67 68 Next

archives by month

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

twitter bits

stay in touch