Posts Tagged ‘Writing Life’

One size fits all

January 27th, 2009    -    25 Comments

In case you thought my life was any different than this.

I was fuming. I spend a lot of my time fuming. Because of my husband. Know what I mean?

You don’t pay attention, I say.

When I fume, he does too and the cause of it, from what I gather, is this:

You pay too much attention, he says.

Neither of us is right, but both of us have our reasons. Reasons are a big problem in this house, but they usually get rinsed out in the wash.

Except lately, I haven’t been doing his wash for him. I don’t know how or why. I just stopped. He has the most clothes, wearable and unwearable, the most laundry, washed and unwashed, of anyone in the house. I think one has to do with the other.

My reasoning goes like this. Perhaps because he hasn’t – oh, in the last 13 years – had a weekly face-to-face with his laundry pile, he unduly cherishes his wardrobe, and unduly dismisses the meticulous task of caring for clothes.

Can I donate this to the rag pile, he says.

Trying to be helpful, he holds up a single pair of old socks.

Just throw them away, I instruct. He doesn’t like to give away worn out or outgrown clothes, and you know how I feel about that. He likes to buy new ones. I noticed last week he was sporting a handsome new sweater of a dense weave.

I picked it up while I was at the mall, he says.

I have a judgmental eye for those kinds of things. A judgmental eye for all kinds of things. I see that his old sweaters are stretched out and threadbare, but they are still crowding his drawers and closet. Still filling the hamper with to-dos.

Are you doing your laundry, I say.

He’s put a small load in on Sunday before I could start the heavy lifting. A few important things along with the new sweater.

I actually love to do laundry. Rather, I love to finish laundry. The clean, warm, folded, fresh scent of accomplishment. I just wish there was money in it!

Let me put it in the dryer, he says.

He is being responsible, cheery, chastened after one of my harangues. Washer cleared, I start my own load. About 30 minutes later, I open up the dryer to empty out his stuff. One glance at the surviving swatch of sweater and I turn it inside out to read the label he hadn’t.

Hand wash cold, it says.

Only some of you know what unexpected encouragement I took in finding those three words. Those three little words. Not because of what they meant about him: that he hadn’t paid attention, but because of what they meant to me: to take heart and keep going. To keep washing, drying, rinsing, and writing. To have faith, because I now have a new sweater that fits me perfectly!

It only cost $25, he says.

Priceless.

In praise of abandonment

January 18th, 2009    -    12 Comments


All my life, I have been stitching together a family – Barack

I read a fascinating piece in The New Yorker the other day. It became more fascinating days after I read it, as the implications surfaced in all kinds of other events right before my eyes. It’s from an interview more than 10 years ago of the young Obama couple. It’s delightfully honest, because you can see the truth and trajectory in what they say long before it was made known to them or to us.

There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career – Michelle

You can hear the foreboding, see the vulnerability, in her words and her picture. She describes herself as more traditional, more risk-averse, pretty private. She is so much like many of us, with a family background so much more like the rest of us, without ambiguity, and yet we see ourselves so clearly in him. How so?

I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me – Barack

Reading this I thought, wow, having a family is like an adventure to him, a journey. Because he didn’t have the kind of family that brings with it such an overriding sense of identity, such confining identity, he is free of expectations. He is comfortable with mystery even in those he loves. His arms are wide; his pose is relaxed and natural. On this wide open face, we have projected our hopes and dreams, and he alone can bear them.

Even as you build a life of trust, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person – Barack

How many of us can say that? Do that? Withstand and pursue that? How many of us can abandon our expectations and free those we love from the prison of being who we think they are? Who we want them to be? This is the recipe for all loving relationships and the point of an article I wrote for the February issue of Shambhala Sun entitled, radically enough, “Parents, Leave Your Home.” If you subscribe, you’ll get the magazine any day. If you don’t, you’ll see it at the Whole Foods checkout. Or, you can download it from my website right now by scrolling down the home page to a list of my articles and anthologies.

Thank you, Mr. President, for making me part of your family. You encourage me to do the same with my own. Let them be. Let them be a mystery. Let them be home wherever they roam.

Look in your top left-hand drawer

December 19th, 2008    -    9 Comments

Steps of Encouragement:
1. “I understand, I know it’s hard.”
2. “I think you can handle it.”
3. “Want to give it a try?”
4. “When you’re ready . . . “
5. “Look in your top left-hand drawer.”

***
Today, shopping done, leaves raked, laundry spinning and the computer waylaid one more day in repair, I cleaned out my desk. My desk may be no different than the one you have, drawers so full of detritus that I hardly open them anymore. Into the drawers I went, and I found:

1. A short stack of rejections I saved while hunting for an agent. There were eleven of them here, among more that weren’t, because these were the dozen that favored me with a written reply. What struck me was not the disinterest these strangers showed, but the civility of their response. So I keep them still. The most civil of all was the one who called.

2. Scrap papers of notes written on the plane home after my first retreat with Maezumi Roshi 15 years ago. What I jotted: “He says he doesn’t want to flatter me, but he has been waiting for someone like me, someone with a big capacity to learn and teach others.” You can see he still has an infinitely big capacity for flattery! And while I don’t doubt he told others the same thing, I was the one who found it today.

3. A photo of my mother giving baby Georgia a bath. My mom’s head is a post-chemo cap of newly grown, wiry black curls. She is not the radiant woman who still lives in my heart; the baby is not the precious girl who still lives in my home. Time has passed but I’ve lost nothing and no one.

4. A snapshot of El Santuario de Chimayo taken on a visit in 1992, a magical axis from which my life turned in a totally new direction.

5. A print out of the first and only of Maezumi’s teachings I edited for him before his death. It was from three hours of his talks on Dogen Zenji’s fascicle, “Tsuki,” or “The Moon.” It took 36 hours of listening to tapes, craning into the earphones of a Radio Shack portable cassette player, to transcribe one inscrutable word at a time. I had no idea what I was doing.

6. Stuck on the first page of the completed transcription was a Post-It note written by my current teacher when he read it five years ago. “Maezen, Thank you so much! Keep it going – N.” This was the first time I’d read the piece since. I was afraid to.

7. A sheet of paper with the first four of the above Steps of Encouragement given to me by a preschool teacher when my daughter was three. My daughter never needed them; I still do.

8. And thus I found all the encouragement I need right now in my top left-hand drawer. There’s more than enough here, so please take some to tide you over until you look deeper inside for yourself.

A toast to the last of the good stuff

December 16th, 2008    -    22 Comments


The other day I was passing time in one of my many embarrassingly self-stimulating pursuits when I ran across this comment about my book:

“I think I will eventually buy it cheap and used online.”

I don’t know the person who wrote it, but we are all careful about our purchasing decisions these days. What struck me is why she would broadcast her intentions in a way that seems both self-congratulatory and deprecatory about the value of a book – my book in particular. What price is so much cheaper than $9.56 new? Or even $11.95 list?

I’m not here to rail on anyone about the end of the publishing industry. Like a lot of industries collapsing these days it has long engaged in a stubborn suicide spiral. Publishers seem to have been blindly unconcerned with writers, readers or the revolution in content delivery. (Beware, beware, those of you awaiting publishing knights in shining armor. No one rides in on a white horse. You, yes you, the writer, remain your sole means of transport. So saddle up and get going.)

No, what I want to rail against is the peculiarly uncivilized value system during this, the decline and fall of our civilization. A system in which we can spend $10 a week on coffee in a cardboard cup, but scrimp on the $9.56 for a book.

And don’t worry: I’m indicting myself here. My husband and I don’t dare live without our $12 pound of connoisseur coffee beans each week.

One early Saturday morning about a month ago I stopped by Starbucks for my ritual tall-drip-with-room-for-cream $1.60 cup of slightly stale coffee on the way to the Zen center. Normally I make a pot at home but don’t want the roar of the grinder to wake the dead at the dark hour of my departure. There were about half a dozen folks ahead of me in line. The stock market had fallen, oh 700 points or so the day before, yet here we all were, living proof of our unshakable values. We could, on this day of our lives, own a share of Citigroup, the largest financial institution in the world, for $4. Or, we could have a grande vanilla soy latte. We all know how that story ends. It’s not a happy ending.

And so I make a toast today, a toast to a better tomorrow; a kinder, gentler, nobler nation; a toast to quiet circumspection, art and imagination; to our wiser selves awaiting revelation in the turn of a page.

A toast not just to the book or the bookshelf; not to the library, no, not just to the borrowed book; but beyond that, to the hard currency of words worth owning.

To the bookstore! Where everything is already dangerously, precariously, woefully half off and going out of business.

***

This entire post was written by hand in 15 minutes flat in the pages of Jen Lee’s magical Don’t Write: A Reluctant Journal while my hard drive was being replaced in yet another cruel case of ill-timed obsolescence. Get your own journal today. It’s not just a blank book. It’s a white horse!

Out of the mists

December 7th, 2008    -    10 Comments

My girl was a big girl, her own girl, with her own loves and life. I was a spectator, but the show was splendid and I still had the best seat in the house.

By my reckoning, I wrote those words nearly eight years ago, they were published nearly three years ago, and last night they came true in the most absolute and unpredictable way. I watched my daughter debut on a theater stage, feet steady, eyes blazing, cheeks glowing, her own girl, in her own life, from my seat in the full house. I’m filled with awe, not so much with her particular drama, but with the wonder of life itself. Do we write this life? Do we conjure out of scribbled ink and poetic image the very future we inhabit?

We must! We must!

Who is this girl, I wonder? Where does she come from and where will she go?

Is she the baby at twelve months, the fickle birthday girl whose sudden flare of independence inspired the tearful flow of the original words? Is she the sweetheart at two, and three, and four, who dressed herself in an everyday wardrobe of feather wings and glitter crowns? Is she the girl of eight, who cast herself in the real-life leading role of a fantasy come true?

She is all and none of those girls, and most of all this. She is the one who moves in and out of the mists, as we all move in and out of the mists, to appear live and on-stage in the pure light of the briefest moment of recognition.

Oh my heaven, my goodness, do you see it? Do you see it? When we do, when we open our eyes to see the show, there is only one thing to do. There is only ever one thing to do, and without the hesitation of a second thought.

Applaud! Applaud!

Out of the mists of The Huntington Gardens.

Dear friends, my best friends, my full house, appreciate your life.

The way out is out of my way

November 12th, 2008    -    13 Comments


Since I’ve come home from sitting so much has appeared. Thousands of words flew out by themselves. I wrote a piece this week that amazed me so and reminded me that writing – and everything – is not a thought process, but its own process. We do not write words but the words write us, and then we can read them along with everyone else and learn something.

The piece I’m referring to won’t be visible for a few months, and when it is on paper it will be brand new to you and me both.

What I want to say is how inextricable stillness is from motion and motion is from stillness. Either one, when unlatched from the hindrance of our repetitive critical thinking, makes things happen! When I am stuck, I go for a walk and get unstuck. When I am going nowhere, I sit still in meditation, open my mind and get somewhere.

I hope that you try it for yourself. Getting out of your own way is the way out!

Soon I’ll be in motion again near and far. I’m always inspired by the chance to meet and speak with practicing parents and/or practicing Buddhists, and if you are anywhere in the neighborhood, please go out of your way and come along:

Thurs., Nov. 20, 7 p.m.
Palos Verdes Hills Nursery School

Sun., Nov. 30, 10:30 a.m.
Rime Buddhist Center
Kansas City

A spot of shine

November 10th, 2008    -    11 Comments


This week I have a new article appearing in the quarterly magazine Buddhadharma, entitled “Looking Under the Bed.” It brings to light my rather poorly hidden view of the urgent need for real practice. The magazine is on newsstands this week, and my commentary is partially excerpted here.

I am grateful to the editors of Buddhadharma and the sister publication the Shambhala Sun for their kind and steady solicitation of my work. I encourage you to read as much of the publications as you can online, and to consider buying the current issue or subscribing. It’s true that there is too much debate and discussion about Buddhism in Buddhism (that’s the -ism I can do without) but there is always a need to refresh and encourage yourself in the Way, particularly by reading things that might make you uncomfortable!

You might also have noticed a new entry in my blogroll: the Shambhala SunSpace, a new editors’ blog updated frequently with short bursts of shine. Take a look under it all for yourself.

Edited to add: Find your own Buddha night light here.

By any other name

October 22nd, 2008    -    6 Comments


Children’s books that forever changed my life.

Of course, you say, of course she’d like that book. She chose the name.

My daughter is named Georgia, but not for the artist O’Keeffe. My daughter is named for two great-grandfathers on both sides of her family. One an architect; one a farmer.

So this book, once again, is rather for me. Georgia O’Keeffe is my namesake, my mentor, as an artist and an independent being. As a heart and an eye and a hand that saw the big truth in small things.

My Name is Georgia
A Portrait by Jeanette Winter

Her entire life story is told in these 48 pages of spare text and evocative illustrations. Her own girl, with her own way and her own way of seeing. Drawn by the urge to meet the faraway up close, to render mysteries plain and true so people would see.

I went to the New Mexico desert.
So far away that no one ever comes.
I was satisfied to be all by myself.
I did things other people don’t do.

I painted my sky BIG,
so people would see the sky the way I did.

Find the fearless footprint, hear the song of truth and echo it back over the mountains. Paint your life BIG so people will see.

My earlier favorites are shelved here, here and here.

On little cat feet

October 21st, 2008    -    12 Comments


Children’s books that forever changed my life.

It turns out I have an affinity for things French (besides fools and fries). Today I send you in the direction of a cat that travels, in the inscrutably self-actualized nature of a cat, across the entire country of France to find his original home.

This is the sweetest, shortest evocation of a spiritual sojourn that I have ever read.

The Cat Who Walked Across France
By Kate Banks
Pictures by Georg Hallensleben

Kitty lives in a stone house by the sea until the day he is shipped north, with all the other lifelong belongings of the old woman who once scratched his ears and stroked his back. Soon he is forgotten among the unclaimed and disused. Until one day he leaves.

Children playing ball would chase after him. And the cat would scurry up a tree. But when he nestled in its branches, he would remember the tangy smell of lemons ripening on a branch under a window at the stone house by the edge of the sea. And he would move on.

May we all move on through a life as lush as the French landscape until we reach a wide open front door, settle into a warm, familiar spot and come to rest, knowing we are home.

Earlier recommendations here and here.

The last to leave the shelf

October 19th, 2008    -    8 Comments


Children’s books that forever changed my life.

I often tell people that every book they read to a child they read to themselves, and therefore not to miss the urgent message that is being delivered into their own hands, from none other than their own lips, and through their own eyes.

Of late, as I’ve recounted, the shelves of my daughter’s room have been cleared of those things that never had much to give or from which every use has already been wrung. A few children’s books remain, all of which my daughter has outgrown, none of which I have or ever will.

This week I’m going to recommend them to you. Some are rather obscure; others, not. Each of them arrived into my hands and heart when I needed them most. Every time I read them is precisely when I need them most. I entrust their magic to you.

Pierre’s Dream
By Jennifer Armstrong
Pictures by Susan Gaber

Pierre is a lazy, foolish man who has no job, no interests and no hobby besides sitting under the olive trees in the afternoon thinking of dinner. That alone recommends him as a hero to me, however in this telling he does far more. He falls asleep, and he begins to dream a dream of fantastic proportions and unbelievable feats.

“Very realistic,” he murmured. But as it was his dream, or so he thought, he had no fear. “For of course, I can wake up at any time,” he reminded himself.

Pierre taught me to stop distinguishing between those things I only dream of doing, and those I do. He teaches me still. The distinction, you see, is only fear.

Pierre’s dreams are very realistic, and so are yours. Wake up and surprise yourself beginning with this book!

A tale that wags the dog

September 30th, 2008    -    18 Comments


Mommy, who’s your agent and editor?

She has called to me from the fourth chapter of her new book, the kids’ version of that golden syrup Marley & Me, speedily read in bed before lights out.

We have imposed a moratorium on her voracious nighttime feeding of the Harry Potter seven-book collector’s series, noticing only months too late the correlation between her interrupted sleep, resurgent fear of the dark, wakefulness after 90 minutes of early dreaming and her tearful terror of being alone. (These things are rather always of obvious origin, although pitiably difficult for parents to recognize.)

She leaps up from bed and comes to me, certain that she has everything she needs to write her own international bestseller – a pencil, paper and dog whose name begins with an M. (Plus mom’s trusty publishing contacts!) Hastening to the dining table, she starts and finishes, sensibly enough, with a rendering of the cover. What more need be said?

“Molly & Me” it reads, with illustrations of the lead characters. Inspiration has wagged its tail, and all before bedtime.

If only I had her literary pedigree.

I heart NY

September 8th, 2008    -    12 Comments


Start spreading the news. Jen Lee and I chat in a heart-to-heart over in her hip of the slope.

And as long as I’m at it, see if you don’t find yourself in my palpitations:

I heart Montreal, Cedar City, Commack, Hanoi, Cohasset, Philadelphia, Milton, Pearland, Erie, Sydney, Issaquah, North Billerica, Reston, Madison, Berlin, Den Haag, New Boston, Old Boston, Gilbert, Tyler, Grand Rapids, Seattle, Astoria, Orimattila, Glen Burnie, Louisville, Minneapolis, Silver Spring, Everett, South Pasadena, Burnaby, Buxton, Jacksonville, Saint Louis, Littleton, San Jose, Champaign, Austin, Hitchcock, Belfast, Toronto, Frazier Park, Vereeniging, Boise, Ebern, Los Angeles, yes you read that right, even Los Angeles and especially Hollywould, Norman, Portland, Watertown, Paris every day of my life, Omaha, Phuket, London, Unterhaching, Tacoma Park, Romeoville, Tillatoba, Summerdale, Kingfisher, Lynnfield, Sandy, Coventry, Chelmsfort, Montataire, Moscow, Sant-Ouen, Newport Beach, Bedford, Vancouver, Killeen, McWatters, LaPorte, Fresno, Central Islip, Franklin, San Juan Capistrano, Utica, Lausanne, Somerville, Radolfzell, Liphook, Zurich, Hanford, Asheville, Longview, Port Angeles, Palos Verdes, Wonder Lake, Leesburg, Oklahoma City, Reno, Providence, Wilbraham, Waterloo, Indianapolis, Denver, Wellington, Brooklyn, McKinney, Salem, Midlothian, Plainfield, Englewood,Lynnfield, Bethlehem, Zofingen, Des Plaines, Trowbridge, Hudson, Williston, Havelock, Sherman, Fayetteville, South El Monte, Klaipeda, Imperial, Trostberg, Braselton, El Paso, Methuen, Washington DC, Sliedrecht, State College, Ingolstadt, Orly, Winnepeg, Birmingham, Kailua Kona, Smyrna, Irvine, Scottsdale, Ledyard, Saint Petersburg, Dayton, Columbus, Tampa, Engen, Greensburg, Baltimore, Dallas, Venice, Albrightsville, Douglasville, Lakeland, Mississauga, Oakland, Affoltern, Santa Clara, Calgary, Sterling Heights, Anderson, San Francisco, Walla Walla, Lincoln, Bamberg, Livermore, Knoxville, Charlotte, Caroga Lake, Mesa, Halifax, Dublin, Valley Stream, Parow, Frederiksberg, Kaneone, Dauphin, Stoneham, Cagayan de Ore, Ooltewah, East Hampton, Boca Raton, El Mirage, Eugene, Gteborg, Chattanooga, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Albuquerque, Grafton, Valencia, Russell, Gracemont, Canberra, Dexter, Virginia Beach, Tuscola, Saint Paul, Kansas City, Evanston, Camden, Orange, Brighton, Canton, Lafayette, Ottawa, Phoenix, Houston, Holliston, San Luis Obispo who doesn’t love San Luis Obispo, Overland Park, Chapel Hill, Montclair, Hoofddorp, Queens Village, Ridgway, Atlanta, Newton Center, San Clemente, Maastricht, Trenton, Honolulu, Victoria, Calverton, Farmington, Nicholasville, Cincinnati, Alexandria, Sarasota, Downers Grove, Livingston, Kent, Newark,Westwood, Gooik, Fremont, New Orleans, Chicago, Burlington, Union Grove, Calumet, Little Elm, Scottsdale, Santa Fe, Santa Barbara, Sherman Oaks, Columbia, Raleigh, Davao, Fort Lauderdale, Kurri Kurri, Rockville, Charleston, Watonga, Morinville, Athens, Durango, Westlake, Plano, Rochester, Bailey, Hinesburg, Lubbock, Little Rock, Palmar, Syracuse, Keene, Cambridge, Warwick, Custer, Wellesley Hills, Sudbury, Griffin, and whether you find yourself here or don’t find yourself here, you will still find yourself here, yes you and everyone everywhere who shares this dance floor right here on the head of a pin.

The winner: Show me where it hurts

July 19th, 2008    -    75 Comments


Announcing the winner of this book giveaway: Megan from Exile in Kidville.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned here that the author Darin Strauss was doing a bit of high-profile book touring. You have to love this next part. He noticed what I said and he sent me his book, More Than It Hurts You. I’m offering it as a giveaway this week, as I like to do, and here’s why you should ask for it.

I thought it was just a few years ago, but turns out it was more like six (!), that I read something that left me weak and weepy to the point of exhaustion. It wasn’t as though I loved the book, or even liked it. Some of my very smart and well-read friends disagreed, but I thought the author Jonathan Franzen, in The Corrections, had nailed the whole of our unsayable lives. The ignorance and cynicism, the glib cleverness, the buried sorrow and habitual self-deception, and at the barren bottom of all our failings, the love. Still, the love.

More Than It Hurts You is that kind of ride. An ambitious and frantic story about how none of us – not one of us – is honest or fair or true or what we appear, even to ourselves, to be. It’s a story about the strivings of love, marriage and motherhood, but I don’t read stories for the stories. I read to be awed and lost and left to fend for myself on a far shore. I only have so much time, you see, and I don’t want to finish a book in the same place I started.

I’ve heard it called “a beach read.” This is no beach read. Oh sure you could read it on the beach, and when you finished, you would sit and stare a long time at the convulsing waves, at the mysteries that combine and divide us. It is a difficult book, an uncomfortable reveal. It cuts close, and it hurts. In a very safe way.

I recommend it. Because good work, and the writers who enslave themselves to it, are so blasted hard to find. When they find you, it makes things better.

***
Leave a comment anytime before next Friday, July 25 to enter.

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ... 10 11 12 Next

archives by month

Subscribe to Blog via Email

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