Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Story You Are In

iStock_000006392253XSmallThe train whistle slices through the edge of the night, a low rumble of metal on metal, weight on weight making its way across miles that are pulled tight against horizon and sky. I lay unmoving on my bed, slouched into pillows and quilts, playing the scenes of the day through my head, stirred by the sound. Suddenly I am back someplace I know but have never been: my mother told a story of being a child at the convent, swinging on a swing, hearing the sound of the train and trying to pump higher and higher so that she could see over the convent wall, all the while wondering where the train was going and wanting to go there too. Now I am in her story, a piece of history shared from when I was a little girl, a piece of story that I remember when the train goes by, pulling the twilight into dark.

Sometimes it seems so clear; where I am and who I am and what story is unfolding. I had grandparents that slept in separate bedrooms; that spat and grunted communications that were interlaced with whiskey bottles and wooden rosary beads. I vowed to never be like them. My husband and I dance a different dance. We will not, cannot sleep apart. I love this story. It is punctuated by small acts of tenderness that reach out like vines into shared cups of warm ginger tea, someone to fetch the mail; “oh, wait, I’ll get that for you…” check the oil in your car, drive with you to a doctor’s appointment so that you will not have to sit alone. This is my story of the ever after that happened after youth rode into the sunset.

Remember the Catholic schoolgirl who smoked pot behind the high school gym, who wanted to help the poor, but also enjoyed a good make-out session? Can’t you be it all? Can’t you do it all? That was me. I remember feeling forced to choose, and as a result began to see life in a small and shrinking way, squeezing myself into something I thought I was supposed to be, but never really could be. Then one day I woke up with a dry mouth, symptoms and sorrow for what might have been.

I wish I could gather all of my nieces and nephews into one place. I would bring us around a large fire, where we would sit late into the night. I would tell them stories among the crackle and hiss of leaping flames. Stories about Viet Nam and how Brent came back with only part of a hand and couldn’t sit with his back to any door, anywhere, ever again; stories of how I learned to grow impatience and ferns in a shaded flower bed and would sit there for hours reading; stories of walking in snow under a full moon. I would tell them stories, because it feels like that is what I am meant to do now. Instead, we text—we call—we make dinner plans in lives that are over scheduled and tired.

I reflect upon what has been as I lean forward into age, that for this time affords me strong legs and the desire to keep walking and filling my lungs with fresh air and my heart with the beauty of the natural world; learning that the stories themselves are like thick, wonderful murals, layered with paint that portrays the laughter and the wounds, the celebrations and grief. But the files in which I place those stories in my mind… the labels that I write onto each one, those are dangerous. Those make the story less important than how they are categorized. I am too organized for my own good sometimes.–alphabetizing spices and filing memories. You cannot continue to do that. It’s really just one big story and we are all connected by it. I should go mess up that spice drawer just to take in the aroma of each dish they have inspired in my kitchen. What was that wonderful quote I read somewhere, that now seems so appropriate? “Life is like licking honey off of a thorn.”

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Blogging Practice

Women's Voices - Natalie Goldberg (55)
Women’s Voices – Natalie Goldberg

The new Natalie Goldberg book arrived from Amazon yesterday. Before the sun came up, I made a cup of tea and crawled back into bed to begin reading. An excerpt from a letter appears early on in the book: a man was sitting with his Zen teacher and the teacher says “you know what’s wrong with you?” The ultimate question from the teacher, thought the man edging forward to catch the answer. “You need to write.”

That was it, “you need to write.” I learned that recently, the way that I learn so many things—the hard way. I had returned to writing practice a couple of years ago when I began teaching creative writing to women in jail. I returned to writing practice because teaching is a lot like being a minister. If you are going to minister to someone it’s helpful to have a prayer practice. If you are going to teach creative writing, it’s helpful to have a writing practice. So I began to keep journals of free hand, timed writing and that led to my purchase of a lap top where I could write faster, longer and that in turn, led to my first blog.

I do not write everyday. I write most days. Some mornings, I wake up a little too late to organize my day and head to the office. But the days that I get up early and make that cup of sweet, black tea and come back to bed with books and laptop—those are the best days. Recently, one of my businesses got an infusion of investment capital. With that came obligations, demands and responsibilities that pulled and tugged at me in such a way that I thought, I would need to give up everything to make this business work. I stopped teaching at the jail. I stopped doing my newsletter. I stopped doing my blog and I fell into a deep sorrow, tinged with the exhaustion of regret.

You know what’s wrong with you? You need to write! It took a couple of months and several false starts to realize that what I had been teaching my students, what I had been studying was mine to learn. Writing practice for me is dropping into silence to look into a mirror; a place where in my notebooks I can say it all; where the idea is to go deeper into a self that I am always discovering. By giving that up to make a business work, I created a spiritual aridity that was suffocating.

One of my last blog posts before I took down the site and shuttered myself into business mode was a sad piece about a sad moment. It was raw and real and in retrospect, embarrassing. It was an epiphany for me to realize that I was embarrassed by the sorrows of my life, and yet I know that creativity springs from darkness, from suffering, from the acceptance of all those things– and that brings forth expression. How do you know the light if you do not know what the darkness is?  Coming face to face with what is in the shadows is not always an easy process and yet it seems to be the ghosts lurking there that are tied to ones liberation.

A couple false starts and some determination to find balance through the tears, led me back to writing practice and a new blog. I write because it is my way. Like other writers, I dream of writing a book or two.  Each of us in each day are writing the book of our life, whether we put it down on a page or not.  I am blessed with the literacy to do so and I think most writers feel that way–that the love of reading and writing is a powerful blessing to which we pay homage.  And there is something wonderful about blogging, because it is its own strange little cyber community—like having a writing group where you share your stuff all the time and you know that somebody is listening. But mostly I write because it is a doorway into what Plato called “the examined life.”  It is the place where I sort out who I am and how I feel about and experience the world.  Oh and by the way, the business is doing fine.  Not one of my investors has told me to stop writing and focus more on the business.  It’s funny that I thought I would have to give up so much…by keeping a writing practice I actually feel more equipped to meet the demands of my growing company, and the bottom line is, it makes me happy.

So my question to the fellow bloggers is this:  How is it that you came to write? Why do you keep hitting the publish button and putting it out there?