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

Is Age Just A Number?

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The impervious feeling of youth is a delicious drunk of newness and firsts: first apartment, first true love, first heartbreak; the delight of garage sales and thrift shops, that furnish the backdrop upon which one begins to build a life, blissfully unaware of the baggage of childhood that follows them into independence and self-sufficiency. In my twenties, I surfed in the mornings with Bernie, napped in the afternoons and then waited cocktails at night to pay for a life style that was both joyous and fraught with uncertainty as well as longing and idealism. All that created its own kind of pain and regret. No one escapes the wrong turns, but instead we seem to spend our lifetime burrowing into the core of what ails us before we find the gifts within the inevitable ruin.

At twenty something, I swung my long, gangly legs over the precipice of the 1970’s, watching Viet Nam unwind. The grainy television images of so much human destruction were soon to be replaced by Nixon and the exposure of con and corruption that would define the word “sensational” for decades to come. And as twenty marched ahead into thirty, I realized one day how difficult it was to pay the rent, and repair the car and I had new empathy and understanding for my mother, who worked at a time when the cartoon character of a wolf chasing a nubile secretary around the desk wasn’t that far off the mark.

While the twenties, for many of us underscored a time of adventure and ideals, the thirties was of time of finding a comfortable position within the grip of unrelenting responsibility. Overtime at my work place became a way of life, a badge of proof that I was committed and in the game for the long haul. I bought my first “new” couch and read T.S. Eliot, Yeats and May Sarton for leisure. I wrote in dozens of spiral bound notebooks– an attempt to discover who I was and who I was becoming, and whether or not I had just put on the costume of adulthood without really checking out what I was wearing. Thirty gnawed the bones of idealism and free-spiritedness, replacing the hunger for those things with “want.” Want is a thorn in the foot of human condition, a lusting and longing for those things or people just out of our reach; a strange coming to grips with a shadow of greed, that if we are honest, dogs us until we wrestle it to the ground and learn to balance it with a generous heart.

When I turned 40, I had a realization that life was just a series of stories and somehow we were all connected by those stories. By then I was married, with a choice to remain childless, but with a passion for creating business and a raw and reckless spirit, still wild from my surfing days that allowed me to take the risks necessary to be an entrepreneur. And having a partner with which to play that out remains one of the great satisfactions of my journey. The time of work and creation was marked by this decade and the joke of “over the hill” was really more about the pinnacle of the hill and the overview provided from the vantage point of focus and determination.

Fifty saw the departure of my mother and though I felt beyond independent and accomplished when she left, her absence was piercing in a way I could not have anticipated. She lingers still, her hands seeming like they are mine, veined with age. I catch glimpses of her in the mirror, a face layered over my own as I brush my hair. Life is shorter than you think.

So in my sixties now, the question of age as a number and whether that means anything or not? It means everything. Age is a marker, the signs that dot the highway that tell you how far you have come. Age is a container for the experiences that push us forward and challenge us to unfold. Age is a reminder that physical strength lessens with the years and beauty fades. Whether or not we like it or want it, age is what pulls us to our knees while it knights us with the sword of humility and hard-won wisdom. What lies beyond? In my twenties, I could not sit still in the morning hours, knowing that the surf was up. Forty years later finds me on my deck, holding a cup of tea and easing into the day as I marvel at how the apples on the tree in my yard have gone from green to red and are becoming larger in the summer sun. The cycle of beginnings and endings are everywhere around me in nature. In my heart I let go of memories that are stitched with pain and discomfort. They drop like apples from the tree. I like to recall instead the touchstones of surfing and careers and a life education that was beyond divine. I revel in the partnership of a marriage, now tender and softened with grey.

I embrace the years, each decade a lamp unto the soul, lighting the way into becoming human. The striving for some sense of self-honesty and awareness, for a sensuous breeze in which to throw back my head and close my eyes as life takes me; this has made the journey purposeful. To paraphrase Mr. Yeats: “I am an old woman with a dry mouth, waiting for the rain.”

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

Hear No Evil and Not Much Else Either

iStock_000015756375XSmallDaily Prompt: Hear No Evil – a WordPress “daily prompt”
Tell us about a conversation you couldn’t help but overhear and wish you hadn’t.

My prose teacher at college lived an artist’s life. I am not going to name her or my college, because I adored her. But…she was part of what I called the “angry poets and suffering artists” group– politically correct and wildly self-righteous about it. A socially liberal and fiscally conservative misanthrope like myself didn’t stand a chance in that environment. They, meaning most of my instructors at the time, would probably cringe to think that a former student saw them in such a way, but it is liberating to state it now, and I doubt that any of them read this blog.

Anyway, back to my prose teacher, a woman who taught me to appreciate the basics of reading and writing in a whole new wonderful way. She demanded a constant stream of short stories and journal entries that all seemed like they were due within hours of the assignment. She also had an ongoing exercise that all of her students were required to do, regardless of the class.  Every one of her students carried a small notebook–the kind that fits into a purse or your back pocket. The instructions were to write down snippets of conversations that you heard in the coffee shop or at the grocery store or wherever. Obviously you did this covertly and without intrusion.

Each week we all sat around and shared what we had recorded in our notebooks. The idea was to develop an ear for real dialogue. People speak much more inanely than what writer’s tend to conjure. Most of the conversations that I strained to hear, went something like this:

“Mama, can I have this?”

“Put that back.”

“Nooooo, mama!”

“Put that back right now”

“Arrggggh mama” — As the mother steps over the child screaming on the floor in the grocery store aisle, pretending that it is not hers.

I hoped for meatier conversations, but they just never came my way. Restaurants were always the best, because you could sit in a booth behind someone and have a tabletop to put your notebook on and write down what you heard. Once I heard a very upset man telling a woman that his hedgehog had died. I didn’t know if he was talking about a car or an animal and unfortunately he spoke so softly, I couldn’t hear all that much to of the conversation.

The other day I was getting my hair cut and I heard this from a woman with a dog:

“Don’t take it personally, he is much more interested in the food than he is in you. Can you sit Rosco? Can you sit?”

I waited for the dog to answer, but it never did.

The exercise of listening to how people speak is more difficult now than it was when I was in college. Everyone is texting or tweeting and I sometimes wonder what would happen if all of our cell phones just died one day and we had to look up, look into someone’s eyes and try to communicate. It would certainly make eavesdropping easier.

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

That’s My Brag and I’m Sticken’ To It!

iStock_000010690028XSmallYou should not brag about the great sex you had last night. No bragging about how much money you make or whether or not you are the smartest person in the room. You don’t want to go through life looking like the child that got way too much praise during potty training!

On the other hand it is acceptable to brag about your grand-kids, your new living room couch or published works. I do not have any of  those things, but today I have bragging rights anyway because I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 5o thousand words in just 30 days.

For the past month while this poor blog lay fallow, visited mostly by spammers, who are now “following this blog,” I sat every single morning and wrote down approximately 1,666 words, creating a novel, my first…a couple of excerpts can be found in the November archives under the heading of “The Angel Twin.”

The long-format has been too daunting for me to consider in the past. How do you sustain a voice for 150 pages? And what is the story that you want to tell? I did not know the answer to either of those questions when I began on November 1, but I will tell you this–the way that you learn to write in long format is the same way that you learn to write in any format, you just get your yaya in the chair every day and write. And on the days that your story is flat and your imagination has left for Cleveland, you write anyway.

While I didn’t create the great American novel, I did create new muscle. I am proud that I took the challenge and made it to the finish line. As far as what I wanted to say–well, I made it up as I went along, just like I do my life. I started with a premise and went from there. Now I wonder what I might be able to do with an outline!

Thus ends the month’s saga of NaNoWriMo, a process that I recommend to any writer looking to stretch their talents and gain new strength and confidence.

I promised myself a day off before I revisit what I’ve written to see what is actually there. In the meantime,  I am dreaming about possibilities, all the while blessing my faithful little laptop and feeling pretty darn good about myself!

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

Trudging Merrily Along

iStock_000015967475XSmallThe rush of taking on the challenge of writing 50 thousand words in 30 days has grown weak, or maybe I should say week as in the beginning of week two. All the experts, the writers who have done this challenge more than once and made it to the finish line, or not  will tell you that week two is a bear. Of course, when I read those cautionary tales, I was certain that they were not addressing me, because I was too busy enjoying the high of telling all my friends, at least the ones that would listen, that I was going to take on this challenge and make it to the finish. Then I would humbly add, that I was sure I would learn a lot. Oh cringe!

Week one was nothing short of committed, inspired and focused. Week two has been kicking my little yaya sideways with a leathery old boot that magically talks to me.  It says:
1. You are flying by the seat of your pants, here.
2. You do not know what you want to say.
3. This is crap
4. What was I thinking?!

I am also assured by the experts, that if I can hang in there with week two, week three holds all kinds of new promises and joys. Cranking out 1,700 words at a time is not the least bit daunting. Cranking out 1,700 words per day in order to keep up and have all of those words be part of the same story relates to item number four: What was I thinking!!!!!

I am happy though. I spent most of the day in my pajamas, thinking about my characters, writing and knowing that I wasn’t writing my greatest stuff but I was going to stick with it any way, and who knew I could write this much? For anyone who is a perfectionist (you can all put your hands down now) all of your perfectionist issues arise on the NaNoWriMo and slap your face multiple times.  Meanwhile,  you still attempt to give yourself permission to do what Natalie Goldberg told you to give yourself permission to do on the original rule list of “Writing Down the Bones,” and that is to write the worst junk in the world.

Even though week two of the NaNoWriMo is similar to what I believe Dante was describing about hell’s inner circles, I am still glad I took on the challenge and am still going strong, albeit slightly bruised.

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

Life Unfolds

After six weeks of unwinding my business and four weeks of packing up used to be my office, I stand upon the precipice of a big “what’s next?”  The packing and the unwind were a good distraction from taking any action.  You see, I don’t really know what I want to do next.  I am someone who has rushed at life for most of my life, so this whole idea of allowing life to unfold and reveal is a bit outside my comfort zone.  In spite of my “seize the day,” or in some cases “strangle the day” attitudes, life is unfolding, coming to me, and illuminating a path toward Chapter 3.

I stood at the kitchen window this morning, cradling my cup of hot tea in cold, grateful hands.  Thick frost coated the lawn and a group of children bundled up like little Michelin men trudged to the bus stop, accompanied by parents and dogs.  I never tire of this morning parade of vibrancy and promise.  I headed upstairs to my “office” and realized that life has settled down enough for me to do what I love best in the mornings:  read and write.  Not exactly your “extreme sports,” but exciting nonetheless.

A day ago I committed to participate in NaNoWriMo–something I learned about from one of the blogs that I read.  NaNoWriMo happens every November for 30 days.  It stands for National Novel Writing Month.  It’s a challenge whose rule are to simply write 50,000 words in the month of December.  The prize is that you finish that task.  It’s big and it’s bold and I am excited to participate.  I will post some excerpts on my blog as I go along. The goal is to learn more about being a person, more about being a writer and more about just how much you can do if you push yourself.  Right up the alley of an individual who does not do well with ambiguity.  This writing challenge unfolded and presented itself at a time when I was thinking I wanted/needed the magic of a deadline.  If you want to learn more, you can visit http://nanowrimo.org

If you read my blog, I hope you will cheer me on to finish.  It means risking writing bad stuff, because 1,600 plus words a day is daunting, but I want to be in it for the long haul and I appreciate the support.

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

I Write My Life

writingOccasionally, I teach a creative writing class. I teach off the beaten path in dark corners that don’t get too many visitors—homes for seniors, halfway houses and jails. The stories in these places are less polite than the stories you get from a class at your local community colleges. I teach in these places because writing has helped me to better understand and accept myself, so I share the process in hopes that it may help someone in this way too. Writing is how I make sense of who I am and what I’ve lived. Writing is the talent that I give as service.

Aside from a few newspaper articles and a couple of magazine pieces (I wrote a piece for Quilter’s Magazine once) and few big blogs like Care2, I am not a widely published or famous writer. I write because I am a writer, one of what I imagine to be millions who get up each day and scale a white screen or blank page, looking for the right turn of phrase to convey the story, the life within life. I blog a couple of times a week, because it just feels right to see a finished piece that you are willing to put out there. It’s a risk. The more authentic a writer you become, the more you risk.

I knew a man when I was in my 20’s– Murray Schisgal. He wrote a whimsical book: “Days and Nights of a French Horn Player.” He went with me to an acting class that I was taking. On the drive home he gave me a great piece of advice. He said “don’t worry about whether people like your work or not. You should worry about whether or not they remember you.” I write to leave something of myself, just the way the Sumerians did.  The written word is the story of being human.  We live in a time when literacy has never been higher and in spite of inane tweets and texts, there are those of us who want to tell the human story in complete sentences.  Please God let me be remembered for half-way decent descriptions!

Jessica was a student of mine at The Jefferson County Detention Center. She was eighteen and landed herself in jail for over-using, abusing and in general screwing up her life with meth. She was so pretty, so young. Armed with Jesus and G.E. D. she always sat close to me, beyond excited about discovering Emily Dickinson and May Sarton. She wrote strong, haunting poems about the sensory experience of meth, longing essays about “getting it right,” and I so believed that she would. When I knew she was being released, I left a Natalie Goldberg book for her.  I penned a note of encouragement and gave her list of resources—a contact at Naropa’s Writing program, a lead on a writer’s workshop that would give her a scholarship. But she never called anyone. I heard months later that she was back at Jefferson County and sent her regards. The system slithered and coiled itself tightly around her. Drugs lulled her into submission. Now she belonged to them and I learned the sad song of “you cannot save anyone,” you can only give what you’ve got and the rest is just the rest.

I read books about writing. I look for ways to deepen and keep it real. Some mornings I think about Jessica and I wonder where she is and I am afraid to know. I sit in my warm little house, with my nice cup of tea, caffeine being the only thing that I am addicted to. I write my life on a laptop and I look for where my story connects to others. I was connected to Jessica. We both longed to get it right. We both wanted to leave something that asked to be remembered.

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

A Smith Corona and Wild Weeds

iStock_000019937285XSmallA small, blue Smith Corona typewriter in it’s own case and a box of typing paper—that is what was under the tree the Christmas when I was fifteen. It was an invitation, a longing, a magical box that would coax out of me all of the things in my head and my heart that struggled to be felt. I wrote poetry and hid it from my mother. I wrote letters to my father, who wrote back in long, swirling penmanship. I left home with it a few years later and then lost is somewhere along the way. I probably abandon it in one of the love-hate battles that I have had with myself and writing my whole life, but it never left me. Instead it hung around my neck–sometime like a shiny, beautiful pendant and sometimes like a dead bird. I knew that it was mine forever.

Spiral journals came after that, more poetry and lyrics to songs, short stories about my parents divorce. I swooned over Anis Nin and May Sarton; fell in love with T.S. Eliot and Yeats. Discovered Margaret Atwood and imitated all of it in notebook after notebook. I signed up for classes at the Adult Learning Center and got to be the best one. I sat around writer’s tables and dove into short stories, had lengthy conversations with a man old enough to be my father who gave me books and encouragement while I dreamed of sleeping with him. These were my touchstones– The Smith-Corona tumbleweed that blew across the landscape in my head.

In classes at UCLA, I sat in the back. I didn’t want to be seen or heard. The professionals around me who held degrees and were important intimidated me. At my job the writers all had masters degrees from writing programs. My job was to type for them, to read and summarize for them, but I wasn’t one of them. They were well-groomed flowerbeds, the kind that people slow down to look at when they are driving through expensive neighborhoods. I was the bright, yellow mustard seed that grew in vacant lots next to old tires and beer cans. I was the wild weed between concrete sidewalk slabs. You can yank it out by its roots, but it always comes back.

A minister told me, inspired me to go to college for real, not just extension classes here and there. I did. I followed that old blue Smith Corona to community college then to a Buddhist College where I sat and then wrote then sat some more. I was never a good meditator, but I did it anyway. I never found peace or enlightenment, but I did develop a sense of humor and I did come to understand that I was meant to write.

I am in my sixties now. Sometimes I teach creative writing. I teach in jails and halfway houses. I teach in senior centers where the stories are rich and ripe. I teach because it’s a way to give away the gifts that I learned from the Smith Corona that opened me and made my life richer. It may be too late for me to write a book, to gain public favor with what I have shared of this heart and mind in reams of journals and Word documents. I am the president of my own company. I have a good, long marriage… but no matter what I do or where I am, I write. I would say to any young writer, write because you have to, be true to the Smith Corona or whatever it was that threw water in your face and told you to wake up to the world and write. Don’t be afraid to be the wild weeds in sidewalk cracks. Sometimes those weeds are the only things beautiful in dry, ugly lots…sometimes they inspire hope in someone who may be walking by.

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?