Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My happy mess

Ten days in already?    The minor frenzy continues in my life, despite a blissful trip to a sunny beachfront retreat and another beach trip on the books a couple weeks out.  The writing time has been crammed in here and there in a very unsatisfying way.  And yet... I seem to have written a pretty decent personal essay.  How'd that happen?

I arrived at my writing group a bit nervous to share the piece that had been cobbled together from old and new writing in a rush the day before.  The essay felt chaotic and flittery to me as if I were jumping from subject to subject without ever getting down to business.  But they felt it was solid, nearly ready to be sent out into the world.

I was reminded of the rare occasion during my MFA program when I would hand in a story that had a similar air of chaos about it.  The chaos was almost always good for the story.  I needed to lose control while creating to get at the truth.  And while I'm a fairly easy-going person in all other aspects of my life, the control freak in me often rears her ugly head when I sit down to write.

Here is where I fall in love with the personal essay.  The truth is already there.  I don't have to hide it in the dialogue of a twenty-five year old waitress or the longings of a middle-aged executive.  The truth is what actually happened (or at least my version of what happened).  That frees me up to follow ideas and images and the language itself without worrying about whether it's true to the character I've built from my imagination.  Chaos can reign and yet I don't have to worry about losing myself entirely.  I am here.  I can always come back to me.

This post is kind of out of control itself.  A bit of a mess.  But I won't try to correct it.  I'm going to ride this out and see where it goes.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A reason to celebrate

A frenzy has descended on me these last few weeks.  I'm not even celebrating X-mas this year, not really, and yet I seem to have caught everyone else's insanity like a bad cold.  My poor multi-tasking skills have been put to the test.  The results of that test?  One big "F."

I thought a little trip to Powell's would calm my rattled nerves.  I love looping around the remainder shelves and the employee pic shelves and seeing what catches my eye.  Middle of the week, middle of the day, the place was swarming.  In among the bookshelves, the energy felt celebratory instead of crazy-making, at least to me.  Then, to my delight, I found myself in a long line that ran down the full length of the "E through O" fiction aisle.  I will always celebrate a long line at the bookstore.

I'm liking my new bedside book tower.  Sometimes a Great Notion from my own "been meaning to read" shelf, a collection of essays from the library, Salter's A Sport and a Pastime, Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet(my Powell's purchases) and Philip Lopate's selection of personal essays that I've been digging through for a while now.

I can't wait to hang the "closed" sign on my office door, curl up under a blanket with a nice glass of wine and slow everything down to the deliciously slow pace of words on the page.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Ready to roll

Okay, so by "signing on" to the whole life reflection thing I mentioned in my last post, I really meant "fleetingly interested."  I've been getting the prompts every day but very quickly I realized that so much reflection felt stifling right now.  As I said, this whole year has felt like a pause.  There's been plenty of time in there for endless mulling.  I'm all mulled out.  The inertia has fallen away and the last thing I want to do is dwell on what I've been doing these last twelve months.

Now that the earth is soft from all the rain, it's time to stretch out on top of the grassy hill and roll, with messy, reckless wonder, until something brings me to a stop.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Reverb 10

Okay, for some reason, I've signed on for a month-long series of reflections prompted by the site Reverb 10.  I doubt I'll write every day on their suggested topic, but we'll see what happens.  Yesterday's prompt was to sum up the year in one word and reflect on what that word might be at this time in 2011.

For me, 2010 was one big PAUSE.  There was a pause in my writing life where I finished one project but struggled for much of the year towards something new.  There was a pause in my professional life, not outwardly, but internally as I wondered about how to keep my massage work interesting and viable long into the future.  Pausing is different than being stuck, though.  Pausing leaves time to absorb and replenish.  Now I feel ready.  In 2011 I can push PLAY.

Today's prompt asks "What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?"  I blame the sun when it's sunny (gotta get it while you can).  I blame the rain when it's rainy (who can work when it's so dark and cold?).  I blame my perpetually messy house and my piles of laundry, my slow computer, my random schedule, my sore elbow and tired eyes.    All this blame takes time and effort.  With so much finger wagging to do, I barely have time to work on my writing. 

So can I stop blaming the outside world for luring me away from my words?  I've already started to find a way to get past this.  My schedule now goes up on my computer desktop.  Writing time gets blocked off like any other kind of work.  If it feels uninviting, then so be it.  Going to the bank, grocery store and dentist are on the schedule too and I have no choice but to follow through.  My schedule says "Work on essay" for this hour, so off I go...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Belated but not belabored thanks

  • Thanks to the Italian blood in my family that turns each large gathering into a loud, passionate and loving brawl.
  • Thanks to the little evil geniuses, princesses and brats (both of the world and of my clan) for not being mine.
  • Thanks to the elders and the elders' elders for showing us one way and letting us wander off in another.
  • Thanks to the quiet, rainy home to which I will always return.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Woo-Woo versus Screw You

I recently spent four days in a certification program in massage that serves the elderly, ill and dying.  Compared to the detailed techniques of angle, pressure and position I've acquired in other workshops, this work is much more about being focused on the moment, learning to communicate and being open to unpredictability.  It's about facing the fears most of us have about our own mortality and the kind of lives we may lead in our old age.  In other words, this workshop was a wonderful, difficult doozy of an experience.

I don't, in general, do well with any activity or language that veers toward the spiritual and in particular, the wide and varied realm of new age beliefs.  I don't like the packaging of these rituals, the blurry language and blurry thought.  I don't like how it simplifies the world into bullet points or spirit cards or mantras.  It in no way enhances my life or deepens my experience of the world.  It's just doesn't work for me.

At this workshop we started every 10 hour day "in circle."  As soon as I heard that term, a little cold steel cage went up around all my more vulnerable spots:  my brain, my heart.  At the end of every day we did a variety of activities to enhance our personal growth.  I felt the bitterness snake through my body.  But here's the thing – it's really, really hard to stay hardened against a group of people willing to work with this population.  It's really, really hard to do this kind of massage work with any kind of judgment distracting you from the person you're with.  And so I had to find a way to move through my resistance and get what I could from it without cynicism or hate.

What finally worked was this:  On  my last day in the health center where we were visiting and working with the patients, I had the opportunity to work with a woman I'll called May.  I don't know May's diagnosis but the first time I worked with her during the Level One training, she was almost entirely non-verbal and very stiff.  This time, she exhibited a series of repetitive motions and was very talkative, though she had aphasia so her words were jumbled or non-sensical for the most part.  As I tried to enter her world on her terms, I became fascinated by the way she used language.  A white sweater she asked me for became a "white water fall" in which she wanted me to hide my hands. Her verbal tics were playful and fun: "choosy, cheesy, chintzy," she said.

I suddenly realized that it wasn't that I had no interest in enhancing my life or deepening my experience of the world.  I simply already had a way of doing this that worked for me:  Language and story.  In this case it was the unexpected language May shared with me, but it's also this story that I can tell and all the other stories that I'm still working on telling.  All the stories out there to hear.

I will never fully embrace the woo-woo or completely abandon the screw you, but I'm beginning to see a way to balance the two.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Politics sucks but the leaves sure are pretty.

As if nature understood that we needed a balm for our political headaches, we are offered this:  one last sip of summer, windows knocked open and the streets alive with the applause of bright leaves.  None of this is enough to make me forget the gains of the willfully ignorant and blatantly deceitful in this latest election, but it is a reminder that beauty can be blind to politics and a note of gentleness can ease the pain of change.