Monday, September 26, 2016

Word of the Week - 134

Lynda Barry's art and thought here.
Word of the Week:  ALLOW

"...when we forget that any kind of dancing is better than no dancing at all."  Lynda Barry

Enlightenment, in my world, refers to the process that takes me, by leaps or shuffles, from being  unknowing on any particular topic to be a bit less unknowing.  Example: I may twitch for a while if I stop eating dark chocolate in the quantity I prefer but I won't die.

We who have survived and emerged from places of trauma, terror, damage and examples of the bad behavior of others may have moments of doubt about our skills, our competence, our okayness.  We come to consciousness with too little knowledge about nuance, grey areas, moderation.  We are likely unfamiliar with allowing ourselves to be however we are in any moment.  Or, if not unfamiliar, still uncomfortable.  Unexpectedly, Lynda Barry's book, SYLLABUS is helping me experiment with the discomfort of being.  Lynda Barry, generally, is an appropriate direction in which to turn when discomfort shows up.  Hiding out with her characters as they speak her words, one is less likely to feel alone.  We discover smart people have covered this ground before and lived to tell the tale.

From Lynda Barry's WHAT IT IS.
Allow implies patience, a certain fullness of spirit, benevolence, compassion.  In allowing ourselves to be who and how we are, we make it possible to become whatever is next.  One way we learn to allow is to break old rules and habits, forbid behavior that leads us straight into the sort of trouble that fosters shame.  Ms. Barry has much clearer examples of how we may get out of our own creative way and, better still, how we may stop thinking about being anything but of service to our goals, desires and intentions.  As I remind myself when it seems a lengthy process, it it were easy, everyone would be doing it already.  We, you and I, are worth the time, the effort, the trouble. 
From Lynda Barry's SYLLABUS.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Word of the Week - 133

Illustration by Gabriel Pacheco.
Word of the Week: UNCOMMON

Let us not be content with the ordinary, the too-familiar, the comfortably common.  Let us venture a bit further afield, either in our minds or our steps, to places not-quite-known.  Let us befriend the strange.

Firstly, I believe on some level that it is ALL a mystery.  What do we really know?  How little of what does or may exist have we actually encountered and how much remains beyond the edge of our acquaintance?  Most, that is the answer.

Even within ourselves are caverns, craters of immeasurable depths.  We ourselves are as the ocean, of which less than 5% has been explored.  Think of it!  On a day when we feel at the high end of Smarty Pants-osity, we are actually rather short of the mark, not because we are lacking but because there is so much that remains, for now, unknowable or unseen, unimagined or, at the very least, rare.  Which is, you ought not to be surprised, the good news.  So much to discover.  The time of explorers is not behind us, don't let the history books fool you.  Just this month researchers learned there are four species of giraffes, not only one as had been assumed.  What other secrets are hiding in plain sight?

Mr. Kesey (of the quote above) was not one to accept much at face value, certainly not to accept it as promoted by the establishment.  I hope this doesn't tilt your planet too severely, but they don't always tell us the truth and they don't always know the answer.  In addition to existing mysteries, we have the power to fashion our own, to weave stories and paint pictures in which unknowns comfortably lurk.

All the most choice bits are not necessarily sitting under spotlights in display cases or showroom windows.  They may have burrowed in at the bottom of the Mariana Trench or could be skulking and incognito just about anywhere.  They hide within human hearts and keep life fresh with their occasional, often startling revelations.  Attend well.  Allow the world to surprise you, baffle you, and ultimately charm you.  It is waiting to do just that. 


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Shirley (not her real name) and the nearly-unbearable radiance

Art by Anna Silivonchik.
"I am my own lowering sky," thought Shirley.  "I am my own foreteller of misfortune.  I am Eeyore without the humor of irony."

With a mind that leaned, from years of habit and indoctrination, toward a fondness for putting on the white glove and setting out in search of grime, of which there was ever an abundance, Shirley knew the bum's rush was the only right action.  Don't let it get a toe across the threshold.  It not only reached above the door frames for schmootz, it gasped in alarm at any muscle twinge or skin irritation, racing, shrieking, down the inevitable highway toward agony and very bad news.

"I am Chicken Little and the sky is almost always falling," she said to herself.

And yet.  This was not an unceasing state of mind, for Shirley was actually not confused about much of anything.  She was not a pessimist but had been trained in the ways of vicious self-criticism, the unlearning of which, she knew absolutely, would take her the rest of her life.  And beyond.  The visual that came to her was a hapless child who had somehow, alone on a teeter-totter, slid down to one end and needed to get back to the middle where balance existed.  It was a tough, splintery scooch along that ancient board, slow going and painful.  She supposed unlearning a thing must take at least as long as the learning of it.  "Crap sandwich," she said, thinking if that were true there would be  decades needed for this particular educational curve.

What she believed, in a manner that might be described as "set in stone," was that each creature, each being of any and all species contained a unique brilliance, that each of those brilliances was essential for the well-being of the whole and that the loss of any was a loss indeed, measurable, just not by any instruments yet devised.  In her best, least white-glove-plagued moments, she knew it was true of her, though she might not have been able to assign it words.  She could feel the warmth of her inner flame, knew when traces of it showed up in thoughts or conversations, in simple intuition-inspired acts, in the prompting of kindness, in language that came to her, or rather through her, like channeling a greater wisdom.  And no matter how cloaked, how dampened and covered, how walled in and plastered over a flame had been, it persisted in each life form for as long as life continued.

It was not the sort of thing chatted about idly.  When the knowledge found Shirley, she imagined it was akin to being struck by lightning.  She was positive singeing had occurred, accompanied by a whiff of smoke.  To think, to even entertain the possibility that this was, as she assumed a Truth with a capital T, humbled her as nothing ever had.  And the responsibility, the task of bringing that nearly extinguished candle into the world to add its glow, "No," was her first reaction.  "Not me.  I can barely maintain on more days than I can count, the thought of just showing up for the most ordinary things overwhelms and depletes me.  Now this?  No."  Yet she knew the answer wasn't no but yes. 

Yes, Shirley, yes.  It is a process.  Give it time.

To be continued

Monday, September 12, 2016

Word of the Week - 132

Art by Miroco Machiko.
Word of the Week:  UNTAMED

Not domesticated or otherwise controlled.

After a great many years and actually hearing the equivalent of "What will the neighbors think?" as I grew up, I am coming to a gradual and reluctant peace with being under-domesticated.  There are turns of mind that simply do not adhere to rules of what some might call normal behavior.  Not that I believe in normal as an existing thing.  I think there is ideal, then there is pretty much everything else.

For some an untamed state may manifest with variant hair, clothing, piercings, modes of transportation, lifestyle and numerous outward signs with which I am unfamiliar.  In others it may reflect more a way of thinking, of seeing, that does not quite line up with the indicated borders.

Though the dictionaries do not seem to offer it as a choice, the word "unsquelched" probably comes closer to the state which has occupied my thoughts.  As squelched indicates forcefully silenced or suppressed, then its opposite would be determinedly outspoken or assertive.  In short, being one's self, true, authentic.

A voice or voices within are, I believe, always urging us toward our own truths, toward the inhabiting of our authentic shapes, so to speak, not seeking camouflage as creatures less brilliant than we are, usually for the sake of others' comfort.  Each of us shines with a unique light which, if dimmed, can exist no other way.  The world will have to get by somehow without it, an unquantifiable loss.

Believing in the rightness, rather than the wrongness, of us being us is a source of swelling optimism.  The tiniest loosening of that too-tight belt of self-squelching can free our minds, hearts and spirits.  We expand, not in miserly, mincing half-steps but in a gush, a whoosh, a genie-out-of-the-bottle burst of what was too little becoming, suddenly and happily, enough.  We are meant to be one with all that is wild and wonderful, big and beautiful and oh-so-bold, never to be silent and small again.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Word of the Week - 131

Peter Weller,  "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai."
Donald Sutherland, photo by Bardo Fabiani for Getty Images.
Word(s) of the Week: BOYFRIEND VISION BOARD

What I love about movies is a story almost too long to tell.  This will be a tiny sub-section, the idea shamelessly borrowed from one of my son's friends.  The two of them - as do I - take great pleasure in burrowing into older movies, no era excluded.  The 70s and 80s are particularly rich.  She has found those pictures to be full of tasty morsels for what she has proclaimed her Boyfriend Vision Board.  In short and on a rotating basis, it is the imaginary wall-covering eye candy of actors as they were.  Recent inhabitants included the bearded Sterling Hayden from Robert Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE and James Garner as seen in THE ROCKFORD FILES.

When my son discovered a remastered Blu-ray of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI had been released by Shout Factory, well, things were looking up.  The title conjured an image of Peter Weller as that young actor and my boyfriend board began to take shape.  

Film, like amber, has the ability to seal time.  I try to understand how it must feel to be an actor, held forever at 27 or 38 or 49, to be swooned over by succeeding generations of fans, while enduring ordinary human aging, as though one had traded that face for this.  It is not different for us regular types, the mirror, gravity and all that constantly catching us by surprise.  But an actor's face, once upon a time only seen so much larger than life on a theater screen, has truly been the stuff of dreams for billions of us since Hollywood began to sweep humanity under its spell.

Take a reflective moment.  Who is on your vision board today?  Young Donald Sutherland, as seen above, is there with Mr. Weller, both of whom I still delight in seeing. My son's friend limits her choices to four at a time, no easy task.  I'll stop at two for now and lose myself in the fantasy of who else will make the team this week.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Word of the Week - 130

Word(s) of the Week:  CONTEMPLATED LOSSES

On Saturday a Priority Mail packaged arrived from my 83-years-old stepmother.  It contained a letter, some current photos of deer nibbling on everything green in her yard and an album, with this description:

"I am sending you the enclosd because the fire at Lake Nacimiento is moving west (we smell it and sometimes see the smoke) and the folks on San Simeon Road are on evacuation alert.

"This photo album of Russ from babyhood to newspaper reporter and columnist was prepared by Russ and given to me one Christmas and I have treasured it.  But my feeling is that it really belongs to you and your sibs and I would feel terrible if, in the continuing drought and very long fire seasons, Cambria might be decimated and this album destroyed."

The album holds photos of my father, now gone nearly 22 years, that I'd never seen before, including the one above of a tiny fellow in a sailor-type suit, long before his naval enlistment in World War II.  I wept for the words in the letter, for the pictures never seen and the faces of my brother and his son, perhaps a bit of mine, so clearly present in the serious and smiling images of my father.

As of Sunday afternoon, I have not been able to reach her by phone, will keep trying and then send off a letter in the morning if that fails.  She tells of packing the car in preparation for evacuation notice, which it seems did not come.  Having been through that once myself, I am familiar with the sense of unreality and terror that comes with contemplating the loss of all material goods, the notion of sanctuary and home, the always uncertain whims of weather and chance.

She mentions also, during the description of California's more than 60 million trees dead from drought and bark beetles, that the five trees she and my father planted on their hilly lot have had to be chopped down.  "The two redwoods at the foot of the driveway are turning brown," she says.

That she felt the need to part prematurely with Dad's gift left me without coherent words to speak into the phone on Saturday.  Thinking of her on her own having to decide just what to save if word came to flee caused me to admire, not for the first time, how capable she is, how good at figuring things out.

Loss, the contemplation thereof if we must, and the memory of it, never leave us.  For too many, this will be the summer of smoke, of ash, of tears.  For some, it is a small, sweet-smiling boy and a book reluctantly surrendered to keep it safe.  May we be good stewards of this gift.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Word of the Week - 129

Word(s) of the Week:  IMPOSSIBLE THINGS
RubberMoon Stamp.
Life against all odds.  Winston Churchill told us, "Never, never, never give up."  In daily matters, matters of heart and mind, expressions of spirit, stubborn refusal to take no for an answer, fingers in our ears singing "la-la-la" as we are scolded, chided and told all the reasons why not.  Ha! we say.  The voice of that flea, that gnat, one of our better angels in disguise, sets up a rumbling soliloquy that only we can hear, either telling us to do it anyway or to wait, wait, wait.  Patience is considered a virtue for a reason.

I suppose "believe" is the operative word here.  We do not dissolve in our baths.  The great winds come yet we are still standing.  Reversals of fortune suggest that we grow more frugal, more cautious, but never hopeless.  Perhaps the opposite.  I have never accepted the notion that we are tested.  Life comes along wearing its ordinary-life resoled shoes and frequently washed, possibly hand-me-down unassuming and faded uniform and delivers messages good, bad and indifferent.  To each of us.  We are free to choose the next step.  Recall all the times goodness of a most unlikely nature sat itself down on your front step, more astonished than even you, beholding its presence.  Messages and their carriers are dispatched, who knows from where, and suddenly what couldn't possible be, is.  Today might be the day to run through the streets, calling "Thank you" to the animate and the inanimate.  Both will understand.