Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"We are no longer the moon..."

Mayumi Oda, "Bliss of Sea," image from faculty.pittstate.edu

My first blog visit this morning was to Sherry O'Keefe where her quotes from William Kittredge shoved me forward.

This spring, as I followed threads to blogging writers whose work came to reignite my own writing dreams, I pulled many books from the shelves. With these volumes near, I could bind them around me if that was how their juice would leach through, I renewed friendships with sidelined voices.

One of these, still piled next to me, is GODDESSES by Mayumi Oda, in which she transforms the traditional masculine Buddhist Gods into their joyous female counterparts.

Oda tells of seeking liberation, of discovering Japanese women writers, including Raicho Hiratsuka, writing in 1911 for the introduction of a new feminist magazine called SEITO, which means Blue Stockings, from the English feminist movement:

In primeval times, women were one with
the sun and truth of all-being.
Now we are like pale-faced moons who
depend on others and reflect their light.
Women, please let your own sun, your
concentrated energy, your own submerged
authentic vital power shine out from you.
We are no longer the moon.
Today we are truly the sun.
We will build shining golden cathedrals
at the top of crystal mountains, East of
the Land of the Rising Sun.

Women, when you paint your own portrait,
do not forget to put the golden dome at
the top of your head.

With the Kittridge quote, "Stories are a thicket to catch the mind from falling," caroming around my head, GODDESSES was the title that stood out from the others stacked by the computer. As Oda guides us through her life, reveals the stages of her creative emergence, she makes clear the connections of family, tradition, spiritual practice, politics, self-discovery and making our dreams come true.

My experience is not so much about gender as an impediment to finding and sustaining a true voice. My greatest obstacle is me. I respond to the urging that we allow our own sun to burst forth, a light that is so easily blocked by mistaken notions of who we are, of what is possible, of fear.

A conversation yesterday revealed a friend's delight in the focus, passion and ability to retell stories in microscopic detail of an independent young man with life-long challenges of intellect and development. I was humbled by such determination, by clarity of purpose. We possess, I believe, all power to make of ourselves what we will. The colors and truths we contain have no limit. Yet within that I see a necessary balance, as though we are in a process of re-parenting ourselves, encouraging freedom and effort without expectations of where it will lead. I have seen the disappointment on too many faces in my life, I do not want to be one of them as I regard my work.

Rebecca Loudon reminded us to love our own art more. To me, that means embracing the fact that it may have its grandfather's nose and a sneeze so loud it can be heard down the block. To know when we have reached enough, erased enough, revised enough, stripped first AND second gear trying to be faster and better and nearly perfect, is a wisdom that grows slowly, like any meaningful practice. Aspire and accept, unlikely twins - they may have been separated at birth - but they seem to offer a way to do this work and live to tell about it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


An act of imagination is an act of self-acceptance.

Today's sketched-out posting was going to begin with my wondering why I stopped keeping a writing notebook and when that creative shoelaces-tied-together prank took place. It did happen, why and when are irrelevant. Since I may take whatever meaning I choose from Richard Hugo's statement, found in THE TRIGGERING TOWN,
my interpretation tells me that my fugue state has come to an end, I will resume keeping a notebook and I may reward my imagination-sustaining act with self acceptance.

By declining the chance to punish myself for being un-writerly, for making my job that much harder by not saving quotes or noting observations or ideas as they appear, I am not quite so stuck and may continue in the direction of my destiny. (Sidebar: the name under a tv interviewee this morning was "Monnreal," which my son first read as "monorail." He said, "That's a funny last name. Must be the heir to the monorail fortune." To which I responded, "Write that down. You have a story right there...heir to the monorail fortune...heh heh heh....")

Writers who blog, and who are serious and good, help me remember this is not hocus-pocus and luck. I can give myself real-world help by making notes, keeping track of what comes from dreams or overheard conversations or the mis-read names of missing hikers. As I read, I can keep track of writing that makes me aim higher. Before the world was espressso bars and laptops, I loved to write in my notebook wherever I was. Airplane, restaurant, hospital waiting room, riding in a car. I kept track of things I'd seen by writing them down, not trusting them to memory. And memory was better then.

I have a bad habit of making notes on the backs - or fronts - of envelopes, then shuffling them around depending on what they contain. This is not reliable for information retrieval. There is a notebook, and a pen that works, near each house phone, but it is not always what I reach for first. Tendencies to overcome.

The amount of research, memory, information and, as a friend said today, magic, that goes into writing a story is daunting, if you mistakenly thought it would be easy. I forget. Each week I do a certain amount of writing that comes from my head, maybe supported by checking a fact or two. I grow impatient with what feels like too much research; I want to get to work. But as with the red plaid pajamas, there are no shortcuts to doing it well. Unless one is blessed with total recall and encyclopedic knowledge, and I am not.

My second reading of THE TRIGGERING TOWN will begin my new notebook. I also have Post-Its and a pencil for marking passages. I dawdle along, believing that I take myself seriously, until I look at what the serious writers are doing that I am not. Whether it exemplifies a desirable work ethic or is one ingredient of the magic, I return to something I know to be useful. Finding the right notebook, the right pen, I call that fun.

While Hugo's book emphasizes poetry, it is directed to all writers. He said, "What a silly thing we do. We sweat through poem after poem to realize what dumb animals know by instince and reveal in their behavior: my life is all I've got. We are well off to know it ourselves, even if our method of learning it is painfully convoluted."

When you write you are momentarily telling the world and yourself that neither of you need any reason to be but the one you had all along.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


From earlier times, a balloon fish flies in the Macy's Parade. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Who was that elephant I saw you with?

(Photo from keetsa.com)

In a conversation with my son this morning, he wondered if children today are given the time, freedom, and encouragement to use their imaginations, to create something from nothing. The elephant toy, an earlier handcraft from the on-line shop of an artist I was unable to identify, symbolizes the personality which the hand can create from any material. Once the creature finds its child, the tales, the myths begin.

Stuffed animals of my acquaintance, from my growing up or my son's, had richer lives than anyone seen on the social pages, if such things still exist. They had backstories, relatives, businesses, musical abilities, idiosyncrasies, feuds, aversions, skills, aspirations and senses of humor. In a recent email thread among a women's art group, many told of designing their dream houses/apartments as girls, cutting pictures from magazines, building the roofless homes and making all the furniture from cardboard, keeping elaborate notes of JUST how it would all be.

I like a toy with a clouded past, one whose every thought has not been explored for me in animation. I like them to arrive as ciphers, of whom I can ask, "Who might you be?" A child knows who he is meeting; if that child part endures in us, we can still play. We can name things, find their hidden magic, fabricate and embellish, dream. A world built of imagination is not time ill spent. It is the realm of the visionary. Without those who can see beyond we would mope through our days devoid of flourish or zing.

The animated characters that inhabit the toy store aisles grew from a spark, a speck in someone's mind. I choose to believe that children will always be children, that imagination will always triumph. Weapons were not toys I wanted my son to play with but I knew I'd lost the battle when he bit his grilled cheese sandwich into the shape of a gun and started making "pow, pow" sounds.

In the past couple years, after drawing a line of rubber stamp creatures, I got to name them and give them histories. One I enlarged into a stuffed toy, a modern Marco Polo, as it turns out. His magazine debut added to his mystique with new travels, posing for a photographer, being among others of his kind. Maybe I need to add a new line to my no longer active resume: toy biographer. I could tell you stories.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Too much information...for me

Just when I had discovered the STATS category on my dashboard, I am unable to access it. When I started this blog I had no wish to know how many readers visited. Then I saw this feature had been added. It volunteered. I'm not even sure what it is telling me, and I certainly don't DO anything with the information, but now that the page will not, after repeated pleadings, reload, I miss it. It is probably just as well that it will no longer communicate. The counting of things goads me into obsessive behavior.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Everyday super

William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939. Photo from halfthreeingalway.com

X-ray vision.

Acknowledged super powers, bestowed upon heroes, raising them above the rest of us, simple mortals. In a posting of Nov. 15, Rachel referenced her super powers. Following are some of what I consider real-life super powers, one or more of which I may possess.

Writing poetry.
Creating music.
Making people laugh.
Making people cry, in a good way.
Building useful things - boats, houses, furniture, bridges.
Repairing cars.
Going to a nearly empty cupboard or refrigerator and putting together a pleasing dish or entire meal.
Tightrope walking.
Paying attention.
Inner peace.
A poker face.
Wilderness survival skills.
Excellent posture.
Being and staying in love.
Effortless order.
Bringing light to dark places.
Understanding quantum physics.
Being fluent in more than two languages.
Raising anything.
Accurately forecasting weather.

I know in five minutes or less I may think of a dozen others. They will keep. For all of you, and you know who you are, able to leap tall buildings and such, it may be time to design the costume and pick a name for your super hero self.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

One among many

Photo thanks to nola.com, by Ted Jackson

If you have forgotten that we are all in this together, try spending time in the waiting room of a medical lab collection office.

Fridays and Mondays, the phlebotomist said, are their busiest days. When we arrived, all but one seat was taken. My hierarchy of mobility is thus: something to hold onto, use cane; flat and nothing to hold onto, walker; flat with distances to be covered, wheelchair. This is why my 75-year-plan includes suspending the laws of gravity - floating, drifting, sproinging, hovering, ahhhh. So my son and I each had a seat.

When I switched to the health care plan of which this lab is part, the parking lot of the block-sized office building was run like Mussolini's trains. Now it is willy-nilly - yes, free - but out of the hundreds of spaces, many "Reserved for Management," there are two designated disabled spots. Workers were cutting rolls of carpeting in the aisles. We didn't do badly, a spot with room to open the car doors. It was enough.

I believe this lab serves a number of Medicare providers as well as other PPO-type plans, so there has always been a diverse population visiting there. This was true yesterday. A young man, in his 20s, had paper work spread across the floor near the entrance. A sturdy, perhaps 18-month-old future athlete was kicking a soccer ball, then dunking it in the receptionist's wastebasket. There was collective, yet still, restlessness, for it was obvious the wait would be measured in hours, or halves of hours.

The previous night, we had watched the re-make of CLASH OF THE TITANS, my son wanting to compare it to the original with Ray Harryhausen's classic special effects. Then, of course, there was the trailer with Liam Neeson bellowing, "Release the kraken!" All in all, the gods were unhappy. I whispered to my son that perhaps Perseus could come and liberate us from this Underworld, but not before having my blood drawn. It was a gloomy chamber, likely because we shared, on some level, unvoiced concern about the outcome of our tests. Mine was a routine check to determine that nothing essential had gone south in the previous months and my anxiety level was, oh, miracle, too low to register. I have no idea what any of the others were facing.

The staff, one receptionist and two phlebotomists, were efficient, patient, helpful and kind. It was not one of those "distract you from your monkey mind" offices with a television showing endless loops of things that we needed to watch out for. It definitely was not at all like the Social Security-approved bus station of a medical center where my son needed to be seen, in a storage closet, as part of his lengthy approval process for benefits. There they were showing Maury or some paternity-based, chair-throwing excuse for entertainment that made me long for chloroform. People who had come here together spoke in low tones, except for soccer boy and his mom who had to chase him around the room. Another mom had her hands full with a daughter of enviable curly red hair, age around five, for whom the vibe became intolerable - it has taken me years to learn not to whimper when I empathize too accutely in a crowded room - and who had to be comforted in the hall.

There we were, strangers on the bus, getting by, getting through. Since I imagine most of us had been fasting, and by now it was past 11, one of the strangers had brought a container of Ensure, and mentioned to the woman at the front desk that he was starving. My son and I were dreaming of our drive-through coffees, assuming we were done in time. It is an independent stand that closes at noon, the only drive-through coffee vendor in the greater Pasadena area. And you call yourselves civilized.

We did not really make eye contact with each other, not easy if you didn't bring a book or did not choose to immerse yourself in a two-year-old "Entertainment Weekly" laden with the germs of those two years. Occasionally it was possible to exchange a smile or a few words about how it shouldn't be much longer. I would like to know what sort of pre-employment tests they administer to find staff so centered, so unruffled, so able to bring their best game to this crowded island which no one visits by choice.

Driving through, Pasadena has a pungent air of prosperity, though the Maserati dealership did close. But in the waiting room, we of the budget health plans were not the people I pictured behind the elderly oaks in architect-designed stucco and redwood. They may have been, though my sense was we shared more than just the need to have our blood give up its secrets. We did not seem like a group which has all the answers for tomorrow's questions; since I knew I still had to get back up the stairs once we got home, I didn't even have answers for today's questions.

In spite of that, there we were, assuming, as I have written of lately, the good outcome. They talk in 12-step programs of "suiting up and showing up" and we did, patients and workers. There is comfort in company, in crowded waiting rooms, in mutual uncertainty, in just taking the next indicated step. Fingers crossed, I hope we all receive the news we want.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wake me when it's not stupid anymore

It is time to go to sleep. I've run out of places to file stupid and brutal. As I wait to see the weather, I have to mute graphic descriptions of trial testimony, then the information finds me anyway. Today it feels as though the savages are winning, that ignorance in all its mutations will be king. From the blog writers I follow I know that pockets of imagination, insight and compassion exist. Will that be enough? I trust in the good outcome. But there are days when my heart aches in spite of my best intentions. I guess I was overdue.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

No matter what you do, it will get here

There was the election, there was - more - record heat, there was the return of our purloined hour and now there are clouds and watery icons on the weather forecast.

Flexibility is a virtue I work/desire to attain. Spontaneity is a skill I covet. The switchback, serpentine aspects of our day-to-day leave me off balance. Off-balance can lead to wooziness which is like death to clear thinking. I dislike being confused.

I am not prepared for Thanksgiving to be so near. And we all know that about 15 minutes after the leftovers have all been eaten, Christmas arrives. In January the months ahead seem so rich with possibility, with time, with even the likelihood that I can start - and finish - projects. I swear time is not a reliable commodity, it is not what it advertises itself to be. There are laws against packaging which misleads the consumer, yet time is wrapped up in magnifying cellophane, giving us to think that we are getting much more of it than we do. By the time we have the paper torn off, what looked like a cloud of cotton candy is down to the size of a Chiclet.

If procrastination were a virtue, let us leave it at that, accent on IF. It is not a virtue, it is a dominant factor in my life but, back to the Chiclet, I swear I had more time. Once again, it is too late to be early. It is almost too late to be anything but late. Handmade is how we do things around here and handmade takes planning and more hours than I expect. When I reached that bend (you know the one I mean) in the river, my ability to estimate how long a task would take diminished by about 300%. That would be the number, would it not, for things now taking three times longer than they ought to.

Adding to the evaporative nature of days/hours/weeks is a tendency to stare out the window when befuddled. I watch the sky, either the sunlight on the palm fronds or the clouds gathering, then moving on. If I could find a way to wrap up my musings, they could be sent in lieu of cards or gifts. Market value: unknown. Sentimental value: about the same. So I dream and dawdle serious chunks of what time remains; I already sent out one birthday IOU this week. In my defense, I think it is a step up from my grandparents sending anything, absolutely anything they encountered, attaching a note that always read, "Hope this fits, can't remember sizes."

Perhaps they couldn't remember sizes but what I think really happened was they couldn't remember that time is a slippery character. Likely they, as I, thought it reliable, steadfast and put too much trust in its being there, they way it seemed to promise. Make no mistake, it is the roommate that borrows your prettiest dress for a trip and you never see either of them again. Then you are left, in exchange, with the rust-colored, none-too-clean skirt and a sinking feeling, grateful that you wore different size shoes.

I should probably start printing IOUs.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I want to grow up to be "Chandleresque"

RAYMOND CHANDLER and friend, thanks to blogtown.portlandmercury.com

There was no readily available photo of Mr. Chandler at a typewriter. I can't remember if he only wrote in longhand. At any rate, he is the star I'd pick for a poster on my wall, the subject of swoons and fantasies. His works, that his. Surely there is something to be said about being an icon.

Think of (your name here) being used as is his, "Chandleresque." It is unambiguous. You know at once it alludes to powerfully visual descriptions and clipped, smartass (or, not to be incongruous, wiseacre), hard-boiled dialogue from his world-weary, occasionally duped (but not for long) detective, Philip Marlowe.

Who would you wish to be...not having to take on their baggage but only their unique talent and output? I know he began his writing career at what they refer to as "later in life," thought not quite so excessively "later" as mine. Reality is not a condition of this reverie. I would be Chandler.

Say his name and words like pulps and noir are immediately linked. He is quoted for phrases such as, "the tomcat smell of eucalyptus," which, especially after a rain or a hefty mist, describes precisely the scent of Southern California air. It is the fragrance of hilly side roads on which his protagonist awaited blackmailers.

My current writing intentions have him hovering like a pipe-smoking guardian angel or hard-drinking, disembodied muse. Aspirations move and motivate us. Think of giving the world titles and characters which will not be forgotten, which are shorthand for the complex world he opened to us in mid-1930s America.

Not that the noir genre is ever far from my mind, but today it has moved back to the front of the line, following a Netflix choice for Saturday night. I will write about it tomorrow or the next day.

I really am interested in hearing which writer you would be and why. To keep the length of this post manageable and to ward off readers yawning, I have given only the most basic, possibly superficial reasons why Chandler is my choice. Give me a break, I already wrote my 2,000 plus NaNoWriMo words and still have a commercial assignment to finish in the next hour. And it is not yet 10 a.m. I am not smug but neither am I discontent. It is November 1 and it is a good day.