Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When one door closes, there's always FANFICTION

Enzo Cilenti as Mr. Childermass.
Bertie Carvel as Jonathan Strange.
Very dark indeed describes two knights so recently found, then lost, when the BBC miniseries in which they appeared concluded.  JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL (yes, let's use all caps) was a story into which one could disappear, pulling their imagination behind them before the portal closed.  As I have not read the book upon which the program was based, I hoped wildly that episode 7 was not the finale but merely the end of the first season.  Alas.  No more Bertie Carvel at his disheveled best, no more of Enzo Cilenti's cheeky disregard of orders from his so-called betters.

Across the past several years, however, I learned from my son about the existence of fanfiction,  a refuge for disappointed viewers of, among other things, concluded television shows.   And what storylines the amateur screenwriter could restore to life, if one cared to.  I will not go and find out if there is fanfiction for Jonathan Strange.  There are things we may be better off not knowing, such as the truth of what happened to Lady Pole (if you haven't seen the program, as you can guess I recommend it with embarrassing enthusiasm and will try not to give anything away).

My son tells me that, in rare instances, fanfiction may have opened up real screenwriting opportunities.  No promises, no guarantees, perhaps a foot across a threshold.  Most notable in this category is (see linked Wikipedia article) 50 Shades of Gray which began as fanfiction for the Twilight  movie series.

Such is not my path.  The writer who creates original, compelling work deserves better than to have his or her characters hijacked and shoved around to suit the expectations of dissatisfied customers.  As a genuine senior citizen who has learned the world cannot be made over to match what I think it ought to be, I find something familiar, if not exactly comforting, when an entertainment from which I receive so much pleasure comes to an end.  Let a bit of time elapse, then go back and watch or read it again, either remembering or forgetting important events.  See/read it often enough and it becomes part of us, full strength, just as we fell in love with it.

When the Harry Potter books were at their peak of popularity, my son told that one reporter's suggested answer to the question girls so often asked of J.K. Rowling, "What happens to Harry Potter?" was, "He grows us and marries YOU.  Okay?"   I am nearly content to leave Jonathan Strange, Mr. Norrell and the beautifully enigmatic Mr. Childermass, with his tarot cards, to find their way without me.   I know we'll meet again.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Word of the Week - 73

Art by Sonya Fu.
Painting, "Swing Sleep," by Bob Walkenhorst.
Word of the Week:  BALLAST

Not just for ships or hot air balloons, ballast, generally, is that which gives stability.  For me that means sleep of a deep and dreaming sort.  It means ample quiet, not doing more than one thing at a time if I can help it, an absence of chaos, remembering how many reasons I have to be grateful.  It means love and kindness among family, friends and people I don't yet know well.  It is slow and glad, it smiles at beauty and humor.  It can no longer tolerate exchanges which lack harmony.  It rejoices at good news, weeps when sad and wishes sugar wasn't so seductive. 

My ballast, my stability is solid in its softness.  Patience with all I could find to criticize about myself may seem a curious stability.  It is ballast in the most basic definition:  it keeps me on an even keel.  I begin to hiss and spark when I take up dissatisfaction with my essential being.  Finding fault with self or another is the unbalanced load in the old washing machine.  The shrill whine and thudding can be heard all over the neighborhood.

It smells like freesias or the older vintage scent Femme or fresh mint.  It tastes like iced decaf mocha or a perfectly ripe mango.  The soul is shored up with what might seem like magic spun on fairy looms but is really as simple as a cotton shirt dried on a clothesline next to the honeysuckle vine before the sun is very high.  It is the wading pool filled with cold water fresh from the hose, the discovery of an Earth-like planet deep in space, it is snail mail from a friend, something that was lost being found.  We grow stable and centered through the appearance of miracles, through wonder, through joy.  Float on, steady as she goes.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


Thanks for photo and link to Scott's LA audio tours, where you can hear the parrots.
I have mentioned before that our Los Angeles-adjacent neighborhood is home to a rowdy flock of wild Amazon parrots.  The other morning, as two of them bounced and scooted around a utility wire,  a scuffle ensured, the result of which was a lime green feather floating toward the ground.  As my mind wandered during meditation, I remembered that, for a brief time in the early 90s, I made ceremonial art using found feathers.  The source of these objects was my father who discovered them on walks along back roads near his coastal home.  He'd save each in #10 envelope upon which he wrote, in his famously illegible hand, the place and type of bird.  Many of them were raptors which enjoyed good hunting in the hills above Cambria.

The meditation, part of the grace and gratitude program, today mentioned the bounty of nature as a cause for gratefulness.  Here on our suburban street color alone is enough to bring gladness.  Between the parrots and, this time of year, the yellow blossoms from the Cassia leptophylla tree which often land on my doorstep, not to mention the backdrop of blue sky, a Berol pencil type can sigh with pleasure.
Cassia leptophyll, the same sort that grows outside our studio window.  Learn more here.
Because of their leaf blower-volume, frenzied screeching, most intense around 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. in the summer, my son began calling the parrots The Children of the Night, now shortened to The Children.  They are frequently the center ring attraction to which the ringmaster has called our attention, while lesser-billed creatures like ground squirrels, mourning doves, various songbirds and crows perform around the edges.  The crows are not content for long to be a novelty act and soon clear the general area for themselves.

But what began this was the feathers, modest stacks of envelopes which arrived in batches, then my sawing and drilling branches from a neighbor's trimmed tree and binding the feathers to them as a prayer fan from which dangled talismans of flight and journey.  I love the mind's neglected doors from which even an abbreviated meditation can clear the rust and cobwebs.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Word of the Week - 72

Words of the Week:  GRACE AND GRATITUDE

Today is Day 8 of a free, on-line meditation program from Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra, the theme of which is "Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude."  This is the second free course of theirs in which I've participated.  I can't explain why there was any gap between programs.  I will chalk it up to my tendency to wander off.

Here is the link that is sent to participants.  Even though the first days of the 21-day program are no longer available (though they may be found through the purchase of the course), there is still an enormous benefit to be gained from the remaining meditations.  You will need to register if you want to take part.  I hope that information is easy to find.  On Sunday I had difficulty connecting to the page, sent a FB message about my difficulty and received an almost immediate response with ideas for solutions.  Excellent customer service for any sort of program, especially one that is free.

These Seven Myths of Meditation may help to assure you, as they did me, that imperfection of practice is no obstacle to meditating.  In each of the sessions, led by Chopra with a mantra to repeat as a means of focusing, I have found an almost instant stilling of the chattering mind and a sense of what I assume to be the grace of which he and partner Oprah Winfrey speak.  That the road to this enlightened space is through gratitude makes it a good match for me.  I have so much for which to be thankful and my days include conscious expression of gratitude for all things, to the best of my ability.

In discussing the Seven Myths, Chopra speaks of working with a trained teacher to learn the practice of meditation, something which had me believing I was doing it wrong (!) as I had only the teachings of CDs and books before finding these courses.  I know people who have nearly life-long meditation practices which seem to ask more of them than I can give, being unable to sit in uncomfortable positions as my legs no longer bend that way, yet to find the quiet mind and optimism that I have here seems to tell me, as with so many things, we start where we are with what we have and do the best we can.  Chopra is an excellent guide and teacher.

Unless one has already developed a rare sense of peace and stillness, the world is too much with us most of the time.  In these roughly 20-minute sessions I become unknotted, calmed and restored, as in made more whole again.  There is nothing to sell here, only a gift to bestow.  In this practice or another which better suits your needs, meditation offers a respite from overload and my own tendency at times to become a bit wound up, to forget what I know and lapse into jabbering.  It is lovely not to be jabbering, either out loud or in my own head.  Surely that is grace.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Oh do slow down

Big Sur coastline.

I suggest we draw lines (analog, fountain pen lines) through everything that is irrelevant in this moment, which would include all that is not beautiful, pleasing, life-affirming, heart-warming and encouraging.  Let us take a moment or more to trust in the good outcome, to trust in the goodness of right now, no matter what.  Those of us who have attained a certain age remember there was a time when we believed we could change the world.  It is too soon to let go of that belief, whether we are the brave Hobbits who venture forth or their parents or grandparents.  While there is breath, it is never too late.

My ultimate happy place is on the rocky coast of California, looking out on fog or the sea from anywhere in Big Sur.  No one will convince me there are not places of magic on this planet and I know Big Sur is one of them.  In geography, in our own minds, so much more is possible than we allow ourselves to believe.  That so often it appears the world has gone completely sideways does not make it the whole truth. 

I can do just one thing at a time and even that I do slowly.  I've saved a seat next to me on the patio at Nepenthe.  The fog waits just offshore.  Bring your sweater.  We will watch the sun until it is out of sight.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Word of the Week - 71

Cloud-painted ceiling.
Word of the Week:  CLOUDY

“Sunshine dulls the mind to risk and thoughtfulness.”

The brilliant and indefatigable Maria Popova of Brain Pickings shared why cloudy days help us think more clearly.  She also shares other cloud-inspired articles here and here.

I have my own anecdotal experience of clear skies vs. cloudy skies, nothing to do with cognitive improvement, or maybe it is, but very much to do with a sense of comfort and safety.  In a lengthy period of slow recovery from pneumonia resulting in chronic respiratory infections and a diagnosis of chronic fatigue, I found that an overcast sky gave me a feeling of being enfolded, wrapped in what seemed a vast security blanket.  I only noticed this when blue skies appeared, wide open, without limit, infinite, and how exposed and unsafe I felt.

How long it took to shake this dread of unobscured blue skies I can't recall, possibly a couple years.  It was a sense of there being nothing between me and everything, between me and distant planets, the unknown reaches of space, the void.  Cloudy brought comfort, as though someone had wisely thought to close the wide-open doors.

In thinking of this some twenty years after the fact, gray skies felt like permission to huddle and hunker, to go slowly, really, to hide.  With clear, open skies came a feeling of expectation for which I wasn't ready.  I still needed the cave, the small space in which I could touch all the walls.  A sky that went on forever was too frightening.  I remembered the nurse showing me how to wrap my newborn son tightly in his flannel blanket, saying babies felt unsafe when their limbs were allowed to wave about.  For a time, knowing those blue skies reached into an unrestricted universe was more than I could bear.

I have come to love watching the sky from my second-floor windows, its drifting clouds, thick muffling of fog or, as today, limitlessness.  Los Angeles is no place for a blue-sky phobia. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sketchy business

My neglected sketchbooks.  I'm bringing bits of them into the light to affirm how much the practice of working in them matters, how the fact that I lose track of adding to them for months (longer?) is no measure of anything other than time.  We know my slippery relationship with time.

If there is a message here, a lesson, the one I wish to hold onto is infinite patience with myself and my peculiar ways of living life as a human, here and now.  I will assume that for all my misgivings about myself and way of being that is not identifiable as perfection in any hemisphere, that I am not doing it wrong.

It is all pretty much the vast maze created in the cornfield, the one from which paying customers have to be rescued by people with maps.  Only there are no people with actual maps, just their best guesses based on how they make it through.   We've never been here before, none of this has been here before in exactly this way.  The only old rules which apply have to do with love, kindness and, yes, patience.  I am not entirely lost in the  maze.  I'm not afraid, for in any given moment, I do know where I am.  I am here and if I don't thrash and fuss I am okay.  The next moment will take care of itself.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

I will try to keep spoilers at bay, while still exploring some of what "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter" asked of me.

That Werner Herzog recommended the picture was endorsement enough.  We know his heroes - Aguirre, Fitzcaraldo, seekers and dreamers, the borderline mad or those who have slipped across the border, those for whom nature is no deterrent, no obstacle, for whom nature may not even be noticed in pursuit of the treasure.

What I wondered is whether my seemingly ordinary dreams, desires, goals, are any less fanciful than Kumiko's.  At my rather advanced age, is the thought of a book, of books, of new design collections, sheer folly or has it burrowed into me for a reason, a reason other than disappointment?   These are sobering days for reasons beyond my knowing, other than that chaos and Hunter Thompson's bad craziness seem to have grabbed the wheel.   More sobering still is the notion that what feel like benign imaginings of future achievements may be slightly or excessively mad.  Do we know when or if we've become crackpots?

As I voiced these questions after the movie ended, my son gave immediate reassurance and I trust his assessments.  This young man can pick the green cantaloupe which will ripen perfectly every time.  That makes me the guinea pig/cantaloupe of senior citizen pipe dreams, for I am willing to trust what calls to me even when I have little or no idea how to get from here to there, other than doing my share of the work.  I wish to believe that if I build it, they will come, yet there are no guarantees.  There is just the feeling, with no way of knowing whether my feeling differs from Kumiko's, no way of knowing if wanting and believing and footwork will be enough.  Still, I am not entirely confused.  I know it is too soon to give up.  Perhaps Kumiko stopped by to help me remember that.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Word of the Week - 70

Example of orderly notes by muki wu in a Midori Traveler's Notebook.
Examples of my notes on anything other than the tablecloth.
Word of the Week:  NOTES

Notes, as in take them copiously.  Notes, as in jot it down.  Notes, as in handwritten.  To keep them in any form is an encouraging first step.  To take them in some orderly fashion so that I may find them again is the ideal.  My life and I are works in progress.

A shared article from the NY Times about what we lose as we lose handwriting reminded me that I do exercise penmanship every day.  A good thing, as fond as I am of pens.  A better thing for it seems to keep aspects of the brain engaged in a way that using a keyboard does not.  I suspect (or may have read, too) that doodling is also good for us in a similar way.

I see the hand as a loyal family retainer of the old school, taking up the pen or pencil in a last stand for civilization in the face of chaos.  Yet recently fresh recruits have appeared on the horizon, a younger generation who have sworn allegiance to what they call analog.  They are keepers of notebooks and planners, purchasers of fountain pens with triple-digit prices, sketchers and defenders of the high art of hand lettering, inventors of fonts and illustrators of life's often mundane interludes.  They may be the new radicals, owners of iPhones, of tablets, who keep track of what matters by writing it down on paper.

For years I've known that I am more likely to remember something when my hand plays a part in preserving it.  Under optimal circumstances I may even recall where on the page I wrote it, the name of the poet or illustrator or blogger, squeezed between a reminder to "Visualize Today" and encouragement to "Respond to all areas of your life with love and kindness."

Friday, July 3, 2015

The ceramics of Midori Takaki

Ceramic sculptures by Midori Takaki.  Additionally, see Elsa Mora's post.
There is beauty, serenity and mystery in the ceramic faces of Midori Takaki.  Somehow, as things do on Facebook, she drifted onto my screen and the rest is a love story.

We are enchanted by whatever enchants us.  All our senses take up the cause of reaching a maximum state of besottedness, whether with art, fashion, flavor, sound or the cooler-than-the-air-temperature water of a plastic wading pool. Scent will carry me into another dimension or previous lifetime, its magic every bit as potent now as then, or here as there.  It could be an herb, flower or example of the parfumier's art.  It could be the dust of chalk or ancient wallpaper or the long-held bit of clothing from a departed other.

Gaze into the eyes of a Takaki sculpture.  They don't look at you but rather beyond.  We encounter them, not as ghosts, more as realizations, aspects of beauty and self not often contemplated.  A capacity for stillness which we thought beyond our power.