Well, that was a lengthy radio silence…
but there’ll be some news in the near future, so stay tuned!
Well, that was a lengthy radio silence…
but there’ll be some news in the near future, so stay tuned!
The north wind is gusting outside – it comes racing down the Central Valley, picks up topsoil and whatever isn’t tied down. The air has a haze and is harried by the change in weather. The house holds firm but exhales now and then as it braces itself
Each season we have days that blow past like this. They bring with them a shift. In the spring, we’ll have warmer days after the wind dies down; in the fall, the weather becomes cooler.
Although we only get the wind every couple of weeks, it feels like its flux has been continually with me since February. The lack of posting here is symptomatic of all the helter skelter.
But now I’m looking into upcoming May with an eye toward a little more stability and, if not calm, at least being able to lean into the wind. I’m anticipating the end of my Master Gardener training program, won’t have more guests until July, have finished moving my Dad in with us, and have started toward writing again. My days have been very productive on the household front (you should see my Done List, it’s impressive, just not impressively related to writing) and I’ll continue with the yard renovation plans this month. I suppose it makes sense that my play time has focused on plants lately, spring seems to do that to me. 🙂 Meanwhile, although I don’t have any stories in the works right now, I’ve been sending a few of the ones from Shifted Visions out to online journals.
My aim for the coming month – resuscitate a daily writing practice (of any sort, really, ANY writing is better than no writing), continue with the exercise routine that seems to be working well for me, create a base map of the yard so I have something to work from, get some summer veggies into the already-summer-like ground (trying some drought tolerant varieties, like Tepary bean and Malabar Spinach).
I’ve gotta remember that when the dust isn’t flying, when it’s settled, it’s at its most productive being soil, holding all the things that want to be rooted. Letting things grow.
Words and I aren’t having the best of relationships right now.
It started out decently at the beginning of February but by the end had deteriorated.
1. I learned a poem by heart. I spoke it aloud in the car, rolling it over and over. Then I returned to other poems I’d learned already and had let fall away. They came back quickly, settled right into my mind and slipped out of my mouth easily. They fit in the small trips I need to make every day. I said them even while on my bike, though quietly and under my breath (and between breaths if I was riding fast). It became an exercise in letting myself hear my own voice, in playing with the words and their meaning. It was a poem about giving oneself, about committing fully to this experience of life. It spoke to me but I’ll share it another time because the part of me it spoke to is a little wounded right now.
2. I’d set aside new writing for a bit. It was alright. I mean, I know professionals can’t do that, but I needed to keep up with other things and I’ve not graduated from hobbyist-status. I was still working on editing my own stories, though, for Shifted Visions. So, although I wasn’t acting as a midwife to words, I was at least a governess, seeing that they turn out right and can be presented in polite company.
3. I was working on a paid editing job, a translation. Translations are finicky, especially when the translators are working INTO a language in which they’ve not attained near-native fluency. It’s easy to go wrong and I started to see my approach to words change. I could imagine the text as a whole, as having its own completeness in its original form. It was a carrier of meaning in a context in which its shape made sense. Like a vessel, a bowl or cup, maybe.
So, imagine such a thing.
For the sake of illustration, though the original text I’m working with is not nearly so artful as this example, imagine that it’s a beautiful and meaningful thing, like this:
But then, in order for it to be comprehended and used in another place with its own cultural context, it has to be translated. And imagine that translation requires the item be taken apart down to its “base layers,” in this case down to the atoms of gold. At that level they’re still gold, but they have to be manipulated and moved. The words, in their own way are melted by the translator who passes them from one language, through his or her body and consciousness, and transforms their shape into the new language. They become new words.
What I inherited from the translators was something like this:
It was pretty mangled.
My brain now had to approach the words like this:
I have to admit, this is not the way to engage the part of you that likes to invite words to work their own magic, without force. That part of me had to just sit tight and hope the editing would get done soon.
4. And then a dear friend died – unexpectedly and tragically early. It wasn’t supposed to happen, like that or now.
I had been sad to leave Göttingen, where much of our three years there had felt sheltered and warmed by her and her family. I had assumed we’d meet again, had hoped to have her daughter stay with us this coming year for half of tenth grade, figured we’d meet up and travel a bit. But no.
I had to bear the news to all my family members. There are no right words for that. I wrote a condolence card to her husband and two daughters – to my friends – the best I could do from this distance – and in that effort I found that words don’t work. They don’t do the right thing, they don’t solve the problem or heal the hurt. They’re weak and ineffectual. I mean I said nice things but really, what we all want is for terrible things to not happen, for them to not shake and change our lives in this way.
5. One of our cats got seriously ill with a virus that is often carried by cats without effect. When it “mutates” and causes symptoms, though, it’s incurable and fatal. I had to make the decision to have him put to sleep before he suffered more. I know, cats don’t “rank up there” with people, but if you have any animals in your life, you know they’re people, too. He was special to me. We were friends.
We brought our cats back to the US with us from Göttingen and losing him felt like one more uprooting from what we loved there.
Again, I had to tell family members. I had to tell the cat though few of my words have ever made a lot of sense to him. I made sure that he knew in all the wordless ways how much we all loved him.
6. I kept everything running (admittedly it’s run on frozen pizza, some forgotten appointments, lots of tears and a sad kind of lonely inability to help anyone else’s grief). I’ve still had to drive here and there but couldn’t bear more than half a phrase of any poetry coming out of my mouth. I don’t want to say them. I don’t want to say much.
7. I am ‘conversational.’ I talk to people. I write down phone messages, notes for my master gardener class and comments in the margin of the translated text. The editing is not yet done. My head, though it stopped hurting from the inside, feels like it has been used to bang on bad English.
My heart still hurts and I’m wary about words.
8. I wrote this blog post.
“Gold cup kalardasht“. (Achaemenid golden bowl with lion imagery). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve been lingering around the walkway of this blog-house for a few weeks now, unable to push open the door and walk in. I feel like I abandoned my homey online space… a legitimate feeling I guess, because I kind of did. It wasn’t totally intentional. It just happened that the past months held lot of transition and change that couldn’t be overtly referenced in this public place. My husband’s experience in an unpleasant organizational environment made it so that we had to be strategic about revealing details of how we were trying to get out. Look there! I still couch it in obtuse language to try to hide what I mean because I don’t want blowback!
In a nutshell, now that we’re out? The last year involved me flying from Germany to the US four times – twice to assess my dad’s readiness for, and then to help with, a move, once to look for a house for ourselves and once to make our actual move. Additionally, Oldest Kid graduated from high school and moved into her own apartment (in Germany) so she could do a language intensive in preparation for going to university there. Youngest Kid and I returned to the California. We also had to prepare for a possibility-turned-reality of my husband getting a position in China.
So, now we’re four people on three continents. My head is still spinning!
All hope of creative work came to a standstill, though now that we’ve committed to a place and have a house, my plant-loving, long-suppressed garden-design-Muse has been in heaven thinking about all the ways to turn a little suburban lot into a productive and beautiful space. My inner research freak has been having a field day brushing up on the permaculture principles and techniques it thought would never be utilized due to transient renter-ship. Moving frequently is the pits and I’m happy to report that we’ve decided to make a home base around which all the world traveling can orbit but which will remain a stable center where, among other things…(…drumroll…)… I can write!
The door squeaked when I opened up the blog today, but the cobwebs don’t look too bad and really, it looks like a place that still fits. I can see room for small renovations and there are boxes to unpack and some old things to send out the door, but the roof is sound and it feels like a place I can inhabit again.
I’m happy to be home.
and an apology for any formatting or other errors – following my absence WP demanded updates and now parts of my blog are broken 🙁
As you may or may not know, my husband is a cultural anthropologist who does research on a variety of topics including the cultural & ritual practices that tie people to place. He’s done his fieldwork in Tibetan regions of western China (mostly Qinghai province/Amdo) and in his first film (2011) he focused on a community’s sense of connection to sacred mountains and their perceived place in the order of things.
It’s currently available for free online viewing at Culture Unplugged.
About the film, Dan writes:
Embrace (2011) documents the ritualized relationship of an Eastern Tibetan (Amdo) community engaged in tantric practices, and the land that supports them. Engaging the deities of local mountains and the spirits of water and weather, a father and son share their yogic understanding of the state of their environment as a reflection of consciousness-in-place.
Please take a look if you’re interested!
This morning, as the end of a year approaches, I woke into an insight as framed in the last few days of reflection and consideration. The insight pointed out that part of me thinks it’s safer to leave GOTS and all my other bits-and-bobs of writing unfinished. I’m pretty aware of this pattern of stopping again and again though I’ve not yet overcome it.
Fishing around for my motivation to finish GOTS I saw that there is a contradictory inner force pulling the strings, ruling through my own abstention from taking power, my own abdication.
GOTS has this strange quality of never, never ending, while simultaneously taking 60,000 words (so far) to go absolutely nowhere. It’s a non-story, in fact. But if I keep it unfinished, in a permanent state of “draft,” I never have to deal with that. A perpetually hopeful, childish, “I don’t want to grow up and finish something attitude” keeps everything I work on in a state of incompletion.
Short stories are always just drafts, poems are drafts, CTRH (my first “novel-thing”) is a broken mess of a draft that is, not surprisingly, without an ending. GOTS is so flawed that I can’t see my way to complete it because its “completed” state will prove that my writing is a waste of time.
I “refuse” to put action in the story (observing “it just keeps slipping away”), I never make something happen, and my characters don’t act decisively and with commitment (yes, my characters appear to be reflections of my own worst traits, don’t worry, I won’t force you to read it), because doing so would send them on their way toward being just as crappy in their final form. Short stories don’t get shown to anyone, they sit in rough or final drafts or are idealistically compiled into fake “anthologies” which go nowhere though their mother has high ideals. Everything inhabits a fluid and open spot on my to-do list. Eternally in progress, unjudgeable, safely tucked away.
If that’s the case — and it is the case — now that I’ve identified the problem, what needs to be done to fix it? Two ideas popped up in the course of assessing this situation.
1. I need to submit short pieces to real markets and not just self-pub them (to my audience of 4 blog-readers). Self-pub is in the works for some things, but self-sabotage requires external assistance. If I rely on myself for everything, the process breaks down at some point – something stalls when that outdated mindset wants to keep everything “safely” In Progress.
2. I need to finish a crappy draft of GOTS. It needs to crawl to the finish line. I’ve come to judge it, to think poorly of it, to disdain it because it’s such a pale, broken simulation of what it was supposed to be and keeping it un-done allows my mind to hold onto what “it could have been” and what it “could be,” the ideal I’m capable of creating in a perfect world where I’m a perfect me.
This means that, for my own peace of mind, to overcome this pattern of cowardice (always backing away, always turning tail with a cheery smile on my face as I look to New Ideas that don’t put up a fight), I have to start calling some things DONE. Play is all well and good and I love that part of creative work – that it engages playfulness – but at this late date, I also need to grow up a little and claim my work as *Something* and not just let it dissolve so I can avoid disappointment through avoiding completion. Not having done this and always focusing on process, I’ve also avoided the kind of joy that is only available by wrapping something up and feeling the syncretic reality of process joined with final product.
It’s time to stop fooling myself with my fantasy world in which I pretend all is well in the workshop, that all the kinks are being worked out eternally, eternally in service of how good my ideal is and, “shhh, don’t look at the broken, misshapen, flat and unworkable prototypes on the factory floor. They’re not mine, I don’t know how they got there.”
If I want to inhabit my creativity, if I want to actually do real work and not live in my head (where it is very, very safe and very, very stifling) then I’m going to have to finish something and let it exist as itself in the world.
That’s what 2014 is going to be about.
the little broken dolls are from the blog Ullabenulla. The blogger, Ulla Norup Millbrath uses such things for her own artwork (lesson: use it all, even the broken pieces!!). Not cc licensed, but hopefully use with attribution is ok.
I flew to California from Germany last week. It took me 25 hours of travel time and I hit the ground running. I’m here to help my dad figure out some options for living in a place that’s a little more senior-friendly.
My next two weeks are going to be filled with organizing some of his future move and helping get him more organized so that while he still lives in his house in the boonies, it’s at least somewhat convenient and functional.
My blogging time, not to mention my general writing and project time, is pretty limited, but I’ll be here when I can.
I’m learning to use image editing software (taught by the skillful Frauke, whose website is here) and this was what I came up with for the first exercise – obviously pretty simple, some text and a photo I took last week.
I think it turned out rather nice and in the spirit of “beautiful and bountiful” here’s an unsigned version for your use.
Just right-click on the image, download it (or “save as”) and then use it as an e-card, send it as an attachment, or post it on your facebook page.
Honestly, who couldn’t use a little more beauty in their day?
** if you’re south of the equator I also send my best spring wishes your way 🙂 **