All posts by Wendy

beginning (again) all the time

December 2015 Update: Here’s a post that is relevant, again. It’ll keep being relevant every time I step over a threshold and start over (again) on something. May beginnings go easily for you, as well.

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I have this thing with beginnings, you see. Maybe you have it too.


It’s a kind of fear. It manifests as hesitation and avoidance. Sound familiar?


Does beginning sometimes seem like a threat even though it could equally be a possibility? Knowing that, does it still paralyze you?


This is familiar to most people who are willing to go outside their comfort zone. The old part of the brain that’s not very complex reacts, “Oh no! Danger! You’re about to embark on something that delays (uncertain) gratification and might kill you! Wouldn’t you rather have a snack?” As that part of the brain prefers comfort over “danger” we learn to heed the warning, thinking we’re smart self-preservationists, not realizing that “danger” is a code word. It’s not a code word for Tyrannosaurus Rex or Booby Traps on the Path to the Waterhole. “Danger” is code for:


  • You’re going to reveal something about yourself to others and you will be judged.

  • You’re going to be challenged in how you view yourself, how you understand your skills and abilities.

  • You’re going to have a lot asked of you and you’ll have to step up to it.

  • You’re going to have to put in a lot of hours without certainty of reward.

From a perspective of the social and behavioral adaptations that could ensure biological survival, those generalized kinds of “dangers” can be scary. And they encompass everything from how we behave alone or in groups to what we decide to focus our attention on. Maybe there was a time when the necessity of toeing the tribal line and staying in your place were critical for the species’ survival. There’s not necessarily a huge place for artistic vision and challenging social norms when what really matters is if your group finds a big enough mammoth to tide you over for the winter.


This reaction isn’t only a matter of biological adaptation, but it is deeply embedded in the psyche. Given the universality of religious experience and the inherent human need for self-actualization, I’m sure early humans struggled with this too. Imagine an individual in a tribal society receiving a summons to serve the spirit world or carry medicine. Who wouldn’t backpedal and resist?


For me this has to do with writing. Actually, to pinpoint it at exactly this moment, it has to do with writing these first blog posts. And this morning, it bit me when I sat down to work on my long-running fiction project. To be honest, it bites me all the time.


It’s the most powerful nothing I’ve ever encountered.


And it’s amazing that any of us can muster the power to overcome it. But we do, and we must.


I think one of the reasons Resistance (as Steven Pressfield names it) is such a potent enemy is because it can conveniently lose its memory.


We can’t; at least not without the help of head injury, dementia, or drugs. So what happens is that we incorrectly think, “Oh, that story that I’m working on, the one I started already? I’m not inspired today, why is that?” And then the likely next step is to analyze the day, “Well, I feel under the weather, that negative review threw my life’s purpose into a tailspin, I ran out of money and argued with my lover.” And so we have a false sense of continuum, assuming there must be a new problem with an assumed infinity of reasons and variables which prevent us from “continuing” without seeing that we merely have difficulty starting.


Meanwhile, the Resistance is saying, “What yesterday? Ha ha, I got you! Stopped you from starting TODAY.” It does not keep track of all the times you started before; it only cares whether or not it can stop you NOW.


We tend to only recognize the start-paralysis in front of the first blank pages and blank canvas then justify the rest of our excuse making as somehow fueled by a “legitimate reason,” but all of that just exists in the mind. Every moment is a new blank and it’s possible, without consistent effort, to be waylaid at every moment, just as it’s possible to know this and use that knowledge to make a break from paralysis.


The fuel? Just starting.


One of my most important realizations has been the absolute necessity of recognizing that I have to begin (again) every single day (and often more than once a day), that the fear of beginning prevents me from walking through the door of my mind, prevents me from remembering the joy of just walking onward through my work once begun.


A beginning is not one monolithic starting point, not one famous moment after which everything comes easy.Every single moment is a beginning though Resistance tries to hide that while using it against us. Knowing this means that we can be slightly more prepared for the difficulty.


Paraphrasing (in italics) some wise thoughts about beginning, I’d like to suggest:


Begin at the beginning and go on (beginning) until you come to the end: (only) then stop. (Lewis Carroll)


Who has begun has half done. Have the courage to be wise. (times infinity)>  (Horace)


Everything has a beginning and that beginning is linked to something (that began) before it. (Mary Shelley)


It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end (and remember everything is made completely of beginnings, so get to work). (Leonardo Da Vinci)

Like walking into a house, long left-behind

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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomastern/15182312281

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image credits: Susanne Nillson on flickr. Creative commons license

and an apology for any formatting or other errors – following my absence WP demanded updates and now parts of my blog are broken 🙁

Beauty in Motion

This lovely video* of Bob Potts’ work really showcases such delicacy of movement and grace. The soundtrack contributes to the mesmerizing effect, but I think the sculptures really stand on their own. In particular, the third one (at about 5 minutes) makes me want to hop on and fly into a lovely cloud-puffed sky.

*Shot and edited by Bryan Root, Motherlode Pictures, music by Peter Dodge.

There is, of course the design and engineering aspects to the sculptures (and I’d assume, a lot of prototypes!), but what is really moving about these literally moving pieces, is their graceful integrity.
Indeed, Mr. Potts, in a gracious letter to blogger, Daniel Busby, wrote, “I do tinker away and come up with ideas. I make stick models to work out geometry. No high powered CAD programs here. Much of the time what I start out with is much different then the results. It is very rewarding to see a piece grow and evolve. I am looking for the gracefulness that surrounds us, I use the talents I have to try and bring it forth.

A second video showcases those talents:

The first post in this series is here.
The second is here.

This is not a Story

The following piece of writing qualifies as fiction because I made it up, but it doesn’t meet all the criteria for a story. After I wrote it, I was inordinately proud of it (I don’t know, maybe fancy wording makes me proud) but I wisely let it sit. Admittedly, I tend to let all my writing sit, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve now taken this narrative back “out” and am looking at it critically with the aim of uncovering what it needs to become a successful story. Notice the important nouns in that previous sentence and you’ll find the first clue to what’s holding the piece’s success back: narrative, story.

Floundering about, as I have, with the notion of story* as it relates to fiction writing and the human need for evaluating life experiences under that rubric, I’ve tended to conflate narrative and story, to the detriment of the “stories” I write. This piece, “The 2:37 from Hannover,” is pure narrative – there’s a character (protagonist, if you will) and an event – and not much else.

After taking my sweet, foot-dragging, time to adopt a working definition of story, I’m going to go with one offered by Holly Lisle. Since I own several books in her “How to Write…” series (such as “How to Write Page Turning Scenes” ) and am a How to Think Sideways** student, I can’t tell you where, exactly, to find this definition (It’s around here somewhere, I swear), but my cobbled-together-from-memory version looks like this: a story must have: 1)a character 2) in a setting with 3) a desire and 4) a problem (or several) standing in the way of his obtaining it. Additionally, the 5) character’s actions must have 6) logical consequences (though not necessarily the expected ones) and lead either to overcoming the problem, thus obtaining the desired end, or, to not overcoming it and having the desire thwarted – all in a 7) meaningful way.

I know, that’s not a very elegant definition, but blame that on my cobbling skills. It’ll do for now, and as you’ll soon find out, the draft below is missing a number of those qualities. It remains to be seen if it can be fixed; whether or not it makes it to story status will be revealed in posts to come.

In all it’s narrative (and mostly descriptive) glory, I give you the inaugural work in an occasional “Fiction Going Nowhere” series:

Go By Streetcar Part III

The 2:37 from Hannover

Traveling southbound from Hannover, Hazel would be in Frankfurt well before six. A bit too early, but not something a cup of black coffee wouldn’t help her wait out. She’d tried other trains but none were right – either by their timing or the route they took or by the clatter and volume of other passengers picked up along the way.
      No, it had to be the express that only stopped in Kassel at about half-past three to pick up a few airport-bound passengers heading into early jet lag. Even at the height of summer, the required darkness lasted until the approach into Frankfurt.
     She would doze. It was inevitable and, honestly, necessary. The few times she’d fueled her flagging alertness with early coffee and had sat upright among the sprawled out passengers whose claim over two or three seats made the train feel far more occupied than it was, she’d only added a tight buzzing headache to the hum and rock of the speeding train. She’d seen nothing.
     She figured she’d missed it, if it had ever come at all, on her second coffee-inspired trip to the bathroom. It had seemed too soon out of Kassel, far too early and yet she’d missed the moment she’d come to anticipate… no, that she’d actually come to need on her weekly trip south.
     The touch of the ineffable and the sense of privately-offered mystery didn’t fade just for occurring among barely asleep businessmen and conked out college students, wasn’t diminished by the electric lights, blue upholstery or the periodic rattle of a window shade.
     What mattered most was the entirety, the stepping off the cold platform and away from the diesel and trash smell, the attendant’s whistle signaling the start, and the snick of the doors cutting off the station announcement. What mattered was that no matter how many times she did this, she still marveled at the feeling, was still amazed at the smooth arrival of the sleek white cars, the train’s sometimes squealing stop, its welcome-by-open-doors and the distinction that now she was entering a vehicle to the unknown.

Anything could happen.

And something usually did.

Somewhere past the halfway mark, just when she feared it was too late or that they’d gone too far, just when her stomach gave a kind of flop at the thought that she’d somehow missed it again, had gotten too engrossed in her book or dozed a little too deeply, she’d glance up at a flash of color, a change in pitch. Her fear that maybe she’d wanted too much and the certainty that this would be an un-meaningful, tally-marked, trip between occurrences would drop away as the train left the last tunnel and a motion in the window and a shift in the light would catch her attention.
     Always in the window across from her, no matter which side she sat on, she’d see the other train speeding next to hers, reflected into her car: red to the white of the ICE, on a parallel track that couldn’t exist in the narrow stretch near the hillside or between her train and the riverbed thick with plane trees below. The red train mattered all the more because it couldn’t be there, because no matter which side of her car she crossed to or which window she peered from, she could not pinpoint the source of its reflection and its faintly lit passengers. It just shot on alongside.
     Cupping her hands around her face and looking out into the night revealed nothing but blurred vegetation lit momentarily by her car’s interior lights. Only if she stepped back was she granted the view of the red local train somehow keeping pace with the express. She could see its interior, lit from within and flickering with speed — as though seen between branches or in movie frames. If she stepped further from the window so that it was hard to make out details, she could see the forms of the other train’s passengers, eyes closed as though in introspection: a man with his mouth open, not snoring but singing, a woman, like her, with her elbows on the small table and her head resting on her folded hands as though in prayer, and somewhere across the aisle of the non-existent train, a child, bolt-upright next to a quiet parent, looking back at Hazel in astonished delight and complete understanding with shh-it’s-a-secret fingers laid across her lips like a kiss.

-end-

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image Creative Commons License Ian Sane via Compfight

* in this post I alluded to eventually putting a story up here – this isn’t it! I thought I’d start with something more flawed first, because … why not?

** I am also an affiliate of Holly’s – that means that if you decide to purchase anything from her site through the links I provide I get a commission at no extra charge to you.

 

Things that move

Part two of my earlier set of posts about some really cool kinetic art that folks are making.

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(August 2013)

Here’s a kinetic sculpture that unlike the previous work is minimal and simple – and yet it creates its own complexity. I like that its use of linear components creates images reminiscent of non-linear designs seen in, for example, cell division…

Kinetic Art – Dynamic Structure 29117 2007-2010 from Willem van Weeghel on Vimeo.

Then, something lighthearted and involving sound waves:

Floating Orchestra from Harvey & John on Vimeo.

And a graceful sculpture in a Singapore airport.

“Kinetic Rain” Changi Airport Singapore from ART+COM on Vimeo.

*The first post in this series is here

beauty is participatory

“People argue about beauty. Is it in the eye of the beholder or is it a property of the beholden? From a relational perspective, the question is clearly dualistic, cast in either/or terms. If there is an answer, it is clearly both. Beauty is in the thing seen, and we grant beauty, making that with which we identify, in some resonant way, beautiful. Beauty is the experience of a shared vibration resonating between the thing seen and the one who sees … Beauty, then, might best be named in terms of resonance, a vibration that moves us, that makes us see and do differently. We bow, cry, or give thanks. We want more and soften in order to get it. We participate. Beauty becomes a call for engagement.”

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*text from: Sewall, Laura. Sight and Sensibility: the Ecopsychology of Perception.

Story, a perennially hot topic it seems, gets its definitions hashed out with such regularity that you’d think it could be easily expressed, second-nature like, especially by a writer.

You’d think a person who was writing ‘stories’ would know what they were. But I’m starting to believe that, like beauty or harmony, story is something that you know when you see it but it’s hard to pin down.

For some reason I keep holding onto the notion that the things I write , in order to qualify for anyone else’s recognition that they’re stories, have to portray conflict in an obvious way and have characters who act in response to the conflict and who are shown experiencing the effects of their actions but whose own internal experience of and reflection on their experience is secondary. I end up judging the things I write harshly – characters are weak, plot is weak, answers come easily BECAUSE I’m actually interested in exploring the internal experience.

I’m not sure how much time I should waste trying to wrap my mind around the various definitions of story so as to prove my stories are weak, or trying to disentangle plot from story and structure from the conveyance of meaning.

It’s  convoluted. Instead, I’m thinking it’s better to just write what needs to be written and then see if it resonates with anyone else.

Today, I’m liking this description that isn’t really a definition:

Stories connect events and create meaning; they also connect people to each other.
 –Philip Martin

I can at least confirm that I’ve got stories in which there are characters and events and some degree of meaning comes out of the connection.

The one I’m working on now is experimental (aren’t they all?) in that it was conceived out of a dream – something notoriously tricky to harness when one desires more than a smidgen of regular logic – but I figured if it could be worked into a story then I’d have some confidence that my lumpy and lopsided creations actually have a future.

The first installment of its draft-form is upcoming.

"String Web" woven sculpture by Machiko Agano

tracking Story through imaginal lands

I will tell you something about stories
(he said)
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
All we have to fight off
illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
Their evil is mighty
but it can’t stand up to our stories.
So they try to destroy the stories
let the stories be confused or forgotten.
They would like that
They would be happy
Because we would be defenseless then.
He rubbed his belly.
I keep them here
(he said)
Here, put your hand on it
See. It is moving.
There is life here
for the people.
And in the belly of this story
the rituals and the ceremony
are still growing.

– Leslie Marmon Silko (Ceremony)

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"String Web" woven sculpture by Machiko AganoIt’s an odd time we live in, relative to the time humanity’s been humanity. We’re different in the stories we tell, in our demand to be entertained.  We don’t recognize stories as Story, we call them Truth or fiction (lies), we pick them up and drop them again.  Our stories come and go so fast that we don’t learn them, we call them news. We learn to ignore them. It’s hard to see if ritual and ceremony are still “growing in the belly.”

Who passes down stories in families any more?  I don’t mean family stories, per se, but stories of ourselves nonetheless.  Maybe it’s a result of being a literate society, we find our stories in books. Or on TV. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but I think it causes us to think that deep stories are separate from ourselves – they have to be in print, on paper or pixels, in order to be meaningful. How much is memorable, though, in the end? Is there life “here, for the people”?

Meanwhile, among the small talk, we learn to tell small stories to ourselves about ourselves.  My self-story, for some reason planted early into my psyche, was that my life had no story. That I was just a product of 1970s American suburban upbringing. Nothing to see here, move along.

“We are…less damaged by the traumas of childhood than by the traumatic way we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us,” says James Hillman in The Soul’s Code.

But what about those of us whose childhoods seemed boring, fruitless, not full of trauma (real or imagined) except in how being given only the surface of things is traumatic?  I think Hillman is right to say this, “Our lives may be determined less by our childhood than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods.” The 1970s and 80s, suburban sprawl, school days, highways – all imagined, all imaginal and as such, full of Story. I have long denied them their right, have denied meaningfulness out of distaste.

I think I write merelCarry Me in Your Dreamsy to find Story. Every story I tell, whether in fiction,  non-fiction, poetry or drawing, is a search for a line, a thread of meaning, for something coherent. I believe that somewhere there must be signal in the noise.

As of today there are 6.8 million google hits for “I am a writer.” It’s the most commonplace thing in the world, it seems (almost one hit per ten existing human beings). Some writers become authors, some make a living at it. Some are entertainers, others keep their writings private (by choice or by inability to overcome the celebrity-to-crowd ratio).  Part of me sees the rightfulness in there being many story tellers, many makers of Story, and in the proof that we’re all creative. Part of me quivers at what it perceives as my lack of imagination (to create) and gumption (to share, or to promote)), at the sense that this has to be a competition for market value. Oh dread.

Meanwhile, the thread holds and I keep writing, here, in journals, notebooks, computer files.  Aren’t there enough words out in the world already? Maybe, but Story needs to be told.

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I finished re-reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony yesterday and am encouraged to keep finding my own ways of telling stories – telling the story in the way it needs to be told, even if it’s not the way it would have been told in the “old days” IS the ritual and the ceremony that can heal and make whole.

I needed to be reminded.

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What do you know about stories and Story?
Can you hear what it is we’re whispering to ourselves? Does our entertainment tell us something deeper about ourselves?
What stories about your life have you had to let go?
Do stories help?

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image sources : Creative Commons License Dominic Alves via Compfight
and Phoebe M-H via Compfight