Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wrapping Up Christmas

This will be the last of my Christmas posts, although I may do an Epiphany one, but I wanted to share a couple of things before we say our final goodbyes to Christmas 2009.  It has always bothered me that Christmas ends so abruptly after Christmas Day; every year I try to drag it out a little.  I ponder the "Twelve Days of Christmas" concept, and try to find a way to bring it into my life more fully.  But the world has other ideas, and it's difficult to swim against that flow.

Another thing that's been bothering me lately is that many of the songs associated with Christmas are actually WINTER songs, and have nothing especially to do with Christmas.  I wish these songs were played all winter long; maybe then we could collectively celebrate this wonderful season a bit more, instead of dreading it as soon as Christmas is over.  I mean, winter's just started, for crying out loud - let's enjoy it.  Let's single Jingle Bells, Sleigh Ride, Let It Snow, Winter Wonderland, and Baby, It's Cold Outside all winter long!  Anybody with me here?

Anyway, for those of you who asked for my Eggnog Cheesecake recipe, here it is.

You'll notice I crossed out the shortbread cookies and toasted hazelnuts ingredients and replaced them with Pecan Sandies.  I did this because I've never been able to find hazelnuts that weren't still in their shells, and I'm lazy.  The Pecan Sandies work just fine.  This year is actually the first time I've done the toasted hazelnuts because someone brought me a huge bag of shelled ones, and I'm telling you - it wasn't significantly better.

And just for the Postman, here is the Bourbon Fruitcake recipe, taken from Jeff Smith's wonderful book, "The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas."  I know there's some scandal associated with Smith, but I still adore this book, and him.  May he rest in peace.  Whatever he did or didn't do is not for me to judge; but I can judge him by his writing, which in this book is quite inspired.

Don't forget that you can click on these photos to enlarge them if they're difficult to read.

I'd also like to share a poem by W.H. Auden, called "For the Time Being:  A Christmas Oratorio."  This poem closes Smith's book, and that's where I know it from.

Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes--
Some have gotten broken--and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school.  There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week--
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted--quite unsuccessfully--
To love all our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.  
                                                        Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed.
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable 
Possibility--once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep his word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.  
                                                       But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays.  The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this.  
                                                       To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly 
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened.  Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering.  So once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."

They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine.  In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance.  The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon;
When the Spirit must practise his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, that, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

May you have a fruitful and joyous new year,
and in the words of Jeff Smith,

I bid you peace.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Of Messes, Masses, and Ships

Christmas this year, like every year, was messy. But it's a mess I'm learning to surrender to. In the imperfect and often sloppy, can be beauty and joy.

We made a mess of gingerbread cookies early in the season. They didn't look like the cookies in the Christmas books, but they were fun to make and eat. Even my 16-year-old's ubercool boyfriend helped.

One of my goals this year was to make a photo calendar for the relatives, but with the messiness of end-of-semester insanity at the same time as Christmas preparations, it didn't happen. I kept trying to get everyone in the same place at the same time to take one good family photo with a Christmas theme for the December page. The day when I finally managed to gather everyone, Eliana was tired and fussy. After about thirty (wasted) shots, these were the only two that came out anywhere near presentable.

But by the time I actually got these on my computer, there wasn't enough time to get the calendar out by Christmas and I was swamped with other things, so the project was abandoned. Oh well, maybe next year.

Because June Amber had to work on Christmas Day, we decided to have our big dinner on Christmas Eve. But I also knew that my beloved's mother was coming to town on or shortly after Christmas Day, so I bought a prime rib and a turkey. Well, actually, two turkeys, since it was buy one, get one free. We had the prime rib Christmas Eve.

In case you're not familiar with the paper crowns, they come out of Christmas "crackers," which are sort of like toilet paper tubes wrapped in shiny paper of various colors. (You can see a silver one in the above photo.) Everyone at the table holds an end of one with one hand and an end of another with the other hand, so that a chain is formed around the table. Then everybody pulls and they make a terrific popping sound as they come apart. The contents of the tube - which consist of the paper crown, a really bad joke on a small piece of paper, and some small plastic item like a whistle or a tiny yo-yo - then go flying everywhere.

It is mandatory to wear the paper crowns throughout dinner and to tell the lousy jokes. The weirdest joke this year was "What do you get when you cross a cow, a sheep, and a goat? A milky baa kid." If anyone at all gets this, please explain it to my unenlightened family. Poor Justin was quite disturbed and spent most of dinner trying to figure it out.

For dessert we had my famous eggnog cheesecake.

The Bourbon Fruitcake I made is behind the candle, but you don't want to see it, I promise. The whole top of it stuck in the pan, so it's, well, messy-looking.

I had been making a very conscious effort to "go with the flow" this Christmas, and not be attached to things happening a certain way, but the one thing I really was determined to do was walk to Midnight Mass at the San Francisco church. However, by 11:15, having just finished dessert a half hour before, and Eliana still up and cranky, the exhaustion set in and I began the process of talking myself out of it. I put Eliana to bed and was reading her stories when I heard the church bells begin to ring. I squelched the yearning that arose and went back to reading about the Christmas mice who get a present of cheese from the cat. Just then, Justin came into Eliana's room and said he'd take over so I could go. I hedged, but he looked me tenderly in the eye and said, "The bells are calling you."

This was my second time attending Midnight Mass here, but my first since I moved into the neighborhood. There was something liberating and exciting about walking over there by myself late at night. I used to attend Midnight Mass at a cathedral in Baton Rouge, and this one is so different. The cathedral mass was decidedly "high church" with the Gregorian-type music and much solemnity. In this mass all the songs were in Spanish and accompanied by a single acoustic guitar and a mediocre lead singer. The combination of this with the traditional Catholic incense and liturgy gives it a strange combination of high church and low. And then the priest is Scottish. I can't begin to explain the incongruity of the Spanish music and the Scottish brogue, but it works, and is lovely, and somehow holy spaces are created in the disparities.

After the mass, we all walked out through the courtyard, which was lined with luminarias. The statue of St. Clare was circled by them. In the parking lot was a series of small bonfires, and people were standing around them wishing each other a Merry Christmas. I walked home at peace with the world, my heart full of love, pondering the pettiness that often holds that love back. Earlier in the evening, when I was preparing to serve dessert, I had a moment of self-pity because everyone had disappeared and left me to do the dishes, and now here I was serving an elaborate dessert, and no one seemed to even care enough to be there. Unfortunately, I dumped this negativity onto Justin (who was the only one who WAS there), effectively pushing him away for the rest of the evening. As I thought of this, I resolved to be more magnanimous and selfless with those I love.

The house was quiet and dark. When I entered my bedroom, I was greeted by an overpowering scent of essential oils and the sight of Justin and Eliana sprawled out asleep on the bed. Apparently, they had somehow migrated from her room and he had fallen asleep before her, because she had gotten into my essential oils and poured out the entire bottle of cypress and most of the ylang-ylang. She also had found and torn open the little gift I had carefully and beautifully wrapped for Justin earlier and had planned on giving him after Mass.

I felt devastated and angry with Justin for allowing her to do this. All that waste of time and energy and money and scent. But I firmly turned my heart back to what I'd been feeling before I walked into the room, and heroically refrained from losing it. However, in the middle of the night, Eliana woke up and was fussy, and in my sleepy haze, I was grumpy and said something mean to Justin. The next morning, I knew he was hurt and I regretted my harsh words. We avoided talking about it though, putting our personal mess aside to engage in the glorious mess of opening presents.

Later, however, I was sad and discouraged that it's so hard to be kind and loving, and that often when it feels like Justin and I are getting closer, I succumb to a negative emotion and express it in a way that drives him away. Sometimes I feel like a failure, and it's so frustrating to fall into the same stupid mindless destructive habits when I've resolved to change them. At times like that, it just feels overwhelming, and it's hard for me to get back to the perspective that it's a work in progress, a practice, and there will be failures but that's ok. Consequently, I spent most of Christmas afternoon in tears, feeling like I'd "ruined" everything (a lifelong issue for me). Why do I waste so much time making mistakes?

But somehow this emotional spilling was also cleansing. That night, Justin made an awesome stew with the prime rib leftovers and we had a cozy and satisfying evening, lazing about in the messy living room watching the movie, Elf.

So my lesson this Christmas, my big epiphany, is as follows. There are basically three things you can do with the ongoing wastefulness and messiness of life:
  1. Spend most of your time and energy focused on cleaning up messes and regretting making them.
  2. Ignore them.
  3. Transform them into something beautiful by perceiving and attending to the beauty that's already in them.
The first one is the default state for me. Or, more accurately, it's the default state I tend to think I "should" be in. In reality, the second one is equally my default state; I tend to go back and forth between the two. Which is why my house is usually either completely messy or spotless.

I've been reading Karen Armstrong's memoir, The Spiral Staircase, which I won't summarize here, but there is a scene in that book that is relevant to this discussion. After having lived a life of rigid order and discipline, Armstrong goes to board at the house of a family who are very loose and somewhat radically liberal in their lifestyle. She describes the house as being a complete mess, utterly disordered, but she finds this liberating. She says the state of this house reflected "a cheerful disregard for appearances."

In church this past Sunday, the pastor said something about how God doesn't care about how we look on the outside, and I thought of Armstrong's expression. Could it be that God, too, has a cheerful disregard for appearances? The scripture related to the pastor's comment was from Colossians 3, when Paul advises in verse 12 to "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." The point is that these are the qualities that give order and peace to our lives, not outward appearances.

When I apply all this to the messiness of relationships, it helps me to remind myself that although there will be mess and waste, these are just "appearances" as long as the qualities listed above are the ongoing focus and goal. Is wrapping paper "wasted" because it's tossed aside to reveal the gift? Was it a waste of time to make all those gingerbread cookies because they were gone in an hour? To take all those "useless" family photos? Was Christmas afternoon wasted because I spent it crying? The answer is No to all of these, if I cheerfully disregard the appearances of waste and focus instead on the spiritual qualities that were shared or expressed or taught.

The third method of dealing with messes and waste came clear to me a couple of days after Christmas, when we went out to visit Justin's mom and her boyfriend at the Earthship they booked for their stay in Taos. (If you're unfamiliar with Earthships, click here.) The basic premise of an Earthship is that they are houses made from as many recycled materials as possible and designed to be extremely energy efficient and sustainable, entirely off the grid.

Linda and Bob stayed in the Phoenix Earthship which has a jungle behind the living room, where banana trees, flowers, and even vegetables are grown.

The walls are constructed with tires, and old glass bottles are used to decorate and filter light through walls.

I'd heard a lot about Earthships, since I live in Taos and the first Earthship community was here, but I'd never been inside one, and was stunned by the beauty and attention to detail.

I tell you, it was just like being in Rivendell. Imagine being in a house where everything feels handmade by a master artisan. That's a TV screen above the fireplace/waterfall.

There was even a strange spiral staircase, and I could see my reflection on its walls.

To take what appears to be waste and turn it into something like this Earthship is downright inspiring. It gives me hope that what is wasted can be redeemed and messes can be transformed into beauty and order. And when it comes to relationships, this experience has given me a new guiding metaphor. Instead of regretting or ignoring their messiness, I can work on turning them into Earthships.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Present for My Parents

  My mom at Christmastime.  Notice the clothespin reindeer necklace.

The older I get, the more I realize what wonderful parents I have.  Sometimes I read or hear of other people's childhood horrors, and it really drives home for me how blessed my childhood actually was.

I was adopted at 13 months old by Michael and Joyce Carpenter; I was their first child.  My biological mother was nineteen and single when I was born. I know a few other bits and pieces that the adoption agency provided, but this was back in the days of closed adoptions, so it's not much.  Apparently, she was a bit of a flake (something I may have inherited), because she left town without signing my release papers, and they couldn't track her down to get them signed until I was six months old.

People have often asked me if I'd like to find my biological mother.  I've thought about it, but don't have a driving urge to do so.  I think this is largely because for me, my adoptive parents ARE my parents.

There was never a time when I didn't know I was adopted.  I remember the book my parents used to read to me about an adopted family.  They would hold me on their laps and tell me I was special because I was CHOSEN.  I never felt weird about being adopted; it was just a natural part of who I was.

Mom, Dad, my brother Scott, and me.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been in a childlike mode lately, and this includes thinking about my childhood, especially our Christmases.  At the Quiet Day I attended last weekend, one of the participants talked about how sad she used to get at Christmas because of the way her family was, and it made me realize that a big part of why I get happy at Christmas is because of the wonderful childhood memories I have of past holidays.

My favorite Christmas picture ever.

This makes me feel very grateful toward my parents, and in turn, has led me to consider all the many things I have to be grateful to them for.  They have supported and nurtured me in so many ways over the years.

My parents always told me that I was intelligent and could be anything I wanted to be. They offered me the opportunity to participate in all kinds of lessons and activities:  figure skating, ballet, acrobatics, Brownies, squash, tennis, swimming.  They sent me to summer horse camp every year.  My parents observed my love of writing at a young age and encouraged me in it.  They surprised me by getting some of my poems published in our neighborhood newspaper, The Willowdale Mirror, when I was in second or third grade.  And now, almost four decades later, they are avid readers of my blog.

My father is originally from Birmingham, England, and he's got the dry wit to prove it.  He's excellent at crossword puzzles and he's a passionate gardener of both flowers, and fruits and vegetables.  He's happiest when he's out in the garden with sweat dripping down his face.  He's also an amazing tennis player.  He could have been a professional, and even played against Arthur Ashe once, in the Davis cup.  In my parents' house, there is a series of photos taken by a Toronto newspaper of him playing in a tournament.  But he chose not to pursue professional tennis, primarily because he wanted to always be sure he could provide for his family.  He used to love to play board games with my brother and me, and he read to me every night before bed.

 Dad reading to my oldest daughter, June Amber.

 My mother is the kind of person who makes friends in the grocery line, and can network and get things organized and done more competently than most people I've known.   When I was obsessed with the band, KISS, she called for tickets, and even though they were officially sold out, she somehow managed to get us great seats by being friendly with the ticket agent.  Then she actually took me to the concert.  (If you know anything about the band, you'll understand why this was no small thing for a woman whose favorite musicians were John Denver and the Kingston Trio.)  She never worked when I was young, because she wanted to be home with her kids, and she baked some kind of amazing dessert almost every night.  (Mom - I NEED your recipe for Lemon Pudding Cake!  I tried to make it the other night and it failed miserably.)  She used to hand-sew my Halloween costumes, throw elaborate themed birthday parties for me, and take me to all kinds of museums and gardens and parades.

Mom and me at the tennis club.

When I was a teenager, I thought my parents were boring and stuck in their ways.  This attitude lasted longer than I care to admit.  But I now realize that it was their practicality and commitment to domestic sustainability that has allowed me to grow and flourish in my own less conventional ways.

I can't even begin to tell you how much financial support my parents have given me.  As a single mother with four children and an inconsistent ex-husband, I've turned to them many times for help, and they've ALWAYS provided it, no questions asked.  This help has allowed me not only to survive, but to live according to my deepest values of being available to my children, and pursuing creative endeavors that don't necessarily pay as well as a "real job" - establishing myself in the ways I feel called to rather than being forced to work exclusively at a job for which I'm not suited.

There is no way on earth I can possibly pay my parents back for all they've done and continue to do for me and my children, which is why I'm writing this post.  Because what I CAN do is write, and it is largely their support that has allowed me to pursue this essential part of myself.  For this I have the deepest gratitude, and I want the whole blooming world to know it.  

 My beautiful parents.

Merry Christmas, 
Mom and Dad!

I love you both

more than you know.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hurray! For He is Good in Nature

One of my favorite Christmas carols has always been 'Twas In the Moon of Wintertime, also known as the Huron Carol.  As a child I adored this carol because it told the story of the nativity as though Jesus had been born Native American, or as they say in Canada, as a First Nations person.  Even at a young age, it inspired my theological imagination.  There is something that rings very true for me in the idea that Jesus could have come to any culture at any time and had the same effect.

I found this nativity scene on the Virtual Museum of Canada's website.  This piece is housed in the chapel of the village of Huron-Wendake, near Quebec City and  was created to interpret The Huron Carol.  Click  here to read more about it. 

Photo by Pierre Soulard
After living in the U.S. for a few years, it suddenly occurred to me one Christmas that I hadn't heard this carol in a long time, so I did a little research and discovered that it was the first Canadian Christmas carol, originally written in 1643 in the Huron language by a French Jesuit missionary named Jean de Brebeuf.  It was then translated into French, and in 1926 into English.  The English lyrics, while beautiful, are quite different from the original Huron ones.

I found a line-for-line translation of the Huron into English here, which is charming in its simplicity.  The Wise Men ("elders") come and praise the Christ child by "greasing his scalp many times" and saying, "Hurray!  For he is good in nature."  But even the English lyrics are respectful enough to Native culture that they have been used by various tribes.  For instance, I found one website with a translation from the English version into Mi'kmaw.

Here is a beautiful rendition of the carol, with a mixture of Huron, French and English lyrics.

Jean de Brebeuf had a deep appreciation of the Huron culture.  He wrote a set of guidelines for fellow missionaries on how to deal with the Huron, emphasizing understanding of and respect for their ways.  Apparently, the Huron respected him as well.  He lived among them for only a few years before he was tortured and killed by the Iroquois in one of their raids on the Huron.  Reading of how he was flayed to the bone and then doused with boiling water as a mockery of baptism, I was haunted for days.  They cut off his lips because he would not stop praising God as he underwent this unspeakable torture.  They also ate his heart because they saw that he was a man of courage and strength.

And then I ponder this line in the Huron Carol, when the Wise Men say of the Christ child, "Let us show reverence for him as he comes to be compassionate to us."

I just can't seem to get away from this theme of violence and compassion.  For one thing, I keep reading other people's posts that touch on it in some way, highlighting some aspect that I had not considered.

This is such an adult theme, so serious.  Frankly, I'm weary of it.  The Christmas season is upon us, and my heart is wandering toward happiness, as it always does at Christmastime. 

It recently struck me like a bell that the reason I love Christmas so ridiculously much (and I have been ridiculed for it) is because it enfolds me in a fairy tale that is real because it's a complete and intense sensory experience.  A feast for all the senses at once.

I once had a boyfriend who introduced me to the joy of lying under the Christmas tree in the dark, looking up through the colored lights and branches.  If you lie there long enough holding hands, occasionally sitting up to sip your eggnog, with carols playing on the stereo, and a crock pot wafting the scents of orange, cinnamon, and clove through the air, the spirit of Christmas envelops and possesses you.  The resulting feeling of comfort and joy is not to be underestimated.

For me, the story of the birth of the Christ child is satisfying and enchanting.  It's a story I can immerse and find myself in, and each year it takes on a new meaning, a new direction to explore.  This year, I am entirely focused on the earthy, sensual, childlike qualities of Christmas, both in this story and in all the traditions and stories of Christmas that I know and love.

The humor of the Nativity story is striking me this year.  What kind of a goofy God would have His Holy Self born in a pile of dirty straw surrounded by a bunch of livestock?  I can only imagine what the Wise Men must have felt after traveling all that way, thinking they were going to meet a powerful political leader in his palace or something.  It's just downright silly.  And very, very messy.  Who would have made any of this up?  It's too irreverent for anyone of faith to come up with.

What I'm getting from contemplating all of this is primarily that by being born into the messiness and sensuality of the flesh, it is made holy.  What else do I need to know?

Eliana, my two-year-old, is my best teacher right now.  What in the world is more chaotic and messy and full of delight than a two-year-old?  When I watch myself responding not-so-gracefully to that chaos at times frequently, I always realize, however dimly, that it is my heaviness, my fears surrounding survival and control and self-preservation that lead me to respond that way.  And then I want to escape.  I want "alone time."  I want order.  I want things to be pleasant and smooth for say an hour or two.  I want a break.

So I've been planning an Advent Quiet Day with my friend Cathy, which happened today.  This is a day set aside to gather and focus spiritually through prayer, silent periods of meditation, discussion, reflection.  I was in charge of leading a reflection on John 1:14 - "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  And what I found myself saying was, "We're not here today for a brief escape from the messiness and chaos of life, but to learn to receive it as a gift and experience it as children."  Eliana doesn't care if her face is dirty, if the ornaments are on the tree or all over the floor, if Miracle on 34th Street plays all the way to the end. 

I suspect we all just take ourselves too damn seriously.  (Well, except for Entrepreneur Chick.)  Advent is called a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child, and it's generally considered a solemn time of self-reflection and repentance.  But what is the real purpose, and what can this preparation possibly be for but  joy?  How does one prepare for joy but by lightening the load?  What is there to repent for but the heaviness and fear that make us forget to receive life with childlike wonder and delight?

Maybe Christmas was God's way of saying "Lighten up!"  Maybe it's about being so filled with joy that someone has to cut off your lips to get you to shut up about it.  Maybe the idea of being "saved" by Christ is largely about the sanctification of incarnation, with all its senses, its messiness, its ordinariness, its awkwardness.  And its joys.

I find myself returning to the idea of compassion with new eyes.  Karen Armstrong, author of the Charter for Compassion, says it's about the willingness to enter into another's experience.  Jean de Brebeuf's, for instance.  The Iroquois who killed him.  But it can also be entering the unfettered delight of your two-year-old.  Or even looking into the face of the Christ child and seeing your own.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


One of the reasons it's taken me so long to post this is because I couldn't come up with a good title.  I have to admit, I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive when it comes to titles.  I love coming up with names for things, whether for blog posts, cats and dogs, or potential band names.  I've come up with so many great band names that then go right out of my head.  I really should write them down.

And speaking of titles, I have a couple of new ones in my life, which is why it's getting harder for me to post regularly.  One of my new titles is "Board Director."  I joined the board of Taos Youth Music School, an after school program my son participates in.  (Think "School of Rock" - it's awesome.)  Another new title is "Quiet Day Coordinator."  My friend Cathy and I are planning a quiet day at our church which will occur next Saturday.

I've had the title of "Instructor" for a while now, but at this time of the semester, I have the additional title of "Paper Grader."  Oh boy.  I've already attended two grading sessions for the exit essays with the other English instructors, and will attend two more next week, in addition to grading all of the final papers for both of my classes.

A title I've had off and on for years, but am now actively pursuing again is "Self-Employed Writer & Editor."  I've started a business called "Illuminated Manuscripts" which offers professional writing and editing services. My slogan is "We'll polish it until it shines." Here's the logo I designed:

I just got my first contract with UNM-Taos to write grants for their campus expansion!  If you need anything written, edited or proofread, let me know.

Thanks to the Postman, I also now have the title of "Superior Scribbler."  Thanks, Postman! 

So the rules of the game are that you're supposed to:
  • Thank whoever nominated you for it...
  • Post, paste, or patch the award's image onto your own blog...
  • Tell your readers seven things they don't yet know about you...
  • Pass it along to seven more bloggers...
  • And notify them personally when you have done so.
Ok, so.  I've been thinking about these seven things.  There are so many odd and unknown things I could share, some negative and some positive.  It's hard to narrow it down to seven, but here goes:

1. I am a follower of the Eat Right 4 Your Type diet., and have been for almost a year. My blood type is O positive.  I've heard a lot of arguments against this diet, but it's worked great for me, not just in terms of weight loss, but overall health and sense of wellbeing.

2.  I smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, Drum brand.  The last of my nasty habits from the good old days of debauchery.

3.  I can tell you what year a book was published within five years by smelling it.

4.  I love to make collages.  Here's one I made for someone after I posted  here about needing to show thanks to certain people in my life:

5.  I've had some really nutty jobs.  Years ago, I did Tarot readings for LaToya Jackson's psychic line.  I also did singing telegrams for a while, but got fired because I sucked so bad.

6.  My Myers-Briggs personality type is INFP.  It used to be INTP - I'm pretty borderline between Thinking and Feeling.  It changed after I had kids.

7.  As a kid, I was obsessed with the band, Kiss.  My mom took me to the concert at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was 10 or 11.  Destroyer was my favorite album.  I had 43 Kiss posters up in my room, and threw a yearly birthday party for Paul Stanley.  I dressed up as him for Halloween once.

Now I'm supposed to give this award to seven other bloggers.  This is the hard part, because I'd like to award every blog I follow.

1.  The first blog I'd like to award is Whatever else my life is also this dazzling darkness.  Rebecca has been a major inspiration in my blogging (and spiritual) life lately.  She lives in Alaska and loves snow.  She's an amazing photographer and writer, and reading her blog always brings me a feeling of peace.

2.  Dan Gurney at A Mindful Heart gets the next award.  Dan is a kindergarten teacher - he's taught at the same school for 29 years!  His blog is a wonderful mixture of spiritual insight and challenge and simple appreciation for life.

3.  Jennifer at One True Self is an amazing woman.  She has an aura of childlike wonder and innocence, but has worked very hard in her life to retrieve that.  And now she expresses it in her blog in the most honest and moving and helpful ways.

4.  Kat and Bet at The Bobwhites also get my vote.  I came across their blog via the "Next Blog" button (and this was when it still took you to a totally random blog).  These ladies live in different states but grew up together. They blog about everyday things with humor and linguistic dexterity, and they also present wonderful recipes.  You would not believe some of the things these ladies have cooked and baked.  You should definitely check out their gingerbread houses.

5.  Even though the Postman beat me to it, I have to offer this award to the lovely, stylish, savvy, feisty Entrepreneur Chick, whose blog and emails have offered me major encouragement as an entrepreneur.  She's also frequently hilarious and highly entertaining.

6.  I recently discovered Dreamfarm Girl.  This woman is a splendid writer.  Her blog covers a lot of territory, from the minute to the cosmic, but she manages to work it all together in a very satisfying way.

7.  I have to give this award back to the Postman.  His was one of the first blogs I started following, and I still just adore it.  He will always have a very special place in my blogging heart.  I love his wit and style, and his immaculate vocabulary.  His blog is quirky; it covers aviation, cocktail reviews, and strong opinions on a number of things ranging from samurai warriors to cartoons to snack foods.  An entertaining, insightful, humorous, and often informative read.  I never thought I'd learn so much about aviation - and like it! 

That about wraps it up.  Which reminds me.  Now I get to also carry the titles of "Gift Wrapper," and right now I'm going to be "Holiday Baker."  I'm making some truly decadent Bourbon Fruitcake today.  Well, starting it today, anyway.  It actually takes two weeks of soaking in brandy before it's done.

NO FRUITCAKE JOKES!!!  It's my blog, and I'm banning them.  I like fruitcake.  A lot.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Treasures of Darkness: Part III

Violence is not merely killing another.  
It is violence when we use a sharp word, 
when we make a gesture to brush away a person, 
when we obey because there is fear.
~Jiddu Krishnamurti

I ended my previous post with the perhaps controversial notion that we can be violent and compassionate at the same time.  In exploring this idea, I found an interesting discussion thread on the website, Martial Development, about the relationship between violence and compassion.  Steven Smith, a World Taiji Boxing Association instructor, says:
Both compassion and violence are innate. Well, when I imagine the need to pluck a poor carrot from the garden, I consider it violent. So — that’s what I mean — we have an innate propensity to eat and nurture ourselves, and to do so requires violence. Much of our violence is shielded from awareness, true; but actions that support life (even you –vegans) requires violence, destruction, consumption (pick the term).
Compassion, of course, is innate as well: without it how could I listen softly to my friend’s words or offer a soothing touch? When we temper our violence with compassion, we learn to walk softly. We find those fine lines, that razor’s edge, to travel into the deeper recesses of awareness and attention.
Existing as a human, or, even more so, being a martial artist while believing that you do not practice violence is both great denial and a great way to prepare to get hurt.
He also makes a distinction I find useful.  He talks about the overuse and emotionally loaded quality of the word "violence," and replaces it with "ruthlessness" for the purpose of the discussion.  He says that compassion arises when "you simply experience your own inner softness, your tenderness. From personal experiences of tenderness we may, nevertheless, execute ruthless acts."  He then gives the example of "a great bodyworker" who "will impress, with deep-tissue realignment, the meaning of ruthless compassion."

Is it truly possible to have compassion toward one to whom you do violence?  Can you deliberately be ruthless to a friend?  Again, it comes down to definitions and deeper understandings.  Cruelty and friendship, abuse and friendship - certainly not.  But part of friendship - one of the hardest parts - is promoting accountability.  It may sometimes be necessary to forcefully cross a boundary set by a friend in order to hold them accountable.

In the post that inspired this series, Rebecca posed the question:  Will we evolve out of the need for violence?  I don't see us evolving out of the need to eat just yet.  Nor do I see the need for occasional ruthlessness disappearing, as long as human nature is what it is.  What I do think we could evolve out of is cruelty, whether deliberate or because of unmindfulness.  And compassion is the key.

But what exactly is compassion and how do we practice it? One of the ways I've been approaching this topic is through considering The Charter for Compassion, which I've come across twice recently, at A Mindful Heart and MIND SIEVE. Rather than summarize it here, I strongly recommend you go check it out, if you haven't already.

Compassion means, at its root, to "suffer with."  Karen Armstrong, author of The Charter for Compassion, says that one aspect of practicing compassion is "the breaking down of the ego that makes you go beyond doing the things that you like or feel comfortable doing."  (Another kind of violence?)  As Dan Gurney pointed out in response to one of my recent posts, the Dalai Lama has said that compassion is the path to happiness.  Another paradox, a mystery.  How will allowing myself to suffer with someone make me or them happy?  But anyone who has tried it knows that it does indeed work that way, maybe not in that exact moment, but in the lingering effects of practicing it on an ongoing basis.

However, practicing compassion can also have very immediate and profound effects.  I've personally experienced the power of compassion and forgiveness to alter an extreme situation.  When I was seven months pregnant and living alone, I came home from work one night to watch movies with some friends.  After my friends left, I got into bed and was reading when I heard a noise in the closet.  I got up to see what it was, and as I opened the closet door, an unknown black man jumped out at me and tied my hands behind my back, knocking off my glasses in the process.  He then blindfolded me.  In the confusion of what was happening, my first thought was that it was my brother playing a joke on me.  He was supposed to come over that night but hadn't shown up.  Once I realized what was actually happening, my response was terror, and I screamed.

But then an amazing thing happened that transformed the experience entirely.  I had been studying A Course in Miracles, which is a year-long set of daily practices designed to promote spiritual awakening, "removing the blocks to the awareness of love's presence."  One of its primary principles is that "nothing real can be threatened" and "nothing unreal exists."  Forgiveness and the laying down of defenses are the aims of the daily practice.  Since I had just finished the course a couple of weeks earlier, my response to being raped by this attacker was vastly different than it might have been.  I moved deeper than my fear and applied the precepts of the course, consciously applying forgiveness, compassion, and the faith that I would not be harmed because I had internalized the lesson of the course in which "attack [is] seen as misperception calling for remedy through gentleness and love. Defenses are laid down because where there is no attack there is no need for them. Our brothers' needs become our own, because they are taking the journey with us as we go to God."

I kept silently telling this man, "You are my brother and I forgive you."  I also repeated to myself other lessons of the course, such as, "I can be hurt by nothing but my thoughts."  And I experienced peace as long as I kept myself in the moment with these thoughts.  No pain was inflicted on me, and after the man left, I managed to get my hands free and ran down the street to a friend's house, where I called 911.  The man had stolen my car, and the police caught him driving back down my street a little later.  They chased him, he hit a fire hydrant, got out of the car, tried to climb over a chain link fence, and stabbed himself in the penis with a piece of the fence.  They had to take him to the hospital before they took him to jail.  As far as I know, he's still in jail.  It turns out that he had also raped a couple of other women in the neighborhood. 

When the rape crisis people came to talk to me that night, they were amazed at how calm I was.  They had never seen anything like it.  I can honestly say that it was as though my year of doing A Course in Miracles had been training for that very night.

This was an extreme situation that required that kind of preparation, but it was an enhancement of a natural compassion that I seem to have been born with.  It has never been difficult for me to empathize with another's plight, no matter how shocking, pathetic, debased, or personally threatening the situation might appear to most.

However, I also fail at compassion on a regular basis, especially with those closest to me.  I get irritated too easily when life is chaotic, not flowing pleasantly.  And because I have four children, this happens fairly often.  Like, daily.  My response is often a pulling away at best, or snapping at them at worst. These actions are relatively mild, but are still decidedly not compassionate, kind, or loving.

This post series has been extremely challenging for me.  It has turned me inside out and now I'm showing all of this to you.  Aside from the emotional difficulty, there is also the problem that for every judgment I can make on this topic, three or four other, often contradictory ones come to mind.  Which is why I keep coming back to this same point:  I don't really think it's about answering these questions once and for all.  I think it's about integration, befriending shadows.  It's about being willing to break out of comfortable truisms, easy dualities, and elitist moralities, and, resting in mystery, embrace a mindful unknowingness.  It's about starting, moving, and ending in a place of compassion.

Through writing these posts, I've come to a definition of compassion that for me is deeper and more useful, which is simply "friendship."  When I'm not sure how to show compassion, if I ask myself "How can I be a friend in this circumstance?" I'm much clearer about what to do.  This is not just because the action required becomes more obvious, but because I'm starting from a place of heart and authenticity, tapping into the source of love within myself.  As O'Donohue says in Anam Cara, "If approached in friendship, the unknown, the anonymous, the negative, and the threatening gradually yield their secret affinity with us."  Friends are the easiest people to love, so it's natural that thinking in terms of friendship is an easier way to open the door to that source.

Which brings me to the last thing I want to say.  Anam Cara means "soul friend," and the whole book is about different manifestations of spiritual friendship with various aspects of ourselves, the earth, and other human beings.  Finding this book at such a time has been a great blessing for me, an unexpected and perfect gift of grace.  Reading it has made me aware of, among other things, the amazing gift of the "soul friends" I've made through blogging.  There is a tendency to view the relationships we form through the internet as less "real" than those we have in the physical world, but as O'Donohue says, there are no "limitations of space or time on the soul." 

One of the purposes and distinctions of soul friendship is that "the superficial lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are."  A soul friend is one with whom you experience a sense of "recognition and belonging," and "to whom you confess with a full heart."  These quotes wonderfully describe the experience I've had with friends I've made through blogging. 

So all I am left with at the end of this lengthy discussion is deep gratitude to my soul friends in the blogosphere who have both inspired me to explore these issues and also made me feel safe enough to do so publicly.  These are the greatest treasures of all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Treasures of Darkness: Part II

It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, 
than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. 

What is violence?  And what do we do with it?'s first definition of the word "violence" is "swift and intense force,"  as in "a violent storm."  This kind of violence is natural, and unavoidable.

The second definition is "rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment."  This sounds more like the kind of violence most people agree is inappropriate in most situations.

The American Heritage Dictionary lists as its first definition:  "Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing: crimes of violence."  This sounds even more like the kind of violence we want to avoid or overcome.

What is the difference between this kind and the "natural" kind but human intention? 

Is violence just
that wounds?

Blake said, Colors are
the wounds of light.

is wounded, even
light is broken.
This violence is

to the world.
This is beauty.

When my heart is
hard and dull and dry, it wants
to be broken,

a violent grace;
my heart must be
broken open,

because it cannot break
This is beauty.

While I was working on this post, I came across a very interesting chart of the "Levels of Human Development," in the magazine What Is Enlightenment?  According to this chart, the "Integral" phase that humanity is beginning to enter will be defined by "new, higher forms of integral or holistic thinking."  One of the people held up as an "exemplary leader" at this level is Teilhard de Chardin.  The philosophy he may best be known for is that of the Omega Point, the belief that humanity is evolving into union with the divine.

I had already been thinking about him in relation to this discussion, because of his reaction to being involved in World War I. For him, being on the front lines led him into an exalted, mystical experience, reducing life to its essences, and paradoxically inspiring his faith in the spiritual evolution of humanity.

Another strange and wonderful thing that happened while I was contemplating all of this occurred at the library. I was browsing in my favorite section, the 291s, and a book called Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, caught my eye. I opened it randomly and read the following, in a section whose heading was “Contradictions as Treasures”:

We need to rediscover contradiction as a creative force within the soul...that disavows mere linear progress in order to awaken all the aggregate energies of an experience. It is the turbulence and conflict of their inner conversation that brings an integrity of transfiguration...There is a secret light and vital energy in contradiction...If you remain faithful to this energy, you will gradually come to participate in a harmony that lies deeper than any contradiction. This will give you new courage to engage the depth, danger, and darkness of your life.
John O'Donohue, the author of this beautiful writing, then goes on to say that we need to reconsider what we judge as negative, that morality is often “the enemy of growth” because of the rigid judgments associated with it, and that we need “a new way of understanding and integrating the negative,” by befriending it.

Author Barbara Kingsolver, in her essay, “Be Careful What You Let In The Front Door,” discusses receiving two letters addressing the violence in her novels in the same week One of these letters was from a woman who had been abused as a child, and couldn't read past a certain point in one of Kingsolver's novels because of the violence done to one of the characters. The other letter was from a nun, praising her for “daring to hold up a mirror of the horrible devastation our country has visited upon Nicaragua” in her novel, Animal Dreams. These letters led Kingsolver into deep contemplation. She comes to no ultimate conclusion, but says, “I don't know whether my convictions about art...that contains violence will ever be allowed to settle into a comfortable position. They have been revising themselves for a long, long time, roaming restlessly over the options, continually exhorted by the ghosts that bless and curse.”

Twelve years later, in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she offers an excellent discussion of actual violence, in the context of killing the animals her family raises to eat on their small farm. She says, “It's not without thought and gratitude that I slaughter my animals, it is a hard thing to do.” And she offers the following quote from Kahlil Gibran:
When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart:
By the same power that slays you, I too am slain, and I too shall be consumed.
For the law that delivers you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand.
Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.
The meaning embodied in this message is what rescues the acceptance of paradox from fence-sitting, integration of the dark side from alignment with it.  Because to have this kind of identification with the object of your violence is to have compassion.  And for me, choosing a position on an issue only has value if it is an expression of compassion.

I hope you'll join me as I explore the relationship between violence and compassion in the third and last post of this series.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Treasures of Darkness: Part I


Blackbird fly
into the light of the dark black night.
~ The Beatles

I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places.
~Isaiah 45:3

My new friend Rebecca  recently posted here about her experience with viewing media violence and realizing that it can be debilitating for her.  A rather intense discussion ensued in which I admitted that I think violence is built in to human nature and that we may have a need for the kind of catharsis that watching violence can provide.  We used to throw people to the lions or attend lynchings or witch burnings, but now we witness violence through movies and TV.

As I confess these thoughts, I feel now, as I did when I said them on Rebecca's blog, diffident and almost ashamed.  In the spiritual circles that I primarily move, both in my church life and in the blogosphere, there is a definite emphasis on non-violence and pacifism.  It's interesting that Christians, as portrayed more often than not in the media, are associated with the extreme right and pro-war, but in liberal churches, which tend to be much quieter and therefore less visible than fundamentalist ones, there is often an equally extreme pacifism.  This puts them closer in some ways to Buddhism than to other branches of Christianity.

It's interesting to me that those who are anti-war also tend to be pro-choice, as abortion is undeniably a violent act.  Equally interesting is that those who are pro-life tend to be anti-environment:  It's not ok to end the life of a fetus but it's ok to end the life of the planet.  What I see in this is that inconsistency is a human trait, and extreme positions tend to create hypocrisy.  This is why I'm skeptical of extremes and "isms," whether they take the form of fundamentalism or pacifism or judgmentalism.  And for me, being "anti" something is not the way to make good things happen.

I seem to have been born with a natural tendency to see more than one side of an issue.  Any time there's a lot of alarmist hype about something, I'm automatically interested in hearing what the other side has to say.  You may say I'm a devil's advocate, but it's not just for the sake of being ornery.  As I've mentioned before on my blog, I try to live by the poet Keats' concept of Negative Capability:  "The ability to rest in mysteries, uncertainties, and doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact or reason."  One aspect of this is to resist "dividing things up and taking sides," as author Tom Robbins once put it.

But the fact is, most things are divided up, because that's what we humans tend to do.  Dualistic thinking is so pervasive it's almost impossible to imagine life without it.  Many ancient cultures were not like this.  However, dualistic thinking is a mode that once introduced cannot be undone.  You can't unscramble the egg.  But what you can do is contemplate images and concepts of the whole egg, as it is in perfection, in its "virgin" state, in its entire process from conception to being eaten, in the results and effects of this process.

My point is that I find value in contemplating violence.  When things are divided up  I need to look at as many sides as I can and balance them, try not to be attached to one way, in order to get back to that place of mystery.  I'm reminded of something Clive Barker, who is known primarily as a "horror" writer, says: "Look at what you should not look at. A feeling of anxiety is the sure and certain evidence that you should do this."

One of my favorite movies is Barker's CandymanThis movie definitely falls into the horror genre, replete with gore and terror, but there is intelligence and substance to the story.  The ending is actually quite redemptive and moving; my ex-husband and I both cried when we saw it in the theater.

The character of the Candyman, whose existence is the subject of an urban legend, is fascinating in his blend of human and mythical qualities, a common construction in Barker's work.  At one point  Candyman says,  "I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom.  Without these things, I am nothing."  He sees his role as essential to the people who have created him by believing in him: "What do the good know except what the bad teach them by their excesses?"  While I don't completely agree with the rigid logic of this, I do find it a worthy question to explore, which is one of the many reasons I appreciate this movie.      

And yet, Candyman is one of the few horror movies I've ever seen.  I tend to avoid them because I resonate deeply with Rebecca's statement about being debilitated by watching certain things.  There is a need for discernment.

I feel that my whole life, from adolescence on, has been a project in learning to walk the line between unconditional openness and the setting and maintaining of useful boundaries.  There was a time in my late teens and early twenties when I tried to stay completely open to anything that crossed my path.  While many interesting experiences occurred this way, the overall effect was that I scared myself silly, ultimately to the point of near-paralysis.

So I'm not going to go picking up hitchhikers at night on the dark side of town, as I once did.  But I will still look as deeply into violence and other dark things as I can without debilitating myself, and ask difficult questions.  I will be exploring these questions and issues further in my next post.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Happiness is a Warm Tortilla

It's 11:22 -  no, wait -11:23 pm as I begin this post.  I had turned off my computer and was going to be a good girl and go to bed, when, blam! Inspiration hit.  As I was jotting down notes so I'd remember what I wanted to say in the morning, the voice of Annie Dillard spoke into my ear, forcing me to pause with my pencil in midair.  In her book, The Writing Life, she says, "One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. . . The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now."

So here I am, spending it now.  Thanks, Annie.

My last post diddled around with definitions of happiness, but left me feeling, well, unspent.  And there have been so many posts I've read lately discussing happiness that my inspiration is to continue on this thread, this cross-pollination, this interlacing.

I've thought a lot about happiness in the past few years.  For a long time, I despised the word.  I thought happiness was for stupid people.  In my early days as a college student, I took a class where instead of taking roll, Dr. Dorman would ask us a question.  One day she asked, "Would you rather be happy but dull, or brilliant but tormented"?  That was easy, because I already WAS brilliant but tormented, and damn proud of it.

A few years ago I made friends with a man while we were both doing master's degrees in English at the same university.  We had many brilliant conversations ( however, hardly any were tormented), and we were in total agreement about happiness just being a dumb concept.  Ironically, some of the happiest moments of my life were spent in his company.  

Then I fell in love with a man who is naturally happy, and values it.  Slowly, through my relationship with him, and simply wising up, I've come to an appreciation of happiness as something worthy of my attention.

I began to think about the difference between happiness and joy.  As I discussed in a previous post, joy is something I have experienced as non-dependent on circumstance.  It can break in anywhere, anytime.  It's of the moment and of eternity (which I define as the opposite of time).

Happiness, to me, has to do with favorable circumstances, and a span of time.  It's very human. And because of all these things, it's connected to stories.  Happiness is a story we tell ourselves.  At Diamonds and Toads recently, Kate asked her readers if they believe in "happily ever after."  I responded basically that, in terms of relationships, because they embody stories, one can indeed live happily ever after, but not every day.  It's an overarching quality of happiness that infuses the story, even when the particular chapter involves conflict.  It's just like being "in love." You're not going to always feel "in love," but you always do love the person, even when you experience negative feelings toward them for a moment, or a week. 

When I first formulated my definitions of happiness and joy, they lent themselves to a hierarchy:  Joy was more "real" and "valuable" than happiness.  While I no longer despised the concept of happiness, it still didn't seem very important to me .  It seemed false BECAUSE it was dependent on a story for its existence.

But as I discussed in my last post, I've begun to believe in happy stories, which has happened because I finally saw that I was telling myself stories all the time and they were pretty miserable and seemed very real.  It began to dawn on me that I might not be able to escape telling myself stories, but I could change their content.  If I can't grasp Ultimate Reality every moment of my life, I can at least tell myself a happy story to fill in the time.

But now, my rigid definitions of happiness and joy are starting to blur at the edges and meld into each other.  And that's just fine with me.

If I was back in Dr. Dorman's class again, answering that question, I'd say, "How could you possibly be dull if you're truly happy?  What good is brilliance if it doesn't know how to find happiness?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Other Shoe Has Been Placed Gently On The Floor

I've been thinking a lot about the stories we tell ourselves.  One of the reasons I claim Christianity as my primary discipline and path is because it is steeped in narrative, and I believe humans need stories we can live inside as much as we need water and air.  Yet what attracts me to Buddhism is its focus on dropping judgment and being ultimately present in the now, which implies letting stories go.

I used to be very sure of the truth of the stories I told myself.  There was a time when I didn't even realize that's what I was doing, but just blindly accepted, without any hint of a question, that the things I believed were fact.

Nothing will slap you out of that illusion faster than a truly intimate relationship.

I won't bore you with all the details of my evolution, but I will say that where I find myself now, in my current relationship with my beloved, is that I hold different stories at different times, depending on my state of mind and heart.  This has been very confusing to me:  Which story is true?

Is it the one where I'm the evil queen holding the beautiful bird captive for my own narcissistic pleasure?  Is it the one where I'm the innocent princess being rescued by a knight in shining armor - or an innocent princess being tricked by a monster dressed up like a knight?  Or the one where we're both lost children trying to find our way out of the forest?  It goes on like this ad nauseum, and the only times I even think in these terms is when I'm feeling fearful and negative, so all the stories are - guess what? - fearful and negative.  The truth is, there's a little of all of them in my relationship, but what this relationship is defined by is a deep and abiding love and commitment to mutual growth.  What more could I ask for?

The story that I choose to put my energy of belief into is the one that's going to define how the relationship plays out.  But then again, how much control do I really have?

What if I choose the most beautiful story I can imagine might be true and I still get screwed?

It's these very questions I was contemplating when I came across one of Kate's recent posts at New Life.  She makes a reference to the expression "waiting for the other shoe to drop," about how happiness always seems tainted by latent dread of it ending.

In pondering that, I thought about The Sententious Vaunter's post, a hodgepodge of cool stuff, which includes a fairly simple recipe for happiness:  Deliberately choose things to be around you that you enjoy, and then enjoy them.  This way of happiness, however, also depends on not waiting for that shoe.  Enjoyment without attachment.

I started wondering where this shoe-dropping expression came from.  So I looked it up.

Apparently it came from some vaudeville act involving a guy coming home to his upstairs apartment late at night and taking off his shoes. He drops the first one and realizes it's pretty loud, so he places the other one gently on the floor.

Eventually the guy downstairs shouts, "Would you hurry up and drop the other one so I can stop waiting for it and go back to sleep?"

What if we could just assume that the shoe is already on the floor?  How could it do anything but make life better?  Duh.  So I've resolved to let myself believe the story that my deepest heart is already writing.  Because there's really nothing to lose.  Except fearful projections.

I've been deeply studying a book called Dreaming the Council Ways for over a year.  In the chapter I'm reading now, the author, Ohky Simine Forest, talks about how we attract what we fear, and the power of being decided.   This is where I'm coming from with all of this.  The point is not to attach to yet another illusion and live in wishful thinking, but to be decided about how I'm going narrate and interpret my story.  To let there be one author with a singular vision, instead of passing the pen around to a host of writers who aren't even sure what they have to say.

I was just talking to my very wise twelve-year-old son about this post, and he said, "What if the shoes were stilettos?"  And then, "What if you got so used to that guy coming in and dropping his shoes that you couldn't go to sleep without it?"

Yes.  So.  If you've got to wait for it - at least picture an elegant stiletto.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Full of Hot Air

On the morning of my youngest's second birthday party, I rose early because I have a bad habit of rushing around at the last minute to get ready for parties, and I was determined to do it differently this time.  Also, I needed to go do laundry.

So I packed up my laundry baskets and headed out.  I'd gotten a couple of blocks down the road when I saw the balloons.  I'd forgotten today was the Balloon Fiesta.  I promptly turned around and fetched my camera.  I tried to take pictures while I was driving, but that didn't work so well, so I pulled into the bank parking lot and got out of the van.  Several others had done the same thing.



I climbed back into the van and headed over to the Free Box, which is a fenced area next to the Taos Recycling Center, where people can drop off or pick up whatever they want.  It's where I found the camera that I've used to take all the photos on my blog.

I've always been a big thrift store shopper.  It's the treasure hunter in me.  And also an expression of my belief in recycling.  Most of the clothes I own are secondhand, and when I've occasionally shopped for new clothes, I don't find things I like as much as I do at thrift stores.

The Free Box takes secondhand shopping to a whole new level, especially in the sense of serendipity.  One of the things I love about thrift stores is the way I'll put something I need or want out there to the universe, and then find that exact thing.  The Free Box is even more like that.

I found my camera, for instance, right when I was starting a blog.  All my life, I'd avoided photography like the plague.  Before digital cameras, I had issues with using a camera because of having to press it up against my glasses and squinch one of my eyes shut.  It was uncomfortable and awkward, and my photos were always off center.  Digital cameras intimidated me because they were so technical.

I've also had a philosophical problem with photography.  In all honesty, I held some latent contempt for those who go around photographing everything as a way to record experiences instead of actually having them.    Wendell Berry has a great poem about this, called "The Vacation."  There are definitely people who are too busy taking pictures to see.

But a camera came to me, out of the free flow of the world, and because it was free, I wasn't afraid of it.  I started playing with it, and discovered that photography actually helps me see better.  I pay attention more closely now, notice what is worth noticing.

Which is just about anything from the right distance and angle, and in the right light.   

 The antenna thingy on top of my house, for instance,

or puddles in the courtyard of the St. Francis church.

So now I'm to the point where I have to turn around and get my camera so I can photograph hot air balloons.

I felt slightly guilty, though, because I needed to drop off some things at the Free Box and then get to the laundromat so I'd make it back home in plenty of time to get ready for Eliana's party.

However, I couldn't resist taking one more photo at the Free Box.

And then one more on the way out.

And then, what was I going to do while I waited for the clothes to wash, but amuse myself somehow?

 I also visited the nearby Farmer's Market while the clothes were drying.
It's red chile ristra time.

At home, my kids had been decorating for the party,
so I was greeted by more balloons.



The party went great, Eliana had a wonderful time, and even the cake I baked came out pretty good.  I made it from a mix because, although I'm good at other kinds of baking, I suck at cakes from scratch.  But it was a really fancy yummy mix called Mam Papaul's - six bucks at Albertson's.   

It was a great day.


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