Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gold and Mud, and What I Mean by Kindness

Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shirk nothing...You are a bird in the storm. Let it storm!" 

~ Hermann Hesse

During my gold year, I entered a process I metaphorically referred to as kintsugi, which refers to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. (You can read my musings on that process and how it can apply metaphorically to the inner life here.) And where I stand now, it really does feel like I've been repaired.

Another metaphorical process related to gold that I contemplated last year was chrysopoeia, which is what the ancient alchemists called the transmutation of base metals into gold. According to everyone's good friend, Wikipedia, this transmutation "symbolized [the alchemist's] evolution from ignorance to enlightenment."
(And then there's this perspective, which I also like.)

I certainly don't claim to be enlightened, but I do feel like a transmutation has happened within me. I have these moments, fairly often these days, in which I'm profoundly thankful for my life. I've come through some shitstorms in the past few years, but now my inner and outer landscapes are pretty clear. Not perfect, of course; I still find annoyances and worse in my outer landscape, and pettiness and worse in my inner landscape.

The real difference is that I've learned to give myself a break, and in doing so, have discovered that I love my life just as it is, both the mud and the gold.  The transmutation has resulted in, if not enlightenment, at least a certain kindness.  But the way I mean kindness here is not really in the conventional sense of being super nice and thoughtful and generous; I am definitely not always those things (and am even sort of suspicious of people who are). No, it's more like recognizing that everything is kindness, and simply receiving that.

But I'll leave you with this, because the poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes about it much more eloquently than I:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Just for the Joy

I suppose it's no coincidence that I started blogging again just a few a days before my blogging anniversary, which is today.  However, it has more to do with the season than the day.  It's fall* again, and the magic is at work that hits me every year at this time.  A bursting of creativity that I sense all around me.  A nostalgia for a home deep within me, and in that nostalgia a return to it.

I got away from blogging for many reasons, and most of them are good, but the one that irks me, and that, in truth, is a primary one, is Facebook.  It became so much easier to just scroll endlessly, skimming and posting snippets, than making the effort to read and comment on actual blog posts, let alone write one myself.

There was sort of this exodus to Facebook, way back in whatever year that was.  Many of the people who were blogging regularly during the years when I was migrated over there at the same time as me and more or less abandoned their blogs.

It was fun for a while, I guess, but I'm just so over Facebook these days.  I still use it, but in a more moderate way than I have at times.  And I'm hungry to blog again, to be posting regularly, to be reading other people's posts, getting back into conversations that are far more meaty and satisfying than those that generally happen on Facebook.

For me, Facebook is kind of like a town square where everyone's talking at once, selling something, whereas blogging is like an intimate group of friends meeting in a quiet cafe.

That whole thing of selling is another issue that drove me away from blogging.  When I first started this blog, it was purely because I wanted to be writing and connecting with people through my writing.  As time went on, I ventured into other blogs that were more about "generating traffic" to a website, whether it was my own or a client's.  I started thinking about stuff like keywords and SEO.  Blech.  It took all the joy out of blogging and put it into an entirely different paradigm.

What I love and have missed about the blogs I used to read was how the people were writing and posting just for the joy of it, just to be setting down and sharing their experiences, just to be playing with words and ideas.  This is where I want to be again.  It feels like home.
The photo from my very first blog post, in honor of my "blogiversary"
* I realize that fall has not technically begun yet, but in my world, seasons start on the first day of whatever month they officially start in.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Vision of Wholeness

I've been a practicing ceremony celebrant for over a year and a half now, and it's a more fulfilling vocation than I could have imagined.  It's really confirmed for me the value of ceremony and ritual as a tool for transformation, as well as celebration.

There's a place just outside of Taos on the Rio Grande that's become a "sacred spot" for me, where I've now done five ceremonies, beginning before I was even a celebrant when I scattered my brother's ashes there.  In a significant way, that was the beginning of my journey into celebrancy, although I didn't know it at the time.

Since then, I've performed two weddings there (both same sex), a baptism (the bride in the second wedding I ever did requested it), and a personal ceremony that was one of the most meaningful, important, transformative things I've ever done in my life.

It was a ceremony for forgiveness, healing, and closure with my ex.  He had begun a new relationship almost a year earlier, and I had a very hard time dealing with that.  Long story short - when I mentioned in my last post that I went through a period of utter misery, that's what it was about.  But I had to find a way to accept it, if for no other reason that we have a child together, and there was now a new mother-figure in her life.

That process began last fall, when I had a dream about my ex's new partner on what happened to be her birthday.  In the dream, we were talking across a table, and there was a palpable feeling of love and tenderness between us.  I woke up feeling the same way; in fact, it permanently changed the way I felt about her.  I felt compelled to reach out to her, and I sent her an email message, to which she responded with such openness and kindness that it moved me to tears.  It still took several months after that for us to connect in person, but when we did, I knew we had crossed a threshold into a much more pleasant and positive part of the journey.

Meanwhile, my ex and I decided to do the forgiveness ceremony.  I'd found a resource online for us to use called 6 Steps to Completing Relationships.  It entailed writing down resentments, apologies, things you forgive the other person for, things you're grateful to the person for, and things you appreciate about them and will miss; and then expressing all those things to each other.

It was an incredibly powerful thing to do this.  When we were done reading our lists, we burned them together and threw the ashes into the river.  We cried and hugged and knew without a doubt we had truly moved into a new way of relating with each other, a rebirth of a relationship that was not just about raising our daughter, but was based on a love and willingness to grow with each other, and that now included his new partner.  I felt expansive, clean, whole.  At peace.  Full of joy and acceptance.

Fast forward to the present.  He and his partner have been going through some really difficult stuff related to a health problem she's been having, and the other night he and I talked on the phone about it.  When I got off the phone, I was shaken up.  I felt the need to process the complex emotions I was having about all of it and to in some way focus healing intentions toward these emotions, and her, and him, and the whole situation.

I had a sudden urge to make a collage (which I haven't done since I made my 2014 collage last December).  My plan was to give it to my ex and his partner, and I would keep a photo of it for myself. I got out a bunch of magazines, put on my awesome Pandora shuffle, and sat down at my dining room table for the next few hours, staying up way past my bedtime.

During the whole process of making the collage, and especially when I stood back and gazed at the finished product, I felt that same sense of healing and wholeness and expansive warmth I had when I first connected with my ex's partner, and when my ex and I did our ceremony.  The feeling that we are all together, part of a great tribe on a momentous journey.

"Vision of Wholeness"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Year of Curing Sadness

"Red is the ultimate cure for sadness." ~ Bill Blass

I do this thing from time to time when, after I've finished writing a journal entry, I go back and look at that day of the month's entries for all the journal's previous months. In this way, I can see what's changed, and, hopefully, progressed.

Last night I did this for the first time probably this year, and was shocked when I realized how much my overall state of being has changed in the past few months. The final sentence I wrote in last night's entry was, "I am basically content." When I went back and looked at the entries from this past winter, (I started the journal December 26th, 2013, being that it was a Christmas gift), I was reminded of how utterly miserable and harrowed I was at that time. I wrote things in those months that amount to, "I believe I'll be miserable for the rest of my life; I dread the future."

My color this year, I had decided, was red, and shortly after I'd begun my geeky research stage into the significance of this color, I discovered the Bill Blass quote above. It seemed like a good sign and gave me a measure of hope, but the sadness I was immersed in was so deep and all-encompassing that I honestly couldn't imagine what it would feel like to be cured of it. To be healed and whole. To be content.

My 2014 collage, which naturally I titled, "The Ultimate Cure for Sadness"

And now, just a few months later, I am more healed, whole, and content than I have ever been in my life, than I believed was even possible for me. This is because I have experienced the loss of the thing I wanted and needed most, and genuinely moved beyond that want and need. But, it's also because, in another sense, I've experienced the thing I wanted most, and moved beyond it. For the first time in my life, at the tender age of 46, I finally reached the point where I no longer felt the need for a relationship, a romantic partner to prop me up to live.

"The miracle of the psyche's ways is that even if you are halfhearted, irreverent, didn't mean to, didn't really hope to, don't want to, feel unworthy to, aren't ready for it, you will accidentally stumble upon treasure anyway."
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Also in this past year, I stumbled upon the joy of reading comic books, and have been happily exploring this world of treasure ever since, to the point that I'm now writing a comic book series, and have realized that this is the medium for fiction writing that suits me best. My writing-medium soulmate, if you will.

That may seem like a strange and random topic shift, I know. If one of my students had written that, I'd probably tell them, "You need a transition there." (But that's the beauty of blogging; no one's grading me).

The thing is, there's actually a strong connection between my emotional healing and my newfound love of the comics medium. In fact, there's a process there that's worth describing, which is why I'm writing my first blog post in over a year.

"In [the Curanderisma healing] tradition a story is 'holy,' and it is used as medicine. The story is not told to lift you up, to make you feel better, or to entertain you, although all those things can be true. The story is meant to take the spirit into a descent to find something that is lost or missing and to bring it back to consciousness again." ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I have wanted to write fiction for a very long time. I did write fiction when I was a child, and again a bit when I took creative writing classes as an English major and grad student. But I have generally avoided it, and written in pretty much every other genre instead. Why? Because when I sit down with a fictional story to write, I get utterly consumed by it. All I want to do is write. I forget to eat, and worse, I forget to feed my kids.

When my kids were younger, this was a very bad thing, but about a year ago, it occurred to me that I had reached a point in my life where I probably could fit some fiction writing in, not just because my kids mostly know how to feed themselves now, but because I'm more disciplined and balanced these days, and could do it without completely losing myself in it.

The other thing that got me thinking about writing fiction again had to do with the relationship I was trying to get over, a relationship I had been obsessing about for years. What occurred to me last fall was this: I am obsessive by nature, but instead of obsessing over that tired old relationship story, maybe I could apply my outstanding powers of obsession to the writing of an awesome fictional story. The problem was, though, I had no such story in my head at that time.

Meanwhile, I had recently been told I was going to get to teach an English class I could design myself. It was October when I found this out, and I would start teaching the class in January, so I immediately began planning it. The class is technically "Expository Writing," but I would be able to organize it around a theme, and it didn't take me long to decide that the theme would be "the hero's journey," a la Joseph Campbell. I'm not going to go into detail here about all the wonderful things that class consists of (you can read more about it at our blog, here, if you so desire), but the important part for this discussion was that I knew I wanted to include a comic book or graphic novel in the reading material.  Because clearly you have to talk about superheroes in a class about the hero's journey. (And also just to mix things up and free the curriculum from canonical slavery.)

But it had been years since I'd picked up a comic book. (I should mention at this point that I was married to a comic book aficionado for 15 years, but in all that time of having those long cardboard boxes full of comic books all over the house, I probably only read about three. Comic books were "his thing," not mine.)

I Googled something like "best graphic novels" and this is how I discovered the brilliance of Alan Moore's Watchmen, which I ordered because it was on Time's "ALL-TIME 100 Novels" list, and because I read a review that said something to the effect that it was a subversion of the superhero genre.

Did I mention it's fucking brilliant? And it made me fall head-over-heels in love with superheroes, comic books, and Alan Moore, all in one fell swoop. From there, I went on to read the supremely helpful and informative Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (sort of a "The Glory That is Comic Books 101"), the first volume of the original Invincible Iron Man comics that started in 1963, V for Vendetta (also by Alan Moore), and a really good, surprisingly scholarly book of comic book literary criticism called How to Read Superhero Comics and Why by Geoff Klock. It was this book that showed me the way toward what to read next, so after that I ordered The Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis and all five books of the Promethea series by Alan Moore (my absolute favorite so far).

Being that it was October when I read Watchmen, naturally I decided I needed to be some kind of superhero for Halloween. It was still my gold year at that point, and I had this long flowy gold skirt that I had planned on using as the foundation of some kind of gypsy-fairy-princess costume. But the more I read about superheroes, the less interested I became in gypsy-fairy-princesses. I realized that my entire life I had been aspiring to be a gypsy-fairy-princess, dressing up as some variation of that for Halloween, waiting around for some gypsy-fairy-prince to kiss me awake, and now I was thoroughly sick of the whole thing.
The version of the costume I wore
to Denver Comic Con this summer

Thus, I turned the skirt into a cape and made up a superhero. I bought leggings at Wal-Mart for $5; they were black with bewildering gold applique zig zags all the way down them in rows. I got a gold mask and shiny black high heeled zipper boots. I decided my superhero's name was Ora, and that her superpower was the ability to remove evil from people with her special gloves. So I bought long shiny gold gloves from a costume shop in Santa Fe. 

That is how The Fantastic Fortune of Ora Moore, the comic book series I'm now writing, was born. The story began to form in my head, plot points tumbling themselves into being in my imagination before I ever wrote a word.

And guess what? My hunch about replacing one obsession with another was right; it totally worked.  For the first time since I was four (I'm not exaggerating), I wasn't obsessing about a relationship. But furthermore, what dawned on me with a dazzle and velocity equal to the flash of Ora's cape, was that maybe, just maybe, the reason I'd spent my whole life obsessing about relationships was because I had been trying to fill a void that only writing stories could fill.


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