Sunday, April 29, 2007

Clear as Mud

Prema's most recent post at River's Grace stirred my thoughts and my dreams last night. Here's what I've been puzzling through.

So often I see either/or, black or white, even where all colors exist, overlap, and entwine. Prema reminds me that relationships are the practice, they are the stony path we're asked to walk. Like Christianity and Buddhism, relationships and The Learning peacefully co-exist in our hearts if we allow and accept the simple truth: Many paths. One God.

Why do we watch tv and eat junk in moments we could be practicing? Because in the daily flow, we forget who we are. Too often, I forget what truly feeds me and reach instead for what's easy and close at hand, no matter how hungry it leaves me.

One of the ideas that most affected me in Prema's post: "the one in whose glance and grace I found (or returned to) my place."

Another: "Every sunrise. . . a new beginning. . .a gesture of remembering again."

Prema expresses so beautifully the knowledge that before we had faces, before we took on these bodies and these stories, we knew our place. Our learning is not acquiring new information, it is shedding that which is not Truth. Every sunrise brings opportunities to remember.

In these lives, the ones we've chosen this time, we do not exist only in meditation caves, where teachings are clear and understandings are not challenged or polluted. No, we've chosen paths that include toddlers and husbands and sisters and editors who demand that we bring forth our understandings and live them in the light of day, out where the winds tear apart our calm and disperse it to fields of new mown grass like dandelion fluff on an April morning.

But if we stop, if we remember our place, we find that those same winds that blow the Teachings away from us also return essential truths to us. This is the cycle of destruction and creation, Shiva and Vishnu, the vibrational syllable that founds one world as it takes another apart.

Entropy, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, tells us that the moment a thing comes into existence, it begins to be destroyed. We gain an understanding, recognize the spark in someone's eye, meet ourselves in meditation and at that very nanosecond, the understanding begins to slip away. Our path is learning not to clutch at that which is always changing.

We have attracted to us the teachers we need for this learning. That is why they stir us up so vehemently. Our strong reactions to them are not deviations from the path, they are the path.

God, I hope I remember this. Again and again and again.

Thanks, P. You are a Light unto my path.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gingerbread Dreams

The doorbell startled me about 9:30 last night. When I got to the door, no one was there, just a plate filled with homemade gingerbread and an envelope addressed to me, with my name spelled correctly. The note inside read: Thank you for all that you do. You are loved."

Isn't that just the way? Right when the world seems to have gone off the rails, when it feels like shootings on college campuses and the beheading of a service dog by a crazed ex-boyfriend and a bomb threat aimed at a building where your daughter just finished a chemistry exam are all there is, gingerbread shows up on your doorstep.

Like the sun behind the clouds, love is always present. Sometimes we're not prepared to perceive and RE-ceive it, but it's always there.

It's raining here right now, but I expect sunshine tomorrow.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


It is beyond beautiful here on the pond this morning. Gentle ripples reflect the path of the rising sun in a shimmering ribbon—thousands of fireflies on a float trip. Geese call to each other and birds tweet in the distance. Longing waltzes in the breeze, twirling with the pollen and the promises.

Following Prema's wonderful advice, yesterday I took care of myself, starting with giving myself a break from The Book that Would Not Die. I put Paula's top down and drove through the spring sunshine to a garden center where I bought beautiful plants and a pair of Crocs garden clogs (something I've long wanted but refused to buy myself). I tilled the soil for a new perennial garden and dug a 2-foot hole for a clematis in a 4-inch pot. I dug two huge bags of cotton burr compost into the soil and raised two big blisters on my soft writer's hands. When the sun went down, I showered and then put a healing treatment on my dry-as-hay hair and smoothed Bibi's olive-oil lotion on my lizard-skin arms and legs.

It was a great day.

I also read a little and have two recommendations for you. If you want to incorporate more humor into your writing, read Cheryl Peck's Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs. I love this book for lots of reasons, but its humor is near the top of the list. Peck's dry, understated stories fill me with amusement and admiration and hope. Here are two graphs from one of her stories (not funny but so great I have to share):

It was a cold and blustery November day, colder than it had been, but not as cold as it was going to be. The sky was gray.The trees, which had clung stubbornly to their leaves that fall, had suddenly thrown them all off—some still green—so that the trunks wore ground skirts of wilted gray-green leaves, thick and in nearly perfect circles as if they all dropped straight down. Everything was changing, making rushed and ill-prepared concessions to winter. In the ditches along the roads wildflowers chilled on their stalks as if they had expected either more warning or more time.

There is something in that weather, which I can feel but I can't describe, but it whispers to sandhill cranes, "go—
fly." Once purely by luck I stood on the edge of a stubbled cornfield and watched several hundred cranes dance to each other, call back and forth to each other, jump into flight and rise up into the crisp November air as if they were being sucked into the sky by invisible tornadoes, still calling down to their flock mates as they spiraled up into the thermals. I had no idea what I was watching until I read about their migration rituals later in a book. But I saw it. And I remember the air. Crisp. Sharp. Something changing.

I also read a few pages of before women had Wings by Connie May Fowler. The opening paragraph is one long sentence that includes these words:

Back in 1965, on a day so hot that God Almighty should have been writhing with sick-to-the-stomach guilt over driving His children out of the cool green of Eden. . . .

Here is the third graph:

These are questions for which I haven't a single answer. In fact, answers aren't part of my nature. Details are what I'm about—stacks and stacks of details—the bones of my family, calcified vessels, the marrow chock-full of wishes and regrets. In my mind I pick up the bones one by one—a leg bone, a hip, then a spine that looks like a witch's ladder. Before you know it, this skeleton made of memories is rattling me.

These women can flat-out, by-God-and-all-that's-holy WRITE, and here's the hope they inspire in me: SO CAN WE!!!!

Today, I'm going to dig in the dirt, cook and eat some great, fresh foods, drink coffee here on my deck, and spend at least one hour writing the things of my heart. Only then will I set myself back on task with TBTWND.

May you all have such blessings. May the love and support you've shown me, especially over the last few days, be returned 10-fold. Now and always.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Stuff Running Through My Mind

Yesterday was a very hard day. The crux of the problem wasn't D's behaviour at the firing, or even my own. It was (is) the decades-old struggle to earn my sister's love and the recognition of my failure at this task that has been so central my life. Family legend has it that on the way home from the hospital, D asked our parents to throw me in the ditch. Their refusal set a precedent she still fails to appreciate.

After stewing for a while, I called a friend to talk over the situation. She was riding in the car with her husband; after listening, she relayed some pieces of my tale. Their advice was solid: get out of this situation. Fast. With her typical humor and a Southern drawl you could use to row through stormy seas, she yelled into the phone, "Girl, she ain't NEVER gonna be the sister you want her to be. Stop trying to get her to love you. It ain't NEVER gonna happen. You gotta get love from places it's a-VAIL-a-ble--from your kids, from your friends, from your own damn self!"

Prema called. In her gentle, charmed voice she invited me to look within, to find my strength, to take care of my self. She suggested images I could hold during rough patches. It helped enormously.

Deb called. She suggested that these difficulties are tenderizing me for a big step forward. She helped me see how my stake in seeing myself a certain way keeps me stuck.

Bit by bit, the sting is leaving these circumstances.

Who knows what might happen next?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Buddha Nature or Chickenshit?

Most of you know my sister and I own a salon/spa. Yesterday we had to take two employees off payroll (my favorite euphemism for "fire"). Neither of us wanted things to go this direction, but our hands were finally forced and there truly were no other choices. We had to think of the well-being of other employees and the salon as a whole.

As usual, D elected me spokesperson for the actual events. In one case, I invented the conversation on the fly and in the other, I stuck pretty much verbatim to the script D had outlined for me. The first situation went quite well. The second less well but not terrible.

In the second conversation, I got through my speech, we concluded our discussion, and then D started crying. She hugged the woman at length and told her how much she'd miss her. She told her she could come back later if she wanted. She helped her carry her things to the car, still crying. After their big crying scene, the woman nodded curtly at me and said good-bye.

And then the (now) former employee went out to dinner with two current employees, a plan of which D was aware before the whole thing started.

And just how do you imagine the dinner conversation went? Once again, I'm the bitch from Hell and D's the good guy.

D invited me to stop by her house on the way home for a glass of wine. Whe I walked in, she said she hoped I didn't feel she hadn't supported me. I said I hated being in the position of being the bitch again but agreed with her feeling there's no reason to make a bad situation worse.

Damn it all to HELL. Why did I lie to her like that?

In the car on the way, I had decided to rely on my Buddha nature to get me through. Didn't think there was anything to be gained in discussing how she insisted I take point and then made sure I'd pay the price for it.

After a mostly sleepless night filled with dreams that leave no doubt my subconscious is not pleased with this choice, I am at a loss. Was I using my Buddha nature or taking the easy way out? Am I willing to be the bigger person or just throwing myself at her feet so she can not only walk over me but wipe her feet on my back as she passes?

When I started writing this little rant, I thought this was an acutal question. Now I realize there is no question. And no doubt about what I have to do this morning.

Please hold me in the LIght today. I'm really going to need it. My Buddha nature and I are a little battered around the edges right now.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Still Here

Still alive. Still kicking. Still working on The Book That Would Not Die.

Miss you all. Back soon.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The NTKoG Pieces

In answer to several comments: The piece on Trisha (the woman who can think her way into an orgasm) may precede a story about my discovery that the ability to have one lies within one's self rather than in one's partner.

David (from the No Dancing for Me stories) is a principle character in that story and it's not entirely flattering to him. (Me, either for that matter, but I'm writing memoir and that's part of the premise.) So far I haven't gotten brave enough to get beyond the first sentence or two. I think about it all the time, though, and expect it to burst out of me early some morning.

Writing the NTKoG pieces has introduced me to parts of myself long denied, shown me again how much I've learned from the girls and women I've known throughout my life, reflected characteristics I wish to have, mirrored issues I have and want to get past. Writing them as tightly as I know how, in a distinctly different voice, has been a fascinating experience. (Thanks, Jennifer!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Not That Kind of Girl: Reshaped

Braces slowly reshape Trisha’s 38-year-old mouth. Every three weeks, a stylist shapes her hair into a shiny, red-brown helmet; every other visit, he replaces the color worn away by time. In any room, Trisha's laughs bounces off all four walls and the ceiling before bleeding slowly into the air.

Trisha’s eight-year-old son, Luke, lives in Ohio with his father. He spent the first two summers after the divorce with Trisha and her rich new husband, Jacob, but didn’t want to come back to Chicago any more after that. Trisha agreed, saying “summer mother” was not her color.

Trisha loves sex. She can practically think her way into an orgasm any time, anywhere, even while sitting at her desk at work. Jacob loves this about her. Trisha finds it useful, especially now that the new and shiny has worn off her marriage.

Donald, Trisha’s former boss, stars in most of her stories. Her eyes shine when she says his name and get wet in the corners when she talks about his decision to come out of the closet after 32 years of marriage. She spent years hoping he would leave his wife and now prays he will leave his partner.

Meantime, she has Jacob. And her imagination. They're almost enough.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Alive and Well

Several of you lovely and loving people have e-mailed to ask if everything's okay.


Just semi-crazed trying to finish a book by deadline next week. The title is The Complete Guide to Luxurious Living, but let me tell you, my living has not been luxurious lately. No, that's not right. Much of my life has been luxurious--the family gatherings, Easter dinner, my son's arrival and so on. It's all been great.

All except writing this book. Most of the trouble is me, some of it's not. The bottom line is that I want to write. I want to write all day, every day. But I want to write stories and memoir. Working on this book feels like being mired in nasal mucus. I know I need a ginormous shift in attitude, but so far haven't mustered it.

I'll try to wrestle a few minutes to write something real tomorrow. Meantime, thanks for your concern.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Not That Kind of Girl: Dyed

At the beginning of 5th grade, Zena bleaches her hair platinum blonde. By 6th grade no one, least of all Zena herself, remembers the real color of her hair. Not even her hairdresser knows for sure because Zena’s gone solo on her tour of the hair color aisles. By 9th grade, she goes full circle and becomes a platinum blonde once again.

The summer after her sophomore year, Zena’s boyfriend, Richard, graduates, is drafted, and gets shipped off to Viet Nam. On the day the rabbit dies, Richard is creeping through the jungle, trying not to get himself killed. The day the telegram arrives to summon him home for the wedding is one of the best days of his life. He catches a chopper to Da Nang and a plane back to the world, where his blushing bride waits.

Their honeymoon is short—a week in a nearby hotel, where Zena enjoys hot and cold running room service and Richard enjoys hot and cold running water. At the end of the week, a plane ferries Richard back to Da Nang and Zena's parents drive her back to school. Her dark roots get longer and her belly gets wider and time drags on.

In Zena’s 6th month, her water breaks and her baby struggles to be born. Richard does not make it out of the jungle in time for his daughter’s birth. He barely arrives in time for her funeral. On this trip he doesn’t notice the hot food or the hot showers. When his 10 days of emergency leave are up, he drags himself up the metal stairs to the military transport plane. When he turns to wave, Richard hardly recognizes the zebra-headed ghost of a girl sobbing on the tarmac.

Before the end of basketball season, Zena zips herself into her cheerleader uniform and shakes her pompoms. Her new red hair looks great with the blue and gold uniform, but she never does the splits anymore.

Monday, April 02, 2007

All Tied Up

We finished 6 aprons Sunday. Here are 5 of them.

We got a little carried away and added sequins and ruffles to a few of them.

To be truthful, the "we" who got carried away was mostly me. Everyone else kept their heads pretty well, and we all had lots of fun. Oh, and Mom made us muffins for breakfast before we started our play day. Aren't they pretty?

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Prema asked yesterday if I remember my family and my childhood as pure.

The best I can answer is yes and no.

Yes, our family was built on pure love--no question that our parents loved each other, no question that they loved us. No question they did the very best they knew how, every day.

No, they were not perfect people and so not perfect parents. We were not perfect kids. At 27, my mom found herself living with three small children in a town where she didn't know a soul and her nearest friend or relative was 8 or 9 hours away. Predictably, she was depressed before we knew what that was. Dad worked too much. My adolescent storms coincided with Mom's menopausal storms. The results were painful if not calamitous.

But my mom and my sister and one of her daughters and I will spend this afternoon making colorful, spring-y aprons, one for each of the women of our family plus my friend Barb. We plan to wrap them identically, mix them up, and hand them out when all of us go to dinner and an Anne Lamott reading this Thursday. We'll unwrap the aprons, trade, bargain, and haggle to get the ones we really wanted, and laugh until we're almost sick. We'll wear our aprons when we make and decorate cookies and cupcakes for Easter dinner, which we'll have together by the pond in my back yard.

Maybe love trumps our human imperfections, our mistakes, our personal issues. All I know for sure is that after everything is said and done, we choose to spend precious free afternoons hanging out together, playing with colorful fabrics or baking or gardening.

Maybe pure, like perfect, is highly over-rated and unattainable. And maybe that doesn't matter because, in spite of my family's individual and collective flaws, we still choose each other. Over and over again.