Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Not That Kind of Girl: Sweetened

Every night Sarile steps from the shower and rubs handsful of sugar over the glistening surface of her skin: face and neck, breasts and belly, arms and legs. Her husband steps in just long enough to pat sugar onto her back and bottom and tell her goodnight. No kissing—it disturbs the sugar.

Six mornings a week, Sarile rinses the sugar from her skin, smooths moisturizer onto every centimeter of her face and body, and dresses for work. On Sundays, she rinses, moisturizes, and steps into clean cotton pajamas. She conditions her hair, pulls it into the tightest, highest ponytail possible and slips a set of tattered index cards into her pocket. Finally, she settles into the fresh sheets that have materialized on her bed and slips a cool gel mask over her eyes. Every two hours, she replaces the mask with the fresh one that appears on her bedside table. Sarile remains in her room all day with the blinds drawn and the lights off. If necessary, she rings a large silver bell. When her husband arrives, she pulls an index card from her pocket, points to the appropriate request, and waits for her needs to be met.

Sarile has not felt the sun on her skin since she was a child. She has not eaten any sugar other than the few crystals that sneak between her lips in the dark. She has never slept all night in the same bed with her husband. She has not attended church or a Sunday afternoon matinee or community event in 45 years. But she has the skin of a toddler, plump and smooth and translucent. Her lips are full and their color is rich. Her jawline and eyelids are as taut as a Vogue model's.

At 63, Sarile is free from creases and crinkles. She can not count the cost.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Quilting as Practice

Sewing the blocks of my quilt together yesterday, it came to me that quilting is an excellent practice. Here are seven lessons quilting offers me.

Stay in the present moment. In quilting, every detail—measuring, cutting, sewing the seams, and pressing—demands your full attention. If you drift off during any of those processes, it will catch up with you later.

Baby steps work. Some things that look impossible can be achieved one small step at a time. In quilting, you combine patches to make blocks, then join blocks into rows, and then sew rows together into a quilt top. Even complicated patterns are combinations of simple steps.

Small problems multiply when ignored. Let's say you're cutting squares and you cut a stack that's a sixteenth of an inch off. A sixteenth of an inch. What could that matter? Right? Wrong! By the time you add four of those squares to a row, the row is off by a quarter of an inch, and that quarter inch will create real problems when you join two rows together. Reminds me that many angry relationships are the result of a collection of small miscommunications.

Not everything can or should be pretty. If you use all pretty fabrics, they blend together and the overall effect becomes kind of mushy. Quilts need a few fabrics that stand out, that draw the eye, and the ones that do that typically aren't pretty in a conventional way. Isn't it also true that the ugly parts of life provide contrast for its beauty?

There is no one right answer. For example, joints are stronger if the seams are pressed in opposite directions, but seams in dark fabrics can show through if they're pressed toward light fabrics. In quilting and in life, sometimes you have to choose the best of the imperfect options.

Humility helps. Sometimes you can work around challenges. Other times you simply have to admit you made a mistake, rip it out, and start over.

Perfectionism kills. Absolute perfection doesn't exist and trying to achieve it stops progress like nothing else. To finish a quilt, you have to accept that the best you can do is, indeed, the best you can do and it's good enough. Our best is always good enough.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Katie's Quilt

These are some of my favorite blocks in the the quilt I'm working on right now. I colored the drawings on cotton fabric, using regular crayons, melted the wax into the fabric with an iron, then highlighted the pictures with hand embroidery.

I finished the last of the "babies" today and will sash them into a quilt top later this afternoon. They're all blonde, like my Katie, and most have her curly hair. I'll post pictures when it's done but couldn't wait.

This coloring technique is the one I plan to use on my Green Tara quilt. It makes me happy just to imagine sleeping under her protection. I'm really looking forward to working on it.

More Fishing

A young man is fishing on the pond this morning. He's a blur of white t-shirt and baggy jeans, constant motion. Cast and reel, cast and reel. Every other cast or so, he reels in a small fish, which he unhooks and throws back.

He's tall and thin and has facial hair that's longer than stubble but not quite a beard. The hair on his head is the same length as the hair on his face except for a tuft at the center, the human version of a cockatiel's crest. His expression has not changed in the 20 minutes I've been watching him: not when he caught fish, not when he inexplicably turned and kicked the holy heck out of his child-sized trick bicycle, not when his reel sailed into the pond mid-cast.

A parade of fishermen has materialized over this holiday weekend: a young father who paid more attention to his tackle than to his daughter toddling between the banks of two ponds, middle-aged men puttering with high-tech fishing gear, a grandfather and his adolescent grandson with decidedly low-tech poles. They've arrived with lawn chairs and coolers and tackle boxes, individually and in small groups. Some bring music. They all bring liquid refreshment.

Not one of them has caught a fish worth the time it would take to fillet it, probably not a collective mouthful over the entire weekend. I don't think it's fish they're after. I think the fish are just an excuse to spend a little time watching the reflections on the pond.

I have no excuse, only a reason: It brings me joy.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Martha Beck and Green Tara

Yesterday on Oprah, Martha Beck described a healing practice of compassion. Following her suggestion, just before I drifted off last night I imagined watching myself sleep and reached out to my self as I would to a loved one. I pictured tucking the covers around myself and patted my arms and legs. I spoke to this sleeping form of myself as though she were my own child.

I actually felt my heart leap when I said, "Don't be afraid. You're safe here with me. I'll take care of you."

During the night I dreamed of many things, including a tornado that destroyed my home. I watched water pour into the house during the storm and then toured the damage, worrying more with every step about how it would ever be put right.

Later I dreamed of visiting a quilt shop, where I showed a quilt I'm working on to the women who owned the shop. They were delighted with it and made some lovely suggestions (which I'm going to incorporate in real life because I'm actually making the quilt that showed up in the dream). Then one of the women suggested I use the same techniques to make a quilt of Green Tara. We talked at length about how to do it and I mentioned a drawing that could provide the base art.

When I woke up, my first thought was to look for that drawing. Of course, I don't have such a drawing, it was only in the dream. But I googled Green Tara and was amazed at what I found. Green Tara represents universal compassion and protection from fear.

My next quilt will be Green Tara. I can hardly wait to get started. Meantime, I'm going to continue offering myself compassion and protection.

Thank you, Martha. You, too, Green Tara.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Not sure whether this involves sense memory or senseless ones.

Those of you who've been reading for a while may remember The Counselor, the love of my life (so far). He always wore Obsession cologne, which I came to love. Love. Love.

Not sure whether or not I actually loved the cologne, but I loved him, including the way he smelled and some part of that was his cologne.

Got a little stir crazy this afternoon, writing captions for photographs in one of my books. Took my laptop and went to a restaurant to have a working dinner. Just as I was finishing, the unmistakable smell of Obsession struck my nostrils and my brain. I dropped my laptop on the floor.

Now, seriously. I haven't dated this man for almost 8 years and a whiff of his cologne made me drop my computer. It's going to cost upwards of $650 to fix it. That's obsession, but not one Calvin Klein could put in a bottle.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


After weeks away from my writing, I’m having trouble finding my way back to it. I’ve lost the thread, the sense of the story I was telling. A writing practice is like any other: It keeps you limber, keeps you connected. Over these crazy weeks, I’ve written every day, but the writing is so different. Or is it?

Writing fiction or memoir, I slip into a reverie, slide into the scene so thoroughly that I can see and feel and smell the story unfolding around me. I search for telling details, the ones that do the heavy lifting. If I describe the smell of new mown grass in the breeze—the tang of dandelions and the sweetness of clover mixed with dust and rust and two-stage motor oil—you know I’m outside and that it’s either summer or on the cusp of it. If you’re perceptive and I’m telling the story well, you’ll also have a picture of the area—maybe in the south, where the iron content gives the soil that red color and the smell of rusty metal. The yards are seedy enough to have dandelions and red clover and small enough to be mowed with push mowers but not so upscale that yuppies are manicuring them with those everything-old-is-new-again rotary mowers.

When I’m writing how-to, I watch the project come together as though it’s a movie behind my eyes. I break the process down into manageable steps and draw word pictures of what should happen and what to watch out for. I foreshadow, summarize and expound; I describe and detail.

Not that much different after all, is it? I’m going to go read the last few chapters I was working on. With any luck, I’ll step back into the story like slipping into a pair of well-worn Birkenstocks after an afternoon in high heels.


I watched a heron fish this morning. He stood at the end of a sand bar, a misplaced lawn ornament in his stillness, colors so perfectly matched to the water that his shadow all but disappeared into the ripples rolling past his reed-like legs.

He watched the water directly in front of him, single focus made manifest. Lowering himself toward the water, he changed shape almost imperceptibly, his movements lighter than the morning breeze. Finally, finally, he struck, a movement so concise and precise I might have imagined it except for the fish struggling in his slender gullet.

I'll bet that heron doesn't obsess about anything. He does not fret about having enough. He does not worry about his 401K or how he'll ever retire.

Nope. He exercises the gifts given him. Patience, focus, being in the moment, flexibility and great reflexes feed that bird. Oh, and grace. Lots and lots of grace.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What Does That Mean?

Yesterday on CNN some talking head suggested that we "man up" and "get 'er done." I heard this while passing through my parents' living room, where CNN blares 18 hours a day. I paid no real attention and don't know what topic was under discussion, only that a paid professional used these phrases in all seriousness.

I've heard "man up" before, of course, but now broadcasters are using it. In context, it always seems to suggest that someone become more agressive, more forceful, less compassionate, less concerned with repercussions.

Why do we saddle men with those attributes? And does anyone really think that's a path to success?

My editor wrote to me yesterday, rejecting the chapter intros I wrote for The Book That Would Not Die. He wants me to rewrite them to "add more meat" and "up the envy factor." He also asked me to make each one about 100 words longer.

Longer I can do, but "up the envy factor" ? In the midst of massive concern over global warming and reducing our carbon footprints, I've already written a book suggesting people replace their low-flow showerheads with units that pump out 10 to 15 gallons a minute, already detailed how one can create a smoking lounge in their home, already described how to spend massive amounts of money chasing a kind of "luxury" that makes no sense to me personally.

As I read his e-mail, I could hear Gordon Gekko's voice in my head saying, "Greed is good."

Part of my problem is that my work has never been so soundly rejected in my professional life. Part of it is that I simply don't think I'm capable of providing what he wants. And part of it is that I honestly think this is the wrong path to take in today's world.

But I signed a contract, agreed to write this book according to an outline approved by the publisher. This is what they want and as a professional writer, this is what I'm obliged to give them.


It's about 5:00am here and I've been up fretting about this for almost 2 hours now, trying to figure out how to give him what he wants and still maintain my integrity. The one bit of ease I've found was half an hour ago when I consciously tried to breathe with the Earth, tried to see myself as part of this organism. For a moment, I relaxed into the truth of that, into the embrace of being one with All That Is. And then immediately launched into another round of concern about betraying myself and that trust.

Maybe I should just "man up."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Words of Wisdom

At Costco a little while ago, I heard some of the best advice ever. Ever.

A young man at the check out was describing for his co-workers his new car, his first ever. They were suitably impressed and congratulatory. He said, "Now I gotta get a girl to go riding in it with me."

The checker is a man of Island heritage, possibly Samoan or somthing like that. His gorgeous brown eyes glow with a true love of life; his long, abundant black hair is always slicked back into a curly pony tail; his lilting voice draws you into what ever he might be saying. This man turned to the young man and said,

"You don't need a girl who wants you for your car. You don't need a girl who wants you for your appearance. Find a girl who wants you for what's inside you, for what's in your heart."

That young man will probably never receive better advice in a workplace.

Wonder if he'll follow it?

Dream Weaver

Stacy from Life Is Art has been helping me understand my dreams lately. She's brilliant and comes up with recognitions that surprise me.

Writing about a recent dream, she said, "The real mother of us all is what you seek, to be treated fairly, with compassion, not bossed around and superficial going through the motions. The fact that Christmas was mentioned as I recall twice again seems to be -the core of Christianity is authentic love, God's love and it is no accident Christmas coincides with the winter solstice, the darkest night (of the soul) of the year."

She couldn't be more right. I'm seeking the real mother of us all, the source of acceptance and compassion. And I've looked for Her in every nook and cranny possible. Now it's time to look in the one place She can be found—my own heart.

During this latest round of crazy-busy, I stopped making time to meditate. That's going to change. Starting right now.

More later. Gotta go sit with God for a while.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

To the Birth Mothers of My Children

Thank you. Deep, humble, loving thanks to you.

I pray that you have found happiness and peace. I pray you have felt some measure of the joy you created for me. I pray that you will feel the Light and Love I send today and always.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What I've Been Up To

The book right before (and I do mean right before) The Book That Would Not Die is called Designing with Tile. I created the shelf unit in this picture for that book. Yes, indeedy. I spent months dreaming up inventive ways to use tile and then weeks and weeks conveying my ideas to a series of editors and then more time describing my methods to the tile-book buying public. This is one of the results.

Just as there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there must be hundreds of ways to make a living with words. Writing D-I-Y books has been an interesting career and one that's been very good to me, but now even my dreams are telling me I need to explore other ideas.

Last night I dreamed that I was in Telluride in a lovely hotel room with my folks (who were their ages now) and my children (who looked like they did at about 10 and 5). I was supposed to be flying to Phoenix for a meeting about the DIY book I was writing, but my folks were intent on keeping me from that meeting. They absolutely would not get their stuff together or get in the car. I yelled and stormed, but it didn't do any good at all. In the dream, I could feel the physical manifestations of my fear of losing the writing contract for the book. I was very, very frustrated.

And then Mom and Dad spirited me off to a mountainside, where I met a series of people in gorgeous settings. After talking with these people, I began to understand that I was meant to miss the plane, meant to be introduced to new possibilities. Some of the things they showed me were absolutely beautiful and they kept telling me I could use them to make a living. I bought a couple pieces of stunning handmade jewelry for my sister and then went off into the woods alone to contemplate what to do.

I don't know what any of this means. I do know that I want to add new revenue streams to my world, and I am hereby announcing this intention to the Universe.

If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blessings Be!!!!!!

Thank God and All That's Holy!!!!!!

I just sent off the last file of the Book That Would Not Die.

Right now I'm headed for cold wine, a hot bath, and a good book. Tomorrow I expect to feel like a new person.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Roar of "No More"

Monica Holloway's parents failed her. Miserably. And not just once, but over and over. And now, they're compounding their mistakes by attacking her for telling her story.

This isn't terribly surprising, but it is terrible and it is disappointing and it is heart breaking.

Monica's book, Driving with Dead People, is funny and sad and brilliantly written. It kept me up all night, two nights in a row, when I first got my hands on it.

Monica herself is a thoughtful, loving, hilarious woman who told her stories the best way she knew how and with the clear intention to help others. We spent a long weekend lost in a car together, laughing and crying and sharing our stories, just before the book was published. She knew her family was likely to attack her when the book hit the shelves. She was frightened but willing to face them because she knows that abuse thrives in shadows and the only way to stop it is to shine bright lights directly into those shadows.

Once again, she's going through hell. Once again, her family put her there.

I have had the experience of being lied to for so long and with such vehemence that I no longer knew whether or not to believe my own heart and mind. I have been systematically bullied by someone louder and stronger and more demanding. I have spent sleepless nights analyzing my own actions and motives until I didn't know up from down or in from out.

How do I know Monica is telling the truth?

Because she questions herself. Because she is, once again, looking into her heart and her memories and examining the things she finds there. Because she is in terrible pain. We've talked back and forth via e-mail over the last few days, and pain drips from her words.

My experience with liars—and I've got a lot of it—is that they never question themselves, never doubt themselves, never torture themselves with "what if I'm wrong" sorts of thoughts. Their walls of denial are tall and thick and dense. They make no attempts to shine lights into their own dark corners, they simply attack. Again and again. No worry. No self-recrimination. Just long, loud attacks.

Monica's father and mother and one of her sisters are attacking her now. How could anyone who read the book doubt that her mother and father would deny their actions? And yet, The Diane Rehm Show has canceled her appearance and Monica's publisher's marketing plan is in disarray.

Sexual abuse of children is an enormous problem in this country and it will continue to be until the ones who have survived abuse and those of us who love them stand up and say "No more."

We can't simply say it, we must roar with all the force of all the lions of all the jungles that are now or ever have been, "No more."

Our voices have to drown out the denials, drown out the attacks, drown out the lies. Our demands for truth have to be so loud that the NPRs of the world, the attorneys, and the makers of marketing plans cannot afford to cave to the demands of the perpetrators.

Please join me in showering Monica with Light and peace and love.

Love (period)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Purse-uing Happiness

Several people asked what I told those lovely women about pursuing happiness on Saturday. I thought about posting my speech, but didn't because my experience of mothering is so different from most. I was afraid few could relate.

For the talk, I filled a beach bag with things most women carry in their purse--money, keys, photographs, a cell phone, candy, Kleenex, a Band-aid. I drew out one thing at a time and talked about how it relates to mothering.

Here's one piece of what I said:

Band-aids: They’re magic, aren’t they? Stick one on and the tears just dry up. But it’s more than Band-aids that our mothers carry, it’s the ability to comfort and soothe us.

In our family, we have a favorite story about my nephew, Brendan, the first grandchild. When he was tiny—way too young to talk, he was crying and my mother was trying to get him to settle down. At some point, he made a collection of sounds that both my mom and my sister swear were the words, “I want my mama.”

My best friend is facing a potentially fatal illness right now. The other day, after a scary doctor’s visit, she turned to me and wailed, “I want my mother.” She’s 53 years old, and her mother’s been dead for more than 10 years.

No one, ever in our lives, will have that same ability to make things right, to make us feel better with a smile and a hug. Our mothers carry magic that’s much bigger than a Band-aid.

Here's my conclusion:

The two most important things we carry as mothers and as daughters can’t be pulled out of my giant purse because they’re invisible, intangible. As mothers and daughters, we carry each other’s memories. We carry each other’s dreams. Let’s remember that as we go forward, let’s carry those memories and dreams gently and with gratitude because that is the way to pursue happiness.

Most people were not lucky enough to have the kind of mother I have. So very many of you have grown into the mothers you yourselves needed.

God bless us, every one.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

I gave a talk this evening to 300 mothers and daughters at a local church. We had a lovely meal, an elderly gentleman read a poem he'd written about his mother, and then I spoke. The event included a silent auction of purses made by women of the church, and the theme of the evening was "The Pursuit of Happiness."

Afterwards, I stopped to talk with a spunky little woman wearing an interesting silk chiffon skirt of many tiers and many colors. Her short gray hair was spiked up all over head, and her neck and arms were laden with ethnic gold. She was wearing gold mesh kitten heels. She told me that she's 74 years old. And then she told me she'd recently begun selling sex toys.

I kid you not. Sex toys.

There she was, sitting next to the church's music minister, surrounded by presumably godly women, telling me she'd just bought $2,000 worth of sex toys and was now selling them to friends and neighbors. She happened to mention that she planned to give a "soft box" to her recently divorced son for his birthday.

I don't know what that is and didn't ask. I was totally afraid she'd tell me how he was going to pursue happiness with that.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Falling Up

I fell on Monday morning. Down like driving rain, down like baseball sized hail, down like sledgehammer blows. Walking on my parents' driveway, I turned to look back at something in the garage. I felt my right ankle give way and saw myself crumple.

My left knee took a pretty bad beating, but I can't feel it (don't have much feeling left from my kneecap to the middle of my shin after a rollerblading injury 15 years ago). The rest of my physical self was shaken up but okay. My psyche took the hardest blow.

How did this happen? Yesterday I was a young mother, falling down the stairs holding my infant son, marveling at the instincts that allowed me to protect him even while I was bumping down an entire flight. He didn't even wake up, and that was all that mattered.

Today I'm . . .shall we say. . . mature. . . enough that I just don't bounce the way I used to. The thing is, I still want to fall.

I want to fall in love again.

I want to fall under the spell of poetry that's new to me.

I want to fall for bad lines and good jokes.

I want to fall into bed, exhausted at the end of long, fruitful days.

I want to fall into bed with no thought of sleeping.

I still want to fall.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Life Becomes Art

Jennifer Lauck's writing workshops open your heart to your life and your art. She's gathering circles of amazing writers in New Haven, New York, and Sisters, Oregon over the next few weeks. Check it out here.

Narrowing My Focus

My soon-to-be 53-year-old eyes serve me well, but they struggle with close vision. I've got three or four (or maybe five) pairs of reading glasses, but they never seem to be around when I pick up my laptop in the morning.

If I squint, that is, narrow my focus, I can read the screen. With good light and clear intention, I can see enough to read.

Isn't that just the way?