Friday, December 31, 2010

New Beginnings

Since Christmas Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about endings and letting go. And the flip side, of course, new beginnings. Focusing on it this way, really understanding that this is the time of year to reflect, to let go, to open to and await the new, has injected so much new meaning into the season for me. It’s been an epiphany, really, which is a bit ironic, given that epiphany is both a regular word meaning revelation, and the proper name given to the official “Twelve Days of Christmas” on the Christian calendar.

For Christians, Jesus is the Reason for the Season. But eons before the birth of Christ, people everywhere observed the season of darkness and celebrated the return of the light on the solstice, and with it, the return of life, hope, possibility. The rebirth of the Sun. The birth of the Son. Hmm… Winter solstice, the Yuletide, The Twelve Days of Christmas, New Year on the Gregorian Calendar are all about endings and letting go, renewal and rebirth.

We talked a lot about the holiday this year when my family and I were together. As non-Christians, some of whom struggle with the materialism we are surrounded with, molded by, and participate in, we questioned, debated, wondered. What exactly are we celebrating and why? And what about all that stuff we wrap so brightly and place under the tree? Are there other ways we could show our love and appreciation for each other? Can we really stop buying things made in China in favor of the handmade, recycled, reused? Are we willing to pay more to support the small business and independent artist? Can we really live without Amazon dot com (sadly, truly, part of the discussion), and for me, even more challenging, zappos dot com? Are we ready to sacrifice gifts altogether? Can we give up the toxic chemically treated and painted wrapping papers? Isn’t being together all that we really need? What about giving more to those in true need? And on and on.

What I really hear, between the lines and specifics, is the wondering, no, beyond wondering, the great desire to live in more consciousness and meaning around this holiday that is on one hand religious, one hand secular, and on another, much broader, deeper, older than we know. I hear us examining our basic ideals and values, throwing it all in the mix; what gives us joy, what heartache; about giving and receiving and celebrating; about letting go and inviting the new in on so many different levels.

Early this morning I dropped my daughter and her boyfriend at the Seattle Airport. As I drove out of the airport, there ahead of me was Mt. Ranier, more splendid than I’ve ever seen and looking almost close enough to reach out and touch; ancient, seeming to rise out of nowhere and nothing as if by magic or brushstroke or some trick of the eye; clear, majestic, snow-covered, superimposed against a fresh, young sky layered with soft, bright, golden, sun drenched clouds. It was so beautiful, both sky and mountain, it warmed me inside; though outside was a frosty eighteen degrees, though the ice on the road made me anxious, though all family had now gone their separate ways except me, who is staying on to take care of their new dog for the week they are gone celebrating with Greg’s family.

Warmed and amazed.

Something really did shift for me this holiday. It’s like a primordial remembering happened on a cellular level and knowing glowed inside me about the true—no matter what tradition you embrace—meaning of this time of year. Something in me opened at the knowledge that for most of human history, for as long as people cognitively observed the heavenly happenings (which I think is much earlier than we can imagine), this has been the turning point, the time, the opportunity for letting go in preparation for new birth. Even my body relaxes as I write this, and I breathe deeper, as I am infused with a feeling of deep and abiding rightness and peace.

New beginnings. I look forward to this week alone in a different part of the country, walking Lola, enjoying the cold, the quiet, finding the new and different to take pictures of, starting to learn Photoshop Elements 9 (a great gift I received), organizing my picture files, writing, doing some art in my daughter’s art space. For some reason that is not yet understood, the new seems to be about creativity. Pretty much never an artist of any sort, I am inexplicably drawn to it, and on a level that feels compulsory. A life-long reader no longer able to read much of anything (except hopefully the Photoshop manual!), it feels almost, on a level that defies articulation, as though its becoming more about images, less about words. A huge shift and challenge for this airy-thinking-Mercurial type…

Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, I think I will do a ritual of some kind to mark the passage. In the meantime, in the spirit of new beginnings, I’ve updated my blog, and it has a whole new look. My daughter created the new banner from a photo I took a few years ago while in Vermont attending a workshop on The Amherst Writer’s and Artist’s method of writing group leadership. It’s one of few photos I kept from that trip. I’d been exploring tiny backroads in a wetlands area as research for my novel and came upon this simple, yet beautiful scene. A perfect image to accompany musing in the moment. I'm still doing some fine-tuning, but it's pretty much up and running. I hope you enjoy the new look!

And speaking of new beginnings: while together here for the holidays, we celebrated my younger daughter, Katie's, graduation from college the week before Christmas. It's been a long haul for her, having to work full time for the last two years to support herself while attending classes. It was hard and she hung in there and I am SO proud of her...

Wishing her and all of you the very best of new beginnings...

Sweet, gentle Lola. Rescued hours before being euthanized, adopted by my daughter and her boyfriend. My companion for the week.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Oh, the delightful complications of having more than one blog…  For example, I have this blog right here, where I muse, and pretty much pour my heart out, and I have my newer blog, Snapshots, dedicated to photography, and growing as an artist in that arena. (Big step, btw, to use the word artist… .) I still post some pictures here, mostly more personal ones, but for the most part, I haven’t overlapped, because I don’t know if folks out there check out both blogs.

So, apologies if you’ve already seen this picture. But I wanted to post it here also, partly because I love it and think it’s really beautiful, and also, mostly, because I love the title that presented itself, along with its stirring and thought-provoking implications for life.


Everything unfolds. Life unfolds. Moments, hours, and days unfold. Seasons unfold, as does weather. A wave in the ocean unfolds. A piece of writing, a work of art, unfold. The universe is unfolding, as are we, individually, collectively, as a species. Journeys, paths, directions, unfold, like maps, revealing the way as they do.

I was struck by many things as I stared at this photo. How simply perfect the flower is. How beautifully it unfolds. The gentle sweetness of its petals, how they curl so gracefully, over time, away from the middle. The way the center is protected, merely a suggestion, a potential, an idea; a mystery until it is revealed. Yet it exists, in its fullness, from the very beginning. Or does it? Do we know if it lies there, perfectly formed, waiting? Or, is it altered, created by the very process of unfolding? And the center itself, the grand finale, once exposed, not only a marvel to look at, but a miracle in itself, lush, nurturing, life-giving and sustaining.

In psychotherapy, the metaphor of an onion is often used to describe how in the process of therapy, layers and layers open and fall away, accessing deeper and deeper parts of our selves, our psyches, our most "true" beings. But right now, I am lovin' the idea of a rose so much more. For one thing, a rose smells oh so much better than an onion (not that it doesn't stink, sometimes to high heaven, lying on the couch, those layers being pried reluctantly off...). Unlike an onion, if a rose makes me cry, it's from the sheer beauty of it, not the overwhelming sting invading my eyes, nose, mouth, sinuses. I like that as a rose unfolds, it stays intact, whole, as it peels itself away, there to hold, witness, help contain, continue as part of the beauty and process.

I "blame" all my current troubles on the dolphins. (Pardon the lack of segue, but don't worry, we'll come back around...) Tongue-seriously-in-cheek, of course (about the dolphins, not coming full circle.) Five years ago, when I challenged just about every fear I had, and traveled by myself across the country, over to the tiny little Bahaman island of Bimini, to live for a week on a very small boat with nine perfect strangers (and swim with dolphins :) , I likened the process then to stepping outside of a box. A very small box that I had kept myself folded neatly inside of, a severely cramped space, where because of fear, conventions, ignorance, fear, ideas of right and wrong and survival, fear, needing to be good, accommodating, selfless (though try as I might, I always failed pretty miserably at this last one), and where I'd stayed most all my life (except a few semi-rowdy teen years), without even knowing it.

The experience changed the entire trajectory of my life. Though I had "worked on myself" for years, it was the first really major step in beginning the process of unfolding in a whole new and very radical way, and the movement, the changing, the stretching continued and continues, many steps along the way, separating from a marriage that I could no longer fit myself into, the biggest, hardest, most painful to date. And I guess it makes perfect sense that having lived so twisted up, so "cramped," there would be pain and struggles and discomfort and uncertainties and imbalance and undeveloped muscles, all that take time, use, movement to grow, develop, become accustomed, made stronger.

I love looking at this rose, and revisioning the journey and process of unfolding as something beautiful and perfect and graceful and right; somehow, in some big picture, and in ways that I'm blinded to. I love that no part is actually cast aside or cut away, that it merely curves itself out of the way, one row, one lovely petal at a time, to make way for the next and then the next and then the next, to reveal, in right timing, the center and core and purpose. And it doesn't stop there, but continues on, the big, full circle and cycle of life. One petal, one bud, one blossom, one millimeter, one gigantic or small or minuscule step at a time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ramblings: Joy Comes in the Moment

Last night I cried watching an old episode of The West Wing. I mean really, serious tears, so much so that it was all I could do—because I wasn’t alone—not to just let it loose and sob out loud.

It was the last five or so minutes of the Season One Christmas episode. It cuts between two scenes, a boy’s choir performing at the beautifully decorated White House, and a military funeral for a homeless veteran who had frozen to death on a bench at the Korean War Memorial. At the White House, the President, closest staff members, and scores of others, all dressed in their holiday best; at the funeral, four people, including the man’s mentally disabled brother, also homeless, and the White House Communications Director, who had never met the man,but whose donated coat—with business card in the pocket—the man had been wearing. The only narration, the haunting crescendo-ing melody and harmonies of the boys' choir singing "The Little Drummer Boy."

The West Wing is, in my opinion, some of the best television ever created. It is intelligent, fast moving, fantastically written and developed, passionate, engrossing, serious, sometimes humorous. It raised the bar, it was always excellent, and sometimes, like the episode last night, it stepped beyond excellence and into the realm of pure, unadulterated art, with the ability to capture, stun, amaze.

Last night’s tears were really good news. Some thawing happened, maybe is happening? and it felt so good, to feel something other than burning irritation, resentment, anger, to be moved, to experience the kind of aching that accompanies the heart opening, that is so different from the pain that happens when the heart closes up, is walled off, put away in some unconscious and misguided attempt to save itself from the anguish that in reality, it deepens, perpetuates, creates anew. To live so free of fear and self-protection, to have the heart rubbed raw… broken open… again, and again, and again. How glorious it would be to live in that state.

I remember reading a book in my late teens called Joy Comes in the Morning. For me, lately, I’m becoming acutely aware that joy comes, actually, not so much in the morning, not so much at some distant time, when things change, when I am cured, healed, all better, but in random unexpected moments. Walking out of Trader Joe’s to a sky on fire, not just ribbons, but yards and yards of red, pink, coral taffeta thrown against the still, blue sky. A lone pink and white fushia blossom hanging delicately, covered in fresh raindrops against a gloomy, gray landscape. The way my dog prances through the leaf-littered sidewalk; my timid and fearful cat licking my face; a quote, or poem, or even random words that inexplicably move me; a fictionalized television program welling something deep from inside.

I remember my favorite Hawaiian singer-songwriter Lono telling the story once of a couple of big, old, strapping Hawaiian men coming up to him after a performance, tears streaming down their faces, thanking him for his music, for the way that it just hurts so good. Indeed. There is sometimes a fine line between pain and pleasure, between sorrow and joy, and I know the experience these men spoke of, of something touching so deeply, that is experienced as so extraordinarily beautiful, it feels literally like it rips the soul open, and in the ripping, there is such enormous sensation, it is often labeled as pain. I have that experience with Hawaii in general, and with its music, with the Brothers Cazimero, Keola Beamer, and yes, Lono, the first time I heard him perform, tears streaming inexplicably over my own cheeks. Hurts so good. I sometimes think this is my issue with Christmas. There’s just something about it, the mix of warmth, love, mystique, family, candles, fog, music, the sacred, joy, fear, disappointment, excitement, surprise, loss, tragedy, heartbreak; a depth of feeling all intertwined inside, layer upon layer, until I don’t know moment to moment, one from the other, which to trust, how to open myself to one without fear and memory of the other.

It's in the little things. The big, little everyday things. And to opening. Or being opened, for I'm not at all sure it's something that can be decided upon and then accomplished. It's not like I can wake up one morning, decide to be more open, and wala, it happens. It's in that edge, in the intimacy, the intertwining of the two, pain and happiness, joy and sorrow, that are, in fact, not so separate at all. Khalil Gibran speaks of it in one of my favorite quotes from The Prophet:

The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your
laughter rises was oftentime filled with your tears...
When you are joyous, look deep into
your heart and you shall find it is only
that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in
your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been
your delight.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Singing in the Dark

In the dark times will there be singing? Yes. there will be singing about the dark times.
~Bertolt Brecht

I immediately loved this quote when I saw it couple of days ago. I can't say why exactly, except that it filled my heart with a weirdly good feeling. Like oh, thank god, it's all's all acceptable... whatever it is... we will not lose our voices, we will honor it, speak of it, sing about it. It inspired me, it helped me get started writing after being away from it for a week, and it gave me the push that I needed--again--to just write what's true...

...even if it's dark.

I have been feeling so grumpy. And dial-tone-y. And over all, most of the time, really crappy. And in the rare moments that I’m not quite so bad, it takes the barest push, the breathless whisper, a look, a tone of voice, a signal light, an inconsiderate driver, someone talking to me when I long to just be still and quiet, to send me tumbling back over again.

I know that irritability is a big component of depression. Still, it's been a long time since I've felt this acutely/chronically irritable. Sometimes I'm so irritable, I can hardly stand myself. I can only imagine what it's like for others to be around me. It's like I just want to be alone, and left alone... And yet. I know I need to be with people right now. Ironic. So I guess the oxymoronic deal here is that I need to be around people, I just don't want to have to interact with them.

Hmm. Conundrum.

I guess now is as good a time as any to just be out there with all the unpleasant feelings I've been experiencing of late. Along with irritability, there has been some big time resentment. Not that I'm happy about it, or particularly proud, but it's there, so why not come clean about it. In fact, resentment is one of those feelings/words--like tenderness a few weeks ago, and more recently chaos (more on that later)--that out of nowhere showed up and camped on my doorstep until I had no choice but to get up and let it in. An unpleasant house guest shadowing me, both the reality of it and the concept.

Me, resentful? You bet. And at first, when I realized just how resentful I could be, all I could feel was the shame of it, like I'm the only one in the entire world guilty of harboring this noxious, odoriferous, offensive weed. This old, hardened, crystallized anger; the low-grade bitterness which, according to Buddhist teacher Pema Chodren, is the greatest obstacle to experiencing joy. But then something happened, and as I watched it, once again I gained some appreciation for how Life sometimes works. Because I realized that tenderness showed itself first; by some accident or fluke or design or miracle, it was there already, had been there for a couple of weeks, a soft pillow to cushion the full onslaught of feeling at seeing how resentful I can sometimes (often?) be, and it neutralized the shame and embarrassment, freeing up space to investigate. And in the investigation, I got it that resentment, for me anyway, is/was simply, merely, a natural, yet unskillful response to having been hurt. It says nothing about my character. It doesn't mean I'm a bad person. It simply means there is unresolved pain. Oh, what a relief. And it went further than that. Because tenderness is tender, because it has the capacity to soften whatever it touches, because it's gentle and benevolent, it stretched itself out, gathered up mother, father, sister, lover, in-laws, old friends, and cast them in a new light, and I saw, as clearly as I saw in that moment that I had not intentionally manifested resentment, they had not intentionally, not once, not ever purposefully caused me pain.

 My teacher Isaac harps on this all the time. And it's one of those things I've gotten as a concept. But the morning that all this was stirring so radically inside me, I got it, I truly saw that this was the case. That not one of the people on the short but passionate list of those that have wronged me had done so casually, purposefully, vengefully. In fact, for the most part, it was innocent, and a result of their own pain, confusion, limitations, wounds. 

With their faces swimming all around me, I understood I was experiencing a powerful moment of grace. Will it change anything? Who knows. Nonetheless, it was a lovely note in the middle of a big patch of darkness.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Moving On...

Here's the bummer about blogging publicly. The words end up out there, a permanent, irrevokable record of thought, beliefs, ideas, the truths of the moment. And then when change comes along, when new words are typed that contradict the old ones, it just looks, you know, bad... like I don't know what I'm talking about, like I'm wishy-washy, like I can't make up  my mind.

And maybe what the record reflects is actually more right than I want to believe...

Anyway, the latest change: in spite of what I wrote not long ago about a nice wintery retreat here where I will meditate, write, walk, take pictures, and art and fart (really, I'm so embarrassing sometimes, the way I can wax about things), I find myself on the cusp of "abandoning" my home. I get clear messages constantly that I am not supposed to be here. It's more than the sadness and emptiness and aloneness and isolation and depression (like I should need more...) but it's actual concrete things that happen that tell me that I really need to hit the road.

I had a friend once who ignored a serious feeling of unease as she boarded an airplane. The vibe just felt really bad, and she had a strong feeling to get herself and her son off the plane, though she ended up choosing not to make the waves or look silly. A little over halfway between Hawaii and SF the plane lost an engine. They made it safely to LA (the closest airport at the time) but she never forgot the feeling, or that she didn't listen to it, at the possible peril of she and her young son.

From the time things first began to go sour here, beginning about a month in, when yellow jackets invaded my bedroom, I have had an unwavering gut feeling that I was being communicated with. And the message was: get the hell out of there. Truly, and it felt imperative. You can ask people I've communicated with about it along the way. My sister, Ex, my daughters. It's not that I actually feel in danger... but the feeling, when it's been there strongly, has felt urgent. As in, head for the hills! And yet, because there's no where else to really go, because there are things that I really do love about my home, when things would go smoothly and I'd relax, begin enjoying my surroundings, and think, maybe I really could/should/might stay here, it would be almost immediate cause and effect. Thought, water heater goes out. Thought, water heater goes out again the next day. Thought, rain starts drop, drop, dropping into my hallway. I kid you not. Friends have been here as it has happened and they've been amazed. I'd verbalize my thought, and within thirty, sixty minutes, something big would be go wrong.

It's not that I'm slow on the uptake. It's just that this is major... I bought this house. Moved all my stuff in. And I love being in a space that I've created, with the things, the energy, that I love. Like it or not, it's become my home, where I--most of the time anyway--eat, sleep, write, etc., etc., where my animals and I live.

If I wasn't already depressed, it could be very depressing...

After the rain leak, I never vacilated again about keeping the house. Though I did think that I'd stay until it sells. Now I'm not so sure. I am uncomfortable here. In a big way. As I wrote before, coming home has become really hard. Being here once home, really hard. Thinking about staying any length of time, really hard. For the most part, even though I feel that in general I am starting to do better, I'm very depressed when I am here, in a way that is really difficult to find words for. I don't know if it's the season, which is traditionally hard for me, or the depression, or, simply that I truly with all my being want to be back in the bay area, around the people, things, places I know and love, where if I want I can mingle, or have a photo field trip or take a class or meet a friend for a movie or try Restorative Yoga or buy books for fifty cents at the library sale or go to a year-round farmer's market or sit with a teacher or hop across the bridge to see my daughter or hear the ocean or watch the sun setting on water or see the bridges lit up or the Xmas tree in Union Square. Or, if I wanted, which I usually do during December, because it makes me feel good, I could hit four or five TJ Maxx's or Marshall's, a Cost Plus or two, an art store, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Target all in a single aternoon.

I didn't know how much I would miss all that. And for the year plus that I lived in Oakland after moving out of our home and before moving here, I pretty much didn't do any of that stuff. But I was also in shock, and I think the whole time I lived in that apartment, I was just trying to stay on my feet, adjust to something that seemed impossible, right the equilibrium, stay afloat, grieve, make sense of it all, grieve some more. Now I think I'm feeling more ready to start getting out. To put on my nice Levi's, my boots, actually fix my hair, maybe brush a bit of color on my cheeks, and head out on the town. Well, maybe a slight exaggeration, maybe I will begin a wee bit smaller, say with a butterfly shoot meet up next Saturday at Ardenwood historic farm...

So there's the antidote to the sadness about giving up my new home, the sense of having failed at this adventure; I will be able to start living again in a way that apparently suits me better than small town America where I know no one, the sidewalks roll up at six, there's nothing that attracts me, no where to wear my nice jeans, and pretty much the only place to shop is dreaded, and I mean dreaded, Walmart. And yes, it's the ending of another idea or dream and there is a significant pause here. My depressed mind wonders out loud if I'll ever be able to have a home again, if I'll ever be able to create this coziness, have my own special space, again. Why it looks at it that way, instead of the sunny side, the opportunity to find an even better space, one that suits me far more, is beyond me.

Beyond everything, I really need to be with people right now. When I'm with people, be it staying at Ex's, or with either of my daughters, or when my sister is here visiting me, despair is kept at a distance. When I'm alone up here, it arrives as if my special invitation, like it's waiting as I pull into the garage, and stays at will, until I get in the car and head back. So today I'm heading back, today when I leave my house, I do so knowing I'm in the beginning stages, no, actually solidly in the middle ones, of letting it go, of moving on, of continuing this mysterious thing we call the journey.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My New So Called Life

The sun setting on San Francisco Bay. Taken from the San Leandro Marina Monday evening.

I’ve gathered up all my courage and signed up for a Meet Up group. It’s the Bay Area Photography and Exploration Society, and I’ve RSVP’d for their next outing which is photographing butterflies at Ardenwood Farm.

This is exactly the kind of thing that I’ve wanted my “new” life to consist of, and that I love in thought, but not necessarily when it comes to deed, and that I more often than not chicken out of-usually at the last minute. The last time I lost the $298 fee for a photography workshop at Point Reyes that I ended up not attending. It’s the whole group thing, me projecting that they all know (and of course like) each other, me standing on the sidelines, me feeling lost and awkward, fantasizing  knowing that they are all fantastic photographers with smart equipment and savvy portfolios. Of course the good news here is that I don’t need to talk to anyone to take pictures. And we won't be sharing work. In fact, if need be, I can hide behind my camera, and inhabit my own little world; just me and the butterflies. Or, me with butterflies. Oh, and more good news, it’s not going to cost hundreds of dollars.

I’m writing about it because I want to be held to it. It’s a week from this coming Saturday, which is perfect since Saturday is a blogging day. I can - I will - come home and write about the experience. I’m hoping that because I'm telling people I’ve signed up, then I’ll have to go. I also posted it on Facebook. I can’t believe I did that… I don’t ever post on FB, but there was the little button called share and before I could think about it, I'd already hit it.


It was suggested that I set an intention, so that an “unintentional” intention that might include fear doesn’t accidentally get set. So, here's my intention for the day: to be excited yet calm, eager yet confident, to be me, to have fun, to meet a few people, and of course, to get some good great photos.

Today I also posted my writing groups on craigslist. (check out my website here.) Big step, and another thing I desire in my new life: to grow my writing group business; to expand the one group I currently facilitate, begin daylong workshops once a month, eventually expand to weekend retreats, and heart of hearts desire, week-long writing retreats on Moloka'i. Another thing that is not easy for me... marketing myself...

I did both of these things when I got home today after being away ten days. Every time I leave, coming home gets harder and harder, to the point where I sometimes wonder how many more times I'm going to be able to do it. I get used to being with people, then coming home feels hundreds of miles away from where I want to be. It feels like solitary confinement. It feels like Siberia. So it was good to take some concrete steps, ones that are hard for me right now, but that hopefully will bring me one or two steps closer to the life I thought/hoped/envisioned I want(ed). Because I didn't want the other one... or so I thought; or maybe what I wanted was for the other one to be better, except that it wasn't, and now I'm here... where I really don't want to be either, and where the other one seems infinitely better except that it's too late, that ship having sailed; not that I want to turn back, because I don't, I can't, I wouldn't, I couldn't, except sometimes, especially when I first get home and feel alone in the big middle of the big unfamiliar sea, the thought of home, of sharing warm space sounds so damned appealing.

...though the moutains did welcome me home with a beautiful sunset all its own: