11/26/2010

By Any Other Name

Black Friday. The day retailers go from operating "in the red" to operating "in the black," a day when they can breathe easy knowing that they can show a profit at the end of the year. I remember as a kid going with my parents to downtown Seattle, not to shop, but to see the window decorations. Animatronic scenes of the perfect Christmas moment - children playing with new toys, mother's decorating a Christmas tree, friends taking a ride in a sleigh - usually Victorian in style with window dressings in gold and red to match.

I remember one year we went to the top of Fredricks and Nelson and rode a small train through a wintery scene, very much like the rides at Disneyland only smaller, more compact. Fluffs of fake snow fell gently from the ceiling while large snowflakes covered in sliver glitter floated on wires. I don't remember if the ride cost anything, but I do remember that the ride seemed to last forever, a transport from the grey rainy day outside to a kind of winter I wouldn't experience until I was living on the Palouse where winter temperatures were typically in the 'teens and the snow stayed from Thanksgiving to well after New Years.

I do remember being bustled about through the crowds. The press of a mink coat on one side of me, my mother's hand firmly wrapped around mine as we made our way to the escalators. I remember instrumental symphony renditions of Christmas songs like Sleigh Ride and Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer and the Halleluia chorus floating over the murmurs of shoppers voices. I remember bright packages with gold and silver bows stacked on top of tables. I don't think they had anything inside them, but I know I wanted to see what might be wrapped up. Something big, I imagined, something wonderful, but I was never very specific about what a surprise might be.

I was always a bit non-specific about my gift requests - books were a safe choice, Legos were a favorite when I was in grade school, but usually if someone asked what I wanted for Christmas, I wouldn't really know. I always wanted it to be a surprise, I think, to have my face light up like on the commercials when the kid opened the box - didn't rip the paper off the box at all, just lifted the top and kept the wrapping and bow intact - and looked as if she just received the most wonderful gift of all. For me, it wasn't the thing inside that was important, it was the surprise, the wonderment that someone had gotten something just for me, put thought into it and it was a perfect thing.

Totally unrealistic, but then again, I wasn't the most grounded of kids - not really grounded now, I suspect. I was in for the experience, not the object, and I think I'm that way still. I once gave an improv storytelling performance as part of a contest to be included in an exclusive group in writing workshop. I wasn't particularly interested in getting into the group, other than that wanting to belong to something special. What caught my interest in the contest though was the challenge of making up an origin story based on a few lines of text. It was great fun and I had a blast. Folks laughed and followed along, and many thought I should have won the contest. I didn't get into the special group, but I did win a small trophy and gift certificate for a book. The thing was, the best part of it all was the experience of getting up there and trying something completely new. The prize I got was a bonus.

This post has gotten away from me - I meant it to be about how today is Black Friday for those of us who shop and how even though I dread crowds now, I did manage to get out and buy some new pants I needed for work (at a terrific price too). I meant this post to be about how the day after Thanksgiving means different things to different people, like the President who has declared today Native American Heritage Day, or those who see our society as addicted to materialism, urging us to Not Shop on this day. For others it's the start of the Christmas season, and on Sunday we begin the Advent Season, the preparatory time for many Christians who look forward to the second coming of Christ by remembering His first coming.

Then again, all those things are about perspective and experience. Today people all over the country focused on having a certain experience today - some went shopping, some hoped to make a profit after a particularly difficult retail year, some expressed their desire to honor the accomplishments and achievements of Native Americans, others focused on gathering family stories and avoiding retails off and online. Each made choices based on their perspective of what this day means and if each of us was conscious of moving through our lives in a particular way, that's a pretty cool thing. Life can be like that present the kid opens on Christmas day, something that's all wrapped up with a bow and given freely. It's our choice to bring an openness to each experience, to accept the joy the moment brings, the unique experience of the moment.

I still wish that I could go downtown to see the animatronic window displays, but at least I have the memory of the scents and sounds of those grey post-Thanksgiving days when stepping into another world was as easy as stepping onto a moving escalator in the heart of Seattle.

11/25/2010

Line in the Sand

When is a story your story to tell? When do you know that a story you've been given is one you can share?

I'm wondering this tonight because I have a story about one of my relatives, one I've heard before, but finally took the time today to ask the right questions, to find out the little details that make a story more complete. What year? What hospital in Spokane? How long did she stay? Did she take a train to Montana? Why did she go back?

I wanted to write it out here on my blog, but I haven't asked her if it's okay to write her story publicly. It's not a story she would write herself. I've asked her to, asked her to write all about her life, because it's a piece of history her family would like to know. She's tried, she says, would like to write it all down finally, but I know she doesn't actually write it out. I even gave her a journal about a decade ago to help her along but she would rather read about interesting things like the way scientists think the universe works. I can't fault her that, I guess, since it's hard for me to write about my life and it's what I'm learning to do right now.

Her story is one I think needs to be written, reflected on somehow. I could write it, I suppose, from the perspective of how her story impacted my life, but still, is that enough 'distance' to give me the right to tell her tale?

When someone's story intersects our own, when does the writing of it cross that line? And what's that line for? Morality's sake? Respect? Other writers have crossed that line, I think, writing about their families in unflattering ways, not caring what the individuals thought. "If you don't like what I wrote," they say. "Then write your own version." This sounds a bit bullying to me, but what is a writer to do? We don't grow up in a void or write in a perfectly objective way. We have to, at some point, involve someone else in our stories because memoir is as much about relationships as it is about meaning. Maybe memoir is really a bit of both, the making of meaning from the relationships we have. There's experience too, writing about experiences we've had, but these can be dry accounts if they lack the context of a relationship.

The part of my project I'm working on requires that I see myself and my husband as characters living a life where they don't know how things will turn out. I do. I know how things turn out in the end, maybe not what it all meant, but at least how it all ended up happening. I'm building a scene to show our relationship to each other and our lives, hopefully giving perspective on the choices we made. Working that scene on paper feels different that telling my relative's story. For one thing I was there and can speak to what, at least from my perspective, was happening at the time. I wasn't alive when my relative made her decisions, can only speculate on what she overcame within herself to make those decisions which really were quite uncharacteristic of her. She was a different sort of person during that time than when I knew her, more willing to take risk, more willing to just see what happened if she took advantage of an offer.

She speaks of that time with great fondness, proud of her accomplishments and a little amazed at herself for having the audacity to do the things she did far from home. She possessed a quiet sense of adventure I rarely saw when I was getting to know her, but there were glimpses here and there if I really thought about it.

That might be one way to get to that story, writing about how I approach adventure, what I was taught about thinking outside the box, and how that's reflected in her story.

Might be a cool thing to do.

I'm not sure that I've necessarily figured out what 'the line' is that I keep trying not to cross when I'm writing a personal story, but I see a bit better how I can take someone's story that intesects mine use it as part of a larger story that focuses on the relationship I have with them.

11/24/2010

Patron of the Arts

I don't think I'm alone in the dream of finding a wealthy patron to materially support my artistic projects. Back in the day, an artist of talent, or at least potential talent could get hired at a manor house developing their art over a long period of time. The patron would provide food, housing, a staff, and endless encouragement. The artist would produce unique pieces that the patron could show off to their friends and gain social coin.

I've read accounts where artist-patron relationships were positive and others that were negative. The relationship between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II is legendary. The sculptor who needed money took a job painting frescoes on the ceiling of a chapel. Their relationship was the stuff of legends, immortalized by one of my favorite movies starring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison - The Agony and the Ecstasy "When will it be done?" Julius asked time and again. "When it is finished," was Michelangelo's constant reply. For the artist lucky enough to find an enlightened patron willing to support visions that no one had conceived of before, the work was satisfying and continuous. For the artist unlucky enough to serve a social climbing patron, s/he might well find her/himself doing stuff they just aren't inspired to do.

With the rise of the middle class and the shift toward independent (meaning solo) thinking, the artist/patron relationship waned in popularity. In its place has emerged the artist-as-non-profit organization supported by several patrons. Strong artists with wide appeal create communities of support that allow them to express their vision freely. Others, most other artists, I think, struggle to find enough audience to support them. Many artists take work-for-hire or 'day jobs' in order to make ends meet. But I think, like me, many hope to find that perfect patron, wealthy and indulgent, supportive in every material, intellectual, and emotional way.

Pipe dream, right?

I thought so too, until I read something interesting in an emailed note from the folks over at fear.less. Tech publisher Tim O'Reilly started out as a humanities graduate with a passion for Greek and Latin classics, but became a kind of translator between the tech and non-tech worlds by writing such books to help others learn the emerging technical jargon of the last decade. He writes:

Learning the ropes of writing technical documentation was a stretch, but I'm so glad I had the opportunity. Tech writing has provided the financial support for my fiction writing career--kind of like my wealthy patron.

I was struck by his thoughtful alignment of his 'day job' with a sense of 'patronage.' By becoming a technical writer, he found a way to support himself and his passion. Work wasn't a distraction, but rather the means to an end. Reading his post, I get the feeling that he feels very fortunate to have found a way to be his own patron and doesn't consider himself a 'sell-out' like so many other artists think when they find something close but not quite what they thought to do for a living.

That's pretty much my story, and my current job does afford me both the opportunity to use my editing and writing skills everyday. About half my skills go to work that my job requires, but the paycheck allows me the time to do the passion-work too. I too have become my own arts patron, and that's pretty cool, especially when I remember to be supportive of myself materially, emotionally, and intellectually. It's a definitely shift in perspective and energy, and I'm looking forward to seeing where that shift takes me next.

11/23/2010

Mastery



A master in his art. An artist in his mastery.

Boggles my mind to think how this came together, the hours of practice, the falls, and fortunate discovery of something unseen before.

Simply magic.

I believe we all have this ability to achieve mastery in something. Might seem small. Might seem big. Doesn't matter. Just like my earlier post about how life isn't about Fair, but about what a person believes and dreams and loves, that Soemthing we are made to master matters more than size or scope, because by its very expression it changes the world.

Really. Even if a person is master of one thing, works at it, and it only changes their own life, then it changes their interactions with others, and by extension changes the world into something better. Expression of a gift is still a gift. Witholding a gift, is still witholding even out of fear. If we push our fears on others and keep them from expressing their gift then we are closing the world to change. If we push our fears on ourselves then the world is poorer for the lack.

But back to Mastery. This juggler/hooper has practiced his art countless hours. There was a moment when he saw a piece of steel bent into a hoop as big around as he was tall and thought, hey, I can do something with that. And maybe that hoop was just in his mind. Doesn't matter, because eventually he found it, made it, worked with it. Likely fell more than a dozen times that first day with it. What could it teach him? What physics problems did he work out with his body that most theorists work out on paper? And most importantly, why didn't he give up?

I see him in flight, hanging, spinning, but to my eyes flying across the floor, a metal wing clutched in his hands. Did it feel like flying when he threw his body just right, pushed off with his toes, tucked his feet and spun? Did he wonder that first time how he would land? Did he wonder if he could repeat a trick he did by accident?

Mastery is about love, I think. Being in love, in sync with one's gift, and moving with it, letting it teach you what it can do, what you can do that you never imagined before. For some like my friend Swil Kanim, the gift of love is the violin. For others like Barbara Jane Reyes and Oliver de La Paz, it's poetry. I suspect it was that way for Georgia O'Keefe with her paintings and Michelangelo with marble. Doing things with stuff that could be practical in practical hands, but art in the artist's hands.

I love words, but more than that, I love stories. Stories aren't one dimensional to me, don't just get from A to B with a crisis someplace in the middle. They're layered. The Story. The Legend. The Myth. And those layers talk to each other.

So I figure that's what I'm doing these days, figuring out the practice so I can practice Mastery, love rather than fear, follow the Art where it takes me. And like the physical artist, I am tired today, worn out from practice, but I'm also hopeful that one day, my words and stories will flow and move in unexpected ways just like a man juggling a 7 foot hoop and flying over a concrete floor.

11/22/2010

Stormy Weather

Nor'Easter came through today, freezing the ice and snow that had fallen over the weekend. The uncertainty it stirred was palpable, making decisions difficult to resolve and doubts doubling in size.

The first snow of the season always sets me back and this one has been particularly difficult, just like it's difficult for me to navigate slippery sidewalks and even slicker parking lots. After work today, though, I picked up a pair of YakTrax for my shoes. There's a good chance I won't be wearing them long, but even having them for the short walk from the store to my car made them worth the cost. Their unique combination of bungee cord and spring makes walking in ice just a little more sure. I admit, I'm a ninny on the ice, looking very much like an old woman, hunched over her feet, mincing each step. I had a man 20 years older than me help me across the street the other day. I definitely haven't been able to walk with my chin parallel to the ground like my chiropractor recommends to keep my neck in shape.

So this has gotten me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves and each other during rough times. What shape are the stories that we rarely tell, but hook onto our souls to navigate slippery territory? There are the parables of Jesus and observations of Rumi. There are the old tales of how the world works, why the weather changes and what we can do to appease angered spirits who send harshness to our lives. There are the newer tales of survival we pass to each other, cautionary tales of slipping on the ice, finding new tools, and trying again.

Because that's what the stories do for us, give us hope to keep on going, to not give up to despair. That's the power of stories to heal and to strengthen ourselves and our community. When we find ourselves in difficult times, we can look to the tales and parables we've heard to help us through. We can also make new stories, tell of our experiences in mythic ways, stretching them into heroic tales. We do it all the time, but when we do it consciously, with intent to survive and thrive the challenges we're faced with, our lives can be transformed into the lives we hope to experience and share.

11/21/2010

Dignity of Difference

A few weeks ago I was invited to tell a story at the Dignity of Difference Interfaith event in Seattle and today we, The Bellingham Storyteller's Guild, fielded four Tellers there: Doug Banner, Kelvin Saxton, Cindy Minkler, and myself. I'm always so honored to perform with the Guild and it was great to have the opportunity to be with the Interfaith Community that gathers annually to celebrate Gratitude and spiritual diversity.

Held at St. Patrick's Church on Eastside of Lake Washington, the audience of about 200 witnessed a diverse group of performers, activists, and religious leaders from around the Puget Sound. Representatives from the Christian, Islamic, and Judaic traditions were present as well as leaders from the Bahai Faith, Buddhist, and Sanaatan Dharma communities. Among us in the Guild, we represented the communities of the Lakota-Sioux, Celtic, Hermetic, and Babaylan-inspired communities. All of us gathered to share our stories and expressions of faith with each other in a spirit of gratitude for the gifts we have been given and the hope that peoples of all communities would find peace in diversity. We also blessed and offered scarves and hats to the local homeless community along with prayers that they find the shelter and support they need in the coming cold months.

For my part, I offered my story "Langaw and the Sky King," explaining the T'boli garb I wore and the inspiration I have gained from Mendung Sabal, a T'boli babaylan, whose words I read in Grace Nono's wonderful book The Shared Voice. Since part of dignity is being confident in and being willing to share one's gifts and abilities, I felt that the story fit the theme. I ran a bit long (we were only given 3 minutes for our stories, and I think I went about 5) but I felt that the audience was both entertained and given a different perspective on those times when we feel too small to make a difference.

Each leader and Teller gifted us with their insights based on their traditions - a gospel reading about an encounter between Jesus and a tax collector was performed by a group of children using interpretive dance; another group of dancers moved to a song of praising the Mystery; religious leaders recited prayers and lead us in chant, while Guild members performed their stories about humility, community, and connection with the spirit. Woven through it all was a refrain by the parishes choir and musicians that requested that Mystery always dwell with us.

It was a beautiful afternoon spent with people who genuinely believed in hope and worked toward social justice, not just from their particular perspective but also embracing other perspectives. The event has been held annually for 24 years and I look forward to joining them again, if not on stage, at least in the audience, celebrating in thanksgiving the gift of dignity and diversity.

11/20/2010

With Gratitude for Kapwa

Shared stories with a good friend today about the authors I've met over the years and the ones who are on my radar now. She pointed out to me that they were all part of my community, that they were not separate from me but that I was among them. This sorta boggled my mind since many, if not all are people I admire and learn so much from. She wisely pointed out the possibility that they admired and learned something from me. Still working on that concept.

But I also know she's right, that when we see ourselves in others or see others within ourselves, then that is Kapwa. Community. Mutual positive regard. Respect. Love. Honor. All those things happen because of a resonance we have toward someone else, and for Kapwa, it's a positive resonance, an uplifting resonance that enriches the lives of both people.

After our leisurely breakfast, my friend dropped me off in Fairhaven, a small neighborhood on the south side of Bellingham. I'd volunteered to help put up decorations there as part of a service project set up by the company I work for. The service project came from me poking around to discover the details of a discount program that the Fairhaven Merchant Association had. The company I work for doesn't technically provide anything a merchant or retailer would want, really, but they allowed us to participate in the program if we agreed to help with projects for the neighborhood. So, that's why I was up on a ladder for awhile this afternoon, apologizing to sleeping trees as we wound strings of white lights through their branches.

The temperature dropped overnight and there was snow and ice on the sidewalks where we parked our ladders. I worked with the group about two hours and felt a part of the community of Fairhaven. I'd always enjoyed the lights that the merchants put up for the season and so getting to know how much work it took to get the lights up made me even more grateful for their effort.

The neighborhood wasn't overly crowded but there was a steady stream of visitors getting out and around despite the snow. The shops looked pretty busy which, considering the economics these days, was a really good thing to see. A few stopped and watched us but for the most part, we hooked up power, clicked outlets together to connect the strings of lights and climbed ladders.

At one point, we weren't sure where we were going to draw the power for the lights. Many of the businesses had outside outlets for lighting, and our organizer was familiar with all the spots. One business, though, was new, not even open yet and the owner was very reluctant to allow the lights to be hooked into his outside outlet. He was planning a renovation to the exterior of his new shop and thought the lighting would interfere with the work. We were stymied and searched for another outlet while he went on to explain that he didn't want to pay for the increase in electricity. He asked if we could chip in on the cost, but we're volunteers and couldn't do that.

There was a distinct shift in the energy of the conversation. It went from community concern to individual concern very quickly. Our organizer pointed out all the other merchants who provided power for the lighting and noted that it made things more festive for customers. The new shop owner remained reluctant, saying that his shop wasn't likely to be open by Christmas. We couldn't make him agree and so, we moved up the street and thankfully found a different outlet.

The wind started coming up while we worked and it was the coldest it had been all day. I worked with the organizer, him up on the ladder, me running back and forth between the box of lights and the ladder. My two co-workers had a similar arrangement and they worked on stringing lights uphill, while we worked downhill. As we worked, I realized how much I enjoy being in Fairhaven, how it works very hard to be unique and the merchants are a close knit group. I know at one point the city needed to do repairs on the main street of the neighborhood and the plan included changing the parking slots. At one point it looked like the number of new slots would be fewer than the number previous and didn't solve the problem of congestion along the street due to the parked cars. So the merchants got together and figured out a new way to fix the road and create more parking. That's a kind of Kapwa, working together for the mutual good of all.

We were just about done with our light stringing when a merchant came out of her shop with a tray of hot cocoas for us. "I've been watching you work all afternoon," she said. "Thank you." We were all very surprised but grateful for the warmth. Shoppers came by to thank us too, some mentioning that they loved the lights just like I do. That's a kind of Kapwa too, recognizing the gifts that others give freely without any regard for reward. The work is its own reward, but the community steps up with gratitude.

I hope the new merchant can see the community that's there in Fairhaven, not just the chance to make a new business go during difficult times. I hope he gets to know the other merchants and slowly starts learning the names of his customers. I hope he'll tell people about the cool kids toys our organizer sells in his shop and the great place down the street to get a barber's cut. I hope he's kind to the buskers who ply their talent on the street corners nearby and I hope mostly that he feels as much a part of the community as he gains from being in such a strong community.

And I hope I never forget to be grateful for the things that are done to make the place I live in just a little more liveable, that hands and hearts go into creating strong communities, and that sharing stories is the best community glue there is.

11/19/2010

Friday Night at the Colophon Cafe

One of my favorite places to write is the Colophon Cafe in Fairhaven. It's the quietest I've ever seen it, though, but then again, it's Friday night and the weather has turned cold. I'm at a table by myself and a barista tidies the counters to keep herself occupied. Folkish-Country sort of music is on the speakers, a love song about a guy who's missing a girl. The decor is retro 50's, chrome stools line a short bar on my left, green upholstery adorns the bench seat across from me. The table itself is yellow formica and there's an aluminum napkin holder to match. A pair of salt-and-pepper shakers sit in a handled wire basket along with packets of sugar and sugar substitutes.

I'm taking up the whole table with my bag from last Summer's RWW residency, my husband's iPad attached to my keyboard, his iPad bag, my purse, a few notes on the Hawaii story, a pencil and a cup of hot lemonade.

We've been expecting snow and/or cold weather for a few days, now. A few of the towns north of us have gotten dustings, just enough to show that the winter will likely be long this year. Our summer was short, starting somewhere around mid-July and Fall arrived pretty much on time, but Winter... my friend who lives up in the mountains said he saw deer coming down off the foothills earlier this year than in years past. I haven't taken the time to see if the seagulls are really white this year, but considering the chill, I'd say Winter is well on it's way.

So there was no putting off getting the car looked at and winterized. We dropped it off this morning after dropping the kidlets at school, then took the bus to work. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy taking the bus, the personalities, the ability to just rest and take in the scenery. Students on their way to the university joined us as well as a few elders on their way to do their errands. Kel and I talked about storytelling and things tangential to stories, and I wished I could describe these nothing-time talks we have. They really do carry weight - I think we even talked about his Hermetic research and I mentioned something about Indigenous Thought. Before we had the kidlets we'd talk like that all the time, just long and deep about things we were researching and thinking about. It's different on a bus, somehow, more relaxed, more like we used to talk on long road trips together.

We walked the couple of blocks from the bus stop to our office and started our days. He was in and out of meetings all day and I was busy with deadlines. My neck is better today, but I was glad to get another appointment in today. With the car in the shop, I walked down to my doc's office. I walked differently than usual, though. My doc recommended that I walk more upright, trust that the ground was there at my feet and just keep my chin parallel to the ground. I was dubious, but I gave it a try and though my pace slowed, I comfortably walked down the long hill to Fairhaven and to my doctor's office.

On the way I did a bit of banking and listened to a street busker work out an Irish jig on his violin. He was a friendly sort and though I'm sure my tip wouldn't get him far, maybe a hot coffee and a small cookie, it was nice to just be able to do that instead of moving on quickly toward my destination. Down the hill I walked and ran into a local author I had met through mutual friends. I'm reading one of his books now about the Hero of African culture. I told him of my similar interest in Filipino heroes and myths and he sparked up. He gave me some ideas on how to approach the material I've found so far through my Babaylan studies and asked me to email him more about it. It was one of those lucky encounters I think, a sign of something new coming to the front, or perhaps something unattended that will be important over the next few months.

I took the bus again to pick up my car and chatted up a dad with a guitar case and two young boys. He was dropping them off somewhere to be looked after while he played at a local bar for the evening. So many interesting things happen in this town - the Guild is telling stories now at Fairhaven Library. An acoustic band called Vibram Souls is playing a free concert at the Public Market and this dad is playing somewhere with friends. Pretty cool all in all.

Tonight it's supposed to snow and tomorrow, I'm supposed to come back to Fairhaven to put up holiday decorations as part of a service project for my workplace. Hopefully I'll keep busy enough to stay warm! Or even better, they might cancel the work party. **grin**

At any rate, I'm feeling quiet, like this cafe, which really isn't quiet with the hum of the refrigerator case and the freezer of ice cream, the music over the speakers, and the occasional sniffle from the barista who's sketching in a notebook now. Outside a yellow taxi saunters down the road and woman laughs at something I can't see or hear. We're waiting, I think, waiting for something familiar that's coming, something familiar but unseen for a few months. Then Winter will be with us for a few months, keeping us quieter than in the Summer, perhaps looking inward for our ancestors or their stories or perhaps their heroes. Maybe we'll sing songs together and tell jokes. At the very least, we'll do our best to share it all with the ones we love and that's the best part of the season after all.

11/18/2010

Life Is Not Fair

DH introduced me to an awesome webseries last night: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers

I love not only the incredible choreography and dance talent, but also the concept behind the series. Jon M. Chu "discovered" all the dance talent in the series by watching videos people posted showing what they could do and dance. All the moves are physically possible - no wires or special effects are used in the episodes. Chu chose all the talent with one premise: the belief and understanding that there are extra-ordinary dancers in the world with power as yet untapped and believed. He wanted to bring them together to do what they did best, what my friend Swil Kanim calls The Thing They Were Made To Do. Didn't matter if they were famous or not, a working dancer or not. What mattered is what Chu saw in the videos and the stories that could be created from those dance talents.

I watched the first epi tonight and although the dancers I've seen so far have been in that sweet 16-25 age range, The Tale of Trevor Drift featured a young boy of about age 7 doing a back flip from the height of a chair, and a man around my age (I think) who could do the hip-hop moves of a younger generation. The cast is mixed in race, gender, and physical appearance. Not all are dancers, but the dancers are exemplary. The episode writing reminds me of graphic novels, the heightened tension, camera angles, tight and helicopter shots, and above all, a nod to Kung Fu theater.

My favorite quote so far, though, comes from the third epi in the series, Robot Lovestory.

"Life is not fair, but fair has nothing to do with who you are inside, what you dream about, who you love, what you stand for. Life cannot touch that. War cannot touch that."



I often think that if I just do things right then everything will work out in my favor, but I lose sight of that sense of what's inside, the thing I was made to do, the story I'm made to tell. It's there. I lose sight of it, though, in worry and the pressure to please. Because I want to be noticed, want to be acknowledged and I realized after hearing this quote, that what I'm really trying to do is express what's inside, my dreams, who I love, what I stand for.

And life won't be fair about it, but that doesn't matter. Because it's about love and love is timeless and endless.

I still have to put my butt to the chair to do the work, but the work matters because I finally figured out who my audience is. It's me. I'm telling this story to myself because no one else can and no one else will and it's a story that I need to hear.

11/17/2010

Writer's Cramp

Threw my neck out today while I was washing my hair this morning, of all things. Bad enough I went to my chiropractor for an adjustment and admonition to stop curling my shoulders over like a gnome.

It's really tough to write with my chin parallel to the floor. I'm actually typing this kind of blind, since I can't look down at my laptop screen without spasming.

I know it's all the writing I've been doing lately, the morning pages and such. There's no stopping with that, though, so I'll be icing it and having it adjusted until I can catch up on the stretching. Seems all that hunched over stuff so easy to do when writing or reading has foreshortened my neck muscles.

O'course Day 2: Return of the Zombie Choreographer probably didn't help matters, but we added another person to the dance troupe and lost one from temporary illness, so there was a lot of work to do. They're doing great though, and I'm hopeful they'll have it all put together in time.

Wrote a tad on the Hawaii project, but still the momentum is slow. The next week will be very busy and yah, I'm worried about getting my next packet done in time, especially now that I'm winged.

In the meantime, I've had lots of time to think about this Heightened Security thing that's happening now - more aggressive patdowns and backscattering scans that can penetrate skin. I'm planning travel at least twice next year, once with a group of kids and it's one thing for me to get all up in security, but the kids?

Here's Teller of Penn and Teller talking about his experience. He's willing to go to bat for the rest of us, create a test case to see how far the Feds really can go with their intimidation tactics. Is it too much to hope that traveling will become sane again by Jan. 2011?

11/16/2010

Bookshelf

Thought it might be interesting to write about my bookshelf. Okay, maybe not all the books on my shelves, or even the books I can see right now, but the ones I'm sorta mostly reading 'cause their helping me with writing and living.

I picked up The Writing Diet by Julia Cameron first because I loved working with The Artist's Way in 1997 and because I was surprised to find a book that combined writing and dieting that wasn't... all hype... for lack of a better phrase. I've been smaller than I am now and with certain genetic predispositions to long-term debilitating diseases running in my family tree, I thought the book would be a good way to look at both my writing and my diet in a new way.

The basics are similar to The Artist's Way - Morning Pages, Journaling, making writing a practice - but Cameron includes anecdotes about how non-writers have used the method to drop weight. Basically, writing gave each of them a chance to have a voice and to face their dilemmas with open eyes, instead of chewing jaws. She notes that "Very often you will find that you are eating instead of taking a creative action." (p. 16) So what would happen if instead of snacking or stress eating, I could realize that I need to do something creative. Not sure how this will play out during my work day when whipping out my journal might be bit conspicuos, but just the idea that I'm eating to stifle a creative moment opens up a whole new way of thinking.

I'm taking the book slow, a chapter at a time and only moving on if I do the habit/practice she recommends for at least a few days.

This seems to be working too for the other book on my desk, The Writer's Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long. I resisted picking up this book for a few weeks because I figured between school and the ... let's not get into exactly how many self-help writing books I own... books I already have on the topic, I really didn't need one more book. What I'm liking about Long's book, though is how she approaches writing as a whole craft, not just Here's how to write a memoir, or Here's how to write a short story. More plot arc! Less abstraction! Here's an exercise and you'll figure out what it means later!

Instead, she's a very practical writer who also begins like Cameron - write every day. That's the basic, and the reason why I'm here back on the blog. Next, she suggests creating a lexicon of cool words, ways of being concrete with descriptions. I gather from her examples (I mean who outside of Washington State knows what the Duwamish is?) that she's local to me, but instead of being compelled to take every class she offers so I can learn at the feet of the master, I'm again, taking it a chapter at a time, seeing where it takes me. So far, so good.

Other titles on my desk:

The Best American Essays 2009 and 2005
THe Power of Memoir by Linda Myers
Fearless Confessions by Sue William Silverman
Now Write! Nonfiction, Sherry Ellis, Ed.
The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris (who I gather are also local to me)
Living to Tell the Tale by Jane Taylor McDonnel
Leaving a Trace by Alexandrea Johnson
The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick
Writing the Sacred Journey by Elizabeth J. Andrew
An Introduction to Babayin by Christian Cabuay
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky and Other Classic Philippine Legends retold by Maria Elena Paterno
Lores and Myths of Mindoro by Florante D. Villarica (a friend of my father's)

They're on my desk because I'm either using them now, or find them comforting to have close. A little farther away but still in my peripheral vision:

Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman
Relief, Vol. 4, Iss. 1
Kapwa: The Self in the Other by Katrin De Guia
A manual for a Canon PowerShot G6

Yep, my desk is crowded, but it all comes into play with the tabs I have open on my computer:

Facebook
Top 10 Must Have Apps for the iPad
9 Chickweed Lane
Yahoo Mail
Blogger
Comet Hale-Bopp
Edwelda's Universe (open to a passage on Hale-Bopp)
Deep Impact (also about Hale-Bopp)
You Who Stand at the Doorway Come In
Blockbuster Plots: Scene Tracker Template

I guess I shouldn't be surprised to find evidence again that I'm a data hound. The stuck part is getting all that data arranged into something I think is creative and self-expressive. This is just one arrangement, I suspect, but a way to be on the page, thinking about the Now.

11/15/2010

Writing with Sound and Scent

A friend posted this video on Facebook today:



Besides the sweet plot and wonderful visuals, I realized that this is the way to write.

You start with a sound and the pawprints appear. Then the dog. Then the footsteps of the child leads to the child herself.

As writers we have a magic wand we can use to paint the world, but the best writing begins in sound and scent. There's very little dialogue in this piece, yet the narration is incredibly strong. We know what the girl is feeling because the world she's inhabiting is slowly revealed as she touches the wand and makes the sound of a metal fence or the glass from a bakery store window.

We scent the bread, the woman's perfume, and the man's pipe. We're stunned by the sudden sound of the bus and the jet overhead. She imagines a whale swimming, beating the air with it's flippers.

The plot moves because she is searching for her dog, but she continually engages with her world through the stick she has found. She is a self-contained child, frightened but determined to find Coco.

So much to learn from this video. What a great way to end a blustery night at home, the lights flickering, just threatening to fail completely, the sound of small branches and pine cones striking the roof, the distant roar of wind moving through the trees farther up the hedge. The room is warm and I think about needing to find batteries for the flashlights just in case. I wonder what the night will bring, but I realize that if I can hear and smell, I'll know nearly as much, or perhaps more, than my eyes would tell me.

11/14/2010

Smallness and Impermanence

In 2005, Nick Joaquin wrote an essay titled A Heritage of Smallness This was the first piece I've read by Joaquin, though from his biography and what I have heard from others about his work, I realize that he is an influential writer, especially for Filipinos who write in English.

I found his essay on Smallness disturbing. His stance is strident yet firmly based in material evidence.

Society for the Filipino is a small rowboat: the barangay. Geography for the Filipino is a small locality: the barrio. History for the Filipino is a small vague saying: matanda pa kay mahoma; noong peacetime. Enterprise for the Filipino is a small stall: the sari-sari. Industry and production for the Filipino are the small immediate searchings of each day: isang kahig, isang tuka. And commerce for the Filipino is the smallest degree of retail: the tingi....

We work more but make less. Why? Because we act on such a pygmy scale. Abroad they would think you mad if you went in a store and tried to buy just one stick of cigarette. They don't operate on the scale. The difference is greater than between having and not having; the difference is in the way of thinking. They are accustomed to thinking dynamically. We have the habit, whatever our individual resources, of thinking poor, of thinking petty.


In a phrase, Joaquin posits that Filipinos have given up on their country. Forget about the ravages of wars and colonization. Dismiss the toil of overseas workers who go months, perhaps years without seeing family. Overlook the greed of other nations who prey upon fear of hunger and exploit the natural resources of the country without even a nod to the environmental impact.

After reading the article, I thought two things - where is the hope in this piece? Is there nothing that can be done except to feel the double shame of being poor and being blamed for being poor? The tacit "Well, you're getting what you deserve, so stop whining." attitude disturbs me the most.

Then I went back to the beginning, to the sense of 'smallness.' What Joaquin lists are evidence of a people who live in the moment, who are less concerned with material permanence than with what is happening in the here and now. He writes "Many little efforts, however perfect each in itself, still cannot equal one single epic creation. A galleryful of even the most charming statuettes is bound to look scant beside a Pieta or Moses by Michelangelo; and you could stack up the best short stories you can think of and still not have enough to outweigh a mountain like War and Peace."

Joaquin is looking for cultural permanence, masterworks which hold up to the test of time in a very solid way. But his list made me think of all the people in Ashrams and meditation rooms across the West, people who are trying to limit their carbon footprint and live sustainably. These are not people looking for permanence. They strive for a sense of presence, Nowness, something that is apparently woven into the fabric of the Filipino psyche. They, and I often mean just Me, are looking to free ourselves from the Stuff of our Lives, to live authentically for the sense of experience. If the product of the expression of that authentic living creates something worthwhile for others, then that's fine, but it isn't the goal.

And why is that? What has undone the West and is undoing the Philippines? I'd argue it's the particular mentality of More for the sake of More, for denial of the passage of time and the impermanence of all things.

There's this:

The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

And also this:

10 Centuries in 5 Minutes

Why do we measure success in material things when we know they do not last? That the material does not do anything more than sustain our bodies and provide us tools to create? That all things change and that what really matters are Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery?

Yes, I understand that money gains us food and shelter and that sometimes the Purpose of work is money in order to have more autonomy and the chance to increase Mastery. But does it? What if the Purpose of the work is creating food from the earth? What if we had communities that made fair trade a way of life? What if specialization wasn't emphasized, but rather the wholeness of a community experience? It would all look very normal, not very Epic, and maybe really Small.

But so what? If we are happy not striving to create the Epic, but creating the Authentic, then why not be Small? To whom are we trying to prove our worth?

Joaquin ends his essay by invoking the Parable of the Talents, where the one who invested and increased his coins was considered more worthy than the man who buried his coin in fear. I'm sure Joaquin is trying to say that the parable shows we must increase always, but I always saw the parable as cautionary - do not bury what you have been created to be because fear will limit you and prevent others from benefiting from your gifts.

I'm reminded of a folktale where a man fishes just enough to sustain his family and trade for the things he does not have time to make himself. A foreigner praises his ability to fish and encourages him to expand his operations. "Why?" the man asks. "Then you'll have more money to buy things," says the foreigner. "But I'm happy," the man says. "I fish in the morning, trade during mid day and enjoy my family." "But don't you see," the foreigner replies. "If you made more money you could take care of your family better, have a bigger house, better status in the village, become important." "And then what?" the man asks. "Then you can make even more money and have more houses, more status, more power." "But why?" "So you can retire, and fish and be with your family." "But I have that already," says the man. "Why would I want to work and do things that take me away from what I already have?"

11/13/2010

What's Your Aim?

Had breakfast with a writer friend of mine this morning. Always wonderful to spend time with her because she's a working writer with a big spiritual heart and a very real sense of her humanness, meaning that she knows that she doesn't always know the answers but that she can find them if she looks for them. She has a wonderful sense of quirky humility that I don't often find with either 'spiritual' folks or 'literary' folks.

She asked me how my writing was going and unlike my encounters with other writers, I don't have to put on a brave face for her, don't have to worry about 'putting the negative' out there for the universe to fulfill in some strange teachable moment. She helps me practice honesty and hope at the same time, to experience frustration without letting the frustration take away from the experience of living. She lives her life this way and I'm really glad I can learn from her bravery.

So she asked about my writing and I told it straight - I'm improving, writing everyday for the past four days, but the Hawaii project is stalled. There's a lot of working things out happening during my writing practice and it's taught me a few things - like how I'm afraid that my younger self will seem whiney and incapable on the page, how I really want to tell her story and see what transformed her into the me now. How I doubt that there has been any significant change. How I'm having trouble finding that particular tonality of voice that is the voice of my younger self. How just writing isn't working (you know, that old saw of "just keep writing and it will all work out" Polyanna stuff that just makes me nuts).

I told her about drawing comparisons between how I prepare my stories for performance and how I write, and how my preparations yield me the most creative stuff and if that's true, how can I bring that mastery to the page? What I discovered this week is that I really do need to know how a piece ends, the theme I'm pointing at before I start filling in the scenes or the writing just falls apart. She and other writer's all look at me like I'm really dense - Write it out and it will reveal itself to you, they say. And my jaw sets and I felt unlistened to.

I found a quote today that sums it up really well "The odds of hitting your target go up dramatically when you aim at it." - Mal Pancoast. The target is the theme and the ending and as we talked, she also helped me see that it's also the audience, the community I want to engage.

There's two kinds of audiences I've encountered so far - ones that just love a good story and ones that want to hear a story that fit a particular theme that they are passionate about. I can tell to both kinds of audiences, but I have to 'read' them first. That's what I do just before I go on stage, I read the audience - are they tired? bored? wanting to sit back? want to be engaged? Where are they coming apart, feeling isolated? How can I bring them together into a singular experience? My story is the vehicle for creating a community, a shared experience that hopefully they'll come away with feeling more hopeful, lighter, more able to handle the challenges they face, and maybe, just maybe they'll come back and the same people will be there and we'll have a continuity of community.

So I'm realizing that I might not know exactly what my audience is - moms, FilAms, writers - but they are there, because they are part of me and I am part of them. True Kapwa. So they need validation in the midst of tragedy, they need to know they can survive, that their little triumphs are incredibly important, that their story doesn't have to isolate them, even as I am talking about isolation and fear and despair and anxiety. That you can find love even after the fact.

To fall in love again, to finally fall in love with being a Mom. That would be cool. To recognize the importance of writing as integral to that journey of falling in love. That by not being able to write for so long has robbed me of having that experience.

So I guess that's what I'm aiming for and yep, the writing revealed it, but not exactly as others would think. And that's okay, because above all, I'm all about making sure people do what's right for them, so they can be the wonderfully unique people they are.

11/12/2010

Spirals

I've been on Facebook about a year now, maybe 18 months, I think, and it's hit a phase where the tech geeks I knew before the Internet was easy to navigate are now starting to appear. Maybe they've always been there, but until recently I didn't know that they were bothering with this new tech.

I read recently too, that the New York Times will be putting out its first eBook Bestseller list next year, showing that eBooks have finally become a 'legitimate' form of... well, if not literature, at least commercial success. Indy publishers and writers are no longer content to wait for New York to decide whether they are 'hot', they are getting out there with their material, their thoughts and hopes, and connecting with their audiences. The transom is only as high as they are willing to believe it to be and they can create audiences with a variety of social networking tools.

So it's a kind of convergence, 'old' techies from the mid-90's seeing social networks as something of value, even if they aren't as homegrown as the old bulletin boards and forums from 10+ years ago. The mainstream is perceiving social networking as the opportunity many of us knew it would be back when it was just forums and LiveJournal. Facebook, Twitter, Blogger aren't just flash in the pan, trendy, faddish things. They're tools people are using in creative ways to get their word out.

But back to reconnecting - I reconnected with a writer, recently, who encouraged me to write my stories back during those forum/bulletin board days. He had written a memoir that had just gone into remainders and we corresponded for awhile. We lost touch as life moved us in different directions and only recently I stumbled upon his FB profile. I know I saved our correspondence at one time (I may even have it, gasp, on /paper/) but if I do have the files, I imagine they're on 3.5 inch floppies and I don't think I'd have a way to retrieve them. He says he vaguely remembers me, and since I can't remember how we met online or what we talked about other than writing, it's a bit strange to connect on Facebook.

But there's a part of me that's really excited to have found him and really curious about what we wrote about 'back in the day.' I'll be digging around a bit more in my archives and I hope to find something.

Cause it really is about connecting - the tech of today does what letters did 100 years ago, what drumbeats did 5000 years ago. It's cool, though, when you can reach across time and find a bit of the past in the present, and maybe even learn something you knew then that you'd forgotten since then.

11/11/2010

So You Think You Can Zombie Dance?

Spend the day being a mom since the kidlets were off school for the day. We talked about Veteran's Day early on, and my older one knew it was originally Armistice Day, the end of the War to End All Wars. The irony of it wasn't lost on her, unfortunately. I hope our servicemen and servicewomen all come home soon and that we're here to do the right thing - take care of their hearts and souls, the collateral damage for the policies we voters can't seem to change.

Along with the usual errands for bigger shoes and other necessary things for the winter (like hot cocoa and dried mangoes... no, we don't eat them together, but they can both be found cheap at Costco), I helped choreograph a Zombie Dance.

Seems my younger one and two of her friends thought it would be cool to do something with Ramalama Bang Bang, and since the hot thing to do in Season 2 of SYTYCD was Zombie dancing, well, there you go. A plan.

The gals had their part started. Lots of cartwheels and horsekicks (yep, Zombies can do that when they're young and spry), but the one guy of the group wasn't sure what to do. He wanted to be there and tried gamely to show me his splits (side ones were decent, not so much on the forward ones), but choreography is about contrasts, so we did work on creating different levels and shapes for him than for the gals. It was... not quite chaos, but definitely not exactly organized.

Organic, more like it, which is how I like things created. Let the music move your body, I told them, what does it tell you to do? The guy was on the floor doing a cross between a soldier crawling along the ground and a zombie crawling out of a grave. The gals were cartwheeling and somehow not colliding with each other or the walls or the bookshelves or me. Lots of counting out loud and going back to the beginning.

I still think it's terribly funny that they want to do a Zombie dance for a talent show in January, but they have their hearts set on it. Who cares if it's not Halloween any more, or that the performance is for a Catholic school audience? Keep those movements jerky and off kilter!

I've got the song running through my head now, the deep beat and the synthesized waa-waa's. I see their bodies moving to the beat, trying to lift their legs and arms at just the right time, switching directions, circling and moving in formation back and front again. They're all very serious about it, but working it out creatively too. Everything is possible and it's one of those lessons in creativity.

So you've got an idea and you think you've got it figured out, but out on the dance floor it's not quite together. Your body can't quite move the way you imagined. Doesn't matter. Just keep to the beat, keep moving, keep looking like a zombie, because that's what you want to bring to the world, right now, something quirky and unexpected. Creativity isn't about knowing how to do it ahead of time, it's about having faith in the vision, faith in the tools and skills you've got, faith in the very act of creating.

We'll be rehearsing for a few more weeks before tryouts in December. They've got about half down pat, and I imagine that our next rehearsal will be getting past the overthinking that invariably happens the second time around a performance. I wonder if that's the way it is with second drafts, if they're hard because their like a second performance - lots of second guessing and second thoughts about whether the darned project is going to work.

I hope to get to a second draft sooner than later, but dern it, I gotta get that first draft done first! In the meantime, I'm feeling like a Zombie-2-3-4, turn-2-3-4, circle...

11/10/2010

Now Online - Guest Post at Philippine American Writer's and Artist's Inc.

Soon after Pause Mid-Flight was released, Barbara Jane Reyes asked me to share with the readers of the Philippine American Writer's and Artist's, Inc. blog about the process of creating the chapbook and CD set. 


The post is now available and writing it helped me understand a bit better my process of writing. Although writing is a solitary act, I do best when I bring that writing into a community. Having talented musicians respond to my writing was profound and humbling, an experience I dare hope to repeat again in the future. 


Here's an excerpt:


"Pause Mid-Flight is a compilation, a gathering of my poetry from the last decade or so, some published in small journals, others not at all, and one 'published' on a t-shirt worn by someone running around Greenlake, WA. I had no specific thematic concern as I put the collection together, but I did try to listen to each piece to see where it wanted to sit relative to the other pieces. I constantly looked at the themes and images of one poem to see if the next supported it or contrasted it in some way. The central poem “Pause Mid-Flight” was not originally the title of the chapbook. I thought perhaps to set a more popular poem in this spot, one that several readers thought was the strongest of the collection. The title, though felt right, reflecting how the chapbook was a pause for me as I work the journey of the writer. Pausing and reflecting is a necessary part of being a writer and linking this action to a Filipino origin story appealed to me."


The full text appearson the PAWA, Inc blogsite.


I'm happy to say that I only have 5 copies of the chapbook/CD set available, and there are no plans for reprints at this time. 

11/09/2010

Of Books and Birthing

Been thinking a lot about pregnancy and birthing and prematurity recently, likely because these are the topics of my current project, but still it's surprising how the metaphors keep happening.

Being stuck in research was like a difficult labor transition that I wasn't sure I'd break through, but with the help of another I did and found the links I needed to take the next step on the path.

Being anxious about things not happening quickly enough is a familiar birthing thing too - except I really don't know about that. My first child was born prematurely and I was only aware of being in labor when the ER nurse said I was 9 cm dilated (yes, I'm one of those unfortunate women who thought her contractions were gas cramps). But this writing has made me anxious, wanting the story to birthed quickly and as painlessly as possible.

I've learned that this is something we women in the US have been trained to think. The movie The Business of Being Born was very eye-opening. I knew bits and pieces already - how birthing on the back was supposedly introduced by Henry the VIII who wanted to see the birth process, how it's easier on the doctor for a woman to lay on her back during labor for 'easy access and observation.' I knew bits about the increased use of anesthesia and other pain medications and the complications that have come from the lack of sensation as a result. But it wasn't until watching the movie that I could see how the trend for doctor's ease, fear of litigation, and need for speed stripped women of their power to do the thing they were built to do - birth babies.

So that's got me thinking about the way we birth books and essays and stories, how the publishing machine and the fame/fortune that sometimes comes to writers has created circumstances similiar to the way we birth children. Journalistic deadlines spill over into publication deadlines. Audience demand for faster, more timely material crashes into the demand for more robust, more personal accounts. More authenticity and More presence creates conditions where material gets out into the world before, perhaps, it's ready. Or in my case, not at all because I can't manage to live up to the pace set by these demands.

Then I end up with still-born manuscripts, never given a chance to develop. Move on, I'm told. The next will be better. But when to grieve what did not happen? When to make things right and take the time to create that needs to be on the timetable it naturally has?

I'm thinking about what strangles manuscripts like an umbilical cord wrapped around the neck, how things like helpful suggestions or encouragements to include more detail, more theme, more looping back on images can strangle a manuscript just trying to float in supportive liquid.

I'm thinking about how pregnancies and births are not solitary affairs, not really. We're born into communities, nurtured by them and sometimes restricted by them, and that writing communities are no different. They can nurture and constrict and this is neither bad nor good, just something to understand as a factor in the writing.

I'm thinking about the generosity and stinginess of us human beings, how our hopes and excitement create generosity and our fears make us stingy, and how that strains and pushes against and with the birthing of a child or a book. I'm grateful for both, because the first makes the work worthwhile and the second can push me to look deeper, face my own fears.

And sometimes I can face my own fears and see sensation of fear as actually excitement and flow with that. Expand instead of contract. Why do we call it contractions, anyway? Why not call the moments of release between contractions Expansions? Wouldn't our labors be easier? What if we no longer called it labor, but something more joyous?

Or perhaps we need to reframe labor as something joyful and not something to be avoided in our instant soup culture. Slow food. Slow being. There is nothing lazy about relaxing into a process. Ask a Buddhist if you doubt.

This is something of a lumpy post and perhaps not really publishable, but it says some things on my mind and I think about those babies that come through too soon, the ones like my daughter who look emaciated at birth but who manage to survive and thrive. This will all go into something else, I'm sure, and it's a good post for now, a start of a conversation here.