Thursday, March 29, 2007

Put your thinking caps on (thinking blogger awards)

The lovely Deirdre and the amazing Frida nominated me as one of their Thinking Bloggers (And I am feeling so honored!), and thus I can nominate five blogs myself. This is harder than it sounds, since every blog I read makes me think, ruminate, muse, ponder. I never have a day where some turn of phrase, some image or idea, doesn’t make me stop and evaluate my own beliefs. Honestly, you are my university right now. And for that, I say thank you.

That being said, I DO want honor five blogs that always offer me much food for thought.

Diary of a Self Portrait—Jessie reminds me to look deeply at my surroundings, my preconceived notions, my “givens.” Her writing is always rich with close-observations, and rewards re-readings.

Better Make it a Double—Emmie never fails to remind me of how important mothering is—intellectually, emotionally, politically.

Waiting on the Front Porch
—This is my new blog crush, honestly. Bee’s writing shocks me like cold water, forcing me to think about what I believe to be true. I love how fearlessly honest she is. I can’t believe it took me this long to discover her!

California Fever—Marilyn is endlessly curious—her blog covers the spectrum: politics, art, music, philosophy, education. Her passion for knowledge and experience inspires me to broaden my own horizons.

Grow Wings—Because Laini’s writing process makes me see all of the possibilities in my own. Because her imagination seems to range over everything, showing me how enchanted reality can be. And because her positive nature leads me to question my own received ideas about what artists should be like.

Oy, I could keep going and going and going with this. What can I say…you are all endlessly fascinating to me!

The Thinking Blogger Award Rules
If you were named above and choose to carry this meme forward, remember to tag only those bloggers who stimulate your cortex … or something like that.
Please make sure you pass the rules to the blogs you are tagging.

If, and only if, you have been tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

Optional: Proudly display your 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Finding Water Check in, Week 5

This was a difficult chapter for me to get through—I could feel J.C.'s fear and frustration, and it took me back to that dark place I inhabited almost all winter—just feeling hopeless and trapped. But it was reassuring to see her struggle to keep faith with her tools—her pages and her artist date and her walks.

I had to laugh at her moving back to a typewriter after using a computer, because for a long time, I would bemoan my lack of productivity while writing on the computer. The internet was always singing her siren song to me, and usually I could find a way to tie myself to the mast of my writing and continue. Then, last week, I realized I could just…write longhand. I know, duh! But it felt like a small way to take care of myself, after spending literally years berating myself for not caring enough about my writing and being so distractible, etc. Instead of that, I could just, oh, change the way that I thought about the problem.

That is a theme that is coming to me from many different sources now—I just finished reading a book (highly recommended) called One small step can change your life—suggesting that the way to make changes in your life is to take small actions, think small thoughts, solve small problems, ask small questions. He mentions how the ego LOVES big, splashy projects like “I am going to finish an entire first draft of a novel in…a WEEK!” but how resistance soon kills that little plan. So the way to move past your resistance is to take very. Little. Movements. In that direction. Now, I’ve heard this before, from Barbara Sher and SARK and Julia Cameron herself. Maybe I was finally desperate enough to try it?

And the “small questions” also applied to my manuscript. I’ve been feeling very resistant when I start writing, almost nervous, and nothing I could tell myself or change seemed to have any effect. Until I realized that I was trying to FORCE my story into a very specific form, and practically drowning my natural instincts under a strong desire to put EVERYTHING in my novel. Ten Greek myths! A whole psychological history of all of my characters! A sweeping revelatory look at the state of Motherhood in the 21st Century!

I am sure it’s no surprise that I was resisting the idea of turning my baby exploratory draft into the Great American Novel—on the first try!

So, I started asking myself very very small questions, about the way the characters looked, about the way they moved, about what they said. And I started, very, very, gently, asking myself if maybe I should focus on the two or three myths that REALLY spoke to me, instead of using so many? Tada! Back to being excited about the story.

Surprisingly enough, this all happened after I wrote my letter to God, just being small and humble and specific, not trying to force a Big Epiphany or Rush of Divine Reconnection. I’ve been having God issues, for sure, but this method of finding time to reach out, in however small a way (there’s that word again) really helped me. As did the exercises of finding a little tastes of pleasure and gratitude and working to savor them. Yesterday, while walking with the Madam in a blaze of sunshine, I took the time to stop and give thanks for the upswelling of joy that seemed to working its way through my chakras.

One small (hee) question though, if NYC makes J.C. so miserable, can’t she just…move? Or was her depression about something else?

Walks-yes, always with the Madam, which keeps the brain empty, but the body (and the Toddler) happy.

Pages—7 out of 7. I would be lost without them.

Artists Date—Does my gluttony at the local used bookstore count? I LOVE $1 used books!

See you all next week! Now go make (or write, or sing, or dance) stuff!


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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: In the Kitchen (a fragment of a fiction)

The pic so nice, I am using it twice! From

(Ed. Note: I have a hard time writing about what Sunday Scribblings means to me without growing a little misty. Right around the time Laini and Megg started it, I had just written about my fear that I would never really be able to write fiction. I just didn’t seem to have the motivation. I told myself that it was fine to write whatever came, but in my heart of hearts, I longed to write fiction. And from the very first, something about Sunday Scribblings called forth voices; cocky, unsure, romantic, cynical, inspired, morbid. And I’m so grateful I had a chance to be a part of this, to hear those voices and try to be true to them and to read so much good writing. So, THANK YOU, Megg and Laini and happy first birthday to Sunday Scribblings! You don’t know the joy you helped bring into my life.)

People expect a lot of you when you are named after a flower. At least, that's always been my experience. My mother says she named me Jasmina and my baby sister Rosa because she missed her verdant walled garden in Old San Juan, the house where she had grown up, peacefully lived with her parents and the extended clan, and then lived until she had married my father. After years of living in the same town as Mami’s family, Papi wanted to strike out and make his own money, in the land of milk and money. Much later in my life, I would sit in dorm rooms plastered with pictures of Castro, Chairman Mao, and especially Che Guevera, and wish that my parents had had a more romantic reason for leaving Puerto Rico. A revolution, perhaps. Or tortured love that could not be in the provincial little town of…Old San Juan? See, even in my fervent imagination, that just doesn’t work. Their story, and I supposed by extension, my story, is your standard lusting after the American Dream. One could even argue that as Puerto Ricans, we are better equipped than most to realize our dreams. Of course, one could also argue that when we fail, it’s just more noticeable. But who ever thinks they are going to fail? And when do you notice you have, anyway?

Abuelo's family had been pretty prominent in local politics, so the police, other politicians, and supplicants often made routine calls on the house. Mami and her sisters would hide upstairs near the curved stairwell. I can see them clearly, always wearing white, as befitted girls who had not yet been introduced into society. Mami would have taken the lead, keeping her face strained dangerously between the carved lattices, where anyone looking up might have seen her. The voices would float up, always carefully modulated and rational, the policemen's voices a tad gruff, betraying their lack of refinement. Meanwhile, my abuelo's voice was always pleasant, perfectly serene, even as the servants gathered in the kitchen, hurriedly hiding anything that could be considered illegal, which could be anything in that kind of climate. But Mami chose not to dwell on those days, allowing Rosa and I to imagine the details in glorious lujo de detaile ourselves. The fairytale of my mother's life before she met my father, before she met my father, before the magic that had weaved into her life had been replaced by prosaic hard necessity.

This is the fantasy of the life I grew up with, of wrap around verandas and white houses perched on the tops of hills, and soil so lush that flowers sprouted crazily from between cracks in the cement of the sidewalks. Rosa and I would whisper the story to each other in the night, reminding ourselves that we were not like those other Latinos. The ones who lounged about in front of the bodegas in the middle of the day, sitting there, staring out while their children ran all over the street, spitting on the sidewalk. The ones gathered at the post office every two weeks, waiting for welfare checks that seemed to disappear right into the crowd, small white envelopes being palmed into backpacks, shoved into pockets or bras. No, Papi had a good if not spectacular job, and we were here to take advantage of all of the gifts America had to offer, especially to Puerto Ricans like ourselves, residency, opportunity. Mami would point out the others, and use them like a cautionary tale. “Mira eso,” she would hiss. “Remember that the way people see you is the way they judge you, and you have to work extra hard to make sure they don’t look at you and see this chusma.”

But for the most part, Mami wanted to lead us by example, to show us the distinct difference between our station in life and that of others. So she would go on for hours about the beauty of the time spent in her garden, singing as she weeded and hoed and sharing secrets with the hunky gardeners that came there to work, and spy on the beautiful Mirella Cardenas and her two sisters. Rosa and I would always sit spellbound and jealous at these stories, the beautiful princess (for Mami was beautiful, make no mistake about that, with her long light brown hair that she kept flowing over one eye, Veronica Lake style, and her laughing brown eyes the shape of almonds) sitting in the garden, laughing with her workers (because of course the beautiful maiden was no snob) and waiting for her one true prince to come. Rosa and I would always look up at Papi expectantly, waiting for him to morph before our eyes from stocky Daddy who dozed in front of the TV during Magnum P.I. into a gallant prince, ready to rescue Mami from a fire breathing dragon, or at least from her occasionally tyrannical parents. But there he would stay, in his chair, chuckling softly and shaking his head at the stories of Mami's exploits, her powers over men, her kindness to the poor. Then another article in the newspaper would catch his eye and he would grow quiet and absorbed once again. But we knew that Mami’s magic was the truth, and Papi had merely been drowned in the boredom of our own newly small lives.

On the rare occasion that Papi would be inspired to reflect on our names, he would say simply that Jasmina was the name of his favorite Nanny and Rosa was the name of the first girl he had ever kissed. Mami would always scowl at these memories, which might be a reason why he didn't share them more often. I would have thought that Papi's fondness for the first woman he had ever kissed would have been the real problem, but no, it was my name. As usual, I was the problem.

“La Nanny, Pedro? She's going to think she's not worth any more than that!” Turning to me, she would add, “We have big plans for you, mi'jita...we know how smart you are, and how much you will accomplish here...America is the land of opportunity, mi long as you are willing to work.” She was willing to work, that was the suggestion here, as she stood in the kitchen, chopping the onions and mincing the garlic for the sofrito for dinner. Her hands covered to the wrist in onion juice and the bits of garlic skin, she would flip the steaks over and check on the rice, all the while keeping one eye on me and one eye on the Mexican novella on the little TV that Papi had bought her for one of their anniversaries. Meanwhile, Papi would sit in the living room, laughing over Barney Miller and waiting for dinner. “You are such a smart girl, the world is open to you. You'll go to college, you'll study hard, and maybe, quien sabe, you could be president someday!”

“When we moved to this country, it was like we were planting a garden with our kids. So our first baby, we want her to be sweet, like Jasmine, so we named you Jasmina. Our second baby, we want her to be like a rosebud, so we named her Rosa.”

Rosa would look up from where she was doing her homework at the worn table in the kitchen, oblivious to the histrionics on the television and her mother's prophecies. “I thought you named me Rosa after Vis-Abuela Rosa? And, Mami, Jassi can't be president. She wasn't born here. In class, we learned that someone has to be a native born American citizen to be elected.”

Mami would narrow her eyes. She hated being interrupted, especially when she was in the process of one of her grand pronouncements about our future.

“Well, I would say you, sweetheart, but you have to bring up that Math score, first, don't you?”

Rosa would blush and apply herself more diligently to her task, no doubt vowing to name one of her Barbies after me and drown it a few times in the tub for good measure. My little sister was not a very good student, but she was sweet and hard working. Noble, even. It makes sense that she ended up as a nurse...her instinct was to pacify, to aid, to cure. At least our familial outbursts had a positive effect in her life.

Then, Papi would come into the kitchen, taking a fried plantain off of the plate where Mami had just put them for dinner. Our house was so small, he had followed the whole conversation from his comfortable seat in the living room. Either the smell of the freshly cooked food was finally calling him to the kitchen, or he would enter the fray with a desire to protect his daughters. Usually, it was the former.

“There's nothing wrong with being named after Jasmina, Mirella. La señora was like a second mother to me. Yo la quisa como mi mama.

“But she was not your mother, Pedro...Jasmina will be nobody's servant...not stuck raising a man's child, a family's child, without any help.”

Watching my parents volley my name between them only made me more determined to be someone special. They were right, of course. We were all meant for great things. After all, that's why Papi had slayed the dragon and brought Mami to America to start her own garden again. Sure, the garden would be a small patch of dirt that hung precariously on the edge of our apartment window, but it was a start.

Unfortunately for Rosa and I, we knew there were some things they agreed on. Daughters should be sweet (like your names, hijas) and kind and quiet and should live for their parents. They should NOT be tomboys, playing “Manhunt” with the older boys on the playground (those ruffians, as per Mami) until the street lights buzzed on. Daughters should be a credit to their parents in everything, learning the arts of femininity and running a household from their mothers and learning how to make a man the center of their world from their fathers. Rosa and I tried to be apt pupils, but the world was so much wider and more interesting than the small one bedroom in which my parents tried to channel Puerto Rico. And, well, we didn't always want to be the sweet smelling flowers of our parents' pride and a credit to all of Puerto Rico (yes, I am quoting now). Sometimes we just wanted to be American girls, laughing with our friends as we ordered hamburgers and French fries at McDonald's on Bergenline Avenue, watching the high school girls stroll by in their stilettos with a mixture of envy and fear. Making sure that Barbie understood exactly what would happen to her standing at school if she went all the way with Ken. Come to think of it, I wish someone had explained that to me a long time ago.

Yes, when you are named after a flower, people expect things. And they’re always disappointed when you don’t live up to what they want you to be. Everyone knows what flowers should be like, after all…sweet smelling, offering themselves to anyone with a nose.

But some flowers have thorns, or at the very least, allergens. I like to think I am one of those flowers instead.

OK, so I cheated…these are the first four pages of my first, unfinished
(as of yet) manuscript. It popped into my head as soon as I read the prompt because I remember feeling very engaged after writing this kitchen scene.

In many ways, this manuscript is a kitchen for me—a container, a place for me to make messes, inelegant, experimental. A place full of parts (like the one above) that I am still working on uniting into a harmonious (and delicious) whole.

These characters continue to haunt me, moreso than the characters I am working on in my current MS (perhaps because the new MS is more ambitious, and I am frankly terrified at writing with Big Themes).

I do a lot of my writing in the kitchen; I spend most of my time there, coaxing my little Madam to eat “just one more bite.” When I get the chance, I write a few lines, scribble a persistent image.

My writing, like my kitchen, is where something is made, and that something feeds me, and that something becomes me.
For more cooking in the kitchen, go here.


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Monday, March 19, 2007

Finding Water--check in, week four

Sometimes, while I read Finding Water (or any Julia Cameron book), I have to look around the room furtively, looking for her eavesdropping self, so completely does she nail some aspect of my personality that I had thought was “only me.”

Last week, it was her comments on believing mirrors, and expanding your definition of the kinds of people who can perform this service for you. I’ve had a problem for a few years (OK, maybe more like almost a decade) with wanting to connect deeply only with other writers/artists, as a way of bolstering my own variable self-image, and validating that, yes, I can also fit into this community and take myself seriously. But, alas, I think I’ve also moved away from several people who could have been very fine friends, just because on some level I didn’t think I’d have anything substantial to say to me or vice versa. Only now do I really feel myself opening up to the possibilities of deep friendship with a variety of people, appreciating them for their own sakes. Because I am so incredibly lonely.

This week, these quotes got me so deeply that I broke my own long standing rule about writing books and actually underlined them:

“Optimism is an elected attitude, a form of emotional courage.” I’ve always resisted this idea, equating it with a type of bland smiley-face repression. But lately, I’ve been driven into taking another look at this. While venting my frustration can feel good temporarily, I also think it drives away the people that I most need in my life. And the good feelings of venting never seem to last, unless I can move past them into a form of “looking for the bright side.” And I admitted to myself that the people I most admire, even when writing about their sadness and loneliness, possess just this attribute…they can find some positive about their situation, and they sit with that until it can grow within them organically. Optimism now seems a form of artistic discipline, the steadfast belief that I can sit with a writing problem without hysteria, and trust that somehow, I’ll find an answer (if not THE answer) that will allow me to move on in the piece.

I just typed “peace” and it occurs to me that’s also accurate.

The other quote is “No, in order to write, I must be willing to write badly and to have the faith that if I go forward ‘writing badly’, some purpose is still being served.” I’ve always believed, in theory, in the first part of that statement, the being willing to write badly, but I honestly never thought about the very act of willingness to write badly as serving some purpose. In fact, I’ve often struggled with the idea of my writing, especially awful writing, as serving any purpose at all.

Maybe the purpose is just to allow myself to hang out in all of my silly personhood on the page? And this allowing is what amuses the muses and brings forth something…better? Maybe it’s about intentionality?

Which brings me to the third part of the chapter that struck me—the poor blocked grant writer. I found myself getting indigent on her behalf when J.C. told her that writing, however badly, would probably be better for her than reading the brilliant words of others. “Why, I do that all the time!” I sputtered mentally. “It’s one of the most reliable sources of inspiration for me!” But of course, I ignored the vital idea of intentionality, again. Because it’s possible for someone to pick up her Unabridged Collected Works of Chekhov and use its genius to bang herself upside the head, never writing a word. And it’s possible to use the same book as an encouraging voice, a teacher, to see in Chekhov a fellow writer, albeit one way further down the path.

I’ve done this both ways, and can (sort of) tell the difference now. And, of course, when you are blocked, it’s practically impossible to read anything without seeing it as a reproach to your own inability to write anything. All of those beautiful words become the best excuse to keep from writing your own flawed ones.

So, once I got past taking it all very personally (that pinging sound you heard was J.C. plucking a nerve), I saw that one of the things I need to work on in my writing is my own intention—am I moving towards learning, being willing to try? Or am I grumping towards the computer, hating myself? Either way, it’s writing, but I’d probably get a lot more done (and more happily) without all of the self-loathing.

I know this is probably painfully obvious to all of you, but I guess I’ve been so focused on the act of doing any writing at all, that I never really thought about how I was approaching it, or thinking that how made any difference.

As far as the divining rods, I have to admit I was daunted by the idea of trying to list my accomplishments—scared that I wouldn’t even be able to come up with ten! Maybe I’ll go back and attempt them later.

Morning pages everyday, but no walk, and no artist date. And yet, I feel like I got a lot out of this chapter, if only the idea that I need to continue pushing and fumbling towards balance.

See you all next week--hope it’s artful and productive for everyone, including me!


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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Inspiration!

“You have to understand, this isn’t the kind of neighborhood where that happens. I mean, look around. Manicured lawns, nice cars. We are people who care about our community! So, you can just imagine how we felt when we saw that girl walk up to Daisy’s door. For starters, Daisy doesn’t have a daughter—just a son who moved up to Poughkeepsie and runs a very successful marketing concern up there. And with George passing away so suddenly last year, well, there was some concern about this girl being some sort of a by-blow…”

Excuse me? I wouldn’t say ‘by-blow’—I don’t even know what that means.

It’s a word Shakespeare liked, and I’ve always wanted to use it. Anyway, Muriel, you are breaking up my flow. Get back in the story.

Muriel: I won’t say ‘by-blow’ and anyway, I wouldn’t even think that. You are trying to make people dislike us, and so you are only telling one side of the story. We are Daisy’s FRIENDS, we were genuinely worried about her! I mean, wouldn’t you be if you saw this girl, her hair combed forward on her face like a horse grooming brush, hiding herself in this huge black trenchcoat? I watch the news. I know what happens to older women living alone. We’re neighbors, we look out for each other!

Horse-grooming brush?

Muriel: Yes, see, I’m trying to help you. I’m being all poetical too.

Uh, OK. Let me get back to the main story, please.

Muriel: Hold on, Jenny wants to say something.


Muriel: Yes, she’s Daisy’s oldest and dearest friend.

But she’s not the main voice, you are! Can we please get back to work? Muriel, start again with what you saw…

Muriel: Look, you opened the floor.


Jenny: Daisy, poor Daisy, has been going through such a hard time since George passed. Just sitting in that empty room…you know she gave all of his exercise equipment to the Goodwill? Can’t bear to look at it, says it betrayed her! She spends her days looking through that photo album…one page a day. Says she sits there and stares at each picture until she can remember every conversation she and George had during that time. Michael, that’s her son, he’s constantly looking to move her to Poughkeepsie to live with them, but she says, “How can I leave this place where George and I talked so much? How will I hear him in a new place? He never talked much at your house, Michael, no offense.”

I think we’re getting off track here, ladies. Can we get back to the girl?

Jenny: Don’t you think your readers will want to know a little about Daisy’s state of mind? Otherwise, won’t she just be an anonymous old lady, answering the door to all sorts of dangerous people, just to ease past a little loneliness?

That’s a nice phrase, Jenny.

Jenny: Oh, thank you…I took a writing class at the Y at night last year.

Muriel: Ahem, can I interrupt this love fest and remind you all that I am the main voice she chose? ANYway...

This girl knocks on the door, once, twice, no answer. We figure she’ll get the hint, move on to the next house with whatever she’s selling. But no…she just stays there. Knocking. It starts to get dark. She stays there. It starts to rain, she stays there.

Finally, Daisy comes out, rubbing her eyes like she just woke up. And I expected her to tell this strange girl to scram, but she just looks her up and down and then lets her in."

I’m not crazy, you know. I had my reasons.

Daisy? What are you doing here?

Daisy: Well, it’s my story, isn’t it?

Yeah, but…I sort of wanted to tell it through the eyes of the neighbors, you know, Gatsby-style.

Daisy: It’s my story, and I got something to say. The girl was disheveled, yes, but she had a nice face. A face that reminded me of, I don’t know, my own in George’s eyes. And she said she had something to tell me. What else do I have to do? Nothing’s happened in my life since George left me. This was something happening.

Muriel: But, Daisy, didn’t you think of us? Your neighbors? She could have been casing the joint for some sort of gang!

Daisy: You watch too many cop shows, Muriel.

“After looking at her hard, when the rain smoothed down her hair, I realized that The girl looked like someone Daisy knew, maybe even a little like the person Daisy was when she first moved here, when we first met. And I heard her say the strangest thing, 'I know what you are thinking, but I’m a gift to you from George. I’m your muse of inspiration. He said you always wanted to paint…well, I’m here to help you with that.' That certainly got my attention. After all, like I said, things like that just don't happen here.

Daisy: No offense, but if she had said that, I would have kicked her out! It makes for a good story, but that’s not how it happened.

But…look, I’m writing a sort of parable here, about following your inspirations, about meeting your muse.

Jenny: I always thought Muses we're small and golden-like fairies, or something. And they fly.

I think that's Tinkerbell. Anyway, I really like the idea of you meeting your muse, but if you feel that strongly about it...

Daisy: Look, it depends on what you mean by muse, I suppose. She’s just George’s cousin’s daughter Melissa, a sweet girl going to college in town, and she wanted to spend some time and talk about George. She mentioned her art classes, and I mentioned my art interest, and next thing you know, we’re drawing together everyday.It helps get my mind off of things. I could paint the things we saw together, me and George. The things we lived through. The talks we had. Only in pictures, like the photo album, not words.

That’s nice, but not very dramatic. It's not a story.

Daisy: Sometimes things don’t look so pretty in words, but they make all the difference. Look, you want to tell the story of inspiration? Inspiration is like being one of those whales, the ones with the mouths like carwashes, they just take everything in, and they find some sort of nutrition from it. Inspiration is having a big open mouth, like my friends here.

Muriel: Hrumph! Strange coming from you, Miss Daisy, considering how you’ve been blabbing since you got here!

I think I’ve lost total control of this story. But, I’m curious. How does it end?

Daisy: End? My dear, you do have a lot to learn, no offense. Real life doesn’t just end until you are dead, bless and keep my poor George’s heart. But thanks to Melissa, I am exhibiting a bunch of my work downtown.

Jenny: Really? Ooh, that's so exciting! You know, I always knew you'd end up doing something like this. A real-creative type, that's you.

Muriel: We should all go see them, make a day of it…and Daisy, maybe you can teach us how to sketch? I’ve always been curious, and you’ve always had such a flair…

Ladies? Hello? We're not done here! Hello?

Well, have fun downtown, then.


Melissa, is that you?

Melissa: You were right. I am her Muse. I just needed a good cover story. So, thanks for being so quick on your feet!

No, no, thank YOU for the inspiration.

For more inspiration from the Muse, go here.


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Friday, March 16, 2007

A post in Thank Yous

Hee, my Oscar speech!

Thanks to Laini, who gave me a new title for the very first draft of any piece (instead of ‘shitty first draft’ which was giving my Muse an inferiority complex). Henceforth, it shall be known as the Exploratory First Draft (yes, those ARE trumpet blares in the distance).

Thanks to Megg and Michelle, who brought The Red Book to my attention. My spiritual life has been sick, y’all. It’s been a quiet ache, worrisome, like a tooth beginning to rot away. I’ve always been a religious person; it was one of the most important things in my life. I used to say that being Catholic was more important to me than being Latina, being a woman, being a PERSON.

Until it wasn’t, anymore. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, ranging from the increasingly fundamentalist, hardline Christianity my sister Punkish had grown to favor, to the fact that the priest who married TEG and I chose to focus on marriage as “pain and suffering” because he disapproved of our interfaith marriage. But, for whatever reason, the lack is real and the void is cold.

I’ve made some half-hearted attempts to find the wellspring of my religious feeling again, but nothing really helped. But something in the voice in this book, the exuberance, the experimental curiosity and joy, spoke to me. And it lit a small pilot light of tentative exploration—and it caused me to acknowledge that part of my hesitation was that my spirituality seemed to be leading me in unexpected, unsanctioned directions—towards Hinduism and Buddhism. My family already thinks that I have “lost myself” within my genuine adoration of all things Indian; what would they say to that? And yes, I am ashamed to admit that I’ve been guarded with my own intuition, because of fear of what my parents would think. Why can’t I finally just grow up and separate a little? Probably a topic for another post.

Thank you to the Minneapolis Public Library, for giving me the access to The Red Book, and all of the (many, many) other books I’ve checked out. I always feel like I’m gorging in chocolate and pleasure when I am there.

Thank you to my Muse, for helping me stay (relatively) calm even while struggling with a main character’s voice which had suddenly, mysteriously, gone flat and dead like a dropped call. Eventually, I’ve gone back to her genesis and found the core that turns her into a three dimensional person, instead of a collection of unrelated personality tics.

Thank you to the Wonder Pets!, for distracting Madam while I stand at the counter, hurriedly scribbling out my dreams and morning pages. Teamwork, indeed.

Thank you to TEG (who had a birthday this week—another post I was blocked on. Hmmm)—for putting the computer down and saying “I want to talk to YOU. What’s going on?” Talking has always been the magnetic connection between us, and I think always will be. The man gives good conversation.

And thank you to all of YOU, who post your struggles and triumphs, scribbles and poems and self-portraits, and who help make my blank page a little less, well, blank.


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Monday, March 12, 2007

Visual DNA and Finding Water Check in, week 3

OK, is this not fun? I got it here, and stole the idea shamelessly from here.

What a difference a few days of spring like softness and sunshine can make! That’s one of the lessons I need to learn again and again—that sometimes my emotions can spiral so completely out of control that it seems that NOTHING simple can bring me back into any sort of joy. In fact, it’s almost offensive to suggest that such strum und drang can be altered by a little outing, a little free time. And yet…I turn my back on the simple pleasures at my peril, as I proved to myself last week.

TEG gave me a few blessed hours to myself on Saturday, and I took full advantage of an artist’s date, with Jessie! We went out for Indian buffet, chatted, commiserated and dreamed. We did Finding Water homework together. And I even got a book present out of it!

And afterward, I took the Madam out for a long walk in the late afternoon sunshine, and gave us both a good hour of book browsing (and oh, I went a little crazy with the book buying, today and Saturday, but I’ve decided it’s a celebration of Spring).

I found this chapter a little difficult, honestly, because I have been feeling so low as far as support. I have not had the time to put into our lovely blog community, and as such, I feel very disconnected. TEG is working all of the time (and how often do I say that? But it’s always true). But…I am learning to appreciate the sources of support I do have, some who have always been there and some who I am just discovering. And I am learning that it’s fine for my main support right now to come from my beloved books. I asked the question, “what makes me feel important to myself?” and right now, the answer is my compulsive reading. And I am learning to stop berating myself about that, especially when the reading provides me so many unexpected insights.

One thing I learned this week, both from my pages and my reading, is to give myself a BREAK. I don’t always want to write every day, and even though I know that perhaps I SHOULD, in order to establish consistency…I just can’t right now. Madam is still very young and I am tired. And that’s fine. There’s a fear that if I don’t hold onto my writer’s self with both hands, I’ll lose her forever in this enveloping mother-self. But this week, something shifted and I realized that I was strangling her. I was making writing another MUST in a life full of MUSTS. I want to be in love with my writing, and right now, that means not writing every day.

I am making a solemn vow, here, to be more involved with this Finding Water project for the rest of the ride. Not because I MUST, but because I want to do it.

Oh, and I did my pages everyday, but that’s a given for me now.

Onto week four!


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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sunday Scribblings--Turtles, Books, Dreams--a fairy story

Last night, a woman fell asleep after weeping with despair. A passing raven heard her sighs and was moved as he was never before. After a quick flight around the towers of the city to clear his head, he grumped back to the other ravens and the Great Spirit of the Forest. They agreed with him, so he returned to the woman’s window and sang a dream to her.

And this is what she dreamt.

A young girl sat weeping in a castle room with a spire reaching to the tops of the sky. The walls were lined with bookshelves groaning with books of all shapes and sizes and topics and kinds. Books to tantalize even the most inveterate book loather. And our young girl was anything but. On the contrary, she loved them heart full to bursting. But...the books did not love her back. She tried everything to honor them—created altars to their majesty and wisdom, slept with them under her pillow, danced with them in the sunlit morning, even snuck up on them. But, it could not be helped. Every time she opened one of the books, she read the first sentence, eyes thirsty and greedy, and...that’s all she could read. The words would begin to jumble up, the letters would scatter like raindrops spattering on a windshield. And the book’s wonderful contents would remain forever just out of her reach.

She tried to console herself, say that it was obviously meant to be this way, for her. That she was doomed to be a collector of first sentences, read over and over, and nothing more. She told herself to be contented with this, reminded herself that at least she had her health, her pet cat and pet turtle. But something rankled, something greedy and lava-hot inside of her, and one day she could take no more.

So the young girl called upon her Kitty (her favorite pet) to investigate. Late one night, after the young girl had gone to bed and dreams, Kitty crept closer to the books and opened one with a poke of her paws. Soon enough, the words and letters began their crazy chaotic dance. Kitty was quite enchanted as she watched the alphabetic ballet, and forgot all about the young girl’s desires.

The following morning Kitty confessed, sheepish, that she was no nearer to solving the mystery.

Our young girl was vexed and despairing.

“I can try.” Said Turtle. But Turtle was so slow, could the young girl wait that long to feed her literary hunger?

“You’ll be older either way.” Replied Turtle complacently. “Time does carry on so.”

Well, our young girl couldn’t argue with THAT, so that very night, Turtle crawled to the edge of the room and hunkered down with a half dozen open books. And of course, soon the words swirled and danced and swooped. But Turtle only watched. The movements grew frantic. Turtle watched. The movements grew slower, and slower, and slower. And Turtle watched.

And finally the words stopped.

And they weren’t words at all.

“So, you’ve found us out.” A thousand sad little voices chorused. “What will you do now?”

For the dancing words were actually little ants, black ants who chose to celebrate on the page every day, and to have a little fun at the young girl’s expense.

The Turtle turned away from them, satisfied, and slowly crawled back to her rock.

Our young girl woke up feeling hopeful, like something had shifted in the night. She asked Turtle, “So, so, so....? What is it?”

Turtle said, “I know the way to your heart’s desire now.”

“Yes, yes...?”

“You need to drop the next book you want to read on the floor.”

The young girl was horrified. “Drop it? On the floor?! I love could I treat them thus?”

But all Turtle said was “Drop the story.”

And so our young girl picked up the nearest book, the book she most longed to read, Life and Death and Love and Hate and War: Being the first in the Larry Lottery Series. She ran tentative fingers over the glossy spine, and was still, until she could no longer contain her longing.

The book fell fast and hard from her hands.

The ants scattered with a thin cry, knowing that the young girl finally meant business.

And our girl fell onto the book with a shriek of happiness, of desire fulfilled. Somehow, she managed to gasp out a “thank you” to her trusty Turtle, who nodded with a slow smile.

Forevermore after that, she read and read to her hearts’ joy. Sometimes, she even let the ants do their mischievous dance on the page. Knowing that it never lasts forever made all the difference.

The woman awoke with a start to the sound of a raven’s beak rapping at her window, awoke with a smile.

She knew now just what she needed to do.
To dream new and different dreams, go here. My image is by D.P. Lathrop and was found here.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Surprise! I'm a martyr!

There are a lot of voices, powerful voices, telling me what a mother is, and how a mother should behave. These range from my own mother telling me how important it is to take care of my physical appearance above all and teaching Madam to obey me, to my mother in law sighing about how motherhood means that you cease to matter, that all of your energy should go to your children, and, basically, that motherhood is pain and suffering, with an occasional shout out to joy or satisfaction. Motherhood is a path of faceless servitude to your children and husband (hey, how did HE sneak in there?).

I thought that I had managed to shut out these voices, both of them, as neither of them really expressed the experience I wanted to have through motherhood, and the relationship I wanted to have to Madam.

Well, see the subject line.

My Shadow has paid me a visit this week, and she’s certainly made herself comfortable. She’s cast a gray pall over everything, and only my worst, most cringe inducing traits are magnetically highlighted. Envy (truly my Waterloo), shame, embarrassment, anger, resentment, bitterness, self-loathing, elitism, judgment. I’ve spent most of this week trying to put on a happy face, trying to put a bow on the pile of crap, even while I snarl at TEG for saying something innocuous and shout at Madam for the crime of waking up an hour early.

But, I reasoned with myself in those moments when I tried to make myself feel better through sheer force of will, at least I am NO martyr.

Well, see the subject line. Somewhere along the motherhood way, I’ve taken a serious detour and am well down the dreaded M path, deeper and deeper into the icky, sticky Shadowlands.

I’ve somehow convinced myself that, because I am a stay at home mother, that I shouldn’t need any help. TEG is earning, ergo, everything in the house should run in accordance to his needs and his schedule. And his free time should be HIS free time. Thus, I put off and put off what I need to do for me, if I can’t manage to do them while toting Madam around (you should see my hair. On second thought, no, you shouldn’t). I should be working harder to keep the house running smoothly, keep the Toddler quiet, keep dinner on the table. And if I slack, or if I use a shortcut, then I am not holding myself up to a high enough standard. And why should I need a shortcut, anyway? I am just a stay at home mother.

And whatever scheduling isn’t for TEG’s convenience, is for the Madam. Her needs come first (well, obviously). She’s a little too young for patience.

People warned me. They kept telling me to carve out more me time. My sister, Punkish Middle, took this to an extreme (as she did most things)—she would enlist us for an hour of babysitting and take four. So, I thought that was just another yuppie selfish mom cliché, to be honest. I’m not working. Isn’t it ALL 'me time'?

See, the thing about clichés is that they always exist for a reason.

I know part of this is trying to prove that I am pulling my own weight in our family. I know a BIG part of this is rebelling against my own mother, and her rigid framework of femininity, complete with a full face of makeup and set hair at 9am.

But, something interesting has happened this week. I sat down and gathered all of my snipes and bitterness and resentment and anger around me and said, OK, I surrender. what’s REALLY wrong here?

And what’s REALLY wrong is that I don’t feel important, to anyone, least of all to myself. All of this time, I was able to find one or the other fix to feed that need, Madam’s dependence, this blog, friendships. But one by one, all of these have proven unreliable. Nothing satisfies me for long. Not your very sweet comments on my writing, not Madam’s affection, not even my friends. All I can see is lack (ironic, since my word for the year is abundance)—the readers I DON’T have, the affection I’m NOT getting, the friends I can’t make or seem to keep. I’ve become a hungry ghost, curled like a fist inside, unable to feel gratitude or pleasure. Unable to look past my own screaming desires and wants. Self-obsession of the worst order.

I hate being this way. I don’t even want to be around me right now.

After a good, self-pitying rant in my journal, I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I’ve been playacting at this motherhood thing, pretending to sacrifice myself in the hopes that some Great Scorekeeper in the Sky would see me and give me rewards and karmic points, and then would send someone to rescue me on a white steed. Isn’t that what happens in all the best fairy tales?

Alas, I don’t think anyone is coming to rescue me. I think I need to ask for help, and to start acknowledging that motherhood hasn’t cured me of the need to feel like I MATTER and am important, if only to me. I can’t keep doing it this way, deferring my own gratification endlessly.

I want TEG to see and offer to help, I want friends to materialize from the woodwork and stretch out a hand. But that’s putting it on them, another version of the rescuer on the white steed.

What I really want is to learn how to be on my own side.

So, mothers, non-mothers, ANYONE…what makes YOU feel important? And how do you find a way to keep that sacred in your life, even in the whirl of duties and work?


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