lie in the boat; look at the stars

de-kooning-studio

Last spring, after metaphorically spending some years building a safe enough boat, I set off from the familiar country of a 21.5 year relationship to destinations unknown. I just knew this land was no longer something I wanted, nor was it particularly good for me.

A year before, I’d begun examining all my relationships—family, friends, animals, plants, house—discerning what still worked and what did not. Every being gets to be who/what they are, I just don’t want to be around them much if I deem their actions/words demoralizing, unsafe, not inspiring or supporting, unkind, or just not ‘beautiful’ in all the ways that term manifests in my life: art, language, gentleness, food, joy, growth, sensuousness.

The thing about the unknown is that it’s unknown. Our culture is one that’s not fond of change. It craves novelty, but change not so much. The “leap of faith” that Kierkegaard wrote about is one that I experience each time I participate in any creative process, so it’s not unfamiliar to me. But just like lifting weights or certain asanas, it never really gets easier. A blank page is a blank page is a blank page. Trusting something ‘higher’ than myself—letting go—is what’s required. I must push off from my comfortable habitual shore.

Re-creating one’s life is a larger version of an artistic leap. It can be fearful, angst generating, thrilling—much like any other creative process—but your actual existence is on the line. Teenagers and burgeoning adults do this more often than age 27+. Most don’t choose to re-fashion themselves unless they believe they have to, and then it can feel so terrifying that they’ll fill that rushing hole of panic with whatever will stop it. Peccato, as it’ll just circle you back to a similar shoreline: same shit, different acreage.

This time, I choose to stay in the boat, to allow the space for my inherited injuries to heal. To be with instead of trying to fix the patterns, the pain, the sorrow, the grief of ancient stuff I’ve carried with me into every alliance. Those wounds didn’t comprise the bulk of of my relationships, by any means, but an infection in your toe affects the whole body.

Like anyone else, I don’t want to sit on this hot-seat of suffering. I don’t want to face what I once felt was inescapable. When we’re children, we’re vulnerable, dependent and needy. It’s the nature of childhood to be so; we must survive, and we do. Some of the ways we do is to place those impossible parts into exile. Later, we go to therapists/mystics/shamans to try to remember and recover these pieces in order to integrate them. There’s no way to become whole without embracing your banished pieces. And what I call suffering didn’t have to manifest only as physical horror. A sensitive soul is just that. A longtime friend calls me an “indicator species.”

Back to my symbolic boat. Simplistically, half of me gets weary of the mess, despair and sorrow. She wants to fall overboard into a new relationship, ‘fun,’ drink, drugs, even death. The other side says, “Give me those oars! I’ll find us dry land! TODAY! We’ll do more yoga, play guitar, write! I’ll save you!” That half is a douche-y chin-upper [see: chin up my ass], the ‘tell’ being her exclamation points!! These polarized, unrealistic sides are ‘valid’ and they both mean well, but neither is effective.

The first time I pushed off in a hand-built boat some 23-ish years ago, I held out for some months but jumped ship too early into a new romance, even with my mantra being: I want to heal more than I want to stop the pain. I was too young to realize I’d be jumping with an invisible backpack of ache that I’d just have to reopen and confront later.

Now my mantra is: Your job is to lie in the boat and look at the stars. Lie in the boat; look at the stars. Stay in the boat, dear one; look at the stars.

It’s paid off. Some stars are starting to shine for me—all of me—twinkling auspiciously of an untried regeneration. I suspect a powerful beach isn’t too far off. After all, my name means reborn.

 

~photo of Willem de Kooning’s studio. He once said something like: If I paint what I know, I’m bored. If I paint what you know, you’re bored. So I paint what I don’t know.

 

f@#k the bucket

bucketlist2

The marketing department of planet earth spends outrageous amounts of time and exorbitant monies directing our desires in hopes that we’ll buy or do whatever they’re selling, earning further money only to shell it out again to persuade us to get something else where they gain even more $$, forever and ever, Amen.

Thereby, a common occurrence in my therapist chair is that many people don’t know what they truly want. If they’re teenagers or emerging adults, that makes sense—due to developmental phases, and, simplistically, to pervasive parenting styles that dismiss kids’ feelings instead of helping them to organize their emotions effectively. Ultimately, we erase who we are.

The tragedy is that many/most adults operate from what they don’t want—usually past pain—and subconsciously spend their life ‘avoiding.’ Default living is—unquestionably—sad.

To counteract this, certain souls design “bucket lists,” activities to do or objects to acquire before they die. But are those lists actually what they want, or what they’ve repetitively been told they want? Russell Brand in “Messiah Complex,” warned, “Choose your heroes carefully or the culture will choose them for you.” Damn right.

The problem I’ve found with people who write bucket lists is that they approach life from the head—not the heart—equipped with an agenda, a checklist of achievements instead of an unrehearsed, yet inspired, evolution of deep living. Meaning, one moves from the inside out, following one’s true natural rhythms of imagination and eagerness.

In making art or writing, I may start with a ‘plan’ of sorts but the poem or piece rarely follows it. Often the spark that set it going gets edited out. All art moves organically, or it wouldn’t be art. See: is this art? who’s an artist? for the rant-ress’ take on that issue.

So, how do we know if we’ve been culturally indoctrinated—because fads come and go even if they seem authentic at the time—or if what we feel we’d want is genuinely ours? Contemplating these questions might help clarify:

  • I would do this experience even if I couldn’t tell anyone or no one saw/read/heard about it.
  • I’d choose/buy this even if everyone I know thought it was foolish or strange.
  • I wouldn’t feel superior to anyone if I accomplished/acquired it, or inferior if others did and I hadn’t.
  • If I never publish that novel, hike the Overland Track in Tasmania or produce an album, but enjoy the process of practice/training, would that suffice?

In the land of high expectations, disappointment and regret lurk around the next bend. Second-guessing, insecurity and greed is the head’s static frequency. One-upping for the epic, the extreme or the remote, spoils spontaneity and joy, dangerously disrupting the spirit. In fairy-tales, the princess who’s fake-friendly to the frog for her magic desires has very different energy than the princess who’s convivial for kindness’ sake. So, please be kind; stop comparisons! They never feel right even when you’re ‘on top.’

Check our culture’s paradigm at your heart’s door. Honor your soft-bellied Self.

For a refreshing antidote to bucket lists, see: 30 Things to Do Before You Die

jon stewart should be canned and you should leave your spouse…not

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cultural zeitgeist (particularly the USA) is now commonly about leaving. You enjoy something, love someone, are comfortable where you live, have a satisfying job, then it’s about time to abandon it and pioneer! Should you decide to remain in that city, that relationship or don that favored, shabby sweater, well, then you’re just not hip, cool, styling or groovy. Novelty has been elevated to the celestial.

A twisted view of this phenom was written by Lauren Martin here. She believes that if you don’t live in five different places in your life then you’re “settling.” For what? Unclear. Appears Martin has the attention span of an ADHA toddler except she also feels that favorite foods lose their edge!?!? No toddler would ever agree. Tell my Tuscan family—or any ethic group—who commonly ingest their exquisite cookery that it’s “stale.” Just because the USA doesn’t have a genuine cuisine that stands the winds of trendiness, doesn’t mean others should ditch their delicious dishes.

I shouldn’t be surprised—but I am—as most United States-ians live “all or nothing” lives. Whenever science proclaims a new health diet, food, exercise, disease or disorder “it” becomes Trendy. See wheat, wheat eat your wheat: foods, fads, allergies for my (March 2013) take on our modern faux-food-fad: wicked gluten. The New Yorker recently wrote a piece interpreting this mania.

Authentic living resides in the middle, not the extremes, cliché or not. Excessive change creates chaos; trivial challenge equals boredom. You don’t have to “spice up” your sex life, swap cities, eschew favorite foods or jilt your beloved to find inspiration. Exciting “puzzles” don’t have to emerge from the outside, nor should they. I’ve experienced chills of fear, hits of bliss both reading and writing. I can be high for days while “solving” something I’m working on, and I often excessively think about my art “dilemma,” similarly to being captivated by a new love.

Being a writer and an artist, I can tell you that when I’m “in the zone,” that’s the bona fide challenge I need and desire. I’m traversing the unknown, experiencing adventure, discovering! It’s flirty & fun, inspiration & bliss, terror & toil. No need to scale mountains, extreme trek or seduce a new paramour to unearth that endorphin hit. I divine it within, at home. Shocking, I know!

This doesn’t mean I haven’t lived in (more than) five places, odyssey-ed (a lot) or made other external changes. I have, but they weren’t forced from the head. Another writer once described his marriage as a “safe harbor” that afforded him the security to journey.

Jon Stewart has been heading The Daily Show since 1999. Recently Terry Gross asked him how he’d feel about undertaking something else, as Stephen Colbert is doing. The anguished ambiguity of Stewart’s answer revealed (to me) how much pressure the “collective unconscious” our culture is dispensing. Johnny Carson never had to deal with this crap in his three decades on The Tonight Show. The Daily Show is absolutely necessary to our country’s sanity, still poignant, and winning awards; why should it stop?? Because it’s not NEW??

If something/someone no longer has fine, inspiring energy, you’ll know it. You never have to decide it. Trust your guts, not your head. Breathe deep, encircle yourself with honest emotions, not random “media wisdom” and just live.

p.s. Encourage Jon Stewart to continue as USA’s court jester. He seems indispensable to revealing the “truth.”

is this art? who’s an artist?

modern-art

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it” ~Vonnegut

What makes an artist? Maybe the ability to deep listen to the subconscious/collective unconsciousness of the zeitgeist to reveal something fresh. By my definition, art pushes the envelope of the unseen to illuminate, soothe, disturb, delight.

Not all artists (by this I mean writers, songwriters, filmmakers, etc.) are doing this. Many of us know who is and who isn’t, except everyone has different ‘levels of vision.’ Hence: Art is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe. But there’s quite a bit of narcissistic crap passing as art, particularly in film and most know it when we see it. [see: wolves & liars & cons, so what?]

A few craft-people do create art, but most don’t. Most go for safe. Nothing wrong with safe; it sells. And it’s art-like. But I think the idea for what they make is just that, an idea. From the head. I think artists hear/see something beyond anything the head can conjure. This opens up the can of worms whereby the more you do something the more layers you see and explore. If you do safe, you usually don’t, see more, that is. I wish we had a distinctive word—that’s not derogatory—for ‘prudent’ art, one definitely not defined by the elitist art world or academia, those experts at marginalizing.

Moving on: there are those who must have the perfect desk, computer, pen to begin writing or the ideal studio space to paint. Every duck in an uptight row. They collect tools but rarely use them. Are they artists?

The trick is to be in the middle:

  1. Hold true to your vibratory vision. When it’s ‘right,’ you’ll know. There are no short cuts. No artist does this. Easy is the refuge of fools.
  2. Eschew perfectionism, believing those ‘if only’ critical voices: if only I did X, acquired Y, explored Z…I’d do it then. Unfortunately the bar gets pushed farther and farther out by unrealistic ‘head lies.’
  3. Accept ‘good enough.’ This doesn’t mean settle. As William Stafford says: Lower your standards. He wrote a poem a day, feeling blessed if he got 12 good poems a year. By doing. That’s how you get better and thwart the unfeasible, unreasonable voices within.

My teacher once noted that we only know the level we’re on and the ones we’ve already done. Do whatever level of ‘art’ calls you. Have faith that you’ll be able to tune in deeper and deeper as you immerse yourself in listening, doing, listening, doing, listening…

 

It won’t be easy, may even be painful but just keep on.

you’re garbage!

I was sadly told by a repair man examining my dryer that it would be better for me to throw it away since parts & labor would cost more than buying a new one.

Just the oft used phrase, “Throw it away,” flaunts the naive delusion or willful blindness in our culture about where trash “goes,” and it also confirms the greed of manufacturers.

There is no AWAY, people!

Even in Space: NASA estimates that there’re 500,000+ pieces of man-made trash stubbornly orbiting the earth at speeds of around 17,500 miles per hour.

Here on earth, Ed Hume (Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash) reveals the relationship people in the States have with their garbage:

  • 102 tons per person in their lifetime, 7.1 pounds per person per day! (the Japanese generate 2.5 pounds). Twice as much trash as in 1960.
  • The biggest category of U.S. garbage, 30+%, is insta-trash: packaging/containers!
  • Decomposing creates more greenhouse gases than burning it would release.
  • Scrap metal and paper is our top export abroad, most of it to China.
  • The average American community spends more on waste management than fire protection, libraries, parks & rec and textbooks!

This says a lot about this country’s facile thinking, flimsy dot-to-dot engagement in sustainable living and manifest selfishness.

The European model: manufacturers pay for packaging and explore reyclability vs. disposibility but in the U.S., we—the consumers and taxpayers—pay instead. We bury 69%! of our waste in landfills where Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Sweden have cut landfilling below 4% all the while generating energy, heat and new products out of the same materials (estimated to be worth $20 billion) that we throw “away” creating catastrophes like the Pacific Garbage Patch which is a chowder of plankton-sized plastic floating in the sea. Many fish eat these particles mistaking them for food! This is just one of five of these gyres/vortexs drifting in our oceans! All combined, they encompass 40% of the global ocean surface! which is more territory than all the dry land combined!!!

I can’t put enough exclamations points in this post and—as a writer—I’m seriously opposed to them.

Here’s one tragically beautiful thing that’s come from all this waste: the moving, revealing, multi-award winning documentary, Wasteland, (directed by Lucy Walker). This film chronicles contemporary artist, Vik Muniz, as he works with the trash pickers of Jardim Gramacho—the world’s largest landfill—on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro making works of art from garbage to their art opening in New York. “An uplifting feature documentary highlighting the transformative power of art and the beauty of the human spirit.” I’ll say!

I can’t see much hope on the horizon for some sort of epiphany of concern and/or ethics from the big-headed U.S. who arrogantly spawns the most “litter” worldwide, so much so that we ship it around the world where less entitled humans pick through our throwaways.

Why is it that other countries can use critical thinking skills to visualize both sides of production to reduce generating excess rubbish, yet we won’t?

wanting for want or how to find your lost self

IMG_0389

Sometimes I think of all the things I could’ve been, could’ve chosen but didn’t. Not with regretful longing but with a curiosity of what might have been if I hadn’t heard my own voice louder than society’s blitz.

Such as the night I was studying with a college mate while she bar-tended and I inadvertently met the father of my children. Or the time I nervously wrote an email to someone I’d met just once but intuitively felt compelled to know better; he’s now one of my best friends. What if I’d been too timid to email or been overly insular with that college mate?

Many adults don’t actually choose thingsat least not from the heart—because they can’t hear their Selves. They live by default, going with what’s nearest or easiest instead of from existing eagerness and, regrettably, they teach their kids the same strategy.

With my clients, the most common dilemma—besides loneliness/emptiness, which is directly tied to what I’m discussing—is that they don’t know what they really want.

It is difficult to differentiate since most aren’t raised to come from the inside out but from the outside in, becoming prey to recurrent worlds of advertising, movies, TV, etc. bombarding them with ‘wants.’ The real truth is that inauthentic wants—even if they’re great for others—will never fill that hole.

I also repeatedly encounter a cellular fear-memory of eschewing wants for dread of rejection, ridicule or even abuse; they’d learned it was safer to settle. Unfortunately, settling is like breathing through one congested nostril: you get enough air to survive but it’s not sufficient to live.

Many people ‘deep-six’ who they intrinsically are before the age of two. Later they squander large amounts of money and time traversing the world in search of the perfect place to live, the ideal mate, the extreme experience, the ‘right’ career, ad nauseum, or they suffocate their spirit with diverse addictions.

Until they can’t. That’s when they show up in my chair and devote lots of energy and years peeling off life’s opaque paint trying to uncloak their original Selves.

For this reason I routinely ask these clients to go back to childhood enthusiasms as that’s where genuine wants were abandoned for approval and/or survival. Those desires have usually changed form but the sincere yearning is ‘vibrating’ nearby.

For instance, my first encounter with art, beauty and philosophical Truth was in the catholic church and I was awed. From that, I wanted to know everything. So—at age three—I decided I wanted to be god. (I dream big) My older brothers scoffed and dismissed that idea outright and, sadly, I accepted their elder “wisdom” as impossible.

Well, they were wrong. I muffled that want for two decades, but when it resurrected—guess what? I found ‘god’ within, and she’s one voice-y little hellcat who surrounds herself with animals, flowers, art, books and music and takes big, deep non-catholic breaths.

the rant-ress to publishers: want some cheese with your whine? too late, you’re already cheesy.

The publishing industry is Rasputin. Somebody’s just not feeding it enough poison. Or maybe academia keeps providing the antidote. What will it take to kill it? The art, movie and music trades have all been rebirthing, why can’t we writers get some real relief?

I have poems, mini-essays, a poetry book and a cookbook hanging around my house waiting for me to figure out what to do with them without wounding my spirit. I stopped submitting three years ago when I kept feeling sick at the thought. I did put out an anthology of mushroom poems Decomposition in April 2010 with my quasi-spouse but that’s only because the project preceded this soul sickness.

Most bookstores only carry books from publishing distributors. Many magazines won’t let me–or anyone else–review a book if it’s self-published. And yet what do publishers really do for writers anymore that I didn’t have to do by myself with Decomposition? Besides the cover* choice and layout–which I would have rather done myself–what else was given? Niente. Do writers have to compromise and settle for a “deal” with a pathetic royalty rate and a measly advance? Or go it alone and be “black-listed” from distributors and bookstores?

If you’re a poet, good luck making any money, decent sales** or getting help in marketing. Short story writers, ditto. If you happen to work in a popular genre, like crime or historical fiction, it’s slightly better. Regardless the publishing house, many editors barely f@#king read your book let alone do their job. [many kind agents now do editing tasks] Or they take the teeth out of your work. They’re flooded with manuscripts, understaffed and way overworked. Traditional publishers don’t seem that interested in quality writing anymore but they’re sure interested in sales volume. They might refuse to publish your book because it’s too controversial, doesn’t fit a category or believe it won’t sell.

The whining that goes on by these “poor” publishing houses is eerily similar to the ultra-wealthy complaining about a tax increase they’ll barely feel. Substitute any other business who does so little yet demands so much from it’s clientele—would this be seen as a sound business model? And the academic houses are the biggest bawlers. Well, sorry. Ice boxes had to give way to refrigerators; it’s past time to junk this archaic arrangement.

With indie-publishing, the author has more control over contents, design, appearance and where the book is marketed and distributed. Yes, there’s a risk that with no editors the grammar and spelling will suck or there’ll be no story there. But jeez, lots of books suck now.

To speed up this process, we need some big-time writers to ditch this sinking system and legitimize self-publishing, like Radiohead and Wilco did the in music industry. And writers, stop being so insecure that you need big daddy to validate you as an “accomplished” writer. Let’s stop coddling publishing houses—all of them—and start a revolution: do it yourself.

* I love my cover!

**Decomposition may be my publisher’s best seller; I’m still not getting anything.