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.”

meds & bed impede the (writing) head

surgical

The rantress sometimes thinks she can do more than she can. The truth is that she’s usually realistic about what she can and does accomplish.

But having surgery to remove the three aliens living in her breast for the last 5.5 years [see happy anniversary, you tumors you!], those aliens who have taught her many necessary, beautiful, twisted, traumatic, tender, ancient, skin scorching things—about herself and about others, well, in their departure they have left three last lessons for her:

1. How to let others do for her in ways she would normally have resisted: cooking meals, cleaning the house, driving her when she couldn’t use her arm, bathing her, watering her gardens, feeding her cats, fish and chickens. And some events she never thought: allowing the quasi-spouse to floss her teeth. Stop there.

2. That she cannot write to her satisfaction any cohesive, fun, ranty sentences with sass and music in the lines while on meds. Never fear, the list of coming observations is growing daily; scrutiny of our culture doesn’t end, Hydros or not.

3. Others are not who they believe themselves to be. Delusion can and does run the day, week, years. Funny how close the words “run” and “ruin” are.

The rantress will be back in real writing action soon.

practice makes practice; life is only perfect in practice

guitar fingers

When I practice my guitar, to get a song down or a smooth finger-picking riff, I have to run through it about a thousand times. I wish I could say I’m exaggerating but I don’t think so. Maybe I’m slower than the average, maybe not. I wouldn’t know.

I do know that rehearsing can carry an air of boring at times. But then I remember that just like writing practice, it’s incubation. Staring at the ceiling/sky looks like laziness but that’s gestation, too. That’s where I pluck poems or unearth song snippets or capture phrases for rant-ology! Or where those things discover me because if I’m not focused and willing to just show up, they can’t find me.

Incubation can be tedious to the mind and given our cultural child training of dividing work from play and calling one a chore and the other fun, labeling one good and one bad can turn practice to doldrums. But practice is life; there’s no real division but in the head.

Ask my broody hens who sit 23.9/7 on their eggs for 21 days. Talk about devotion and sustained intention. If they weren’t willing, if they got “bored,” there’d be no chicks. What fabulous girls they are; I believe they meditate and deep think during this time.

If I don’t pick up my guitar two or three times a day, there’d be no music either. I don’t have to pick and strum for 4o minutes each time; I just have to play. Whenever.

Notice the word: play. Yes, the brain’s dictator mutates play into: nose to the grindstone, humdrum, monotony, tyrannical lists and iron-fisted one-step, two-step, three-step, don’t look out the window or take any breaks. And then there’s the dreaded music theory before music actuality.

Play the music and the theory will come. Trust me, you’ll want to know.

I also like to stop on a good note. Literally. When I’ve gotten the phrasing right, when the riff was played through without a mistake or I’ve written a fabulously structured sentence, I cease. I’m left with the music-worm/poem-worm traipsing “correctly” in my head as I weed & water & cook & sing & read. When I go back to it, I’m jazzed.

The Zen folks call their work practice; us yogis do as well. All of life is a practice. We’ll never get it perfect because life isn’t flawless. That’s a truly boring unrealistic patriarchal myth and misery comes from pursuing what doesn’t exist.

So, “practice” the hard stuff in life first—just for a little bit—then move to the more polished exercises and before you know it what was difficult gets easier. Keep adding on merry-making challenges (no matter how complex) to keep the river flowing. Close on a spirit-filled, soul-ful satisfied note. Cultivate fun in all its forms, be it “work” or “play.”

These endorphins are free; clock in and claim them.

mamma-land or lack thereof

me

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m not big on holidays. That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge them; it means I don’t want others to feel obligated to participate on any set day. As my daughter Tara says, “I love you all the days, Mamma.” Yes she does, and she shows it, too.

My mamma has been dead for 17 years. I’m an orphan and regardless of how many years I acquire on my life journey—many many moons now—I miss my mamma’s living presence. Especially momentous happenings, “positive or negative”: my first published article, first essay, when I placed poems into magazines she would have read. Received my MFA. When I published Decomposition. Rant-ology!

She missed Tara’s wedding, her transformation into a fabulous, bright, kind woman (when last seen by Liliana, Tara was a tortured teen, and Dario, the son-eth, was eight), Dario’s smooth teen years, his college graduation, a creative talent in visual and musical arts, the birth of Lucas, her great-grand-baby, who just turned two.

I also miss her when my soul suffers. The poet in me, the writer—it’s what she could always understand even if she didn’t get my neuro-diversity. I was her only daughter and our skirmishes were sometimes textbook; our love, Italian epic.

The last few years of her life, my mamma and I would talk on the phone every Sunday. I lived in Washington state and she in Alabama. The night before she died, this is what I’d put into my journal:

17 November 1996  Sunday evening

I talked to my mother tonight. She’s not doing well. She’d like to die as she feels she has nothing left to do but suffer. She doesn’t understand why she must still be here. I cry with her and feel empathy yet feel helpless to soothe her in any way…The end of our conversation was telling for us both. I said to her that we might be in a better place next week. She said, “I hope I won’t be here next week.” I assured her that it would be fine with me if she is not, and that I will pray for that for her.

The next evening as I’m getting ready for my server shift, Kelly comes up having answered the phone and tells me that my mamma has died of a heart attack; I didn’t go to work. That evening’s journal entry:

18 November 1996  Monday evening

…I say, “Oh that must be what’s wrong with me.” I’d been acting unkindly all day. I was still moved by the conversation with her the night before. Kelly and I went out for Thai food because I wanted to get out of the house. Upon returning, I opened the door and I could smell my mother. I said to Kelly, “Do you smell that?” He said, “Yes, it smells like my grandmother’s house.” “No,” I said, “that’s my mother’s smell. I guess she was here.”

My sweet mother is dead…I will have to be my own mamma now. Can I do this?…

I did and I could. Mothering my own kids helped heal the “hole” of her. But my heart is never completely whole without her.

Happy Mamma’s Day, Mamma.

hell is still other people

You know how sometimes life feels unwieldy & “obese” because other people exist? Nyuck, Nyuck.

No, seriously.

Maybe I’m getting old, but this way that others have of deciding things about “you” or deciding what you meant and then hugging those hurts to their chest like a favored stuffed animal is turning me into an even deeper misanthrope than Sartre was said to be. But then, who said that? Did they just surmise it to be true? Writing down his observations of the human condition and philosophizing them didn’t necessarily make him a hater.

We all have our stories—and so what? The trouble comes when you don’t run the story by the people you’ve made up those narratives about, you believe they’re true, and then life becomes toilsome for the protagonist in your invented fiction. This bulls@#t creates a lot of gratuitous drama.

I’m of Italian descent; drama is my middle name. I love opera and plays, emotions and songs, poetry and art, and stories. But I don’t like unnecessary childish drama unless someone is an actual child/teenager. They get to have that; they’re children.

I’m not immune from the story-making machine. I recently put together pieces concerning a curmudgeonly and not very technologically interactive friend. I spent three weeks revising it, yet wondered if my inner tale had any actuality. So I sent him an email elucidating the specifics of my story using muscular verbs and shiny details. To my relief, it wasn’t true, and I quote, “Well, aren’t we a bit sensitive.”

Key difference here? I ran it by him before it imprinted itself to my skull as TRUTH. And—because I’m not attached to my story merely because I created it—I let it go. Maybe it’s easier for me to release it because of all the practice I get being a writer, I don’t know. I tell my students (Hello y’all!) to let their writing flow through them to the page, but be ready to cut, slash and kill “their babies” since they should be in service to their work, not applaud themselves as “writer.”

Whatever you invent, you’re responsible for the larger veracity, how it fits into the whole community not only your brain. Just because you think donuts are food doesn’t mean I do; both are “true.” Obama is not a socialist or secret Muslim no matter how many times a tea-partier says it. The conclusions you manufacture about my intentions doesn’t make them accurate in real life. It does mean there’s a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up but that won’t happen in the solitary vacuum of your head.

Stop being afraid of external conflict and say what you think, ask clarifying questions. That’s the respectful, adult thing to do. The only realm where differences will be figured out is in the open air giving both individuals a chance to discuss it and find a whole, round, full “truth” that works for more than just one.