Every little thing

Originally the fifth bedroom in this townhome served as a small nursery off of the master bedroom, but somewhere further along in history it was turned into a walk-in closet. Luckily, before moving in, I donated over half of my wardrobe. Instead of filling the room with more clothes and shoes, I’ve decided to store my yoga things and my zafu on my side of the closet, and bring them out here instead of in the living room as I would have done in our last home. Living with intention has started in earnest with a larger space with less objects occupying it. There is room to rest your eyes, there is room to sit on the floor and think of nothing for a while.

IMG_20140818_105355

For a long time I wrote with the hopes that every syllable might bring about a creative epiphany, or at the very least, something that could be extracted and published. This is what writers are taught that matters most. If your heart has been broken, or if you meet someone caustic or eccentric, they can be fuel for that blue fire of creation and output.

I’m ready to just sit. I have other outlets to put my writing skills to good use that fulfills me. This is a relaxation space. I hope the only thing that comes out of it is me, more aware, more mindful, more compassionate.

We don’t have a dishwasher in this place, and what’s resulted has been a lesson in mindfulness for all of us. Xander helps more with the dishes; before he would load his own but now he helps us wash, dry, and put away. Sometimes we have a line of the three of us, one washing, one drying, one putting away. Even when I’m doing dishes by myself it’s been a calming experience. The soap smells nice, the water is warm, the porcelain plates are smooth and cool to the touch. They are here. So am I. That is enough.

IMG_20140818_111513

The quote on the chalkboard is of course Bob Marley’s. We sing “Three Little Birds” every  night with Xander before he falls asleep. I hope he never grows out of this, as he grew out of clutching his little “stones” each night. For a few years he held a piece of smooth rose quartz in one hand, and another piece of jade or fluorite in the other. Before the “stones” he used to have George the monkey with him. There were actually two identical Georges. One was the main one and the other the backup, in case George #1 was lost. George #2 was called “Georgie” and he used to fuss if we tried to give him Georgie instead of George. he said he knew the difference, and he couldn’t sleep without the real George. Just a year or so ago he admitted that he himself couldn’t tell the difference between the two monkeys, he just liked having us search for the other one. The art of the bedtime stall is one of that kid’s best tricks.

Recently, I saw a news story about a man who spends his life making elaborate cairns in the Smoky Mountains. He balances huge river rocks to impossible heights and arrangements, finding balance in the space between rock, earth, air, and his hands. On Saturday I attempted a few myself, and although they’re small and a little silly, I felt a smoothing in my chest. It’s good to know that there are little things that add up to big things, and things that will stay little.

IMG_20140817_133636

Advertisements

a salon

(noun) – Salon, from the French word salon (a living room or parlor), means a conversational gathering. Usually this is a select group of intellectuals, artists and politicians who meet in the private residence of a socially influential (and often wealthy) person.

I am interested in hearing if any of my friends and readers would be interested in starting a yearly salon. I am not wealthy, or socially influential, and the salon probably wouldn’t take place in my small fifties bungalow, but I have a few ideas of how to make it work.

Are we too disconnected as a society, as connected as we are digitally? I feel blessed to “know” so many people via my writing, and I adore reading everyone’s deeply beautiful work, and viewing the stunning art that they share online. I am not too terribly involved in my city’s local art and literature scene; usually because I am too busy with family, work, and home life. But sometimes, while I might attend a gallery showing or listen to a poet read, I come and go quietly. I am introverted. I have no desire to read my words out loud in a crowded public square; I’d rather they be read (and in book form, really). I do enjoy to hear a poet or storyteller speak, though. I saw Nikki Giovanni read this weekend and she was electric. 

But. I read this big, juicy article in The Atlantic on Friday (the print version, even) about how Facebook is making us lonely. Here is the article (but really, I urge you to go buy a copy. Your eyes and your brain will thank you for reading something in print as opposed to something on a screen), and I found it to be so beautifully on-point as to how I’ve been feeling about the whole social networking business lately. Because that’s what it is, of course: a business. And we are the product. But I’m not against the whole thing; I have an account that I use for both social planning, communicating, and for networking with other writers (and artists) for both my personal writing and for the work Katie and I do for Far Away. In fact, my relationship with Katie is quite the textbook case in what is good and right about blogging and social networking. We’ve created three literary and art journals together, we’ve formed a gorgeous, honest friendship, and we’ve never met in person. I worry though that many of us have come to rely on facebook too much as a connection point. My in the flesh friends and I don’t communicate too much on facebook; we mainly use to it to say hey, let’s do something saturday okay what time okay meet you down there love you okay bye. It’s made that sort of planning easy as a breeze; all of us are mothers, with young children pulling on our shirtsleeves. We can plan without our interruptions illustrated, we can be concise without pause. For that, I am thankful for facebook.

But there are other friends, friends in town even, friends that I’ve never shaken hands with, we’ve never so much as sat down to coffee. Part of my letter-writing project (project, habit-change, life-change) is to scoop up what’s left of the way we used to connect. Already I’m feeling that old anticipation when the mailman comes; already I’m remembering the girl I used to be on long, sticky summer days, waiting for letters from boys I met at camp.

To make a long-winded diatribe just a bit longer before I slowly roll up onto a point, I would like to start a yearly small retreat for writers and artists in my circle. The cost will be nominal dependent on your travel expenses and any outings we might embark, plus any food and drink. This would not be a sort of corporate BlogHer or Blissdom that you would have to pay a fee for. Just pay for your travel, hotel, food, etc.  I’d like it to be more like a salon, taking place over a weekend. We would use the time to get acquainted in real life, to talk about our work (or not), to share the same air for a bit, to get away from the routines of our daily lives for 48 hours.

This is all very off the cuff right now, but the little mustard seed has been in my head for a while. I’m thinking later this summer before I start my fall semester and my son starts second grade, and I’m thinking Asheville, N.C.

So tell me, if I were to be serious about this, and plan this, would you be interested in attending? Would Asheville be feasible for you to drive to, or fly to? Any other suggestions for where this could shake down? I would love nothing more to meet some of the people I have come to know so well via their beautiful voices.

Here’s to a life lived in the flesh.

tidying

Biltmore Estate - Library of Congress

There’s a block in my chest, a lump in my throat, a cog in my wheel.

It could be because I ask so much of myself. Not only to be present and efficient at work and at home, but to squeeze in the odd ten minutes during downtimes to write (I am writing this at work now, at a stopping point in my paperwork).

Sometimes I feel bad that I do no other writing besides the writing on this website.  I thought it seemed so pedestrian; shouldn’t I have another dedicated time for more formal writing? Who am I fooling, thinking that this humble place could be the springboard for anything other than self-reflexive, mentally masturbatory drivel? Huh? Who do you think you are, punk?

Sorry. That was the voice inside my head again. No, not the tiny, gnome like editor who eats ham sandwiches, this was the darker one. I call her The Swallower, because she eats my muse whole with mean-tempered thoughts. She takes words out of my mouth. She is made of dirt and dust and her fingernails are black. If you don’t kill her quick, she turns into a dragon, and she blows your house down.

Luckily, it’s very easy to get rid of her. Just like clapping will revive fairies, writing kills my anti-fairy, The Swallower. The writing doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be there. She’s already retreated into the shadows; she knows where she’s not wanted.

She had a hold of my throat for a long time, though. She squeezed with her tiny, talon-like hands until all that was left were my neuroses. In the early years of my sobriety, I was lucky to write once a week, or even once a month. I read more than I wrote back then. In fact, reading is still my all-consuming obsession. Bury me in books, and I’ll be happy. But back then I was lucky to sweep the floor and wear clean clothes. I was lucky that I had my husband (then live-in boyfriend), to keep me happy and peaceful most of the time. So what if we played the Sims more than we created art together then? We had all the time in the world, so put in season 2 of Buffy and let’s not leave the apartment until Monday, or when we run out of cigarettes and coffee, whichever comes first.

Things change. We moved to where the land wasn’t flat. I became pregnant. Birth reminded us that there is impermanence and permanence and suddenly our souls woke up.

I wrote. He started to take beautiful pictures and attacked his day job (director of photography for tv/video) with new fervor.  I wrote. I held our baby boy, sang him songs, and the colors became vivid again, just like they were when I was little. The bad parts of my life, the sad parts and the rough patches, crumbled to dust when he was born. I had him young. I found my huckleberry young, married young, and grew up young. This is my order of doing things.

I used to be a maid, well before Xander was born. It’s a good job for the newly sober or the clinically depressed and getting well (or both, as I was), if you can get past the scrubbing toilets part. I found it calming and peaceful to walk into houses that weren’t mine, to see the pictures on their wall, and to feel the way their carpet sank beneath my stocking feet (I usually vacuumed in my socks, no sense dragging in the dirt and mud from the outside into someone’s sanctuary). I think the time spent in other people’s homes, in caring for their pretty nests, partly shaped how I describe what I see in writing. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I didn’t have to think much. I just had to tidy up, sweep away, and listen intently. The houses were as cold and quiet as tombs. The owners were usually not home, or they shut themselves away in another room so that I could finish quickly. For a voyeur of the everyday life of others, it was at times like heaven.

Sometimes I was ashamed to be a maid.  Once, a former benefactress saw me in my maid service tshirt and dirty khaki shorts, while I was buying coffee and a pastry in a tony sort of grocery store near my apartment. She had been someone I knew when I was heavily involved in local theatre, a founder of the arts organization that fostered a legion of young creatives in my mid-sized Ohio town. After we embraced (she had a loaf of crusty bread in her hands, and a cloth bag lumpy with oranges, apples, grapes, and a bottle of wine), she looked into my eyes and said in her gorgeously lilting South African accent, “Stop doing this, Chrissy. Do something better with your life than being a maid to wealthy people. You’re too beautiful and too bright.”

I wasn’t too beautiful, and I didn’t feel all that bright. There were prettier girls than me who worked at the same cleaning company, and I told her so. I said it was honest work to do in the summers , and that I was planning on going back to school in the fall (I didn’t). She shook her head, her reddish brown hair tumbling over her broad shoulders, and pulled me closer to her chest before patting my shoulder, saying Ciao, and leaving the store with her bread, fruit, and wine. She was one of the few women in my life that was taller than me, and my head always rested right above her breasts when pulled me to her.

This woman, this lovely woman, had lost her only son to suicide when he was only seventeen. This happened shortly before we started rehearsals for one of the plays her organization put on, and the news hit the young cast like a wrecking ball. Her eyes had always seemed sad to us, because they were so round and brown, but after Lorenzo died it felt like they took on all the hurt in the world. How could she have anything left in her to give to us? How could she go on? We understood the pain of the young, because we were young. Some of us had tried to leave the earth early, and some of us had daily thoughts of floating away. This is the curse of the sensitive young.

But she stayed with us. She brought us roses on our opening nights and she showered us with her fierce, relentless form of love.

Oh Suzy, I haven’t thought of her in so long. I wonder if she’s still living? Sad part of getting older. The pillars and the rocks of our youths become historical landmarks, Roman ruins. They stay in our minds as clear as museum pieces, but we can’t touch their skin anymore. Maybe we can again one day.

I don’t feel bad about only writing here now. This post was actually written in a word document; I’ve always liked the flow of a nice word document as diving board. Anaïs Nin’s work was all born out of her diaries, did you know? All of her poems and her novels sprung out the pages like tiny Aphrodites, exploding into the world out of her daily thoughts and recollections. She wrote in leather volumes, and then typed them up neatly. An assistant typed much of her words down as well; Anaïs was born wealthy of course and had the home and means to gather a flock around her.

The parts she liked she read to Henry Miller, when he visited her at home. What an initial audience for a writer’s work! Lucky Anaïs.

And lucky me, to have you.

Postscript ~ Suzy is still alive and well. Oh, the healing balm of google. 

fluorescent

I’ve got this strange sort of fear filling me lately. It started a few weeks ago when I knew I would have to quiet my creativity for a while so that I could attend to the tasks of moving and nesting. Now that I’m out of the habit of writing everyday, my hands and mind are hesitant. I’m worried about the quality and quantity of what will come out. I’m worried that the work that I’m about to sit down and edit (at my husband’s and my own nagging voice’s pressing) will shrivel and rot and turn to composted muck in the forest. Has anyone else ever hit a strange sort of wall like this? It’s not exactly a block, it’s more of a hesitation. I don’t like this feeling very much and I want it to go away.

I wanted to write a little something here to get my writing muscle limbered up. However, I’m distracted. Xander is not asleep yet. He’s had the croup which is always scary. The last time we had it we were living in Alaska, and we had just moved into our apartment there. It was a bit easier to treat it then: it was winter and below zero outside. After sitting in our new bathroom that was filled with steam, I put a blanket around his small body and carried him outside for a minute. The shock of the cold after the banya-like heat of the bathroom shook and rattled his lungs into thinking that they were well, that the virus had been frightened away in the middle of the night. As he struggled to breathe, his eyes growing round and frightened, his coughs coming out in painful barks, I pointed out the little floating crystals of ice that filled the air. The ground was soft and wet with new snow, and more was coming down around us. Except for the faint, distant sound of a dog  barking, everything was quiet. I could hear the snow padding the earth.

Last night was somewhat less dramatic than that. No midnight glitter in the moonlight. Just the steamy shower, and a quick minute out in the mild Tennessee October night. At one point I thought Gary or I would have to pop over to the 24 hour Walgreens to get some medicine, and I almost sunk to my knees in gratitude over the fact that we once again live somewhere with 24 hour drug stores.  As a mother, there is little more beautiful than the fluorescent glow of a Walgreens aisle at 4 pm when your child is sick with fever. There will be relief. There will be calm again.

Talk, talk

In an effort to improve my dialogue-writing skills, I’ve been trying to pay attention to the people I see around me. I tend to stick to lengthy narratives with little dialogue because dialogue doesn’t come all that naturally to me. Didn’t use to be that way, though. I used to write whole plays in afternoons, back when I was heavily involved in theatre. I LOVED dialogue then, and would study my friends verbal and physical idiosyncrasies as they spoke to one another, and to me.

On Thursday I was in the post office, for the second time that day, and standing off to the right of the (long) queue was a middle-aged woman, red with frustration, whisper-hissing into a cell phone. From her conversation and actions I gathered that her daughter was getting married, and as the mother of the bride she had been delegated to buying stamps for the wedding invitations. She wasn’t happy:

“I’m so livid right now…all they have in the 88 cent stamp are butterflies and veterans. They DO have wedding bells and flowers in the 44 cents ones but you don’t want two stamps on your invitations do you?” (pauses, paces, listens, puffs lips  out and back in again, scratches her hair under her white baseball cap) “No, I don’t think so. Butterflies?  Okay, I’ll get you the butterflies.”

The woman gave a great sigh, put her cell phone in her purse, and returned to her place at the back of the line.

I know it’s not that interesting, or that long, but what I love about the study of every day conversations is how telling they are about a person’s (or character’s) life, personality, and current situation. Just by a smattering of sentences, the overhearing of one side of a phone conversation, I can tell that this woman’s daughter is getting married, that she is getting stressed over the little details, and that her daughter (who is probably the calmer of the two) is totally fine with butterfly stamps. Oh, and  that a “veteran stamp” might send the wrong message to invited guests.

I like this, because I like people. Isn’t being a writer wonderful? You get to people watch, and call it character study.

Two of my favorite playwrights, Tony Kushner and Neil Simon, have perfected the art of dialogue. Their plays are just as fun to read as they are to watch live (or on film).

Nah.

Acrimonious. Caustic as chemicals that will burn your skin on contact. This has been my attitude toward this bizarre online self-publishing journalistic world (I don’t want to say that word that starts with “b” and ends with “g”) lately. I read a lot of them, mainly in the vein of mothers who glossily and sometimes even honestly broadcast their innermost feelings about their selves, their memories, their families, their days. Some are quite funny and always have been – you can tell they’re having fun with writing and staying true to themselves. Some are now famous-ish and appear on the Today Show and get new kitchens for their efforts. Apparently as the quality of their writing diminishes so does the quantity of their sponsors. There are loads of exceptions to this new rule, but it seems apparent that the more saccharine your posts about your child and the more cliches you allow to fall off of your fingers the more readers you have. I’ve been reading so many of these stupid things lately, admittedly getting weird on myself and thinking “Why don’t I have that many damn readers? I’ve been doing this for a while! I don’t have a book deal!” , and have decided to stop reading most of them all together. The ones on my list of links are those that I find to be solidly well written, consistently. Some of them are more well known than others but the ones that have been honking me off are gone.

Am also through with facebook and twitter (for now). Yes, my family is on there. Yes, my friends. Yes, I post links to my posts there but I think this habit while drumming up traffic has also drummed up substandard posts out of me. And if I get the mythical “book deal” it will be for whatever fully complete, well-rounded and blood on the pages (cause I poured my heart into it – get it?) that I submit to publishers or self publish myself. It could be multiple. It could all be mine.

Life is too short to read shitty blogs or to let their mediocrity sneak their way into my imagination and writing style. Not that I’m some groundbreaking fancy pants beautiful writer. I’d like to be, though. I want to strive for my own glorious perfection of prose. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have an instrument that needs fine tuning or it will warp into something common and vague. That’s one reason I don’t want to read those things any more.

Oh – and there are conventions so that frothy pink mom bloggers can meet and squeal at one another! It’s a cottage industry turned crazy! One of these schloppy writers has a movie being made about her life!! Am I jealous? Is that why I’m so lemony?  A little. Yep. Of course. Not really. Sometimes? I dunno.

I really would rather be immersed in a convention of real writers, I mean I see SO MANY good writers online – usually I’ve stumbled upon them or I’ve known them in other capacities…and they get no love. Maybe they don’t need the love. Maybe their just busy trucking along on their own projects and the “ohmygawdyouguyz” doesn’t even blip on their radars. How can I go to that convention? Where do I sign up to sit in a room with real authors unknown and known that I admire? Here’s a partial list of whom I’d invite to my convention of amazing – at least the well-known end of the spectrum:

– The contributors to Oxford American magazine

– The contributors to GOOD magazine

– Margaret Atwood

– Augusten Burroughs

– Elizabeth Berg

– Barbara Kingsolver

– Peter Hedges

– Jhumpa Lahiri

– Junot Diaz

Of course there’s more. So many to fall in love with. So many to fall through the rabbit hole with. So many random, beautiful paths to take that don’t necessarily have to be our own.

Copyright Gary R. Johnson Photography

(…and that’s not me – I really love this photo Gary took recently downtown.)