Saturday, December 27, 2008

Early Christmas Morn

While the dawn opens grey
Across the December sky
Spirit of Christmas unfurls
Below the hustle glitter
Of the manufactured world

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas is Upon Us!

I'm guessing you've been as busy as I with all the last-minute hustle and bustle. Monday night found my husband and me zipping through a cold rain to trudge from store to store on the quest for just the right gifts for the kids, as well as their difficult-to-buy-for grandfathers.

Now it's the day before the big day, and I pray that we are ready. I know we have food, we have alcohol, the house is decorated, there seems to be a tree with presents under it, and we're all together.

I think that might be as good as it gets. :)

Below I'll give you the lyrics to one of my favorite nontraditional Yule songs. It's better with the music which helps emphasize the narrator's progression from disillusioned to enchanted.

Christmas by Blues Traveler

Comes the time for Christmas
And I really have to ask
If this is feeling merry
How much longer must it last?

I wish a one horse open sleigh
Would come carry me away
But I've been waiting here all day
And one just hasn't come my way

Now excuse me if I'm not being reverent
But I was hoping for a miracle to hold me, wash me
Save me from my righteous doubt as I watch helpless
And everybody sings

If it's Chanukah or Kwanza
Solstice, harvest or December twenty-fifth
Peace on earth to everyone
And abundance to everyone you're with

Laha da da da da da
Da da da da da da da da da da da
La da da da da da da da
La da da da da da da da da
Laha da da da da
Laha da da da da

Comes the time for Christmas
And as you raise your Yuletide flask
There's like this feeling that you carry
As if from every Christmas past

It's as if each year it grows
It's like you feel it in your toes
And on and on your carol goes
Harvesting love among your woes

I want to buy into the benevolent
And I was hoping for a miracle to hold me, wash me
Make me know what it's about
As the longing in me makes me want to sing

Noel or Navidad
Season celebration or just the end of the year
Christmas can mean anything
And I mean to keep its hope forever near

As if a cold and frozen soul is warmed to love
By love’s own hand
So goes the prayer (if for a day)
Peace on earth
And good will to man

At twenty below, the winter storm it billows
But the fire is so warm inside
And the children while nestled in their pillows
Dream of St. Nicholas's ride
And how the next day they'll get up and they will play
In the still falling Christmas snow
And together we'll celebrate forever
In defiance of the winds that blow

My God in heaven now I feel like I'm seven
And Spirit calls to me as well
As if Christmas had made the winter warmer
Made a paradise from what was hell

As if a cold and frozen soul is warmed to love
By love’s own hand
So goes the prayer (if for a day)
Peace on earth
And good will to man …

I wish a one horse open sleigh would come carry me away
And I'll keep waiting through next May
Until Christmas comes my way

Words by J. Popper. Music by T. Anastasio and J. Popper

Merry day before Christmas to you. I wish you peace, abundance, and few errands!

Monday, December 22, 2008


The moon curls like a bubble above the waving water, a silver-purple-blue picture in a children's book.

On the longest night of the year, Happy Winter Solstice everyone.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Net of Lights

A net of lights glows
On the slate green wall
At the back of the coffee shop

The vanilla warmth of waffles fills the air

Christmas arrives with spices
Scents, shining shades

The bleak loneliness of season
Pours its riches
Like the ocean’s foam
Through a net of lights

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A strong word. One of our very first words.

From such an early age, we draw our boundaries and separate ourselves from others.


"They also serve who only stand and wait."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grace for Sunday

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, said this to Laura Miller. Co-founder of, she just wrote The Magician's Book about loving, disdaining, and reclaiming the Narnia series. I thought the quote was fitting for the day:

You can't regain the grace you've lost.
The only thing to do is go on through that
and eventually acquire the other sort of grace,
the conscious grace.


If I were going to write something here, something meaningful, something deep, what would I say? Would I look from my window at the rain-splattered yard and notice the curious lift of my dog's head? Her fawn hair is slicked in wet stripes against her cheeks, and she twists her muzzle here and there, standing calm, scenting the wind to see where she will go next.

I think my yard matters. It matters to me. But do you care about my yard and the view from my window? How do I go about transporting the content of my small space into yours? How do the words that I spill across your screen make any difference to your dog, in your house, with your own pattern of sun and wind, or rain and snow gathering outside your own front door?

Why am I writing so predominantly in questions? Did you miss my writing over the weekend? If my writing here stops, will you wonder where I went? Or will you merely move on to reading the next blog on your list before you return to your workaday world of fixing meals and paying bills?

I like writing in the second person. But why? I talk to you, but I don't know you really. Yet the second person suggests that I do, that somehow we are conversing, that my words are opening a path between us that you did not realize existed until this moment of reading them.

Do you see what I am saying?

This is writing that wants to be a poem. This is writing that wants to say something. Shadow moth memories of other poems I have read circle through my mind, brushing their luminescent wings among my thoughts with a whisper I can almost hear. This is what you will come back to, says Margaret Atwood. This is where you begin. This is the way the world ends, TS Eliot wrote, but that's not what I'm saying in the slightest, merely copying his rhythm that my thoughts suggest to me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Life cycles

In the Bleak Midwinter- Snow Had Fallen, Snow on Snow

It's Saturday; how about a poem?

This is a Christmas favorite for me. I fell in love with it through a beautiful picture book I used to read my daughters. The illustrations combine a second narrative to the nativity story.

The first stanza is my very favorite, of course. Such imagery.

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Christina Rossetti (1872)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Always Revising 3

My older daughter stayed home sick. Only she wasn't very. But it's always a hard call in the morning to decide if a complaining child is school-worthy or not.

So I let her stay home, which put yoga class out for me. She had to go with me to do my errands - Farmer's Market and some Christmas shopping.

As previously mentioned, she really was fine so it was nice to have her company.

And also restricting. It meant that I had to pay attention to her instead of just being lost in my thoughts.

Today was a day when I really needed to think. With the weekend coming and then vacation schedule, I'll be back with my family so much of my time. I love them so dearly, but sometimes the effort I put forth on their behalf exhausts me.

When they are older, maybe they will understand how very much I loved them and how very much I cared about their best interests.

Patience, I remind myself. Endurance, Faith. Deep, calming breaths.

In My Dreams

The narrow box of donuts
Was really just a box
Of candle drippings
Muted and brown
That interfered
with my typing

I had driven such
A long way
I got out of the truck
At my house
To rest a while

2:30 am

Call and Response

This is the Way
we chant
the sacred Words

Two of Swords

During meditation, I try to still my thoughts. Hush, hush, I tell myself.

Two memories repeatedly float themselves to the surface of my mind: an image of the Two of Swords card, and Ursula's quote about patience.

When class ends, I approach my teacher P. Not only is she an excellent yoga teacher, but she also reads Tarot Cards. (She's also a published novelist and a professor of creative writing. P's quite the package of skills! She's one of my heroes.) In fact, I'll be taking a Tarot class with her on Sunday, as my own skill at reading (so many texts) keeps presenting itself.

P is kneeling on a sheepskin spread before the stereo, sorting CDs back into their cases. "What does the Two of Swords mean to you?" I ask.

She peers up through the muted light. "Patience."

I snort in surprise. Of course, it does.

She continues. "Swords are Ego cards. The Two is one of the few positive swords. It's about the Ego encountering the first obstacle on its journey."

"But why is her back to the ocean?" I want to know.

"She's blindfolded and calm. She has her swords ready to protect her, but for now she's just waiting, relying on her own strength."

I've intentionally kept myself ignorant of established meanings for Tarot Cards, in part because they vary so widely from source to source, and in part because I want to read with my own intuition and unconscious associations. But I'm not that surprised to find that my mind has sorted out this meaning of the card and the quote to go with it.


This is what life tries to teach me over and over.

About a month ago, every time I pulled a card it was either the Two of Swords or the Three of Pentacles. I haven't touched my deck for weeks. It's interesting that my mind decided to present a card to me through my thoughts.

I promise that this exchange really did happen and I am not making this up.

(If you don't believe in Tarot Cards, please don't think I'm crazy. I'm not crazy. I didn't either until a few years ago. I'm still a heavy skeptic. But I think there are keys to the unconscious in iconic images such as these cards.)

Scattered Stones

The sky scrubbed clean by wind paints the horizon as muted rainbow.

As he brushes by, the palm frond ruffles his hair like an old friend.

I rush out my front door, car keys in hand, to find the widening dawn. Mindfulness sweeps me with a wave of intense gratitude.


Dependence and her intense vulnerability hit her over and over with the disbelieving gasp of icy waves.
When we're gone, where do we go?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

This I Know

With pop music groups broaching the subject of love right and left, I'll relate the mild argument my therapist and I had today. (Okay, yes, I have a therapist. It explains a lot. As if you don't.)

My therapist took the stance that all love is conditional.

"No way," I said. "Love can be unconditional."

He challenged me to name unconditional love.

"Easy. The love for your children."

T argued that love for children may begin as unconditional but the older they become, the more your love for them becomes conditioned by your feelings about them as people. "What if your child was a drug addict, violent scumbag?" he asked.

But I held firm. Sure, I admitted, you wouldn't LIKE them. You absolutely wouldn't like their behavior. But it is possible to still LOVE them. Not everybody does, of course. But it's quite possible.

I went further. I actually think I LOVE my children more now than I did when they were younger, because with each year, they become more separate from me and more of the people that they really are.

He and I did readily agree that of all the relationships, romantic/relationship love is actually the most conditional. Most relationships are complexly negotiated contracts with each party agreeing to abide by their stipulations. That's why relationships fail so relatively frequently and easily.

But Unconditional Love? It exists - without a doubt. I know it does. And I didn't even mention the classic example - God's neverending love for us, which I deeply feel and believe in - as I thought it would be too difficult to prove or disprove.

In fact, in a real and deep sense, since you're reading this blog right now, I'm sharing Unconditional Love with you. Yep, you. For your humanity and all that you are, I love you unconditionally. And you know it. You can feel it. That love will persist despite all those annoying character flaws that you have. (We all have our share after all.) Even if I didn't like you, I could love you.

Reminds me of something S was teaching about in yoga training this weekend. Like many, he's clearly been scarred by a Christian upbringing. That's a common factor that brings Westerners to Yoga. He even went so far as to angrily declare, "Fundamentalist religions are stupid, that's all they are. All Fundamentalists religions are just stupid!"

After a calming breath, he continued, "Christianity is a Deep Practice. That's a heavy load to lay on people, To love others as yourself. It's no wonder so many crack under that pressure."

Good point. That is a Deep Practice.

Unconditional Love.

But it is possible. This I know.

a long and dark December

I heard this driving from one appointment to another today. Since ColdPlay was already on my mind, I thought I'd make it a lyrics-block post.

I love the music; the video's a bit creepy; the sentiment is uncomfortably plea-like. But I'm posting it here simply because random fate and some DJ's playlist suggested it today.

(Oh, and also because I love anything about winter, Christmas or December. Look for more themed poems to appear in coming weeks!)

Violet Hill

Was a long and dark December
From the rooftops I remember
There was snow, white snow

Clearly I remember
From the windows they were watching
While we froze down below

When the future's architectured
By a carnival of idiots on show
You'd better lie low

If you love me
Won't you let me know

Was a long and dark December
When the banks became cathedrals
And a fox became God

Priests clutched onto bibles
Hollowed out to fit their rifles
And a cross was held aloft

Bury me in armour
When I’m dead and hit the ground
My nerves are poles that unfroze

And if you love me
Won't you let me know

I don't want to be a soldier
Who the captain of some sinking ship
Would stow, far below

So if you love me
Why d'you let me go

I took my love down to violet hill
There we sat in snow
All that time she was silent still

Said if you love me
Won't you let me know

If you love me
Won't you let me know

ColdPlay - Viva La Vida

It's been a while since I posted any lyrics. (I think I've showed remarkable restraint actually!)
But this one is by request, for T.

Viva La Vida

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sweep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy's eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt, pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain
Once you know there was never,
never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world(Ohhh)

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn't believe what I'd become

Revolutionaries Wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can not explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
(Ohhhhh Ohhh Ohhh)

Hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can not explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
(Oooooh Oooooh Oooooh)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Earth and Heaven

Mmmmm. Browsing poetry on the net. Have to love it, even when it tears at my heart.

I talked to an old friend this afternoon, my oldest friend really. We go all the way back to high school. Her teenaged daughter, my goddaughter, wants to be a writer. My friend and I have drifted now, but we maintain the ties we still have out of respect for how close we once were. When her child was born, she was like my own for several years. I loved her with a ferocious intensity that never tired.

My friend jokes that J takes after me. "You influenced her in those crucial years of early development," she claims.

I laugh. Then I offer this advice that I mean quite seriously. I've heard it from other writers, and it rang true. If it is at all possible for her to do anything else she should, I tell my friend. If your daughter can leave writing behind, if she can be happy with any other tasks, she'll live a happier life. Writing is amazing. Writing is a lover that lingers with us always. But writing, while it can lift us to heights and depths that we only imagine, is not kind.

I told you I'd been reading poetry. Via Negativa is an extraordinary site. I lifted the following straight from Fiona's blog (Hope she won't mind!):

Wanting Sumptuous Heavens

No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous Heaven.
But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.

-Robert Bly

What do I want? I ask myself.

I want love, most of all. I want compassion, both given and received. I want enlightenment. I want security. I want connection, attachment of the positive kind, happiness for those I love. I want to make a difference and to help others all around me. I want friendship upon friendship, showers of friendship shooting from the sky like silvered falling stars. I want forgiveness and redemption, reconciliation and starting again. I want passion and truth. I want not satisfaction, but contentment, like the wise heron.

Hope and Faith I fortunately and inexplicably have in spades. I have enough of that to spare.

If I could sit on Santa's velveted lap and have his kindly gaze turn upon me, these are the things I would ask for. Not diamonds, not a shiny car, not even guaranteed-return market investments.

I would ask for these intangibles. I am asking for these. I'm human, with opposable thumbs, and this is the list of what I want.

Living through History

At the office, the mood is subdued. My co-workers gather silently around the glass table, pulling white-bread sandwiches out of brown bags.

A round of lay-offs swept through headquarters last week, a cutting wind scattering leaves before it. They worry that it will spread to the regions next.

At one point, we find ourselves lamely naming states and countries that start with "New" in a dispirited effort to talk about something. My boss wants extra credit for Nova Scotia.

I try to cheer them up a bit, to bring some hope and diversion into their routines. I chat blithely, lapsing into stories about Santa Claus that gets everyone enthusiastically reminiscing.

More serious is the possibility that my words will bring in the revenue that will spare their jobs. They welcome my presence for many reasons.

Before I leave, my friend and I are catching up.

"Such an interesting time to live through." I put a good face on it. "We'll be able to look back and say it was so historic."

"Yeah," she replied glumly. "I just hope I won't be saying, I remember History. The History of when I used to own a house and a car."

Me too.


I've come across this quote three or four times within the last few weeks, most recently in this book review:

The past isn't dead; it isn't even past - William Faulkner

(Not quite sure what life is saying to me with this one.)

Always Revising 2

O, Blog, You are so tempting. Calling to me even more than food (which is actually a GOOD thing) and particularly more than work.

Okay, just a short chat.

I'm on my way to Upland now, because I didn't go yesterday. You'll remember that yesterday I changed my plans and went out for a working lunch in the cafe. Problem was, by the time I finally got everything together and bustled in the door, surrounded by that deliciously warm coffee aroma, the heart of lunchtime had arrived. Every table near an outlet was taken.

Since my trusty, bulky laptop has a battery life of approximately 11.38 minutes, and since I couldn't even draw that much work from it as it was completely uncharged, the lack of electricity meant I couldn't write.

So I just stared dreamily out at the street and counted passing cars. I would have eavesdropped on the other customers but a complete silence reigned below the piped-in music as everybody lucky enough to have a plug-in tap-tapped at their little keyboards. I think the young woman nearest me was writing a paper for her business management class, but it looked pretty dull.

After eating, I needed to head back home to work. Just to make myself feel like I didn't drive all that way to eat a waffle, I popped in to the Trader Joe's. I bought 1 gallon of milk, 2 quarts of eggnog, 1 pint of half-and-half, 2 bananas and a bottle of brandy. (What ?- for Christmas cooking!!) We're big on the dairy products in my home.

However, I'm glad to report that just being out with other people did make me feel more social. On the drive home, I got through 3 important business calls. (Because there's no better time to talk business than when you're hurtling along at 80 miles per hour with no possible hope of taking any notes. I just agree a lot and really concentrate.)

Yesterday, I finished one grant. I made myself get out of bed at 2:30 am so I could have several hours of silence and finished the other. All emailed off and waiting for their owners (?) by 8:30 am.

And, now, I get to head out to the office and start a whole new round of work.

Maybe I'll stop by Trader Joe's and buy some vodka, cornflakes and chocolate. I like to be useful!

A Good Thing to Remember

"Yes, honey is perhaps good, honey and patience." - Ursula, 1-23-08

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Yoga Narrative

Okay, I'll tell you another story that happened in Yoga Teacher Training on Sunday:

The afternoon was winding to a close, and S was wrapping things up. Instead of just letting us go an hour early, he wanted to lead us through meditation.

He spoke about the Chakras, the seven energy wheels that are aligned with our spines. According to him, Hatha Yoga came into existence as an offshoot of earlier practices about 1200 years ago with the description of these Chakras. I don't know the Sanskrit off the top of my head (yet), but the first Chakra is at the top of the head. The next is at the third eye or forehead. The next is the throat. The heart centers it all. Then the solar plexis has energy, so does a spot in from the navel at roughly our center of gravity, and, finally, the "lowest" the root of the spine.

So S was being S, making these grand pronouncements. "In my opinion, nobody has ever tapped into the energy of the lower Chakras," he said. "Well, only a few, and they've probably been corrupted by the energy. The energy of the lower chakras is as powerful as a train coming down the tracks. It's a good thing we can't access it, and most people probably shouldn't even try..." And so on and so forth.

I sat there churning this around in my mind. Is this true? I wondered. I thought of my own fairly limited meditation experience. I'm actually pretty sure that I HAVE tapped into this chakra energy. I've felt that. Besides why would there be all this energy inside of us if we couldn't access it? That makes no sense.

But S is very into the "danger" of yoga - he advises caution in everything he teaches. (Remember, he warned us that a side effect of breath practice might be death. Which was an interesting conundrum. Breathe and you might die; don't breathe and you will die!)

So he talked for about 15 minutes about all the dangers, then he said, "Okay, let's give it a shot!"

And I burst out into peals of laughter.

Which I think may have offended his sensibilites, and ruined the dramatic mood he had set. Defensively he said, "Well, it's no good if I warn you AFTER something happens."

So we meditated on just the lower three Chakras. Everyone seemed to make it through the experience undamaged.

Teacher training is fun!

Always Revising

I'll apologize to most of you for the incomprehensibility of the post below. Sometimes I write to please only myself. I mean, after all, it is MY blog.

But I am capable of writing with clarity and precision. I feel a bit embarrassed after reading Andrew's crystalline prose. Oh well. Process.

I suspect my post needed to go through several more revisions than I have time for.

Just like my day today. It is currently being revised - one of the joys of freelancing. I thought I was going to Upland to work at my main nonprofit client. But I don't feel much like being in an office environment.

I do have two proposals that I must finish and submit. So I think I'll pack it all up, heft my trusty (bulky) laptop and head to the Plaza for waffles and inspiration. (You'll be relieved to know that I'm no longer boiling water when I'm in the house alone. So I'll welcome a cup of hot tea in the cafe, as well.)

A bit of good news that I want to share - I got an excited call from my boss this weekend. One of my grants came through for $20,000 that the organization sorely needs. It feels good to help others help others. :)

Words have amazing power.

Reader Response Criticism

That is what was. This is what is. I'm most interested in what could be.

I'd like to be happy someday. I'd like to be unified. I'd like my stories to fit together into one book, bound together without disparity. I'm tired of telling this story and that.

Yoga teacher trainer S and I had a moment in front of the class this weekend. Sometimes I'm quiet and reserved in class even though I disagree. Other times I let that energy be apparent. I gasped in feigned shock when he told us that if we didn't focus our energy while we were painting our assigned Yantra then we would be stupid. I was pointing out that a teacher shouldn't call our work stupid.

But S rounded on me. He said, "Come on, Marie, admit that. If you make your Yantra from a place of mind chatter, it's just stupid. Your mind chatter is stupid. Isn't it? Isn't most of what you say in your mind just negative, self-critical stuff?!"

Man, he wanted to be right. He wanted my instant agreement that my mind chatter is full of negative voices that I'm hardly aware of. But I couldn't agree. Nor did I really want to explain my psyche to the whole class.

I understood what he meant - not to create from a place of superficial worry and self-restriction. A Yantra is a painting that is meant to also be a meditation, an offering, a performed prayer.

I could have said, "I'm not a good example." I could have said, "I've spent the last few years in a deep and extensive examination of my mind chatter. I hear it and interact with it at a level unusual for Westerners. My mind chatter isn't critical of me. My mind chatter is stories about life and reality."

Sometimes I'm quite amusing to listen to.

Ack. Writing. And now this has become a story. I started with one aim, one expression and these words have veered elsewhere.

I'll say it simply - I think it's up to you, reader. I don't think I can change this whole story from where I sit. The dance of narrative is a dance between teller and listener, words and story, signifier and signified. I think you have to bridge this gap that I can't.

Of course it is from my point of view. But that's the only place I can write from. I am reliant, even dependent, on my readers to participate in this construction of meaning along with me. Otherwise, my story does not exist, and my words are void.

Monday, December 8, 2008

No title comes to mind

Outside my window, the sky darkens. Dusk comes, bringing before it a storm. Suits my mood. Not writing, not accomplishing much.

Stuck here with my questions and the answers I won't find. Sigh.

I don't know. I guess this public space isn't the right place for what I really want to say. I'm not even free to write my thoughts, don't even know for sure what they are.

There's a bit of longing. A bit of hunger. Wistfulness. Loneliness. Curiousity. Wanting just to be, to be together, to be a bit of a family, to connect.

Wondering how a writer writes a story, when it starts and when it stops, and what to do next with the plot arc.

Word Problem

I keep twisting
the variables
trying them in
different equations
thinking that if I
just keep at it
I will find the
long ago
my classmates would
have crumpled this
paper up
and left the room


I wrote so many
that I erased
Words that spin
their dance
our thoughts
And with them
Tell our stories

Back to Yoga

In class today, a favorite stanza from a lovely song:
Oh my Beloved,
I bow to you
Divine teacher
Divine friend
I bow
to you
(It's really just prayer, for me.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's Not You, It's Me...

I saw a great bumper sticker today, during the lunch break of my yoga training:

I Love You America
But I think we should see other people

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Stories

I love Christmas, in all its crazy, frantic, generous, divine aspects, and I love Christmas stories.

Connie Willis says much the same thing in the delicious introduction to her anthology Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. If you've never read it, it's a treat. The introduction insightfully examines the history of Christmas narratives. Having been scarred by unwitting childhood reading of HCA, I particularly enjoy this bit:

"In addition, the Christmas-story writer has to walk a narrow tightrope between sentiment and skepticism, and most writers end up falling off into either cynicism or mawkish sappiness.

And, yes, I am talking about Hans Christian Andersen. He invented the whole three-hanky sob story, whose plot Maxim Gorki, in a fit of pique, described as taking a poor girl or boy and letting them 'freeze somewhere under a window, behind which there is usually a Christmas tree that throws its radiant splendor upon them.' Match girls, steadfast tin soldiers, even snowmen (melted, not frozen) all met with a fate they (and we) didn't deserve, especially at Christmas.

Nobody, before Andersen came along, had thought of writing such depressing Christmas stories. Even Dickens, who had killed a fair number of children in his books, didn't kill Tiny Tim. But Andersen, apparently hell-bent on ruining everybody's holidays, froze innocent children, melted loyal toys into lumps of lead, and chopped harmless fir trees who were just standing there in the forest, minding their own business, into kindling. Worse, he inspired dozens of imitators, who killed off saintly children (some of whom, I'll admit, were pretty insufferable and deserved to die) and poor people for the rest of the Victorian era."

Wow. I wish I'd thought to say that. Still though, with apologies, what follows in the next post is my own short Christmas story, rife with mawkish sappines and impending death. Alas.

Christmas Yet To Come

I was taking a writing class two summers ago when I wrote this. Not for the class exactly, but because I observed something curious. In one front yard, a twinkling horse and sleigh lit up the warm nights. As I drove past this house each week one question kept coming back to me: Why would anyone display a Christmas scene in mid-summer? This story was my answer.


Christmas Yet to Come

Jenna was getting sicker and sicker. Her face was ash grey now, and the coughing fits, when they came, took her over in the same way the Santa Ana winds would toss about the branches of the big elm outside. Still though, she had nothing but brave little smiles for Ralph, brave smiles and small, dry kisses that she pressed onto his hands or his cheek as he bent over her, watching, concerned, helpless.

She spent her days on the blue overstuffed couch in the living room. The couch had big pink flowers splashed over it that Jenna had never liked. She had always meant to get a different one, something more chic, more modern. Oh well, at least that wouldn’t be an annoyance anymore. You see, there always was a positive.

Her nights, Jenna spent curled up in bed next to Ralph. The visiting nurse had suggested buying a hospital bed, had informed Ralph in soothing tones of concern that the Medicare would pay for its cost. But Jenna was comfortable in their bed, and Ralph couldn’t bear the thought of kicking her out of it for his own comfort. So he listened to her coughing and her labored breathing and reached out in the dark hours of the early morning, fumbling, lonely, to hold her thin hand between his.

One crisp cool morning, Ralph stepped from the house and realized that fall had arrived. The trees were golden and dry, and the air had that still crisp quality to it and that hint of motion soon to come that heralded the arrival of autumn and winds. Just a few weeks now, the nurse said. Ralph wondered how long Jenna would make it. What would he ever do without her?

Staring off into space, lost in his musings about the uncertain future, Ralph had an idea. Yes, it would take some time, but he had the whole day.

That night, when Ralph lifted Jenna up to carry her to bed, he walked out the front door instead.

“There’s something I want you to see,” he said in his gruff voice.

Their Christmas decorations filled the front yard. Red, blue, gold and green lights festooned the branches of the fir. Candy canes and snowmen leapt along the walk. And in the center of the grass was Jenna’s favorite piece, the lighted outline of a sleigh they had bought together at Costco the year Ralph retired. Bulbs flashed on and off to give the illusion that the horses’ hooves were moving, and that the sleigh was gliding along over fields of ice, just as Jenna remembered real sleighs doing in her girlhood in Nebraska. It always made her smile.

“Oh, Ralph, but it’s only September.”

“That’s okay, my girl. I had some extra time and I wanted to get a head start.”

Jenna smiled and gave his arm a quick squeeze. Tears shone in her brown eyes. They both knew what Ralph wasn’t saying. December seemed a long, long way away from September, especially for her.

Pain Relief (and a poem)

I write so long this morning that I am almost too late to go to Farmers Market. But I do, because my family needs fresh vegs and fruits.

Driving, I realize that I don't feel cheerful at all. I feel lonely, and quite sad. Bummer. So sad, that I don't really want to walk around the Market, chatting with the sellers and buying food. But I do, because my family needs fresh foods. Bags of strawberries and asparagus and brussels sprouts and persimmons later, I feel a little happier. I always feel better when I spend time around people.

Perhaps I am down because I am SO hungry. This is getting pathetic to admit, but I boiled dry a THIRD pan of water this morning. Utterly disgusted, I confine myself to one of the girls' yogurt snacks and an apple for breakfast on my way out the door, reasoning that I should be safe with cold foods.

I don't get any tea until this afternoon when I grab a waffle for lunch at Coffee Depot. Again, I don't really feel like hanging out in Coffee Depot, but I do because it's Friday, and what else am I doing? The counter guy takes pity on me; he gives me two tea bags so my tea can be dark and strong. Still though, my headache persists past food and caffeine. Perhaps I had a bit too much fizzy vodka last night...

I am actually delighted when my cell phone rings. It's my boss calling. Well, one of my bosses. Or is he my point-of-contact? It gets confusing when you're working for multiple places. But I think of him as my boss because he approves or disapproves my work and when he tells me to do something, I do it. I love making business-related calls during the day. It's my only contact with adults since everyone else I know is working at their "real" job during daylight hours and don't really welcome just-to-chat phone calls.

When I get home, I take the unusual step of swallowing down some ibuprofen. That's how bad the aching is, like hot needles pushing into various spots on my skull and blood clotting behind my eyes.

Seeing the bottle reminds me of this poem that I wrote this summer. It's sort of a tribute to my Tylenol-substitute.

Pain Relief

On the bathroom counter,
The simple white bottle
Of generic tablets that I take
For my clenching headaches
In jagged red letters.

My aching heart twists
With the wish that it were
Just that easy.

Oh, dear. This isn't uplifting at all, is it? Well, such is life... in all its variety and menu options. I'm not always cheerful, you know. I just persistently claim happiness as the better choice when possible.

The newspaper I scan in the cafe agrees with me. A front page article trumpets that happiness is vital to social health and is transmissible through your contacts (like the flu, but with better resulting effects.) I knew that; I really did.

Now I feel even more of an obligation to be happy for you all.

Scattered Stones

My daughter B says, "I think Heaven is like a non-stop home."

The 100 degree sunshine glitters sharply off the red, green, and gold strip-mall Christmas tree ornaments.

A woman wrestles a bouquet of lilies and greenery and a large bunch of balloons into a silver subcompact.

The bottle caps littering the dirt path gleam the same red as Christmas tinsel.

The sprig of rosemary is already working its magic: she is remembering to forget.

The man bustles into the counseling office carrying a pair of dun slacks and blowing out a sigh.

I Am Officially a Hazard

Oh my God! I just burned my SECOND pan of water for the morning. I am not making this up!

I think I'm going to have to ban myself from the kitchen when I'm home alone in the interest of safety.

I'm so hungry. Can somebody please make me some toast and hot tea???


Last night, my patient, helpful, long-suffering husband and I worked through the uprushing dusk to string the first phase of Christmas lights on our house while our daughters held hands and danced in the grass.

We were invited to an astonishingly delicious dinner at our neighbors' house consisting of course after course of breads, dipping oils and vinegars, italian appetizers, grilled pannini, and homemade mac & cheese. To drink, our hostess made her favorite concoction of pink lemonade, vodka and beer. It's quite fizzy and light and it was a good thing that we only had to walk home.

Our neighbors gave our daughters gifts and said how lucky they feel to have us, a feeling that is deeply reciprocated.

This morning, I dropped off a couple of bags of snacks for my younger daughter's second grade class. Every few weeks, when her teacher runs low on supplies, I add boxes of cereal bars and tubs of cookies to my weekly shopping. It's not that hard, but the kids are so happy. I guess the ones whose parents don't send a snack along with them get really hungry before lunch.

When I carried in the bags today, the whole class said, "It's B's Mom (that's my name to them). Hi B's Mom. Yay, Snacks!!" And broke into a cheer and applause. Two or three girls rushed to hug me. I was the anti-hunger hero. I am so happy to be able to do things like that with my daughters and their classes.

My job consists of sitting in my own home and typing a grant proposal while listening to Christmas music and watching the sun spill through the trees in my back yard. (And burning water, don't forget that part.)

Today is my dear friend's 37th birthday and she never looked more beautiful or vivacious. I know her life is only going to get more wonderful from here. Happy Birthday, A!!

Another wonderful, talented friend and I had the best, hours-long conversation yesterday about writing, publishing and book ideas. What fun to be part of the planning/thinking process. I really can't wait to read what she's going to write next!

There's a lot of good stuff in my life every day. There just is. I'm so glad and grateful for that.

(Do you think "uprushing dusk" works as a description? Is uprushing even a word? I don't think so, but I like the sound of it all the same.)

Facing Anger

In the face of blazing anger, I think the first reaction is feeling frightened or feeling angry back. We become defensive and even accusatory in self-protection. Those are valid reactions and sometimes very useful.

But sometimes angry energy isn't the way to go. It's rarely helpful to the person who was angry in the first place.

If possible, I think a better reaction is to try for empathy. Looking past the anger to the root emotions, maybe you would say to the angry person in a sincere and loving way, "I'm so sorry for your pain. I feel helpless to help you, but I care and I want to understand. I wish things were better for you right now."

Try it sometime. It's not the most instinctive reaction and it takes a bit of practicing. But I've had good results with this when dealing with extreme anger situations, especially with my children.

It feels better to stay in connection with your love for the person rather than to slip into your own ego defenses.

I'm Here!

Oh, God.

(Is it the weather?) :)

I told myself that if I was diligent and FINISHED the grant I was working on, THEN I could come play on my blog. Hurray!!! I don't even know which post to start with!

I just noticed this: Lately I excel at burning water. So true and so sad.

I put a pan of water on to boil so I can make tea. Then I get absorbed in writing and forget all about it until a smoky stench wafts into my study. Whereas I leap up and find the pan empty and creaking on a red-hot glowing burner. I think it's a very bad thing to do to the pan. Perhaps I should buy a new one - I've probably altered the chemical composition of the one I favor into something highly toxic. I can't live into my 90s if I poison myself.

Today I even set a timer to remind me to actually make the tea... and then I ignored the timer.

Oh well. No breakfast yet.

But at least that darn proposal is finished!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm in love...

...with my park.

Is it possible to adore a place?

My favorite park is a living creature with a spirit and a sentience all its own. Paths wind below huge calming trees. Squirrels leap and chatter. The fresh air soothes and revives me. Blossoms twirl their colored arms in their own special dance of welcome.

In the park, I am calm. I feel relaxed and hopeful. What is, is. What will be, will be. Time shifts form, in a malleable, promising swirl.

I go to the park faithfully, as often as my schedule permits. Sometimes I read there; other times I write. I walk for exercise and to expand into the vastness. The soft grass under my favorite pine is by far the best place for Tarot reading or simply musing.

I was at the park Tuesday, eating my lunch in the open air. A nice break in a long day of writing and tasks. Before I started my walk, I set an Intention, this one a wish without conscious thought or words, simply a half-formed inclination contained in a motion.

Immediately my eye fell open a lost fortune lying in my path. The distinctive white rectangle of proclamation gleamed against the dusty brown.

"Be prepared to modify your plans," it declared.

Okay by me. I have only the vaguest outline of plans anyway. Honestly, I'm not sure if I could even tell if they WERE modified.

A bit further on, I picked up some trash under the old walnut tree and found a discarded perfume sample shaped like a bottle. REALITIES, it said.

Exactly, I thought.

It continued, "Live in the moment, every chance you get."

Which is precisely what I'm doing.




(That one word has to hold all, all, all the others that I cannot even figure out how to tumble out of my self.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My New Motto - Hayride!

The other night I was laying awake in bed. It was dark. It was quiet. My mind was hopping from thought to thought in that way it loves to do, just like a squirrel in a tree.

I was musing and I was fretting. Suddenly I heard a deeper voice. "Hayride!"

"Um, excuse me?" demanded my thinking mind, somewhat peevishly.

"You heard me - Hayride!" the voice exclaimed.

"What's that supposed to mean?" My mind is not very happy about being interrupted.

The voice explained. "You are WAY too serious about everything. Don't you know this is all just a game? Do you think all this is real? It's just a lark, an adventure. You're supposed to enjoy it. It's like a big fun HAYRIDE!"

Really? My deeper self feels that I am taking the problems of my life too seriously. I should instead conjure up the image of a worn wooden wagon, golden scratchy bales of straw, and the steady brown and white horses plodding along before it? I can just see myself, sitting on that hay, feeling the sun on my head and shoulders while I look around curiously at the farm and laugh with the other passengers and...

Oh. I see. So that would be a better lens through which to see my existence? Just kind of focus on enjoying the ride and seeing the sights. Hmm.

Hayride - my new motto for a long and happy life.

when I am 93...

I made a decision last week, as much as one can ever make a decision about the future. I decided that, God willing, I intend to live for a very, very long time. Yep, I'm going to make it at least into my 90s, maybe even hit 100, round the bases and keep going.

See, I'm at that age in life when it's possible to stop thinking of oneself as young. I've seen my friends slowing down, shrugging away dreams, lowering their expectations for the rest of life.

But I think that's a huge mistake. Whatever you think is how you act. And how you act becomes how you live. So...

I've decided that compared to how I'll look and feel at 90 right now I am a picture of blazing youth and vitality. I've got teeth, I've got hair, and the sagging is not too bad. When I get out of bed, nothing creaks or pops and I can pretty much move however I want.

And, honestly, honestly, I believe it's only going to get BETTER from here. Oh sure, I'll get wrinkles; we all do. But who's to say that wrinkles are all bad. They just prove that you've lived a little.

It's just so exciting to think of such a long future stretching out before me. I have time to start a whole new, super successful career. Heck, I have time for two. With 5-odd decades out in front of me, I can achieve any dream I might wish.

I can easily devote the next 10 years to being the best, most attentive mother in the world, and then I'll still have time to hit every night club and cafe in Paris and London.

This intention brings with it some responsibility. If I'm going to live a long life, I want to be healthy and happy. That means that I have to live every moment like I'm going to be around for a long, long time. Healthy eating is a must. So is saving some money to fund all those travels.

I can't think of anything more important for a long and zesty life than daily exercise. I tend to be sedentary and slow, but if I want to be out dancing when I'm a senior - and I do!- then I better make sure to move as much as I can. Health leads to health, you know.

Okay, that's my plan. I know it's not all up to me. Fate might decide differently, and that would be fine. But, for the parts that are under my control, I have a positive intention, optimistic energy and the willingness to make choices to take me far along that yellow brick road.

Hey, why don't you come along?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tech Talk

The tweet is the medium of throughput on the microblog.

(I love the functional flexibility of language!)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Time To Get Back To Work

Okay. It's Monday.

One major holiday behind us, one to go.

Here's my small stone for today:

She tosses back the last inch of water as if it were whiskey, slams down the tumbler and returns to her keyboard.

Good morning, all!

I just received the email below. I'm pasting it here for your reference as I know many of you are either writers or interested in writing. Mike Foley is an amazing teacher - enthusiastic, insightful, and deeply experienced. I've taken classes with him through the university and online, and I've always been thrilled with his invaluable and detailed feedback about writing projects.

Some of you may also want to join his mailing list and receive his free monthly writing newsletter.


"This holiday season, Mike Foley will once again offer a special discount on all
critique work. Short manuscripts (up to 100 pages, double-spaced) will be
reviewed at a 10% discount. Novel and book-length manuscripts will
be reviewed at a 15% discount. This offer applies to all manuscripts
received by January 1, 2009. Contact Mike Foley for a quote:

fee information, visit Mike’s website:"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Just Moments

***Cows graze on the crest of brown hills made of felt.

***A mound of golden sugar melts into tea the same color.

***Weeds wave in the round window of the tunnel like Thankgiving grain.

***As we drive into the fog, our spirits lift.

***The flat grey of the ocean is a promise like no other.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"this is what you will come back to..."

I love this poem. I came across it in my files this week and wanted to share it with all of you.

You Begin

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
that is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye.
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

-Margaret Atwood

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Sum

Mostly, I try to be grateful...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An Offer Hard To Refuse

When I brought in our mail yesterday, I stood for ten minutes, opening and sorting, before I could get through the lot. I don’t know about your household, but ours is experiencing a bonanza of solicitations. They split into two large piles – desperate pleas from assorted charities and over-the-top offers from credit companies.

Normally, I open these and then chuck them right into the recycler or shredder.

But last week, I got an offer that made me pause. It just caught my fancy with its well-worded promise of instant pleasures and freedoms. Vacations, jewelry, clothes, toys! The terms seemed good – 0%, no fees – but then the terms always SEEM good. These kinds of offers always seem like you can just have it all, right away, no waiting and no pain if you simply accept.

Ah, temptation.

But then I remembered that I am responsible for maintaining the fiscal health and stability of our little tribe. Everyone depends on my judgment being sound for the long-term course. Braces for two children loom within the next year. The exorbitant and rising costs of college are closer than I like to admit.

And, of course, the credit isn’t free. It never is. These offers always come at a price, and that price must be paid, during unpredictable future circumstances, for years to come.

Still it’s been hard to get that lure of wild, unbridled Christmas shopping out of my head.

Making Writing Wait

Sometimes I’m surprised Writing has anything to do with me. I’m so mean to it. Last night, when the house was dark and all else were sleeping, I was still abed, awake and crafting sentences in my head.

But I refused to get up and write them down.

I know most writers insist that you must capture your ideas as you can, else they flee away forever. I believe that.

But I knew if I got up, I’d be awake for hours. I was too tired. So, in a no-nonsense inner voice, I told my writing this:
Check back with me tomorrow. If you really, really want to be a
poem, you’ll just have to hang out in my memory until I get to my computer at a decent hour.

And it did. (I also thought up three blog posts, two emails, and the first four paragraphs of a children’s story. Let’s see if they all hung around.)

tightly coiled brown curls
as thick as stars

the brush of her fingertips
like a thousand kisses

is the fall of Hope
fresh, new snowflakes

landing lightly
on her upturned face and palms

despite the empty
air of the room

Monday, November 24, 2008

Faith and Hope and Christmastime

I saw a great quote on a button this weekend.

We were browsing the Music Store in the Village of Claremont. If you have a chance to visit, this few block stretch of town is so cozy and seasonal. I love to stroll the streets and window shop. Red and green decorations burst from every store. Sure it's commercial and speaks of simulacra, and it's a bit harder to have the Christmas spirit when you're sweating in the 95 degree sunshine pouring down upon you, but it's still magnificent.

So many things are magnificent and worthwhile and comforting, if you open your heart to them. When your circumstances don't lend themselves easily to celebrating is exactly the time to celebrate.

But that's a different post.

For this one, I saw a great quote by Tagore - you know the amazing poet/writer/artist/thinker of Bangladesh and my friend T's favorite.

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.

I spend a lot of time thinking about Faith. Hope, too.

They seem so universally touted, yet so elusive. Almost cruel at times in their capriciousness. But in my heart, I've never turned my back on either of them. Not when things were going well and especially not when life sucked. Because Faith and Hope will save you. They will give you the light that glows within and warms you at your coldest times. They will show you what is good around you and how much worse your situation could be.

There is a great deal of difference between hope and attachment. Attachment only wants one certain outcome. Hope merely says that no matter what the outcome, everything will be okay. In fact, it already is.

It truly is. Each of us has more blessings than we can count.

Kneeling at the altar of the Santa Barbara Mission, the glow of the candles warmed my heart. I may not be Catholic. I may not be able to tell you exactly what I am. But I know what I feel, in that wordless wonder deep within.

I feel Hope and Faith. I wish the same comforts for you throughout this sacred season.

A Stop in Summerland

I can't be in the car another minute.

We pull off before Santa Barbara at the tiny town of Summerland. We stretch our legs along the blocks of antique stores and interior design firms. The purple and pink flowers nod in the sea breeze. I rub a pinch of rosemary between my fingers and release its refreshing fragrance.

I could stay at Cafe Luna for hours. We perch on tiny chairs under a gazebo of green vines. Flowers are everywhere and ochre and buff pottery soothes the eye. Tables scatter through a meandering yard around a converted wooden house.

When I order, the cashier explains to the cook in Spanish what a peanut butter sandwich is and how to make it. He toasts the bread, an unusual twist that delights the girls.

In the bathroom, my younger daughter loves the buttercup walls and seascape paintings. She gives me a hug and a kiss and apologizes for her complaining. I'm sorry, Mommy, and all is forgiven as we go out to our late lunch.

The whole time we eat, I'm aware of the fleeting nature of the moment. I feel the impression of the place sinking into my memory. I wonder if it will become only a memory, a place I visit only once in my entire life, or whether I'll be back.

Even if I go back, I can never go back. Life has taught me this. Each moment is only itself, and only once.

We drive away into a pink-orange-apricot-lilac sunset over the flat grey Pacific.

We're Back!

It was a vacation weekend.

The drive takes a while and is not my favorite part. I'm too impatient to sit still and confined for long, and there is whining on the way up that feels as if it goes on for hours. At one point, I threaten to leave the car and ride the rest of the way to Pismo Beach in a cab - ALONE - but of course I don't make good on the threat.

I love the feel of cutting across Southern California, cities I recognize and those I don't slipping by outside the windows. I love the golden felt hills studded with cactus or wild flowers, and a bit further north, decorated with the dark, glossy green of live oaks with cows scattered here and there for effect. The cows always move slowly and radiate calm.

One hotel room is a bit too small for four people; I am aware of feeling crowded. There's never much of anything to distract us on TV - so much of it is not okay for the girls to watch. We skim through a bit of Disney Channel and Suze Orman's blunt financial advice.

"She's mean, Mommy!" The girls are shocked at her abrupt bossiness.
"That's the point," I try to explain. "People call her so she can tell them what to do with their money."

We spend little time in the room, only stopping by to shower after a round of swimming. The girls could swim nonstop. My parents in the next room and my brother and sister-in-law on the other side all have different opinions of where we should eat, which towns we should see. Getting together is a constant negotiation of tourist options. It's like writing by committee. The product never quite meets anyone's expectations.

My sister-in-law announced that she is newly pregnant with their first child. We are all beyond ourselves with excitement! I will finally be a real aunt and my daughters will have a cousin!!

From our room, there is an exquisite view of the Pacific coastline. At night, we leave the sliding door open and the room fills with misty salt air and the wonderful thudding of the surf. In the morning, we eat white flour hotel breakfasts at an outdoor table with a million dollar view. My love for the ocean is unbounded.

I don't do much reading - just a little skimming of Anne Lamott's comments about being published. My sister in law and I spend a few hours at the local B&N, skimming books about pregnancy and birth. I try to maintain appropriate excitement/advice levels, being neither too disinterested nor too over the top with enthusiasm (which is an easy state for me to reach. Lately my older daughter has begun to point out that I tend to be MUCH too cheerful, particularly when she feels grumpy.)

I'm keenly aware of the danger of being too opinionated, as I actually wrote my Masters Thesis about how cultural narratives impact birth experiences. (Well, I'd done all that reading when I was pregnant, tons of books. Why waste such good research?) But, in a Zen way, I recognize and validate M's right to choose her own journey through this experience - it's really not about how I would do it.

Oh, and can I say that I cannot WAIT for some of the experiences of parenthood to come crashing down upon bro and sis in law? HA HA HA HA. Tell me that MY toddlers were too loud during past visits.

Sunday, we celebrate my father's 68th birthday with lunch at Marie Calendar's. Gathered around the table, still with that amazing ocean view, we open not only his birthday gifts but also early December 1st presents. Our family exchanges pre-season gifts on December 1. But since we were together, we did them early. Our waitress finds it odd that we are tearing into red and green wrapped parcels in mid-November, but then we are odd. All families are.

We tour the Santa Barbara Mission on the way home. The solemn quietness of the thick adobe walls and the layers of history, belief and oppression wrap around us. We're all entranced by the vast church and its soothing smells of incense and candle wax. I touch a rugged, thick nail in the external Mission wall. It looks hand crafted, uneven and rough; I wonder how old it is, who put it there, what they were thinking while they worked.

After Santa Barbara, the girls sleep. My husband and I listen to Christmas music and make plans for the rest of the holidays. We track back through the string of California cities, strung along the 10 freeway like glistening jewels. Home welcomes us with a warm familiarity.

Next stop, Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Early Thanksgiving

Five scuffed bags, four excited people, three days by the foggy shore - the weekend begins!


It's never too early for giving thanks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lost (the draft before the draft)

Below are three disjointed sections of what may someday be a story, or may simply stay disconnected. I wrote this just over a year ago, and I come back to it from time to time and feel that there is raw material here worth work.

My writing runs to narrative - I know this. The first reworking would be to add dialogue, more setting, and some clearer conflict to drive it forward. This lacks balance, maybe lacks poetry and grace. Still, though, I like these pieces, and I feel like posting them here.

As it's my blog, I can.


All this fuss about privacy lately. Every time she opens the paper there is another article about Google releasing Internet search records to the government or about your friendly cable-phone-internet provider being able to track your almost every move. There is always a frantic tone to these articles, a shrill warning to hurry and keep yourself safe before it is too late. But too late for what, she wonders.

People have never had privacy, not really. When, ever, in human history, has anyone been immune from the curiosity and concern of others? She fills out a form that asks for a reference, and she supplies the address of a friend. There it goes, she thinks, swirling out into the universe. My friend doesn’t even know that her information has just spiraled away from me and out of her control. But addresses are really not that secret. After all, the whole point of an address is for people to be able to find you.

The 1800s, a culture of social visits and calling cards and prestigious addresses on tree-lined New York or European streets is a society that she knows only from Edith Wharton novels, but still it comes to her vividly. See, those addresses were all about being found and being seen. People wanted to know where one another were.

She pushes even further back in history, and comes up with the image of a small village, rough cottages and thatch roofs among the green fields of an Anglo world.
Where is old Tom?
Why, in the stone cottage outside of town past the split elm.

Tom didn’t have privacy; the villagers knew where he lived and what he was like. True, he wasn’t getting mail offers for the latest credit card, tailored to his spending habits, but he wasn’t immune from unexpected annoyances. At any moment, the marauding Saxons could have burst into his farmyard to shout epitaphs and set fire to his roof.

So, privacy – that’s a useless illusion. And being able to be found by others, well, ultimately, isn’t that what all of us want?

These are the sorts of thoughts that are floating through her mind as she enters the grocery store. She is moving as if she is in a dream. In the front case, ice cream screams its sale prices at her. Wow, when did ice cream begin to cost $4.99 a gallon on sale, she wonders.
She knows she came in for a reason, and she tries to remember it as she drifts past the freezer cases, further up the aisle past the non-sale ice cream brands. She takes in the colors and textures of the display. Cold, she thinks idly, feeling a chill around her ankle that doesn’t fully penetrate her awareness. A man comes down the aisle toward her, purposefully, shifting his basket to the other arm to consult a list in his hand. She realizes that she is still holding her car keys out in her hand, strangely flexed as if she were just about to insert them into the door lock. She wonders if she looks odd. Perhaps she needs a cart. Or a basket?

She rounds the corner and a stock clerk eyes her quizzically. How are you, he asks. So, yes, she does look odd. She picks up her pace and tries to remember why she is here. How unreal it feels to see the people marching up and down the aisles with such intention.

She stares at the phone in her hand, small and silver with its screen and buttons. She turns it over and around, looking at it, feeling it. It is a marvel really. She feels as if she has never really seen it before. His voice cuts off, she hangs up, and she simply stands there, turning the phone over.

She can barely comprehend that out of electrons and radio waves and metal come messages that she receives and sends back. Does she really? Does she receive and send them back?

Five hundred years ago, this would have been an incredible musical instrument. Just the sounds it makes as dialed would have amazed and delighted whole courts of nobles. Perhaps by wielding this, I would have been a sage or a magician. Who knows what life would have been if it had been otherwise.

She sits at her computer, eating a bowl of cornflakes. The computer is turned on, but she doesn’t know why. She is unsure what she meant to do with it. Perhaps write something. Look for something? She eats mechanically, moving spoon from bowl to mouth as she sits.

Part of her is aware of her body, and also aware of the struggle deep within. She feels her soul rise within her and lie down on the floor next to her, kicking and thrusting at nothing. Perhaps it would help if she actually were to rise from the chair and join her soul there, lying down on the coarse carpet with it. She would lie still and simply wait, wait for whatever it is that will be coming next.

But even that seems like too much trouble. What would be the point?

Just Thoughts

In almost every moment, I catch myself - reaching, grasping, worrying, rushing or trying to win. Then, I have myself relax and wonder why. Also ... what will I win if I win?

This morning, I am deeply touched by words, and I am grateful, so grateful, that they exist. The wonder that there are many of us who love them, and that I can count myself among the many, both seem overwhelmingly beautiful to me.


I think perhaps I will give books of poetry as Christmas presents this year.

Hot Tea

My hand curls round the mug's warmth; the rising steam hides me behind a cloud of fragrance.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Meditation and Mind - Or "In My Head There's a Greyhound Station"

Preparing to write, I sit for a moment, letting my thoughts settle and deepen. The golden sun on my face is my companion from early morning throughout the afternoon. Its light creates a steady thread of hope and comfort for me, as I work here.

Lately, I've been brushing up against poetry and Zen meditation tips. Life has a way of handing me what I need, when I need it, so the discovery of some great blogs exploring meditation feels significant.

This morning, I lie awake in bed and wonder why I can find the time to let half an hour pass while my thoughts wander about here and there - I love that time where I am free within my own head - but I "cannot" find the time to sit for 10 minutes of meditation. Yoga teacher S would say that my mind is resisting that quiet, that inactivity. The mind doesn't like to be inactive; it likes to feel important and in charge. My poor mind - it probably needs a bit of a rest.

When I awake in the morning, while I am still in that dreamy, hazy twilight of the unconscious mind, I feel my conscious mind awaken. Every day, it stirs, stretches, and picks up the threads of the stories it tells itself all day long. They are only stories, even my mind knows this. Still it clings to them firmly and querulously, with the determination of a child on the verge of a major pout.

In the morning, my mind is a pony, turned out from the barn into the dewy pasture. It gallops and snorts, kicks up its heels and suddenly leaps sideways for no reason at all, simply alive in its own motion.

Our minds are not that different from our hearts. Our hearts work all the time to pump our blood for us, moving muscles that power our great machines. Our brains work all the time as well. At a physical level, they create our thoughts, emotions, beliefs. I am grateful to my mind for all the work it does, just as I am to my heart.

Because, truly, it goes all the time.

Except, perhaps, during the meditation that it actually needs, but just doesn't want to admit to.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Determination and Irony

I will excel at writing small stones, she vowed as she, oh dear, clenched her fist in the air. She was such a slow learner.

(This is only funny if you're reading Fiona Robyn's blogs - or if you're me. But it made me smile at myself.)

In the Bathroom

At tub’s edge, two long-handled back brushes – all honey wood and bristles – lie one atop the other in passionate embrace.


An apothecary jar of handmade teal and lavender soaps. At least, she’d have a nice, warm bath.

Poem for Saturday - Praying by Mary Oliver

I lifted this one from Fiona Robyn's Planting Words blogs. So nice to find someone else who loves Mary Oliver's work!


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Mary Oliver

Friday, November 14, 2008

Warning - this is a rant. If you're looking for yoga or quality writing, please skip this and move to a previous post.

You know, sometimes I just question it all. All of it.

Why does it seem like so much work?

My life is fragmented like sunlight falling in colored slices through a stained glass window. My latest stress is that I joined this Bunco team and promised to host at my house tonight. Now, I don't mind having people over. That in itself is A LOT of work because all of the cleaning and tidying and upkeep of the house for the whole family falls on me. But at least I get to enjoy the clean home. Also I have to cook dinner for 12 - but that's pretty doable for me. Roast 2 chickens, heat up a ham, slice some veggies and breads and cheeses, cook potatoes and cranberry sauce. Okay - that's just step by step.

No, what's getting to me is that I got so busy over the last two weeks I just had no concentration on Bunco. I knew it was coming on the 14th. I was in the room last month with the whole team when the leader announced it would be on the 14th at my house. But, apparently, only a few of those women actually listened and remembered. So I screwed up by not "inviting" people a few weeks ago. And now only half the team can make it and I'm taking heat from them and I've failed as a host before we even begin.

And, honestly, I'm torn between really caring and not caring at all. Because for all the "Christian fellowship and dedication to our Lord Jesus Christ" that this team is supposed to be about, I'm really not feeling much love from these ladies. I've played with them for four months now, and I'm good at making friends, but I'm still feeling I'm at arms-length. Which makes me ask, Is it Me? Is is Them?

Good God, is it just something about Christians of a certain type????

Underlying all of that is the combination of excitement and stress at taking on a whole new workload and work life. Underlying that is the need to juggle, juggle, juggle to fit that work life in around full time care for two children and all the "homemaking" I do as a matter of course (and also necessity).

Underlying all of that is a frustration that I've had no time for either yoga or writing. I'm so jealous of talented, working writers right now.

And underlying all of that, as always, is that nagging, niggling sense that my life is off balance, off the path and that I am deeply mourning for something I want and miss without being able to define what it is.

It feels better to write, even if I'm not keen on posting raw material. Looking at this, I think I could rework it into something better and stronger. But if I hold it to rework it, I'll never get back to it. It would join that long list of posts waiting to be written, great story moments, poetic lines and other text work to come. Better just to post and at least say something to the world. Why??? I don't know. What does it matter if that chance reader in Singapore or Colorado or New York learns about my life?

Ah, the self. Such a busy place.


the silver spill of moonlight hushes through the air

Thursday, November 13, 2008


My daughters are still very young, but they do not use a nightlight to help them sleep. We have arrived at a point where they have abandoned it, preferring to snuggle gently into the inky blackness of the night. When I awaken to check them, I pick my way carefully to their bedsides, wary of any discarded toys lurking underfoot. The total absence of light means that I reassure myself of their safety by gently touching them rather than through vision.

There aren’t many moments for us modern humans when we are immersed so thoroughly in darkness. Once I pause to allow my senses to work, I often realize that absolute darkness is not really at all. Usually, there is some light mingled into the murk, and given time, my eyes adjust and send distinct pictures to my brain after all.

Just now I looked out the window into my night-darkened yard upon a beautiful arrangement of lawn chairs and bushes made visible by the stars. Painted by the night, the familiar landscape becomes a strange and fantastic scene. At some intuitive level, we know that there is a gift in darkness, a gift in this revisioning of the ordinary into the unfamiliar. We seek this gift from the darkness almost as much as we resist it.

Lately, I have refamiliarized myself with the rhythms of the unlit hours. My normally solid sleep schedule has shattered, perhaps through contact with a new friend, perhaps because I am going through a period of change and growth. I carry a sense inside myself that I am transforming. I awaken two or three times during the night. Between 2 and 3 am, I usually begin to hear the beginning of a piece of writing persistently tugging at the corners of my mind. I know that to try to sleep past that is to delay myself in a miserable limbo of wakefulness. So I arise, and write my way through the darkest hours of the night.

I miss my sleep. But I also appreciate the gift of the quiet, wonderful solitude when the night draws around me and my work. We run from darkness on so many levels. We can provide light at a moment’s touch, and we do without thought. But darkness offers us some things that we can find no other place. It offers us silence, contemplation. It offers us a deeper awareness, below the level of visual input. When I walk quietly through the blackened rooms of my sleeping house, I am freed from being the person I am throughout the day. I sense myself to be spiritual, a ghost gliding from place to place. My other sensations heighten, and I feel the comfort of the soft carpet cushioning my bare feet, of the comfortable air sliding across my skin. I hear the quiet nighttime sounds as a soothing song.

All of us have had our moments where we must journey alone, face to face with our innermost selves, and we must do it in the dark, only carefully picking our way along, and unsure of finding a path in, or finding a path back to the light. This darkness is the one that we flee from most of all. When we click that light switch, or cling to sleep, this is the deeper darkness that we want to chase away. But just as the night offers our eyes a respite from the sun’s brightness, and a different way of seeing, so too does our inner darkness allow us an opportunity to know ourselves from a different perspective. There is a gift in being able to accept the darkness within and to balance it against the light.

Margaret Atwood, that brilliant yet difficult author, commented on darkness in her 2002 book of essays about writing, Negotiating With the Dead: “Possibly…writing has to do with darkness, and a desire, or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light. All writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down…by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.”

Once I took a tour of an old lead mine that plunged deeply, deeply into the earth. At the bottommost point, the wide tunnels opened into a spacious cave which contained an absolutely black, cold lake. There was not even the faintest hint of natural light. Only the lanterns and flashlights of those who explored there. And still people journeyed from miles to dive below the surface of that black lake and to cast some light on its secrets.

That was one of the most psychologically and physically frightening things I’ve ever considered, the terror of that lightless, freezing water waiting below the weight of all the rock pressing above our heads in the stale, motionless air. Just to look at its inky surface crushed my lungs and compressed me. It was a tangible embodiment of symbolically facing the inner unknown, the plumbless depths of the human soul. We hold our breath when we think of the dark, and reach for that light switch.

But still, I am here now. The dark creates these words. The dark creates a space and strength inside.

There are visions worth seeing even without light.


How Beautiful is This?

The following excerpt comes from the blog Via Negitiva - found in my blog list at the side.

"The author is Naomi Shihab Nye, and the line comes from her poem “Jerusalem,” in Red Suitcase.

Jerusalem” is too long to quote in its entirety, but it ends:

There’s a place in my brain
Where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.

It’s late but everything comes next."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Spent All Day at a Grantwriting Workshop

The people seated around the mahogany table nod sagely and make small concerned sounds to the woman in the lilac pantsuit.

At the Beach Yesterday

The sunset windows reflect the pink fire of leaping flames.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Short Fiction and the Joy of Writing

Good morning! Between grants and a family on vacation, rattling around in the house and waiting for me to join them, I continue to have very little time to devote here. I am quite proud to report that over the last week I finished three, yes THREE, CDBG grants, and all well ahead of deadline too. The lack of sleep was totally worth it!

In addition to the lovely discovery of A Small Stone blog this weekend, it led me to Your Messages. This blog gives a prompt, and writers create and post very short, either 30 or 300 word, continuations. Here we have Nanowrimo in November; in Britian, they have Your Messages each day for the month. Not only are they good practice and amusing, but the site will link you into many working writers throughout the UK. Check out Fiona Robyn’s blogs for an excellent example of building a writing platform plus just gorgeous poetic work.

I’ve never given you fiction here, so below you’ll find a piece I wrote in August 2007. It clocks in at exactly 200 words. Looking at it now, I would revise it to include dialogue. See what you think.

The Purple Shade of Loss

Driving westbound on the 10 Freeway, she notices the flowering bushes planted along the sides, and perceives the purple shade of loss. He is gone now, and she feels strangely empty even though it was her choice. The color of the waving blossoms is the same as the bruises which he left around her arms, where he had gripped on to her in desperation and emphasis. First purple, then green, then yellow, they had faded over the week. But the words he had yelled and the angry tone of his voice hadn’t.

Now she was driving, away from him, and towards a new city, and a new life with a reliable friend. The vibrant purple seemed to mock her, stung her eyes with tears. But there was something else as well. The delicate blossoms, their vivacious hue, spoke of beauty, endurance. Hope.

As she made the 10-215 transition, her car lifted high into the sky on the massive overpass. Caught up in the sensation, she felt that she had been lifted up above the world. She felt like her car, and she, could escape gravity, break through the railings, and soar.

She felt like a bird -- hopeful, and free.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Small Stone

I've just found the most beautiful blog! Pure words. Please go look at it and see if you like it as much as I do.

A Small Stone

(I know - why am I awake searching blogs at 1:30 am? Well, it's better than writing grants that are due VERY SOON at 1:30 am.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cause in My Head, There's a Greyhound Station...

Verse for Sunday - Psalm 143:10

"Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
on a level path."

Song Lyrics for Saturday - Soul Meets Body

Soul Meets Body - Death Cab For Cutie

I want to live where soul meets body
And let the sun wrap its arms around me
And bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing
And feel, feel what its like to be new

Cause in my head there's a greyhound station
Where I send my thoughts to far off destinations
So they may have a chance of finding a place
where they're far more suited than here

I cannot guess what we'll discover
Between the dirt with our palms cut like shovels
But I know our filthy hand can wash one another's
And not one speck will remain

I do believe it's true
That there are roads left in both of our shoes
If the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too

So brown eyes I hold you near
Cause you're the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere

Where soul meets body
Where soul meets body
Where soul meets body

I do believe it's true
That there are holes left in both of our shoes
If the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too

So brown eyes I hold you near
Cause you're the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere

Thursday, November 6, 2008

So Busy!

I have to apologize for not giving you more material here. I got swamped under a deluge of grantwork, all on tight deadlines and I have to spend my computer time actually getting things done instead of just rambling to my cyber-friends.

I promise I'll get back to reading all of your wonderful blogs as soon as I can - I miss you!!! And I'm hoping things are well with you and your families.

Yesterday I heard "How Soon is Now?" on the radio. I love that song! Remember the Smiths?? If I can, I'll post the video soon so we can all reminisce.

In light of all the wonderful political process and outcomes this week (Historic! Groundbreaking! Astonishing! Inspiring!), maybe NOW is Now!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Your Own Voice

It's Election Day !!!!

Consider what a blessing it is that you have the opportunity to vote. Freedom of the kind that we take as a matter of course should never be taken for granted.

Whatever your political views, I celebrate this occasion of having your opinion matter.

To Liberty and Hope, with prayers for those around the world who are not currently enjoying the same good fortune.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tied to the Wheel

This is the
far from last time
I'll spiral
through this circle
of emotions... of actions
written to repeat

Panic Attack

In yoga teacher training this weekend, one activity explored Pranayama energy to powerful effect.

First we did 20 Sun Salutations - Kundalini style, very fast. Then we went flat on our back in Savasana and held our breath until the edge of panic. Getting high off motion, then plunging into the rapid heartbeat and compressed restraint of anxiety was very psychologically powerful. Because it felt like an adrenaline reaction, it was like experiencing pure anxiety without the thoughts or emotions that trigger it. It was emotion of the body, then the mind, then the heart.

The ability to play with panic reaction, to trigger it and observe it, fascinated me. I can't help but think that this could be a powerful, holistic type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for those troubled with anxiety. Or, you know, everyone who has to deal with life and its stressors.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Our instructor suggested we use positive affirmations. Where better to post mine than here?

Writing comes easily and naturally to me.

I am delighted by how fun and easy this all is!

I am a winning grantwriter.


I've known for quite a while now that when I'm feeling depressed, worried or anxious, the best thing to do is find something positive and move in that direction. Doesn't really matter what - cleaning the house, cooking a meal, chatting with a lonely friend, yoga practice, writing something good - as long as I focus on the positive energy and moving forward, things improve. I feel even better if that energy involves some way of helping others. Nothing lifts me out of my doldrums like connecting with someone in a way that makes the world a better place.

To that end, I attended a grant writing workshop yesterday that turned out to be fantastic. The instructor was organized, knowledgable, personable and friendly. Best of all, she agreed to critique proposals for me at any time!!! Now I have a mentor who can give me feedback on my writing. (It's not like fiction you know.)

Since then, the skies have opened and freelance offers have rained down upon me. I am now writing for not just one, but four nonprofits! I have steady work until at least summer with the potential to develop more if I can fit it into my schedule!! I am so happy - there's nothing better than getting paid to write in a way that helps good causes and helps those in need.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back to Work Mode

I'm procrastinating writing by flipping through Natalie Angier's book Woman - An Intimate Geography. I remember her as a brilliant and captivating non-fiction writer, and I'm trying to figure out what makes her so good.

Each page sucks me right in to the story, even though the "story" is various explanations of biology. It should be dry, but it's fascinating, even personable. The narrative flow hooks me over and over. I want to be able to do that!

Here's a sample passage, turned to at random. It ends the chapter titled "Labor of Love, the Chemistry of Human Bondage" :
Cort Pedersen has pointed out that we humans can maintain with our mind's eye the neuronal state of attachment, which other animals need their real eyes, noses, and ears to keep alive. We rarely can sever all components of an intimate bond, he says. We have photographs. We have friends who mention the loved one. We walk the same streets and eat in the same restaurants where once we strolled and dined and released cholecystokinin with the loved one. We have Sam playing that song, you must remember this. We have too many senses and systems eager to reenact the past, and we have too much memory. Again and again the pathways of old love are reignited. Our analytical minds feed and protect the circuits of attachment. The human capacity for thought and memory keeps love alive long after the lower brain, the Rattus brain, would have thrown love away. Eternal love is a myth, but we make our myths, and we love them to death (350-351).

I love that last line.