Clearly they have been traveling…

Whelks
by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
whirlwinds,
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.

***

It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I have never had a good grasp on the idea of such a place to begin with.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.

Why the Ocean is Blue

Sometimes I am completely blown away by how creative my child is. It was kind of fun to see Matt be blown away, too, and perhaps for the very first time. I like to think he’s experiencing those “proud Dad” moments, such as when I read aloud a story that Elle had written for her class assignment. Matt and I both decided to save this one. It is presented to you exactly as she wrote it.

Why the Ocean is Blue

In one sweltering July, Seaturtle took a cool dip into the pink ocean.

“Why, hello!” Ocean welcomed Seaturtle.

Seaturtle looked around, confused. Nobody was in his view, so who was talking to him?

“Hello? Who is speaking?” Seaturtle asked, right before he dove underwater.

“Me, the Ocean.” Ocean kindly replied.

“Oh.” Seaturtle popped his little head up from the water.

As hours passed, Seaturtle and Ocean chit-chatted away. They noticed how much they had in common with their dislikes, favorites, and lives. Seaturtle and Ocean would’ve talked all day and night, but Seaturtle had children to take care of. As the sky was painted with pink and orange, Seaturtle HAD to go.

“Oh,  I think it’s my time to go!” Seaturtle examined the sky.

“Five more minutes?” Ocean begged.

“Sorry, but I have children to feed. I was already late for lunch.”

Ocean settled down and thought of some other way to convince Seaturtle to stay a little longer. Though, he couldn’t.

“Fine…but before you go, do you wanna be best friends?” Seaturtle swam to shore before he answered.

“Sure. I’ve never had a best friend before…”

Ocean was about to ask Seaturtle something, but Seaturtle was out of sight in a blink of an eye.

“Bye,” Ocean softly said through the thick, black air.

***

The next morning, Ocean woke up with four little seaturtle kids in front of her.

“Oh! Uhhh…hello there! Are you lost?” Ocean asked as nice as possible. She didn’t want to frighten them.

The kids looked at one another, then one of them finally spoke up.

“Have you seen our daddy?” the youngest one asked through her sniffles of sadness.

“Why, no. Well, not this morning, but last night. Didn’t he come back to you?”

“No.” The four of them all said together.

“Oh…um, could you all leave please? I…I…”

“Okay.” All at once, they flippered themselves home.

“Thank you.” Ocean tried her hardest not to cry in front of them. Though it was very difficult.

Then, the tears came, along with the booming sobs. Weeks, months, and years passed by and Ocean became bluer and bluer. Still, Seaturtle has never come back.

THAT’S WHY THE OCEAN IS BLUE.

Stone Cutting

Harriet Doerr

In a book recently given to me by my sister-in-law, I came across this quote by Harriet Doerr:

I’m quite happy working on a sentence for an hour or more, searching for the right phrase, the right word. I compare it to the work of a stone cutter, chipping away at the raw material until it’s just right, or as right as you can get it.

My very first college English class was taught by Diana Hacker, the author of several college textbooks (one of which, A Writer’s Reference, is a staple for most college freshmen) and the first person to ever tell me I was a good writer. More of my creative writing instructors would give me the same praise but none of it ever gave me a whole lot of confidence. So what if one instructor was a Pushcart Prize nominee and won The National Poetry Review Press Book Prize in 2010?

I am not lying when I say it feels good to be told such things, though. We all want to feel validated.

There has been no real desire in me to write, at least not as often as before. Before what? I have no idea. So, instead, I have been reading more. Is this a pattern for most writers? Is it because of the weather? I have been discouraged and unmotivated lately, unable to allow myself to be enthusiastic about much, although this could simply be a side effect of my existing depression. (There, I said it.)

But I do miss it. The writing. And I miss the validation from other people. At this point in my life, with what I do on a daily basis (studying, hanging laundry, fretting over dinner, following up on my kid’s reading assignments, wiping snot from my sick dog’s nose a dozen times), my routine hardly merits validation from others. If anything, I should be in awe of other parents who have children at home in diapers and still manage to make a full dinner in time for their spouse’s return from a day at the office (and I am!). To nobody’s surprise, inspiration falls short. Guilt, on the other hand, is plentiful.

Why guilt?

Because for over two hours I have been reading a book about writing dangerously and with abandon! while my husband is at work and my child is at school. I’m not vacuuming or cleaning floorboards or even walking the dogs (I have wiped the sick dog’s nose twice, however). Here I am, and here I have been, reading about how to write and then writing about it. And I’m always afraid it will be interpreted by someone as a waste of time.

By whom? Probably by people who don’t write. And they would never understand it anyway, not unless they are also driven by the same kind of force to do what they love, driven by a confusing pull that feels like inspiration and compulsion have merged.

It’s kind of unruly.

I don’t write for money (hey, wouldn’t that be nice?) and I don’t write to dazzle the masses with my wit (that would be nice, too). But if Harriet Doerr felt this way about how she spent her time, I guess I am in good company or, even better, we are in good company – the writers, the readers, the poets, the playwrights, the lyricists, the painters, the florists, the stone cutters. Maybe that is our validation.

We take our time to do a thing right, or as right as we can get it, and we hope it’s seen as right by others and not as a waste of time. Although those who would think it so are not the ones who motivate us to begin with, including ourselves.

This is my biggest hurdle.

I’m not afraid to look like an idiot.

Over the weekend I received an excruciatingly long email from my Humanities professor. She imparted on us a ton of information, policies, course standards and, in the end, asked each of us to come up with one quote. Not just any quote, but one that revealed a bit about ourselves – what motivates us, inspires us, drives us to move forward in our educational endeavors. Naturally, I became anxious and didn’t want to choose the wrong quote or submit something to her that could be misinterpreted or that would give her a false impression of me based on someone else’s words.

I really tried not to think too hard about it and, after about 20 minutes or so, I replied back with this gem by Anthony Bourdain: I’m not afraid to look like an idiot.

This isn’t entirely true, but I want it to be. And terribly so. Here’s why:

On Saturday morning, my husband and I woke up the kiddo at 6:30 and dropped her off an hour and a half later at a school for three hours’ worth of intimidating placement tests. Then he and I went on a breakfast date, came home to play online and read books (his and my weekend hobbies, respectively), and went back to the school and waited until noon to collect our child. As the hopeful students filed into the gymnasium, Matt counted approximately 230-250 kids. I expect only about a third of them will be accepted. We hope ours is one of them.

Matt and I sat patiently on those hard bleachers and talked about our school experiences. Many of you may not be aware of this little fact, but my husband and I have known each other since we were freshmen in high school in the early 90s. Our fathers’ military retirements and subsequent departures from the Air Force took our families to different parts of the country and we lost touch for about 15 years or so. In those first years after high school, my husband befriended people who motivated him to go to college and now he has a master’s degree. I, for whatever reasons, was not so motivated by the people around me. In fact, my parents seemed much more concerned with getting me enlisted in the military than prepared for college. That is not meant to be a criticism. It’s just a fact. And a telling sign of how life is for many children of military families.

Our high school wasn’t exactly a breeding ground for young intellectuals. Very few people in my graduating class seemed destined for greatness out there in that big world of careers and academia. Some of my friends did enlist in the military because they felt they had so few options. A couple of girls were pregnant during senior year and were left with even fewer options. Still, others ended up dead, on drugs, or in jail for violent crimes. Me? I never applied myself in school and so little was expected of me. Truthfully, I hardly even showed up. Yet here I had a diploma and a letter declaring my place in the top 10% of my graduating class. What I didn’t have was a clue about what to do next.

So I went to work at my decent-paying military hotel job every day, the only civilian surrounded by people who had to follow protocols and procedures that would never apply to me. I enjoyed that freedom, no doubt, especially when they got deployed to awful places, but it only made me question things even more, particularly when I became good friends with the young airmen and enlisted singles who very much regretted not going down the other road, the college road. Other people’s regrets are remarkable learning tools, by the way.

I finally became serious about starting college when I was in my early twenties and worked out a few meager credits. In all honesty, I had set no goal to finish college; I simply wanted to get my feet wet. But then I became pregnant and soon after motherhood became single motherhood followed by a couple of years devoted only to working, working, and working harder for nothing less than chump change to keep the bills paid. When my daughter started school, so did I. AGAIN. It’s been a long time since her first day of kindergarten but she still sees me studying, striving, enduring (that’s a very appropriate word sometimes), and achieving something I didn’t know I ever wanted until recently, but probably because nobody around me told me I could do it. That is, until I figured it out for myself.

As a teenager, I struggled daily not to get punched in the face in school for being different.  I even once threw a spelling bee because I didn’t want everyone to know how smart I really was (seriously, I have this crazy natural ability to spell words I’ve never seen in my life and I’m quite proud of it). My early years of being in the upper math and reading courses only led people to befriend me so they could beg me for my help or, even worse, solicit me for my answers. Being smart was a pain in the ass.

What does this have to do with not being afraid to look like an idiot? Everything.

I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but my teenager-self was the biggest idiot of all my selves. Too much time was spent trying not to look like an idiot by personally pursuing something, anything, and letting people know that I actually had an interest in something other than what they thought about me (with the typical exception of my parents). I know better now and, while the fear of looking like an idiot still seeps into my precious ego sometimes, looking like an idiot means something different to me. It means giving a damn, going for it anyway, and hoping you walk away happy, successful, and unscathed (though that’s always an unlikely ending when the ride is worth all the hell involved).

Now, as parents, Matt and I have assembled a damn good cheerleading squad for Elle in all her pursuits, whether artistic or academic, in the family and friends we have chosen to surround ourselves with. We want her not only to hear us tell her it’s okay to be smart, eccentric, likable, creative, and all those wonderful things, but we desperately want her to believe us when we say it. Go off into the world! Be you!

Being self-conscious is not something we’re born into. I cannot go back into the far-reaching depths of my mind and pull out the memory of who first made me this way and how. Can any of us? It’s doubtful. But even as an adult, I often worry about how someone might look down on me for voicing an opposing view (no matter how well thought-out and rational I believe it to be) or for sharing my feelings (oh, help us all) through a blog post.

So, professor…you asked. I’m not afraid to look like an idiot – IN PROGRESS (end note mine). Because no matter how hard we work at trying to avoid this unfortunate label, it happens to the best of us, to all of us, whether we like it or not. Those who don’t understand your interests, your pursuits, will always think you’re wasting your time, throwing away your talents, or squandering precious hours toiling away on some nonsensical project. Someone will always think you look like an idiot. Just don’t let it be you who thinks this.

Note: While I have written about Anthony Bourdain a few times before on this blog, please believe that I am not a superfan. I simply just finished reading his book Medium Raw in which he apologizes to quite a number of people he feels he has wronged over the years by behaving like an ass. He has many regrets, too.

Perspectives and the Moons, Part Two

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Because I only have a limited time with this particular book, Earthtime Moontime by Annette Hinshaw, I know that I am rushing through it and focusing on the pages that relate directly to me. I hate to say it, but amidst final research papers and an upcoming trip to Dallas, I probably won’t have time to study the other pages as intently so I feel even more pressure to at least get something useful out of it before it’s due back at the library.

Only from a different perspective can we reach toward removing some of the invisible limits with which we bind ourselves. Putting ourselves inside the skin of another culture can open up our personal possibilities.

~ Annette Hinshaw

**********

If you were born between August 29 through November 26, some or all of this may apply to you.

I was born under the Harvest Moon and just before the Sorting Moon. If we’re talking horoscopes, I am a Libra.  My tarot card (Justice) tells me I believe in karma. Oh, do I ever.

All of this ties together in a neat little package. It’s so simple, but complex at the same time.  For now, I will write only about my moons.

My Harvest Moon tells me that I was born with four primary energies: gathering, ending, responsibility, and fulfillment. Each of them has everything to do with my sense of accomplishment. Gathering reflects my ability to accept praise or criticism, from myself or from others. Ending means that I have a difficult time coming to terms, not only with what I have, but also with what I don’t have. Responsibility highlights how I accept that things are what they are, favorable or not. Fulfillment highlights my ability to gain for myself what I may be jealous of others for already having. And, of course, there are contradicting energies that come from the Seed Moon, my Harvest Moon’s lunar opposite, the impatient part of my personality that also fears failure and running out of time.

Harvest Moon babies are strong believers in self-accountability. We also have a hard time bringing relationships to a proper closure. However, we know when to move forward and we know when to quit. Our lives are spent constantly questioning justice, believing that we get what we earn and pitying those who get more than their fair share. Again, there’s that karma. It’s a karmic kind of justice that we believe in so strongly.

My six Sorting Moon energies are all about choice (again, refer back to the self-accountability factor of Harvest Moon babies): discrimination, choice, analysis, specialization, free will, and order. Oh, do I ever love me some order.

“The Sorting Moon is about decisions and how we make them, free will and how we use it.” Sorting Moon babies collect and categorize outcomes from every other decision we have ever made (no matter how great or small) and determine how our choices affected us or others, good and bad. This wisdom helps us to recognize that we still (and always will) have a choice in how we shape our own lives, no matter what kind of decision we must make. Not all decisions are pleasant, but by accepting our own accountability (I’m such a Harvest Moon baby), we express our gained freedom by making a choice, any choice.

(My Libra brain does cause me to shut down when given too many choices, though. Keep that in mind when dealing with most people born in October, FYI. This also rings true for those born under the Sorting Moon as details tend to overwhelm us and cause procrastination, which is still considered to be a choice. Interesting…)

Sorting Moon babies have a “special talent” for analysis and evaluation. In more realistic terms, we are good at dissecting the fun out of nearly everything with our constant nitpicking and categorizing. We also see the hopeful bits of humanity, too, and this explains why sometimes decisions are difficult to act upon. We sit “on the fence” for longer periods of time. Notice, though, that when a choice has finally been made that the commitment to follow through is propelled by our loyalty to the choice. And intuition. Sorting Moon babies go from the gut sometimes but are very good at helping others focus on what details are more important than others. It seems easier for us to do this for other people than for ourselves, though.

Sadly, that isn’t explained at all. Maybe that has something to do with Scorpios, whom I’ve never really read much about. Also, the Sorting Moon’s lunar opposite is the Mating Moon. Those people tend to thrive in groups, in the kinds of activities that center around community and uniting with others to fulfill the needs of a group.  Sorting Moon people celebrate the individual. That doesn’t mean just ourselves, but other individuals as their own people. This is apparently our way of validating the choices we’ve made to assure ourselves (and each other) that we can continue to make good choices. And that is our contribution to the group, to society at large.

I have a difficult time believing I am a full-on Harvest Moon baby, because so much of the Sorting Moon seems to rule my life. But perhaps that’s the balance I must strike – learning how to feel comfortable as both, because it’s perfectly okay to do that. That’s the biggest Harvest Moon challenge, I think, is that ability to live in both worlds, under both moons, and accept it.

Thanks, Harvest Moon and Sorting Moon. There’s one less decision I have to make.

Perspectives and the Moons, Part One

The way people think about things, how a thousand individuals can experience the same event and walk away with a thousand different conclusions, completely fascinates me. It’s probably why I have been seeking out information in self-help books lately. At the moment, I am content with my life. Interestingly, my husband finds the word content to have a somewhat unfulfilled connotation, as if being content means one should still strive to seek out just a little bit more. I tend to use the word as meaning I am happily satisfied and in no need, for the moment, to seek out anything more. But that just encourages this idea of why I am so taken by perspectives and points of view.

I’m not sure that I would resort to a self-help book if I were ever in desperate need for answers on how to endure any hardships or other unfavorable aspects of my life. I have a deep well of contempt for diet and nutrition books and, to be fair, parenting books of all kinds (though I just finished Bringing up Bèbè and found it quite entertaining and enlightening) and I believe there is no such thing as a one-book-fits-all solution, no matter what you’re trying to do for yourself.  I simply like the idea of there being so many ideas!

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading a bit more about other people’s struggles, their versions of the meaning of life, how they came to believe certain things about humankind and the world in general, and how to incorporate some of these trains of thought into my everyday life. (Of course, now that I read this sentence back to myself, it sounds like I am contradicting my previous statement about being content and my use of the word. Perhaps my husband and I can simply decide to agree on a middlemost.)

Again, I don’t think there is a one-book-fits-all solution, and that includes books on the meaning of life. But just as I am encouraging my daughter to accept some afterschool instruction to help her improve her art skills, I hold strong to the idea that perspective skills are just as important. If I am never introduced to another’s method of thinking, I may never know how comfortably (or uncomfortably) that method fits into my own.

Take, for example, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I tried so hard to get through the first section of this book and I just couldn’t do it. For some reason, I even felt disrespectful for putting the book down, if just to rest my brain from his toggling back and forth from actual events to his professional psychological evaluation of one’s ability to endure hardship and survive, happily. He survived Auschwitz, for cryin’ out loud, and he’s happy and I could not bear to read anymore. I wasn’t put off by his descriptions of life in the camps (in fact, those are what made me want to keep reading) but I was put off by his belief that those who died did so because they lost the will to live.

And I disagree with that. Sometimes, a body just quits. It is likely I missed a particular point in the latter pages of this book that would have tied it all together, but I just couldn’t keep reading. I don’t think I even made it past the thirtieth page. For that, I am sorry. I want to know your story, Mr. Frankl, but perhaps we’ll meet in another way.

I moved on quickly to another book, one that actually seems to be more up my alley. While stacked on my bed’s headboard shelves are a number of non-fiction stories about yellow fever, the Great Influenza of 1918, and a few other books on epidemics (a shining gem featuring cholera is being held at my local library for me as I type this and I’m so excited!) so there is no shortage of morbidity and human suffering happening here, but I did manage to get my hands on an uplifting book called Earthtime Moontime by Annette Hinshaw. It turns out she’s a local celebrity of sorts and was a fervent activist for religious freedom in our neck of the woods (she passed away in 1999 but was a prominent member of the Pagan movement in nearby Tulsa, Okla.).  Unfortunately, my borrowing time has been reduced by the pesky but ever-so-helpful interlibrary loan by which the book was acquired. I have only a few weeks to study Hinshaw’s words before returning the book to its rightful home in the Dallas (Texas) library system. (Seriously, the whole state of Oklahoma has not one copy? Shameful.)

I will leave you with this, a blurb from Hinshaw’s book that captured my attention right away: “Once upon a time, there was no time…” Think about that. I’d be utterly lost without a clock but maybe we’d all be more in tune with the seasons and with ourselves. Even with each other? Hmm, thoughts for another time.

But now, says that darned clock, I must go pick up my daughter from her afterschool art instruction that I so feverishly pushed for her to attend. If I learned anything about myself from Hinshaw’s book (which whimsically describes me to a tee based on which moon I was born under in 1976), it is that I must be more assertive in my decisions and accepting of their consequences.  Or, as Hinshaw so delicately put it, “you may dissect things into so many pieces that you lose the beauty of the whole…”

Wasn’t I just writing about this a few weeks ago? I’ll promise to write more on this later, if anyone’s interested. And probably even if you aren’t.

Dreams I’ve Had (Anthony Bourdain and my Return to 5th Grade)

My mother used to tell me that the best time to recall the details in a dream are right when a person wakes up, before reality gets confused with the imagined (although reality sometimes helps me to recall other forgotten bits of the dream). Because I used to be such a horrible sleeper (yes, I sleep now!) I could never remember the dreams I did have, and if I remembered anything about them it was very little. So I would place a notebook by my bed to write down all the details, big and small, which was hard to keep up with because, well…I’m too tired right when I wake up and in no mood to write details. Now I have Matt to talk to and a blog space in which to write, so I’m thinking of keeping track of them here.

I’m starting off with the dream I had last night which is, in its own way, one of the wackiest I’ve ever had, though nothing beats my dream from a few weeks ago when, during all of my dental torture in real life, I was scarfing down handfuls of gummy bears at a gummy candy convention while my husband texted me anxiously, “Where are you?!” I was too ashamed to tell him the truth.

**********

Last night’s dream: I was in an airport or a shopping mall, staring at a large illuminated kiosk of crap when Anthony Bourdain, dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt, tapped me on the shoulder and informed me that my essay for Lucky Peach wasn’t going to be printed in the upcoming issue. But, as Tony repeatedly told me, “It was powerful. POWERFUL!” He shook his head, obviously pissed at the thought of my essay being dismissed by the powers that be, and walked off with Andrew Zimmern. I wish I knew what I’d written about. This was apparently my job, to write for Lucky Peach.

So to immerse myself in the art of creatively writing about food, I was returned to the 5th grade (by my Lucky Peach bosses, perhaps?). My teacher was a woman named Mrs. Iseley (spelled just that way on the laminated sign outside her classroom door).  I decided to walk the halls a bit after dropping off my backpack and finding my desk assignment. I visited another classroom where I was surprised to see Linda, my former supervisor from the University of North Florida, teaching a class! From a heated pool! AND DRINKING BLUE MARGARITAS! With Linda’s insistence, I considered asking for a transfer to her class instead of having to be with cranky ol’ Mrs. Iseley. Then the bell rang and I realized I was late for 5th grade. The school’s finance department had to unlock the steel door to Mrs. Iseley’s classroom in order for me to get in. Immediately dirty looks were thrown my way because I was tardy and obviously the class troublemaker.

**********

Amateur interpretation: Anthony Bourdain was actually in the Oklahoma City area last week. He is currently making his obligatory rounds through his Guts and Glory tour. Matt and I considered going to see him at this live speaking event, but the cost of tickets wasn’t enough to justify the trouble we’d have finding a sitter and driving all the way out to Midwest City on a Sunday night. Later we learned that a particular issue of Lucky Peach (which is on my Christmas list for a magazine subscription) is worth upwards of $400. I’m sure this is why my dream was so Bourdain-centric – because I missed his show and really, truly wanted to go. This dream tied together all those unanswered Bourdain/Lucky Peach loose ends.

Also, Matt and I spent lunchtime on Friday at Elle’s school. It’s been a tough year for her, what with being the new kid and dealing with bullying. Perhaps this dream was to serve as a reminder of what it was like for me to be the new kid, which happened quite often growing up in a military family. No matter how you look at it, it sucks to be the new kid. And I even told Matt while we stood waiting in the hallway, “No matter what elementary school, no matter what era – they’re always going to be the same.” I meant the schools themselves, but my dream includes the mean kids, too.

A Kind of Bliss

Words and stories don’t come to me as easily these days. My schoolwork has taken most of them up, seeing as I decided to attend University of Oklahoma’s online college and now cram my courses into 8-week blocks. It’s the same amount of learning going on here as a traditional semester, but depending on how one looks at it, one could say I’m either studying twice as hard or finishing my core classes in half the time. Sometimes, it feels like both.

My days are fairly unchanging in that not much new happens now (honestly, I kind of like things that way). All that newness went away once we found ourselves becoming settled into a happy schedule of heading out to work, getting picked up from school, having the laundry finished on the weekends, and the dishwasher full and running by bedtime. Even the dogs know when it’s time to fall asleep.

To break the monotony of my classwork and studies and my daily runs to the elementary school and the coffee shop, I have taken to lightening the feeling of annoyance that certain tasks and chores tend to produce.

  • When I’m writing a research paper, I let myself wander off to visit a couple of websites full of whimsical artwork and imagine that the room in which I’m working and studying is filled with these pieces and prints. In fact, when I grow up I would like to live in a treehouse with wallpaper that looks like that artwork. There is even something inside of me that tells me bliss is having paint spatter on your toes, charcoal smudges on your hands, a comfortable pair of jeans destroyed by oil paint stains. I want that. Of course, I’m no artist (that’s my kid’s department), but fulfillment (or bliss) comes in many forms.

Phoebe Wahl

Rebecca Rebouche

  • When I’m waiting in the pickup line at Elle’s school, I put down the windows and let the breeze blow in and read Taproot Magazine. I consider it my reward at the end of the day, after I have acquired a headache and shoulder spasm from spending hours in front of the computer studying multidisciplinarity and annotated bibliographies and trying to understand why Harry T. Moore has never been publicly acknowledged as a civil rights activist! (That’s my research and I’m very into it). The artwork and stories in Taproot just soothe me and calm me. They make me want to find a little piglet to cuddle and milk some dairy cows, go run barefoot in a creek and learn how to knit, after I’ve mastered making homemade ice cream and tending to my beehive, of course. BONUS: Ashley English, the author of my favorite cookbook A Year of Pies, is a regular contributor. And Taproot is where I read about this story. I’ve done something similar, though in a more stationary setting. It’s fun.
  • Finally, at the end of the day, when I’ve got dinner on the stove and the table needs setting, I plan on listening to a lot this:

I just got my hands on their CD yesterday (thank you, Amazon, for the unexpected early delivery), but I cannot get enough of Shovels & Rope. Their music fires me up and makes me want to bang the pots and pans together when I’m cooking (don’t worry, honey – it’s just a feeling). Sure, there is awkward dancing and hand-clapping, even toe-tapping, but it makes me feel good. Besides, stirring things in a pot on the gas stove is more fun when there’s a rhythm to follow, no?

The Art Mind

My daughter tells me I need an “art mind” because, without one, I will never comprehend the beauty that is a brick turned on its side with steel poles pushed through it and displayed under bright lights in a gallery. And she’s right. I’m okay with this, though, since other people have told me something similar when it comes to appreciating poetry.

Details and explanations mean a lot to me so when I look at a piece of art or read a poem that someone has poured their heart and soul into, I usually think huh? and ask for them to just get to the point: Why do I have to guess at their meaning or translate it for myself? Why don’t they just tell me what they’re trying to say? It’s like charades in a way and people can get really pissed off when you don’t guess correctly. It is rather annoying.

But I can appreciate when something looks or sounds interesting. I have one favorite poem called The Supple Deer by Jane Hirschfield. I get it. I mean, I really, really GET IT. I think. I’m pretty sure I do. And if I don’t then it doesn’t really matter because it is a truly beautiful string of words she just made there.

The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through it.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer—

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

And yesterday, around the moment my kid told me I have no eye for the true beauty in art, I saw these. Sure, they’re just boxes and the focus was on geometry (sadly, something else I will never comprehend), but they are pretty boxes. I might actually like to have one of them inside my house, though I’m honestly shooting for a Florida Highwaymen painting to be my first big artsy purchase.

All artwork is by Eric Wright:

by Eric Wright

by Eric Wright

by Eric Wright

by Eric Wright

I think we call all relate to this little guy.

by Eric Wright

The Power of Introverts

While walking the dachshund the other day, I was listening to a podcast from TEDTalks and I became quite emotional over the connection I felt to the speaker. Introverts have a unique bond with one another…and with the extroverts who are willing to take the time to understand us, work with us, and not judge us.

I am an introvert who has been called an extrovert more than once. I don’t necessarily find that to be incorrect or an insult. Quite frankly, I find that to be one of the most interesting compliments an introvert could ever be given because it means that we, the introverts, have been able to adapt to the extrovert’s world.

Listen to Susan Cain talk about our former agricultural society and then listen to how she connects the introverts of yesteryear to our modern day, one that is fueled by charisma and charm, sociabilty and gregariousness.  Our modern day is moved forward by a big business state of mind, one that encourages, no…more like pushes and forces upon us all, the group dynamic.  Notice that the introverts are more likely to be the ones left behind.

My early career in the hotel business groomed me, against everything I felt was comfortable and safe to me, to be personable and enthusiastic when dealing with strangers, friendly or otherwise. I became a salesperson, a haggler, a PR spokesperson, and, sometimes, a free therapist for hotel guests who found themselves alone, lonely, and far from home.  I learned how to be friendly and patient at my worst moments, how to see the good in people, and how to force myself to look like I really wanted to be there…in a group, at a social event, on a stage receiving an award and being applauded by strangers and coworkers. Where would I have rather been?  I would have rather been at home or upstairs in my hotel room, reading a book or watching some nerdy documentary on television.

This other piece about introverts from Susan Cain really hit home, too. It feels so good to know someone is on your side and willing to speak for you, even more so when they are one of your kind – a quiet person, a bookworm, a loner, a lover of solitude. There is nothing wrong with being an extrovert, although I do believe introverts are more often the ones who feel as though we must defend ourselves or work harder at being heard, trusted, or worthy of expectations. Susan Cain said it herself, in other words, of course, that some of us are perfectly capable of being ambiverts and that others live momentarily on the cusp of both at times, especially when life calls for it. Our tendencies steer us to be one way and, introvert or extrovert, we must adapt to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I like to think this concept of different-ness means we are all actually more alike than we may have recognized.