Monday, May 22, 2017

An incomplete thank you for the miracles of the world

Morning in Mexico
On this day as I begin my second year of gratitude practice, I give thanks for where I am and where Ive been and hope this poem makes up for some of the moments of gratitude Ive missed along the way.

for all the people I never thanked:

the authors, teachers, artists, carpenters,

the fighters of fires, the doctors of disease,

those who built the roads through the mountains and deserts,

those who grew the vegetables and fruits for my table,

all the meals and makers-of-meals who went unblessed,

all the garments and sewers and sellers of them 
that kept me dressed,

and the thousands, millions, of other unthanked souls

who have made my life possible, made it a joy.

for all the beauty I forgot to acknowledge:

the mountains, meadows, moonglows and manatees,

the soft summer days, the snow-covered pines,

the cactus blossoms of spring, the yellow aspens of fall,

all the trees I never thanked for my breath,

all the clouds I never thanked for their beckonings,

all the rocks I never thanked for their stories,

all the rivers and lakes, puddles and ponds,

the oceans of water that refreshed my days,

never once asking for my thanks.

for all the people who made me laugh or cry:

the jokesters, writers, actors, makers of movies,
the merry whistlers and designers of Tilt-a-Whirls,

all you bubbling fountains of mirth and magic
who brought forth giggles and guffaws, chuckles and chortles,
tears and torment, glimpses into alien worlds and other hearts,
graciously accepting my laughter and tears as thanks enough.

to all of you ... friends and family,

those recognized and total strangers,

finally and utterly incompletely,
thanks. ... Thanks! ... Thank YOU!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What do you do when the Universe rejects what you thought you were supposed to do?

Fleeting Shadows
A few days ago I received the news that my application to the Squaw Valley Community of Writers had been rejected - again. This is the fourth rejection I’ve received from that prestigious writers’ conference, two for poetry and now two for fiction. Because I know, slightly, one of the organizers of the conference, I also received a personal, apologetic note saying only 38% of the applicants were accepted. Somehow, that made it worse. 4 out of 10 got in and I wasn’t one of the four. I’m not even in the top 40% of the applicants. That stings.

The creative life overflows with rejection. It’s part of the course. We’re supposed to suck it up and keep making our art and putting it out into the world. That’s what everyone says. That’s what I’ve always thought and said. But now I wonder. Now, I’m in this new world, in a new beginning, facing a clean slate. Which way to go?

I never expected this path of writer and artist. Nothing in my childhood labeled me creative. There were no early accolades or unexpected successes. Creativity has been like a quiet shadow that just showed up one day and followed me as I wandered through life. I’ve never known quite what to make of it or if it was even real. For some reason, one of my first poem friends, “Eldorado" by Edgar Allan Poe (printed in full below) comes to mind: 
 ‘Shadow,’ said he,   
   ‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’

But, no answer comes. I feel like I have journeyed long, in sunshine and in shadow, and still don’t know
if I’m on the right path. The desire to be be a writer came in the fourth grade … also accompanied by
rejection as my first recess play was rejected because no one could read my writing. And, art sprang out
of the dark days after Richard died. No one was more surprised than I when my art showed up on the
walls of a gallery, where it largely remained unsold.

Part of the angst of the creative life … for me … is the belief that art is, or should be, a conversation
between artist and observer. What the artist makes needs to be received, accepted, understood,

But, what if that’s not true?

What if making art is just something we do, like making the bed, cooking a meal, kissing a child's boo
boo, or planting a flower? We do it because it’s who we are. What if the world’s reception is basically
meaningless. Would it change who I am if the great Squaw Valley deemed me worthy of their conference
or something I wrote suddenly went viral or a piece of my art caught the eye of a critic?

I know the answer is “no.” I know what changes me is the act of writing, struggling to tell a story in the
best possible way. What enhances my life is the daily search for beauty and understanding with my
camera and words. What feeds my spirit is that deep intake of breath that happens when I see light
playing with the world or find words tumbling out of my head as if from some other place, bringing me
insights beyond my own puny thoughts. That is the critical acknowledgment, the acceptance and
valuing of a piece of myself that has somehow connected with the Universe through what I do,
regardless of what form that takes.

Poe ends “Eldorado” with the exhortation:

Ride, boldly ride,’ 
   The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

My take on this is that whatever I do, to do it boldly. Maybe the creative conversation I seek isn’t with
the world, but simply with myself. I write and make art to know who I am. If others come along for the 
ride, that just makes it more fun. 

Más tarde, por ahora audazmente ir.

Gaily bedight,
   A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,  
   Had journeyed long,  
   Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

   But he grew old—
   This knight so bold—  
And o’er his heart a shadow—  
   Fell as he found
   No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

   And, as his strength  
   Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—  
   ‘Shadow,’ said he,  
   ‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’

   ‘Over the Mountains
   Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,  
   Ride, boldly ride,’
   The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rainbirds of Lake Chapala, harbingers of rain

Click here to hear the rainbirds
One of the first things I heard when I came to the Lake Chapala area was about the rainbirds. Theoretically, when they begin to “sing,” rain is 42 days away. Some of the less fanciful folks say the rain will begin mid-June regardless of the rainbirds. And, some rather harsh locals insist that they are neither birds, nor do they sing.

Admittedly, now that I’ve heard them, I would have to agree that few would call this singing and apparently the “birds” are Lake Chapala’s form of cicadas coming out of their long hibernation. Apparently the males flex their tymbals (drum-like organs on their abdomens) to make a sound somewhat like someone learning to play a one-stringed violin. (Click under the picture above to see if you would call this a song.)

In looking for more information about rainbirds and the weather here in this paradise billed as the second-best climate in the world, I found:

     - May is the hottest month, mainly in the upper 80s with a few 90s thrown into this largely unairconditioned land. However, the humidity is in the 30s so it’s dry heat and cools off at night to 60-70.
     - Rain starts in mid-June and mainly falls at night. (How civilized.) The mountains turn green, flowers flourish and the temperatures stay in the mid-70s to 80 through September. Sunsets are spectacular.
     - Sometimes tropical storms hover over the area, hiding the sun for three or four days, during which time everyone goes into a state of sun-deprived depression.
     - During the tropical storms, the winds play musical furniture with everything that isn’t tied down. 
     - From October through April, the weather is spring like with almost no rain but lots of snow ... birds.

More lake trivia:

Lake Chapala, from the Nahuatal word chapalal meaning the sound of water splashing on a sandy shore, is 50 - 70 miles long and 15-20 miles wide. It was formed 12 million years ago and was 7 times larger than it is now, covering the current city of Guadalajara. Mammoth fossils have been found in the lake bed.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Playing house in Ajijic

Today as I do the wash, make breakfast, and prepare for the delivery of some patio furniture, I have a sudden sense of playing house. However, it’s not playing house in the idea of doing something imaginary or not real. 
This is very real, and pretty normal … Missy’s on the back of the couch, looking out the window, protecting us from intruders, email pings occasionally and Facebook streams the latest incomprehensible actions of the world. These things happen wherever I go.

This feeling of playing house is more about playing than the latest move. I’ve moved a lot even though this is the first out of country move. This is an almost giddy … free ... feeling. Perhaps it comes from what I’ve let go of … the responsibility of owning a home, driving a car, the mountain of stuff that called me to appreciate it, dust it, learn to play it or use it more effectively, honor it. Perhaps it’s the rolling away of expectations to be something … a loving friend or family member, a responsible home owner/neighbor, an informed citizen, a writer, an artist, … an adult. A tangled ball of “shoulds” seems to have been lifted from my life, leaving me with an almost equally confusing tangle of choices.

This feeling of playing house is somewhat like a surprise package wrapped in a bright, red bow. Untying the bow with anticipation, I find a note that says:
Here’s everything you need to create a new life … time, energy, health, financial security, all fueled by curiosity and caring about the world. Make it what you want it to be. Explore new worlds … or not. Write a crazy book that no one will read … or not. Develop a new art style … or not. Gather stories and friends … or not. Recreate your old life in a new place … or try on a new life and look in a mirror to see what appears.
If I’m playing house, I can try any or all … or none of these things. I can wander aimlessly … or find a purpose that makes my heart sing. I can do … or I can be … or I can harmonize them into a tune.

I can even sit here navel gazing with words while the birds sing. Perhaps they are doing the same thing in a different language.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Walking into the little mornings of Mexico

How lovely is the morning ... the day of the mothers
A long night, tossing and turning, struggling to find sleep. Suddenly there is a marching band in the street.

Seriously. The vibration of drummers and the clarion brass section competed with suddenly alert neighborhood dogs, including Missy who added to the chaos. Desperate for sleep, I thought I had dropped into a mad woman’s dream, until I remembered that May 10th is Mother’s Day in Mexico and they have a custom different from our cards and flowers.

Mexicans take family seriously and mama is the glue that holds family life together. This day is so important that it begins shortly after midnight. Local musicians make their rounds from house to house serenading the mothers as well as the Mother of Mexico, Guadalupe, with the familiar strains of “Las Mañanitas” Mexico’s all-purpose song for serenades, birthdays, saints day and other celebrations. 
Click here to hear the serenade.
Click above to hear the song that came in the middle of the night from an unseen band of serenaders. Interestingly, as soon as they moved on, sleep settled in and I awake this morning, tired but with the sweet sense of being held in a different place.

One of the primary reasons I chose to come here to this community on the largest lake in Mexico is I wanted a walking lifestyle. The Universe works in interesting ways, however. During the process of "de-stuffing" my life getting ready for the move, I sprained my foot ... not a serious injury but one that is altering my approach to being here. I can't dart about yet. Everything is moving more slowly than I had intended. I'm being forced to slow down, measure my energy, take more naps. This morning I feel the effects of too little sleep. Rather than struggling against fatigue, though, I find myself drifting, savoring the unexpected gift of last night's song, refusing the pull of "shoulds," sinking into a new and different pace.

A quote from Andy Warhol found me this morning and seems like something to hold onto today, reminding me that there is a beauty in lost sleep and unexpected songs, a value in seeing the beauty in everything.

Thank you unseen musicians, thank you Mexico, thank you creaky body forcing me to slow down, thank you to everything in my life that has brought me to this place, this moment, thank you Andy for reminding me to look for the beauty.

"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it."
-- Andy Warhol


Saturday, March 25, 2017

It's a Four Agreements morning

Facebook brought me news of a death yesterday, a friend from high school. It hit me hard, harder than I would have thought considering I had not seen or heard from her in over 50 years. She was a bright light from my high school years, someone I considered one of my best friends.

I don’t often dream of people, but, over the years, I occasionally dreamed of her and those dreams had a special quality. They were like reunions. I would always awaken with a joy of reconnection as well as a mourning of the lost friendship. We were separated the summer before our senior year when both of our families moved. We wrote for awhile, but those were the days before Facebook, and eventually life separated us and the tie was broken.

I tried to reconnect a few times over the years but met with unspoken rejection. For a multitude of reasons, I took it personally. This morning I poured my feelings of being unloved, unwanted, rejected into an Evernote file until the Four Agreements shouted: Stop the pity party!
The conversation continued: Yes, you were rejected by someone you once loved. Yes, that person didn’t approve of the way you lived your life. Yes, she’s now dead and you will never be reconnected in this life. Yes, she was hard-hearted toward you. And, yes, you’ve probably been equally hard-hearted toward someone who loved you. She was human. You’re human. People aren’t perfect. You’re still alive … try to do better. Keep your own heart soft. Be kind to yourself and others.

Remember: Don’t take anything personally!
All right already.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Forty Days of Memes: Day 2 Happiness and Wonder

Soap bubbles: Sticky water molecules sandwiched by a surfactant with a hydrophilic head and hydrophobic tail expanded by breath into a sphere-seeking, slippery, thin film reflecting color wave interferences which samba through kaleidoscopic patterns of iridescent colors while compressing the most amount of air into a minimal area  capable of withstanding the forces of gravity and evaporation before collapsing into a never-more, liquid pop.

Soap bubbles fascinate and delight for their beauty and fragility. A couple of years ago, when invited to participate in an art and science show in Fresno, I delved into the science of soap bubbles and came up with the 62-word definition above. Obviously, it doesn’t adequately capture either the wonder or the happiness created by these momentary delights.

This particular soap bubble has fascinated me since the bright, shiny San Francisco day when I took the photo. Many years ago, Richard had a device that would make these elongated gossamer rainbow catchers. It always irritated him when children delighted in popping them. And, you have to wonder what that impulse is to pop something beautiful that is going to self-destruct within seconds anyway.

I also wonder if it’s the very fragility of soap bubbles that takes our breath away. Soap bubbles are NOW. We have a second to be awed by them before they disappear never to be seen again. We can’t store them (except in photographs), we can’t say, “Oh, wait a minute, I’ll get back to you.” We have to pay attention while they’re in play. We have to let ourselves be thrilled by their shimmering colors during their glimmer of life.

What if soap bubbles offer us the most realistic of all metaphors of life? Savor it now, for in a second it will be gone.