Monday, April 27, 2009

The Realm of 'Whelm

"Something I've found
we're just skin and bones
and nothing much more..."
-The Sundays in "Skin and Bones" from Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

What a week. What a month. Best friends collapsing under breakups, participation turned into coordination and direction, exhaustion exhaustion exhaustion. So overwhelmed, pumped out, wiped. And yet, nothing "bad" nothing "hard" happening to me, personally. In love, still. Happy with work and then some, still. Estatic in the world, still. Overwhelmed in a good way, that way.

To do lists with nothing left to do are mixed in with those with one or two things left undone.
Notes taken at talks yet untranscribed haunt me in their uncompleteness.
Dirty sheets and dishes compete with natural dirt outside calling me to my knees.
The cats, oh the cats, always reminding me: all of this doesn't exist, just their breath, their bellies, their hunger for love, that can satisfy me and them in one fell swoop.

That's it. Nothing more to say for now.

Still doing Poem A Day, so that's been taking most of my writing practice energy. That and I knocked off a chunk of novel re-write for Orphano last Friday. Tons of grading to do this week, traveling again, helping friends, shh shh shh tons of naps.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Last night, Dylan and I got Sushi, to celebrate the arrival of my book and being together for the first time in days, alone, just the two of us. Of my three closest girlfriends, one went through a drastic breakup a few weeks ago, and the other two are currently suffering through similar. Unbeknownst to us, consciously, we were celebrating our own relationship, the relief and joy of it. It was a quiet celebration, mostly silent meal, enjoying the mix of wasabi and salmon, even the muzaked Japanese pseudo-traditional music. Each other's company was of course at the core of the evening. The fact that we can, that we do, that on top of all our hard work, sheer luck got us together and here.

Now it's a rainy Tuesday, and I am mostly - mostly - caught up with work. Other than just now having to stop typing to squirt our youngest cat off an attention-getting shelf of old Mexican blue glass, the weather, the mood, the light in the room and music is subtle. All so almost-silent, very spacious. The nothingness, the privileged openness of a good life, in which there is little conflict and a lot of patience.

One of the albums I picked up was Toad the Wet Sprocket's Pale. I have this on tape somewhere, dubbed from my friend Jennifer in JHS. Listening to it for the first time on cd is wonderful - great storytelling folk rock, so many nuances to their simple songs. And this is how I feel about my life today - sensitive and open, chilly but also alert. So grateful for the grey that pops the colors right out from cars and flowers and grass. The quieter the better, the better to actually see the world with.

That's it. That's all I have to say. Off to write poetry for Poem A Day contest, which I am now somehow also a judge for (don't know how they are going to work that one! But I'll leave it up to them.) I got both my books yesterday and a rejection letter on a story I submitted - but the letter came with comments and they want to see it again once revised. Out of the quiet, out of the space grows ideas like grass. And out of the denial grows opportunity. Out of the pale grows color, sparking fire truck color. Let the emergency pass and be grateful for the flash.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Book is here!

IT'S OUT! If you ordered from me I will get it to you this week, if you ordered online it should be to you any day and if you haven't bought a copy, come to a reading, order from me, or buy it online: (go to New and Recently Published titles, scroll down to Hall)
May 5 at Avol's in Madison WI
August 11 at Conkey's in Appleton WI
June in Burlington VT
Milwaukee and Minneapolis coming up!

Draining Flood

This morning I went to open up my Mac, and it wasn't on. Huh. I left it on last night, unplugged, but fully charged. I left it on because it was downloading the weekend I just spent in Black Earth with my Miksang teacher, John McQuade, along with a wonderful crew of 14 other participants. Images from John, notes (10000+words) plus images from all the participants added up to a few gig of info, and it was still backing them up when we went to sleep.

But this morning the computer wouldn't start and I plugged it in to find it had died in the night, overloaded with the task of sorting the info and storing it.

Needless to say, I am happily in the same state myself.

Basho, Monet, Weston. Evans, Lange, Patterson. Trungpa, Katagiri, Soto. Loori, Goldsworthy, Wright. Shambhala, Buddhism, Contemplation. Spacious, Simple, Pure. 5-7-5. Dot in Space. Figure on Ground. Heaven Earth Man. Ground, Path, Fruition. Flash of Perception.

I called a friend this morning after dropping John at the airport and I started to cry spontaneously: how rare it is to have even one teacher, even one set of teachings you can really totally relate to and receive, much less two, being both writing with Natalie Goldberg and Miksang with John McQuade. Then there's the rest of Shambhala, nothing to shake a stick at in terms of teachings and heart connection. And Paula Novotnak, who first introduced me to writing practice and taught me how to teach. And the students, "my" students, who don't belong to me or anything but are so dedicated and lovely. Good Lord.

Two close friends went through major crisis this weekend while I was out of town - both in messy came-to-head breakups. I, of course, was totally out of reach - my cell phone didn't even work out there. So I am sending them, out over the ether, as they are going about their daily lives and can't call me until later, all of this extra, all of this wealth, all of this love, all that nature has to give, already gives, without us asking, without needing us to receive it. That's the Way, or one of the Ways, of Nature. Ask, and you shall receive - but not because you ask, just because it is already there, waiting for nothing, endless and loving. Obviously I'm not talking about oil or wood or minerals here, I am talking about energy. It sounds too simple to even say it that way.
But that's all I can say, not because I am worn out, flooded with love, but because one can't say what it is. If we could, if a word or words existed to do it, to express what it is that life is, life would be over, done with, gone. Ended. Finite. And it isn't. It's endless and ever-changing.
Constantly flooding, constantly draining. Just ask my Mac.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Walking Backwards

A student at a Miksang Level One a few weeks ago pointed out that to try and reproduce/photograph a raw perception is a bit akin to canning a breath and saying "Let me show you this breath." (or something to that effect)

I spent Thursday and Friday of last week "walking backwards" with my friend Virginia (as she calls "going on retreat") and it is fascinating to see how even the notion of taking time to notice the present moment - through sitting meditation, walking meditation, photography and writing and collaging - quickly becomes kind of funny. As soon as one even notices the present moment it is already gone, much less trying to "reproduce", recognize or appreciate it. In fact, in the latest issue of the Shambhala Sun (which is very good this time around), Leonard Cohen chides even the use of the word "acceptance," as it seems to point to some "other thing" which can be accepted - inherently there is dualism in that idea.

I hit Saturday on the ground running. Social events, seder, errands to run and beautiful weather to be had. By the time I got through Nyinthun on Sunday I was gone. Really ready for a break after my retreat. Last night I slept a very solid 10 hours and now I look at the face of this next week, in preparation for another retreat this weekend, and finally see/feel/experience the smoothness of the steps back we took last week. Funny how though we may talk about "post-meditation" experience, or discuss how restful it is to actually be in silence, increasingly in my practice the "benefits" manifest days later, a bit like with a workout. First there's the experience, which may or may not feel "good". Then the pain of afterwards - sore muscles, shocked mind. Finally, the realization that once one picks up pace with "regular life", somehow the steps backwards have trained us to keep pace with a calmer face.

This week, anyway, and so far, meaning, today. This today. Now. As it passes me by and walks itself backwards into my memory, as I move forwards, as if this were a timeline with no time but the present. Both a dot and a wave.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Positive Contact

Yesterday, in the shower, a scene from Buffy came to me. Yes, I've been working my way through all seven seasons since Christmas, and I really dig the intelligence of the program, the challenge of outsider status of Vampires and also the TV factor. I don't watch a lot of it, but what I watch I want to matter. Buffy matters.

The scene: Giles gives Buffy a crapton of money to get her out of a rough spot. It's season six, second disc, I won't give any spoilers. Let's just say he's helping her out in a big way. It's a Deus ex Machina (God and the Machine) moment, where the audience is thinking "How the heck is she going to get herself out of this one?" and Lo and Behold, Giles jumps in and does it. Mind you, it's not completely random - he's been a father figure for a long time - but nothing tells us before it that he has cash.

In the shower, rinsing my shampoo, something hit me really strongly: If Joss Whedon and co had tried to plan for that moment way back in Season One (clearly it's not the only turn-around moment, but it's a big one) they couldn't have done it. It's not like they said "We are going to insert this Giles character so that later after saving Buffy's butt in any number of ways he can help her pay her bills." No, they just invented him, placed him in, and over time Giles and the actor who plays him and the writers let the character organically develop. By the time that moment happened, it was the right thing for Giles to do. The kind of thing he would do. Consistent.

I struggle with teaching my JHS students consistency in their creative writing. Works pretty well in essays and poetry, but when they get to fiction, all manner of bizarre things happen out of nowhere. To the writer, of course, these occurences seem natural - "I wanted it to wind up that way," "It makes sense to me," or even "I don't have to explain it, because Polar Bears taking over Mars is a natural outcome of the Apocalypse." You can feel, especially in these young kids' writings, when they have just "let it happen" and when they have an "agenda" in their writing.

This lead me to two epiphanies of sorts:

1. Fiction works like life works. There's cause and effect. Things seem to happen without reason but in fact causes and conditions work up to those moments. Later, with bigger picture (or in the case of an author who has a bigger view all around) it all fits together, though bizarrely at times.
Writing fiction is, in fact, a practice, a Buddhist practice, a practice for life, or can be - if one keeps this in mind. That we are not God, we never are, even when we "author" something. We are a part of God or the Universe, and when we are creating, we need to be a responsible part, but our creations and the world are much larger than the sum of the parts we put together.
This reminded me to let go - not worry about the endings of my novels (which right now are bogging me down because I don't "know where I am going").

2. I have learned to let go of a LOT in writing fiction. Poetry and essays work that way a bit, too, in the essential process of letting go and how that happens with all creativity if we let it. Let go and the net appears. But somehow in working with characters, letting them come alive and guide me, I have seen a sense of faith I wouldn't have been able to accept not being a Buddhist practicioner (and believe me it's still hard to accept even with that!), and have also re-discovered a joy and patience for human beings through writing about their lives. Seeing just how much luck, chance and development work together with intention is phenomenal, and something about witnessing it through the act of creating has been really powerful for me as a human being.

Two "minor" epiphanies I'll be working through for awhile now that I uncovered them for myself are these (and they followed on the heels of the fiction ones, somehow are related to me):

3. We measure time as a way to seem to make things more solid, more permanent. It would seem to be a tool for recognizing impermanence (moments pass and don't return) but we measure it in a form which allows us to believe all days are the same, or Mondays are the same as other Mondays, that I always do such and such at 4pm. It's never the same 4pm, though.

4. This last one was prompted by an excerpt from a Leonard Cohen interview reprinted in this month's Shambhala Sun. He points out that even the word "acceptance" is falsely permanent-izing. To say "just be," "accept," "have equanimity," "have compassion" all give some kind of solidity to what is actually constantly an act of letting go. This was reaffirmed yesterday at a talk when the director said "Basically we are just constantly letting go, every second," and my favorite line from Acharya Judith Lief, who says the best way to practice for the ultimate impermanence of death is to let go of every single breath and realize it will never return. A student at Miksang a couple of weeks ago pointed out the irony in trying to "capture" a perception on film - "It'd would be like saying 'I'm going to capture this breath and reproduce it.'" Good point. We can still use time, use a sense of permanence, use all of these, but recognizing the limits of our tools is significant. Positive, even. Liberating.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Count me in!

One of my favorite poets and a woman who gave me a great blurb for my upcoming poetry chapbook At Home Here (first one, buy now!) is a participating judge in an April Poem-A-Day competition through Writer's Digest. I only found out about it tonight, but after a few glasses of wine I thought, hey, hey, I can do that!

(Meaning: in lieu of working on either of my two stunted-in-progress novels, but you know I have been working on short fiction lately and...anyway, it's good for me, at least I am writing.)

It's fun! Jump in! You can start late! Do it! Do it now!


For Poem-A-Day Challenge, April 2009
First is the topic, next line is title.

1. Origin poem
Hunger on the Spine of Guyana

Out of the mouth of the river
shout wallets of fish.
They collapse in nets
of waiting workers
who line the Essequibo.
After a long week of mining diamonds
and gold from shit-brown banks,
flesh is worth than a gem.

Along the bend,
a woman's hips appear
to the men who watch from above.
Two helicopters and a biplane
trace her length with wings,
hands between their legs.
Salmon seen from the airships
(above the heads of working men)
bursting lust from the banks,
flood waiting arms.

No one will eat this feast.

2. Outsider
Inside her skirt are legs.
Between them are sweaty hairs
that poke at the opposite thigh,
(swords in battle at night)
blindly finding opponents
through screams.

From the outside, he hears her
sigh, shake her hips (not out of confidence
but fear).
Her extra weight goes jiggle jiggle
and he translates her wiggle wiggle
into busty beast behavior.
She shivers and waits
for the seduction to end.

3. The Problem With_______
The Problem With Genes
the sexy name for brains that break
and sway in the winds of change.
Why would it not be this way?
Two twin brothers,
born of the same genes,
create totally separate lives.

One's body pulses sex,
finds the earth, whose roots push,
whose parts parse each scintillating star
until the sun itself orgasms.

The other mind's master grasps the girth
of his own girl, wound up in the whirl
of the night, right hand then left
over and around her breasts.

The problem is that we all breed
with the world, whether with each other
or with no one. She slips inside each of us,
hidden behind gene masks.
"Just you try and make me into one lover,"
she whispers,
"I will change you like water."

4. Animal
Is it part of a word you tell me
as we fall asleep?
I think you meant to say
but I am not entirely sure.

Maybe you are referring
to an arsenal in the secret place we should
meet when the world falls apart
(since we read about the economy again
today in the NYT at the coffeehouse around
the corner).
Our friend Michael insists
we will have to fight over food
like tigers over antelopes
like wild beasts.

Perhaps you express
your concerns about our car,
in need of its 90,000 mile check-up.
"How will we pay for this
what with the cat surgery
my job catastrophe
the rising cost of horse feed?"
I worry, too, about this
before sleep.

Then you reach for me
bite into my shoulder
until I bleed.
"Oh, I see," I say,
"you need me. You need me."

5. Landmark
"Growing up in Appleton, WI, home to Harry Houdini and Joseph McCarthy"

My father pissed on McCarthy's grave.
Said he passed major holidays
celebrating this way.
His urine turned to ice for Christmas,
steamed in dark Fourth of July.

In Dad's office at work, McCarthy's face
was a dartboard above his desk,
pimpled with well-aimed blows.
My mother swore Dad dated a cousin of the Rosenberg's
right before marrying Mom. A point of pride for them both.

When I was ten we took a family trip to the Houdini Museum.
I saw in small print
a tiny caveat:
"Is is still debated by historians
whether Houdini was, in fact, born in Appleton."

My mantel in Madison misses
photos of my father and mother,
now buried alongside both Joseph and Harry.
When I married, I removed their knots,
slipped free of my history.

6. "What's Missing?"
Obscure Addresses

How can I know all of these people well enough
to want to invite them to my wedding,
and no longer have their home addresses?

The earth where they stand
now or yesterday
is still made up of land stranded to mine through mycelium.

But the circuits don't care
that post office boxes have become obscure
that I can only IM my best friend.

Only me, here with the last stand of postcards
and envelopes lined in pretty patterns
try to make permanent

that which the internet
has finally rendered ephemeral.

7. Clean poem or dirty poem
On the sidewalk outside, to-be stars
traipse by, guitars on arms.
I spy on their excitement.

Off they go to make careers
at the corner; record first albums,
biggest dreams.

The stream headed to the sewer
parallels their path
fresh water waiting to rock.

8. Routine
Her Routine

It begins with a pencil
falling off my bedside table.
Following, the mirror squeaks
as if Snow White hides inside.
Kleenex pop out of the box
and float down to the floor.
Eventually, the whole tabletop
is at my feet.

Then, only then, do I stop my sleep
to wake and feed the cat.

9. Memory
"Haiku use memory,
also direct perception."
First grade poetry.

10. Friday
No day comes before today.
Clean slate licking the plate.
Where there was a hump
there is now a down slope,
which is actually an up slope
in my mind. Friday, I am
Robert Smith for you, in love
with the passing of time.

11. Object Poem

"That's not an object," my teacher insists.
"It shines *on* objects, allows us to see them.
Without light we don't know what exists."

But light is light without silken fur
raised up in the warmth,
without her hands touched with the shading
and shape of fading sun.
At night when the last of the street lights
turn to morning
that light is its own existence
its own dawn.

12. "So We Decided To..."
So We Decided To Clean the House

What better way to spend a day off?
Lick down the counters with our sponges,
swipe our wet hands through our hair.
Open the window - it's getting warm in here -
let the dust from a good part of a year
drift out through the screen.

We decided in the middle of cleaning the house
to clean each other.
Breasts grown dull from not enough use,
hips unslick, blocked over
with long underwear, all stripped down
revealed to the sunshine,
to each other.

13. Hobby
No Task Too Small

"He's probably one of those geeky guys who makes useless chainmail by hand."
This assessed to me from a friend, in regards to another friend.

But he could have meant me
18 years ago
along the trail of the desert fathers turned sea fathers
trying to find home in a new country.
As the rail rattled us north, my brother and I wove our armor
side by side, sharing screwdrivers (Phillips head the best, so the loops
could slide off easily), needlenose pliers, and the restful, satisfied sleep
of weavers.
After all those months of twisted hands, we had headpieces
and bands for our arms. Nothing for our chests. Nothing
to protect our hearts for her death.

14. Love/anti-Love
Tell Me This

Where did you get the ingredients
for the biscuit dough?
How long does it rise, does it take longer
in the snowy winter, what about if he comes home
looking for something slimmer, on a diet he didn't tell
you about before he left for work that morning?
When he turns his stomach away from supper,
where do I throw the remaining food?
Into my own sadness or out onto the flood
plain where nothing has grown now
since our daughter rejected my womb?

15. Changed title
"Making Thirst"
(after "Making a Fist" by Naomi Shihab Nye)

A headache on some empty road bumping
north through Michigan. My first migraine.
My mother complained about my complaining
until the car stopped running all together.
My brothers took off down the vast expanse
for help from the firs and beech trees.

"How do you know I won't die?"
I hammered at my mother for an answer.
The sky was shocked white, all light,
no room for my dark pain to sneak out.
"You are still thirsty. That is why I know."

Years later she is dead, the only thirst
she can feel is from the dirt that steals
the last of her tears through the coffin seal.
Here I am, gardening, living, sucking
the last of the rain from the ground
from tomatoes like water on my lips.

16. Color
Post-its on table
disrupt the pink summer dawn.
Blue sky to do lists.

17.All I want_____
All I want is Peanut Butter Flavored Fudge

Sure, it's true that I'm on a diet.
The value of these balls of chocolate
rolled in peanuts with a layer of cherry sugar
on top is nothing but emotional.
My heart pulses for this concoction, this creation,
this temptation from the land of pants
that fit and runnable knees.
Right now, in the moment, all I can see is layer
upon layer of fudge, lining my stomach, sealing
off my needs for anything else. All else is ego,
all else is attempting to make everyone love me,
tell me they love me when in fact all they want
is for me to share my peanut butter flavored fudge.


My partner says the most crucial
thing in common between us, that keeps
us together is communication.
We laugh at each other's problems at just
the core moment when worry is about
to jump ship with death. We hold each other
when the cursed weather of our brain chemicals
make it too hard, too solid to chuckle apart.

I seem to drift toward the silence,
preferring the sighs and unspoken, the surreal
quality of being together and alone at the same
second. On Saturdays and Sundays, the ways
in which we spend as few words as possible
to say the significant things.
Between the wallet of his words and the box
of my silence, a static lingers and gives us life.

19. Anger
What My Fingers Know

I used to think she drank because she was angry.
Whiskey breath and burnt sadness smelled the same
to my heart. Every night, two fingers followed by a fist.

She was angry that I thought about her drinking at all.
Swallowed the crisp Whiskey until it soured her stomach,
tinged her words with sadness. Asleep, dreams dead.

It turns out I was the one who had rage. Fists pushed against
the page, making up stories of Rye and denial. The sadness
curdling in my stomach until my fists let go.

20. rebirth
Rejection Letter

The story went into the publisher
made of grit and heart. A girl who steals
watches, told from the third person.
A Stitch in Time, a joking rhyme
with merit, though, and good plot.

Back two weeks later in my inbox.
"I have an 8-year-old and they don't
think like this," one editor said. "Maybe,"
another reported, "if she works on the fact
that the girl is said to be stealing but herself
doesn't feel that way about what she is doing."

My defenses rile up bile from my belly.
I want to shake my jelly fists at them,
"Don't you see, this is my baby! A tiny newborn
longing to live." At the end, one editor says,
"Please re-write with comments. We'd love
to see this again," and my ego takes a moment
off, my fist relaxes into fingers
as I pick up the pen and write again.

21. Haiku
Cardinal cursing
Mud pushes up between toes
Cell won't stop ringing

22. Work
I buy books under the auspices
of work.

I need to read about writing
in order to write,
and I need to write
in order to teach writing,

Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio,
Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg,
Triggering Town by Richard Hugo,
The list goes on and on.

When I put the books down
that's when the real work begins.

23. Regret
Two rose petals lie
base of the Ikebana.
When will tulip bloom?

24. Travel-related
Where streets have no name
The hibiscus bloom on rust
Beautiful bodies

25. Event

It shouldn't be that much of an event.
Air trapped inside her lungs
tripping its way up and out.

Most babies do it daily,
adults can only be scared out of it
with pronouncements of pregnancy.

But she gets it a few times a day.
Cats can't be scared so instead she lies there
breathe skipping over her stomach

until her whiskers flinch
and we laugh. Who knows what gasp
will be her last.

26. Miscommunication

Inside myself there is a cut wire.
in the tin can conversation between ego and its super,
who oversees plans for the day.

While one calls for tea the other demands work.
While seeking a raise, the other's a jerk.
On the vertical rise up the hierarchy of me
each give way and fall to their knees.

No communication along the wires
that cut through the trees.
Miscommunication between me
and me.

27. Longing
Dumpster Garden

Around the edge of the rust
spread across the dumpster
like the state of Texas,
the new white paint traces.

This coat, which I slip on over
a container of trash,
tries to turn what is left behind
into a new sign, somewhere plants can grow,
someplace soil can make a home.

Peeking over the paint horizon
a little lettuce leaf waves in the wind.
If I don't eat him in time
He'll feed the rind of the late summer melon.

28. Sestina
Sestina to a Dawn Death

Over the dawn lake, the college seniors rowed.
Susan tells me it's a fluke
that she joined the group. Never intended be at the bow,
paddling, stronger than her brother Joe. The sound
of her alarm clock at five
am bringing her closer

to God. She was raised close
to a Christian summer camp, but her family had a row
with them when she was only five.
One of the pastors threw his fluke
too far and it bottomed out the sound
they both shared. There's no repairing that with a bow

or a prayer. Her family became atheists, bowed
only to the morning sun, and she closed
her door to the dawn until twenty. Her snores sounded
like ships off shore, her brother told me once, rowing
and splashing and mourning, a whale fluke
in their shared bedroom. Never awake before five

after twelve on the weekends, five
minutes after lunch was over. Not even her brother's bow
and arrow with the rubber cup fluke
tip could come close
to getting her up early. Row
after row of wrinkles on her sheets, sound

asleep. Now the sound
of early sparrows gets her up at five
after four each morn. Rowing
is what keeps her going, tying bow
knots and pulling rigging. Closing
fish heads around the fluke

accidents of an awkward oar that, by fluke,
killed it dead. The sound
of her mom calling brought themall closer
together after their dad died. Five
tumors, all together, bowed
under the weight of each other.
Each other's voices on the phone rowed

them through the fluke of five
years of sound, bowing
grief. Closer than ever to life, the ultimate row to hoe.

Never Put off Today

Tomorrow won't be today
until it is tomorrow.
Tulips borrow only the raindrops
of yesterday and the sunshine on the lips
of the next day's dawn.
Never put off what you could do today
until tomorrow's today,
when the rays of sun
may be gone.

Rainy back roads drive
To get back home to see you.
Sun slit on your grave.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Line of Questioning

I recently have been questioning my resistances more directly. Both in exercises for the students and in my own life. Here's what the "breakthrough" line looked line, as I did it at a writing conference a couple of weeks ago. I am SURE I must have "learned this from somewhere" but the fact is I didn't implement it until now. And wow is it powerful, when one is ready. Like non-dominant handwriting, I'm not sure I'd make it a single exercise for a class. But I'll be suggesting it to my students for sure as an option.

For example, a recent question around which I have had a lot of resistance and few answers:
Q:"Why do I feel resistant to 'becoming famous' or more published?"*
A: "Because I don't have enough time for myself as is."
Q: "Why not?"
A: "Because I don't make the time or prioritize it."
Q: (Aha. Interesting. Nothing to do with "getting famous") "Why not?"
A: "Because it isn't worthwhile." (Even two weeks later this line of thinking seems weak)
Q: "Why not?"
A: "Because I hate myself." (That wasn't much of a shock - self-hatred underlies a lot of resistance - or - so we think - it's actually fear, most keenly fear of impermanence.)
"But wait. I don't hate myself."
Q: "Why did I say that?"
A: "Out of habit."
Q: "Well, if it's not true, then why don't I make the time?" (This coming from the work of Michele Cassou, who encourages questions that actually break the true heart of resistance)
A: "Not sure. But I know I don't hate myself. Or not entirely, anyway."
Q: "Ok. (Weren't we talking about being famous?) So how can we make the time?"
A: "Structure it. Demand it. Make it now while I can."
Q: "And if you could prove to yourself it would be ok, and you could find time even if you got all famous and busy, would you be ok with getting famous, if that is going to happen, or at least getting your stuff out more just to do it, regardless of outcome?"
A: "Yes! I rock!"

So I've been sending in my writing for the last couple of weeks, finally getting the fiction edited and out of the house, short stuff anyway, though still having a hard time refocusing on the novels, which take longer attention spans. This line of questioning has broken the hardline backs of a few other questions: Why don't I exercise enough? Why don't I keep in touch with my friends as much as I think I want to? and Why don't I do as much yoga as I want to? for instance...

Give it a try. Just keep asking why until you hit absurdity. Amazing how fragile the ego is, as impermanent as anything and very resistant to being seen as such, when you face it straight on with a razor line of questioning, with clarity and compassion...

*Basic plot around this question is this closed loop of reactions: "I should edit" "I don't want to" "Why?" "Because I might succeed." "Or I might fail." "But what if I succeed?" "I don't want to be famous." Good grief.

The Cure

The Cure
(flash fiction story)

It all started with Scabies.
Sophomore year of college isn’t clean for anyone. The dishes undone, the towels mildewy and most often on the floor. Where Caleb caught the little beasties remained unknown. He itched for days before mentioning it, much less seeing a physician. The doc determined right off: “bugs.”
They washed everything once in very hot water. Threw out wool. Beat the bedding in the backyard. Fumigated all floors of the four-storied flat house. He never did see himself as the cause – someone else gave it to him, after all. Six degrees of Scabies.
His girlfriend, Ann, cut out pictures of bugs from kids’ science magazines she got at St. Vinnie’s for 60 cents and pasted them in key places around the apartment after that. In the laundry room, on the washing machine, an 8.5x11 inch spider, shot through a microscopic lens. A mosquito on the bathroom door. Fire ants, eight individual ones, posted along the edge of the counter from the fruit ripening bowl to the sink. She kept extras on hand as passive aggressive reminders to pin to remaining dirty items – Caleb left his towel on the tile floor again? Box Elder Bug. Archie didn’t do his dishes, still caked from three days ago Marinara sauce? That bowl she covered up with a close up of maggots. And Susan, her best friend, even she erred sometimes; won a sticker of worms or winged unidentifiable crawly for underwear draped off the doorknob for days or shoe treads covered in mud and tracked all over the clean wood floor.
Caleb had grown up on a farm, and lived for dirt. Ann hadn’t realized how attached he was to the earth until the Scabies incident. Even with the weeks of irritation and permanent scabs after (not to mention the “Ew” factor even he felt at the idea of bugs burrowing into him) he still kept up his already permanent habits.

Two months after the Scabies, cockroaches. Ann saw them first, of course. They caused a fight between Caleb and her, and she ran to Archie for sympathy. Archie killed the beetles dutifully and placed out bait to bed the rest. Then he bedded Ann. She quite enjoyed making love with Archie. He was, for the most part, for a male, pretty clean. Did his laundry regularly. Showered every day. Even if he did need to work on his dishes.
No one knew they were together. On the down low, glossed over like a shellaced field of manure. The secret stank to Ann, but she rebelled, allowing herself this one imperfect corner to mess in as she wished. Caleb continued to enjoy her company – even as they quibbled more and more – never suspecting a thing. Susan had no idea, wrapped up in her own tryst.

So when Ann went in for her annual Pap, which she attended without fail every April 1st, she was shocked at the results of her STD tests. HIV+. HIV? Where could she have picked that up from? Her first thoughts went to Caleb – who was (supposedly) a virgin when she first met him. Archie? He was – well, clean. Besides, they hadn’t been together long enough yet. She’d been around him a lot since freshman year – same with Caleb – neither dated much.
Ann told no one – not even Susan. Now adapted to secrets, she shielded herself with shame. She withdrew into herself, silently sorting and waxing the mess she had relaxed into. She couldn’t help but think about the Scabies, which invaded the house and yet never affected anyone but Caleb. Could she be as lucky as he was?
Ann had been with one other guy before Caleb. He had also said he was a virgin. The idea that she was at fault here haunted her like a cobweb above a shelf so high she couldn’t even reach it with a duster on one of those extended poles. In the back of her mind, a dust storm began to blow and she was the wind spreading it. Still, she told no one.
When the Scabies returned and got into everyone’s skin, she broke it off with the both of them and moved into a studio to be alone. She addressed a goodbye note to them both at the same time, as she had been asked to inform anyone she had slept with ever of her current status:
Archie and Caleb,
I apologize for the mess I left.

Too Many Words

I've got too many words.
Written, unwritten, crawling up the walls, chittering and chattering outside my window in the guises of robins and sparrows setting up nest.

Words I want to copy, words I want to winnow out of the sinews of my mind and onto the page or Word processor or into the wind as I sing. Famine or a feast. When it rains it pours. All this time and so much to say and so little space to say it.

So start slow, sweetheart. Start with what you know.

When Natalie was here we had a couple of short conversations about teaching that have remained with me. Listening to, reading Old Friend From Far Away again reminded me of the potency of direct questions, when spaciously spoken. I revised, looked again over my assignments, and made new ones with a sparkier feeling, more clear, less questioned, more questioning. A student, having seen Nat, made the specific request (implored me, in fact) to do so. And this week I popped out a doozy, or it popped out of me: first kiss, first time making love, on stage or home alone. Or any other first folks could think of. As I read the assignment to the very first class, I could hear where I still hesitated, causing confusion for them. Now marks a new era - era in which I trust that I know enough, that they know enough, that not knowing is enough to make a good exercise. In fact, makes a better one than trying to put forth an agenda or insist that I qualify for this work. This wondrous, back-breaking, heart-salving work.

It's my first full day off in weeks. No particular work to do - slow start in the online classroom, due to weirdness of three districts spring breaks being not all in the same week. Piles of email of course, as always, which I will try to winnow down over the next days from 150 some to 50 some in my inbox, which is where I keep them until I have dealt with them. Other than that, plenty of cuddling, exercise, yoga, broccoli, ice cream and Buffy. Catching up with Flickr. Editing my short shorts and submitting them for potential publication. More than I could ever do in four days - two totally off, two half-occupied with helping out at the Shambhala Center. I'll try not to overload the space. One tiny activity at a time.

I am thinking of how one of my teachers, John McQuade (Miksang senior teacher) tells us that he prefers the word "Harmony" to "Peace" since peace has become so loaded. Yes. Because space isn't inherently peaceful actually. Balance doesn't always come in the form of Peace. It is good for me to remember this as I enter into so much open, unstructured space. To enjoy myself through balance rather than seeking quiet. Let the quiet come naturally. In between the too many words there are moments, gaps of space, endless, more endless than the words themselves. Lean on the nothingness and the rest will arrive.