Friday, October 30, 2009

Escaping In

I've been reading this last week like it is going out of style. Natalie says to us, when we are meditating, "Meditate like this is your last minute on earth," during the last minute of the meditation session. Katagiri used to say it to them, now she says it to us.

I've been reading like each book is the last book I will ever read - On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. Good books, no doubt, excellent books, in fact. Not bad ones to be the "last" books I ever read, heaven forbid. But I haven't been reading them like that, voraciously, only because they are good. This morning, waking, wanting to rip through another, I had to admit to myself that I am also reading out of escape.

I'll never forget reading in some Adult Children of Alcoholics or Adult Survivors of Abuse book that "these children" (meaning I am one of them) tend to read to escape. In the last year I have learned more than I did in college about reading to learn - about structure, style, to really appreciate where the author was coming from and, as Natalie says, "To get inside his/her mind." This has lead to a very different kind of reading, more attentive, less escapist. I've also read more memoir in the last year than ever before, and those can feel harder to "escape" in some ways, for me, at least.

I am clearly escaping into others stories, and I am not here to say this is bad. Last week in Taos was tough - I told some of my students that I hemorraged writing (one newer student worried that I was talking about it so "negatively" but I don't see it that way) - scenes from my sexual life from ages 12-28 poured out of me at all times of the day and night. Just writing this now, I realize it makes sense that I might want a break, and I am not so sure that "escaping" breaks into books right now is a bad thing. Living Lucy Grealy's face through Ann Patchett, following, like a detective, the beach honeymoon of McEwan's doomed newlyweds, these are not escapes into their problems (versus mine) but deep divinings into how these authors, whether in the form of memoir or fiction, depict these difficulties and joys.

So there, writing about it, I remember that we can escape into things, not just out of things. I am still in my life, still thinking about all that arose last week. I am done writing about it for now, have written many other things this week. All this reading is not a "problem," I see, if it ever was for me. I am just as present, just as joyful, just as compassionate, for the fictional or memoir rendered people, and still present for the real persons in my life. I'm doing alright.

Thanks for letting me check in on your web time, world.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I'm back from 4/5 weeks in Taos, spread apart over the course of a year. The trip has become "easy" now, my BFF from the intensive, Maryam, and I have decided. We are so used to the flights, the trip, that we were able to shake it up big time this time, take stops along the way, meet up in Santa Fe and do separate legs, coordinated through texting and my iPhone GPS system. Fun had by all before and after, and during, well, as I described to my students on retreat with me the weekend before I left for Taos for a week, Imagine 6 days of nothing but sitting, walking and writing in silence.

Everything drops away, all the surface everythings, and everything rises to the surface, all the underneath things. Out went work, students, paperwork, email (though I checked it to make sure nothing big was going down); up came my entire sexual life from age 12-28, and, well, this time, that was about it. 6 days of my sex life. That's a lot of sex and sexuality. I woke up writing about it, fell asleep writing about it. And it wasn't all sexy, let me tell you.

I come back to this life, this day-to-day classes and assignments, students and paychecks, and I feel behind. Not as behind as if I had left it all behind and not checked my email or phone at all, but there'll be a few hours of catch up for sure.

But I also come out ahead. The writing is still pouring out, as I joked in Taos, hemmoraging out of me, practically. With the acceptance of my second chapbook of poetry (Dreams of Movement) through Finishing Line Press (announced right before I left) and many more projects on the burner, I feel ahead of wherever I would want to be, not so that I need to stop now, but so that the balance is built in - I can relax on writing and pick up the work slack, while still writing, and neither will take over. this year has meant so much to me, still does, in making a true equinimity with teaching and also being a student. "Closing the gap," as Natalie Goldberg talks about to us in Taos, "Close the gap between what you think you are writing and what you are writing," and in my case "What you are teaching and what you are learning."

Behind on tasks, ahead on appreciation.
Behind on submissions, ahead on rough drafts.
Never behind on Love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Overwhelming Appreciation

I asked the Miksang students this last weekend in Chicago to consider what exactly happens when we are saying "Too Much Information" or "I am overwhelmed." It's an important question, especially when we can use it as defense against the world. Shut down. Close off.

I am in a state right now where I want to do both of those things. I have indigestion from something funky I ate (broken yoghurt container I discovered after consuming it is my highest suspect) and it feels metaphorically that I am having a hard time digesting my life right now. Too much information, not enough time.

John O'Donohue spoke in a talk I listened to on NPR last week about how "stress" is really a misconception of time, of believing there is a limit to time, that time is in fact far from infinite. He didn't say it this way, but Buddhists call this "Poverty Mind." He was getting even more specific though about our delusions regarding TIME. That it is here to serve us, when it doesn't, we are angered. Feel betrayed.

I do feel betrayed in some ways, and I also feel blessed. What things to be stressed about: putting up my first show at the Overture! So many students, so little time to be with them! A tender retreat about to occur and healthy soups to cook for it, for me, for them, for Dylan! And a week with Natalie ahead after that, with all my new lovely writing practice friends, in the desert fall!

I am not attempting to disguise my stress, rather let it coexist with appreciation. I posted on Facebook last night that I am discombobulated but happy. A friend and student noted that that is one of the reasons she likes me, because I can be both of those at once.

I needed to write this, to remember that I actually do feel the balance, when I pay attention. That I am, in fact, overwhelmed with appreciation. That it is hard and also beautiful.

And an RIP to John Daido Loori Roshi, another wonderful spiritual teacher (John O'Donohue died last year), who died at age 78 on Friday. As my teacher John McQuade said, the only response he has (and I have) right now is one of heartbreak. Beautiful, exquisite, agonizing heartbreak.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Weather Report

The cats are very wiley today. Aviva got up every half hour or so after midnight and played with a large mirror that hangs on my bedside wall. Her tactic is to futz with it, pull it a bit so it fidgets on the wall, then stop, paw usually still in the air, and look at me in the moonlight to see if I see what she is doing. If we aren't awake, she keeps doing it until we are. And when I spray her with a spray bottle, she keeps doing it on and off, indignantly licking her wet butt or face first.

A student came into class this week and said that she's been having a rough few days. "I choose to believe it's a full moon. That and I am PMS'ing, too." It's been rough for me, too, and also not. Stirring old pots lately, to try and bring the brew to surface so it can heal, so the pot, me, can heal. Juicy things, floating up, sometimes bobbing below surface. I am tired of rowing in all of this stew but I know it will be better this way. Eventually. In a way it already is.

The cats remain crazy. I came in and they both woke up from apparently a long nap to make up for a night of nagging me out of my dreams, and now they are running around the house, playing with things, popping objects off the dresser to get my attention. Feed us more! Play with us! Open the windows and doors! Part of me, too, wants to go run around, break free and expand. An equal part wishes as much stillness as I can find, to keep the boil at a tolerable level.

Outside the weather echoes us all. Windy, cloudy, always on the edge of a storm. This morning it was stormy. It may be again. Then again, in between bouts of wind, the sun peeks out from between two clouds and lights up a yellow changing Honey Locust. Impermanence in action.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Halloween Haiku/ Post Number 222

Skulls and skeletons
Line the autumn sidewalks-
Last Echinacea dies.

It's that time of year again, when skeletons and monsters and witches appear cartoon-like on the lawns and in the windows of our neighbors and storefronts. Last year I began to wonder most seriously about this strange holiday, which I haven't much celebrated for years now, being a bit out of the "drunk and wild on State St all night" loop, and not particularly interested in costumes. I used to love Halloween, dressing up in disguise, both as a child and as a drunk twenty-something, and that affection remains, though it was, for awhile, underground.

Increasingly I have become aware of Dio de Los Meurtos, and the way this celebration traditionally sets off the spooks and fright of American Halloween. I referenced a whole Wikipedia article about what I discovered about the history of Halloween last year, so I won't get into that now, but suffice it to say that I find it fundamentally fascinating that Mexican culture puts aside a day to really be with the dead and celebrate their lives, and we have a day to scare the shit out of each other and put up representations of monsters none of us could survive coping with in real life.

Skeletons and skulls are one thing, but bodies crawling back out of graves? Death itself? Ghouls and goblins completely enraged and ready to eat your head off? I have no commentary for these, just a sudden peaking fascination with these occurences, symbols, signs. Wide open curiousity.

For my part, I am working up to celebrating a more "Day of the Dead" kind of fall. That seems good for the soul. In the meantime, keep watching Flickr - I made a trip to a huge Halloween Express shop a couple of weeks ago and the pictures I took! Wow...