Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas and Closeness

"Do Nothing" - a shot from the recent blizzard in Madison, WI
Please be gentle with yourselves as (if) you continue with the highest holiday season in the States:
In close quarters, we over think, second-guessing our own innate assumption of common humanness, which, I now think, boils down to a common need for kindness. We are cruelest to those who remind us of our capacity for (is) clear that they (don't) like who they become around us...not the hatred of the Other, but the self-hatred produced by the Other.
~G Willow Wilson, The Butterfly Mosque

In this passage, G Willow Wilson is referring to her conversion to Islam, her time in a tight-knit neighborhood full of suspicion in Cairo, and to the "clash of Civilizations." In all respect for the larger picture, I wanted to present this as also an inner battle - an inner clash. Long ago, a friend told me that returning home from her college stint at Sarah Lawrence College in upper NY State to her small town Neenah, Wisconsin upbringing made her feel schizophrenic - totally split, paranoid, divided against herself and her family and all she knew and knows.

Holidays - whether they are Christmas observed or not observed, simply time off, with family or not - are rough. Even if you really observe Haunakah or Ramadan, and eat out Chinese with friends on Christmas proper, the overall ethic of American society is one oriented towards this, the "biggest" of all holidays in the year. Co-workers ask if you are "going home for the holidays" even if you are 50. We use the euphemism "holidays" in order to ostensibly be inclusive, but let's face it: we all know that we really mean now - Christmas.

It is a time when it is easy to "disassociate in order to try and connect to others who are dissociated" as a friend recently put it. Families each have their own culture and identities, and when people grow up and split off into different areas of the States or the world, or different states of mind, going "back" can be confusing and even crazy-making (and I don't use that, or the word schizophrenic, lightly here).

Within everyone's families someone is always the scapegoat, the black sheep. Maybe you are that person, maybe you aren't. Be careful of aggression. Give space where you can and consider your own "inner other" - the parts of yourself, perhaps the ones most associated with your family - that you have divided off and attempted to hide from yourself. Your self-hatred will try to roost inside someone else, or your idea of someone else - watch out for that.

Above all, when you find you have resorted to gossip, aggression, fighting or shutting down, be gentle for the fact that you have done that. Our most intimate "clash of civilizations" happens each and every day in our transitions from work to home, family of origin to family of generation or chosen family. Even if your family is pretty peaceful, there's always going to be an edge of re-integrating when people spend time apart. Especially because of the school shooting, there's an edge of tenderness when the edges of people come together. Notice it and be as gentle as you can there.

Connect where you can and stay connected to yourself. I bid you good luck and as much heartbreaking connection as you can bear.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Compassion Confession

Ekphrastic photo of Squeak Carnworth's Perfect Studio, Chazen Museum, Madison, WI
I have a confession to make.
I have made it in oblique ways to some of you in the past, but I think it's time I say it directly.
A newer student this week said that she read the essays I send out before starting class (which started as blog posts here: Listening In, All the Ways We Apologize and Speaking Up, and have since all been published online elsewhere). After she was done, even before she was done, she realized she "didn't even need to read them." Not because she already knew all they said, but because even reading just parts told her what she needed to know:
I create safe spaces.
She will learn in the process what's in the essays.

So here it is:
I am not a writing teacher. I am not a photography teacher, a calligraphy teacher, a movement teacher.
I am a Buddhist teacher.
I am a Compassion teacher.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shame and Outcastery

Hidden Body Message from Austin TX
I have been reading The Chelsea Whistle by Michelle Tea the last few days. I've owned this book for years, and I remember well when it came out in 2002, as I was working at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative* and Tea's face, via her dyke novel Valencia, was all over the place. I already loved Seal Press even then. I likely recommended The Chelsea Whistle to a few folks without having read it, as I often did back then, because, well, booksellers almost never have the time to read that, ironically, they would like.

The way I have been reading it the last few days of course relates to my last blog post about memoirs.  Tea writes in a dense, terse style, with some images and a lot of feeling. Her editor did a fantastic job, as I noted in quick in the blog post can make a huge difference. She clearly feels little   shame - now, at least - and mostly wrote the book in a state of reckoning, of discovery but not the first time discovery that happens with confession. Well-wrought without being over-processed, Chelsea Whistle (which refers to a special whistle the rough boys of her hood would use to call one another when in trouble, but she would never use because those boys *were* her trouble) is a powerful read.

I have a lot more to say about her style, about what it says about her processing, etc, but the main thing I wanted to say today ties to her speaking of being an outcast. I have been sick the last few days - thus all the time to read - and underneath illness, always for me, is shame. Deep deep shame. A sense that I am not good enough. It takes on different story lines, depending on my state of mind and what is going on/not going on because I am sick: I am weak, I am not working enough, I am going to get fired/let go, People are going to wonder if I am faking it, etc.

This stuff goes WAY back - quite a bit of it appears in my *own* memoir about childhood, My Bermuda Triangle (yet to be published). Here's a section on illness:

            Finally a doctor told me (upon my fifth visit to him that season for chronic sinusitis and bronchitis): “You’d be better off at school. You are not suffering from something with germs,” he warned, and then pointed out that my home was a smoky tomb for my lungs. “You won’t get better until you get out of the house. You can tell your mother that, if you want to. Or I can talk to her.”
            I didn’t tell her. I wanted to stay home. Where my father was lingering in what would be the last year of his life. If I was home, I could hear his footsteps a room over, or him throwing up the chemicals that were supposed to kill his bad cells. No one wanted me there – one of my brothers was already hard to get up in the mornings, and they worried about my health, which was too much to bear with my father’s on the line. My mother would later say that, though awful, these were the best years of their marriage, because they had so much time together.
I thought of him as my hero. The way he kept distance from me only fired me up to ask for more contact, the kind of buying-me-stuffed-animals, poking-around-used-bookstores kind of attention he had given me when everything was better – when I was younger and he was healthier. For once he was potentially available, all the time.
            Mrs. Schmidt only added to the desire to disassociate from school. She was my teacher that year.  All three of us kids had had her, and she hated my eldest brother, David, and me, only preferring Alex, the middle brother, who was athletic. Our black sheep in the family, Alex, was “normal” – he did sports and was social; the rest of us: Mom, Dad, David and Miriam, were bookish and shy and out of shape.
   “You know what Mrs. Schmidt said about you yesterday?” Anne, one of my loyal friends, said, walking home with me one day. “She told the whole class you’ve missed more than half of sixth grade so far.” We walked slowly, stepping on the fall leaves; my lungs clear for the first time in months. I liked Anne, though she also made me uncomfortable. Her family, too, was dirty and weird like mine, their house full of strange silences, beer posters, and animal poop neglected in dark corners. Like mine, her room was cluttered and private.
            “Really?” I tried not to sound surprised. I knew I’d missed a lot. But that much?
            “Yep. And she said if you miss much more, they’ll have to keep you back.”           
“She told the whole class that?”
            “Yep.” I didn’t expect Anne to stand up for me. Her being half-American Indian, half-Caucasian made her very vulnerable to a dictator like Mrs. Schmidt. No one stood up to Mrs. Schmidt except the boys who played sports. And she bent over backwards for them.
            One day I relayed this story to my mom, casually, expecting her to rail on me –
See! Even Your Teacher Cares You’ve Been Out So Much! But she took another tack.
            “I can’t believe that bitch.” It was rare for a swearword to cross her lips. “How dare she. That’s not right, to share that with everyone.”
            I know my mother also said something to the principal, amazingly. When I returned to school the next day, Mrs. Schmidt glared at me in a new way. Of course, this only compounded the kids’ teasing. “Half-gone Miriam,” went one taunt. They knew it before anyone did. I was half-gone. I was trying to stay home, as bad as it was for me, partially because I was separating myself from them.
            I remember my mother slapping me on my left cheek – just the once – because I claimed I was too sick to go to school, though I had been absent for weeks, with no apparent symptoms. My father was the one with symptoms. Now that he was home all the time, mom and I both wanted him. He and my mother and I were depressed, locked in a triangle with sunken corners and sides. Fighting each other for his attention only pulled my father down. Decades later, I’d live out the same configuration, again and again – me and my desire to protect what I felt was mine; the “opposing corner” of my mother or sister-in-law or another girlfriend justifiably staking some claim; the male figure by himself, crying or hiding from us in shame. So many levels of sickness.
The main way that I continue to perpetuate being "outcast" - and playing victim - is in illness. I get isolated when sick, literally, from others and from my own body, and then I start making very strange ideas up about who I am or am not, what I am capable of, if I will even recover (yes, even from a small cold!). All of these things make a lot more sense when put into the context that my missing school in fifth and sixth grades was, in fact, half faking it and half real.

How does this relate to Chelsea Whistle? She almost never mentions being sick in her book.
On a really deep level, below story, Tea talks a lot, more and more at the end of the book, about how she didn't want to leave this place that haunted her so much - Chelsea, her home, her actual house - her creepy stepfather, her sister - all of it, all the humiliation and shame. She does leave, eventually - if you look at her map of where she was born versus where she lives now on Facebook, SF is about as far from Chelsea as one can get and still be living in the same country. But clearly, in her writing, to me, she also has not distanced herself - not anymore than the remove necessary to have a clear perspective. She doesn't dissociate. She stays real, in the fluid, unstructured mind of struggle and memory.

Today, as I posted on Facebook that I was struggling with shame and sickness, many people posted supportive comments: "It'd be a shame if you didn't take off time to take care of yourself," and "I realize I have a lot of guilt about missing work, thanks for bringing this up." It helps, again, to write and realize that others have this, too. It is not "just me" - none of this is "just me," while, of course, my own unique story is "just mine." Thanks, Michelle Tea, for a reminder of that, and all memoir writers, as much as I critique your finished product: it is brave and heart-rending to read all that is so incredibly personal and find that it cannot help but reveal things that are so totally universal at the same time.

*PS You can still get a lot of Tea's work at Rainbow! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Confession versus Expression

Austin, TX
This is an unusually long blog post - I am letting you know because it's been a long time coming, and is in fact a draft of an essay for my book on writing in-progress called Sleight of Hand. I promise it is worth it, but it's longer than you are used to here at Inside Space.

I write memoir. It's the main genre I write, though some essays are more "essay-like" and some are more "memoir-like," depending on how you define the genres. Definitely I fall into the category of "creative non-fiction."

In my experience (reading and writing), what makes non-fiction creative is not the number of adjectives or the less-narrative-more-lyrical-structure. These are common definitions that I myself use in clarifying the distinctions of this new-ish-ly celebrated genre, which rarely finds shelf space of its own.  What really makes it "creative" is that the truth is being communicated in a less conventional manner. Instead of reporting the facts, confessing the crimes, objectively investigating the connections, creative non-fiction (especially of the memoir ilk) explores the truth through poetic form.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Hidden Message, Austin TX
A few weeks ago, in one of my writing classes, the word "Normal" kept coming up.
We laughed about it a bit - what *is* normal after all? - but it kept creeping into the conversation.

Clearly, although quite a few of us - myself included - have done a lot of hard work around appreciating our authentic selves, not worrying too much about what *normal* is, it's still an area of discomfort. So when I got to one of the last chapters in Brene Brown's book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't) and found a section entitled "Shame and Normalcy" I almost burst.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


"You really think you are an introvert?" My student looks skeptical. Compared to her, I spend so much more time interacting with others. She doesn't realize how much time I spend alone, at home, reading, writing, computing. How much time I spend meditating, all in order to restore myself for more social interactions.

As part of the Wisconsin Book Festival, I spent Thursday night out for dinner and drinks with a few other queer writers. We were needing to eat, yes, but also celebrating our successful event (Losing Gender at Room of One's Own) and getting to know one another a bit better. Quite a few of us are out, not just in terms of gender/sexuality, but also "out and about" - people on the town, well-known, etc. I was surprised to hear that one of the people at the table, easily the most public, is intensely introverted and has social anxiety about interactions in public.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Face to Face

Sign at Van Dusen Gardens, Vancouver, BC, Canada
My alarm pops off at 4:30am. I leap up out of bed, no sleeping in, no hitting it off on accident like yesterday, when I had to teach. I have to make a flight - and I've only missed one in my life because of sleeping in (the only other flight I've ever missed wasn't due to that).

I slide into my clothes, laid out the night before, brush the colic out of my hair, grab a banana to get me going and my host meets me at the door. We get downstairs before the cab arrives, and we explore the daily issue of Globe and Mail, looking at photo layout and discussing the difference between AP and staff-generated shots. The cab arrives, glowing in the fog, and puts my bags in while I get settled.

"To the airport?" he confirms.
"Yessir. Delta, to the States."
"Got it."
"Going home?"
"Sort of. I live in the States, but I am going to Portland for 24 hours, then back to Wisconsin, where I live."
A pause. He's chatty. Sometimes I like that. Sometimes I don't. I am neutral.
He probably doesn't know where Wisconsin is.
"Is that near Kansas?" a student asked me yesterday. I can't blame her - I am not 100% sure I know where Calgary is, and that is far larger than Madison.

"That's where the Sikh Temple shooting was, right?" Now it's my turn to pause. Crap. I caught the accent - Indian? In the dark fog it was hard to tell. I hazard a guess that *he* might be Sikh, though I don't say anything about my guess.

Monday, October 08, 2012

React V. Create

In an article titled "Overcoming Writer's Block Without Willpower" in Writer's Digest, the November/December Issue yet to be online, Mike Bechtle posits that we can work with neuroscience to understand how to better negotiate Writer's Block. What he juxtaposes is the mind that creates (fresh ideas, openness, concentration) versus the mind that reacts (our source of willpower and distraction). Reacting mind is reiterated, exasperated, by our "modern world" - we "react" when we go to our phones to see if anyone called, ditto email, Facebook, etc. This reaction mind inhibits creativity. So far, so good. I agree, and really like the framing.

However, he goes on to state that removing technology will really help us to sink back into more time to think, more space in which creativity naturally happens. He points to it, but never actually goes that far: the source is there all the time, available, but we overlook it. However, he does not even address how to cultivate a connection, not just how to cut off distraction.

Friday, September 21, 2012


At the end, or sometimes in the middle, of each class of writing I teach, I ask the students to consider what in each others' writing they'd like to hear more about. Sometimes they are silly or sweet parts, but often they are "hotspots" - places where the writer touched on something very hot, very potent, and backed off. A place where a writer, where a human, is hiding something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Do Fairy Tales Come True?

Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison WI
"Look! Over here! It's a frog on a lily pad!"
Dylan saunters over, surprised by how beautiful the moment is - crystal clear water, a gorgeous lily bloom, an unblinking frog. But not by the presence of a frog on a lily pad.
"Haven't you seen that before?" she asks.
"Nope. Not once. Have you?"
"Once before, I think."
"I mean, I have an image in my head of it - from Frogger, from fairy tales, but never in reality."

And never like this, even in those fairy tales - cartoons with frog princes, comic print images.
Reality is so much more glorious. It feels an understatement to say this, almost redundant, except for that we forget. I forget, at least. Do you?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why We Suffer

Honest Ed's, Mirvish Village, Toronto, ON
"If it is so beneficial, and I know it is, from experience, to not know what is coming next, to allow ourselves to open directly to the world and be present with what our senses deliver, then why don't we do it more often? No, even more importantly - why is our culture so against it?"

A question from the last Way of Nature class at Olbrich Botanical Gardens this last Sunday. I've gotten this question before in so many ways - from people learning about meditation, contemplative writing, contemplative photography, and, in this case, Haiku.

Another student answered something about our culture - about America and its materialism. Another about a fear of getting hurt. The whole time, I was drawn to the dry-erase board, where I came back to an earlier discussion about suffering, the Four Noble Truths and what it means to truly have no reference points.

"We don't, our culture doesn't support it, because it seems scary as shit," I said, once the other discussions had died down. "Not just us - everyone avoids it - it's pan-human behavior. It's suffering."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Seen Reading

From Kensington Market, Toronto

I am late into the game on this one, but in Toronto this last weekend, in an independent bookstore/tsotchke shop in Kensington Market called Good Egg, I found a book called Seen Reading by Julie Wilson. It's a lovely collection, with a beautiful pressed cover and tiny micro-fictions (one of my favorite genres) about people she's seen reading on "The Rocket" (Toronto subway). She lists what they are reading and what they look like on one page, then her little fiction on the facing page. I ate it up on the plane ride from Toronto to Chicago, and then wrote some of my own.

I was especially interested in making up what I think these women were thinking about. Julie Wilson makes third person stories, and speaks to their lives outside the circumstance she sees them in. For me, I was curious, in a Wings of Desire/angels listening in to human minds kind of way, about piecing together the "clues" I saw and coming up with possible thoughts. I make no claims to accuracy and likely my little stories are projections. But good exercises in compassion...Here are two:

Monday, August 06, 2012

Compassionate Communications

Compassionate Communications, a spontaneous essay I recorded while driving.

The more I practice any of the practices I teach and study, the more I find that communication is the crucial crux. Verbal, visual, physical. Please listen to this spontaneous audio essay I composed on this - all of the forms of communication, not just the "usual" auditory kind. The most crucial Non-violent communication for me is internal - in how we address ourselves. Visit websites for more information: Center for Non-Violent Communication Compassionate Communication Green Light Conversations Five Keys to Mindful Communication

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Passing Storms

"Apollo" Sculpture at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rottedam, Netherlands
My check engine light came on last night. As my brakes have been softening and my rear driver seat belt won't pull out, I figured this was the sign to finally bring my car in for repairs. My mechanic used to be just blocks away and is now located out by East Towne, a few miles of mall hell away. They have no drivers on the weekend to take us back into town. So I checked out the buses.

"Why don't you pop your bike in the back of your car and bike home?" Dylan asked, supportively but also uncharacteristically. We don't bike a lot, though we are in such a bike-friendly city. I am a bit embarrassed about it, actually, even ashamed. The seat on my bike, purchased a couple of years ago, meant to be super comfy, hurts my back. I need a new seat and somehow never seem to get it, so then I don't bike, afraid I will hurt my back. Then I feel bad about not biking, though I bus and walk nearly everywhere, save the mall.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Reference Pointlessness

Ultimately, Buddhist teachings tell us there are no reference points. This is actually what the teaching on Emptiness means, if I may be so bold as to give it reference points - not that nothing has meaning or heart (quite the opposite) but that in order to experience ourselves and the world fully, we need to drop/empty out our cache of reference points - like/dislike, me/not me. I find this especially salient in communication, and, of course, there are formal training programs in Compassionate CommunicationNon-Violent Communication and Green Light Conversations. I have talked about this before in my previous posts on listening (recently re-published in the journal Medical Encounters) and speaking, but today I was struck especially by how deep these misunderstandings go.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


A single leaf in the lake along La Ferme de Villefavard, Limousin, France.
Whenever I go on retreat, like I am now, before I leave, I get endless questions about what is it like to be in silence for an extended period of time with others. It's ironic to answer with words, since the experience of silence is so wordless itself. And yet, it's a legitimate question. So I'll try to say something about my experiences with it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Reflective Rotterdam

Rotterdam, like Amsterdam, is easily half water.

When the weather is right - partly cloudy and later in the afternoon or earlier in the morning - you can easily capture pictures like this. They wait as if you are a fisherman and they are the fish.

I've been doing a lot of walking. The first few days, we walked everywhere to see everything. The next few days I walked everywhere simply to be walking. Though it is often overcast and partially rainy, it's almost never too severe to make for an unpleasant walk.

Because the young woman I brought with me, Stefanie, has been in the hospital with a complication from her Type 1 Diabetes, I've been afloat - pun intended and also double meaning intended fully - the last few days, since Sunday. Though we've extended our stay in Rotterdam (with our gracious hostesses), she'll be in the hospital until tomorrow afternoon, and we will leave for London on Friday morning. This means she's seen no more of the city than she did before falling ill on Sunday; I've seen a lot more, often, on my own, walking.

I like being a stranger somewhere. I like even more, honestly, not knowing a language and being a stranger somewhere. There's no pressure to understand. I have a sensation - again - of being afloat, as if I am neither home nor here. For the long term I would find this disturbing, but for now, it's a relief - spacious and open. As if I am in the Oude Haven - Old Harbor - back to the bottom, face to the feckless clouds.

When you look at me, sometimes you see right through me. When you look at me, sometimes you see yourself in me. When you look at me, sometimes all you see is me.

Monday, May 21, 2012

You Are Not Alone

Mingyur Rinpoche on the Two Basic Kinds of Suffering
(only five minutes, but very powerful simple explanation, especially of self-suffering)

Underneath, most of us think we suck.
Most of us think we are an exception.
Meditation won't help us.
Yoga won't help us.
Medication won't help us.
Because we are beyond repair.
Beyond help.

Lately, I have come to realize how much of a drain this part of me is.
This part that takes tremendous energy to sustain - a lot of the energy I think I don't have to do things to help pull me out of the cycle. It's reiterative, a closed loop.
It's Samsara. 90% of our suffering is what Mingyur Rinpoche, in the video above, calls self-suffering.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gloves Off

This is the first of a series of spontaneous essays, poems and teachings I am making while driving.
This one, "Gloves Off" is a poem about my mother and gardening.

Today, on Mother's Day, when I couldn't seem to find my way through a muck of sadness about not having a mom anymore, I struck out to the garden to move irises and weed.

Only half way through did I realize what I'd done - gone to the one place she loved to be:

Gloves off by Miriam Hall

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Taming the Tamer

Still from the tiny film Taming the Tamer (link below)

Here is a tiny silent paper-cut animation film I made a couple of years ago.
It is about taming the inner critic, though it often attempts to tame the good, while wild, parts of us.
I am in the process of setting up a more thorough YouTube channel, so I can share videos of my own, audio for students, and obviously suggest great talks and other resources on YouTube. I'll keep you posted! In the meantime, enjoy this little film.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Set This House in Order

Mannequin photo from my upcoming show "Mannequins and Miniatures" at EVP East in Madison, WI, May 1-May 26
I've got Shingles.

Because I am a linguistics nerd, my favorite part of the Wikipedia entry is about the etymology of the terms for this virus:
The family name of all the herpesviridae is derived from the Greek word herpein ("to creep"),[77] referring to the latent, recurring infections typical of this group of viruses. Zoster comes from Greek zōstēr, meaning "belt" or "girdle", after the characteristic belt-like dermatomal rash.[78] The common name for the disease, shingles, derives from the Latin cingulus, a variant of Latin cingulum meaning "girdle".[79]

But the fact is that when I google "shingles," which, of course, I've been doing a lot lately, the most common thing to come up, along with the actual virus, is references to house shingles. You know, the things that make up the roof. And so it seems, again, I am setting this house in order.

Monday, April 23, 2012



“I once was lost, but now am found/ was blind but now I see”
-Amazing Grace, American spiritual song

Lately I’ve had a rash of losing things. A couple of earrings – never a pair, always one of two – a hat a friend knitted for me, and, until two days ago when I found it again, a mala given to me by my teacher. All of these objects have great meaning for me, so losing them evoked sadness. However, the more disturbing, or curious, aspect to me is how exactly did I lose these things? In order to misplace something, I figure, there must be a moment when my mind itself was misplaced. In other words, I, as is said often in popular culture, “lost my mind” for a moment.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Busy V Full

Dallas, TX
"I know you are busier than busy," the student/friend/comadre wrote to me in an email. She was seeking some feedback on an idea she had - an offshoot inspired by my Contemplative Writing courses. A combination of a request/approval/looking for insight/feedback/brainstorming session. I was excited to read it, but then it fell into the "mid-range priority" pile - things I am interested in but that don't have a deadline. If it's not a fire, I am likely to not try and put it out.

But I'm not busy, actually. I am full.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Absolute v. Relative

Japanese Gardens, Portland, OR
"Sure, I understand that on an Absolute level, all is space. We are empty of concept and things only exist as a part of a larger whole. But what about on the Relative level?"*

This is a question from a student at a Miksang Contemplative Photography weekend. It's not an uncommon question - in fact, since we talk about perception pretty much constantly during Miksang talks, in comes up a lot. But this time, we are pretty far along in the program - in a cumulative program called Absolute Eye - and he wants to know how we can experience the Absolute, if we can, on a Relative level.

If this seems to high faultin' to you, hang on and keep reading.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Truth v. Fact

Chalkboard from Marquette class
When I go as long as I have - almost a month - without blogging, it isn't because I have had nothing to say. It's most often because I have had TOO much to say, and also, perhaps, too much time on my hands in which to not say it.

But the thing that arises this morning, that I keep coming back to, is a conversation I had with my Marquette writing students about the difference between Truth and Fact.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Inner Critic V. Inner Child

NYC child mannequins
Time for a show down.

Well, not exactly. More like a slow down.

Now that I am slowing down, on vacation, the fits my inner child has been throwing lately have calmed down. It's easy to negotiate my desires and my obligations with so much space.

Yet, when I am in a busy social situation, even here, in a lovely house with one of my best friends' roommates, or in a shop with too much stimulation, I feel the contrast coming on.
The Inner Critic says:
"Tough it out. It'll only be five minutes more. Be polite and nice."
The Inner Child is saying, or thinking:
"I want out now. This is not what I want or need. Take care of me."

Monday, March 05, 2012

Yin Support

Cracking ice in Sheboygan, Wi
Yin yoga was suggested to me a long time ago, back when I wanted to return to yoga, but wasn't sure which style or teacher to go with. As I posted here and here, I struggle with physical practices in particular, and need to have a sense of total safety (and anonymity, I've found - plenty of my students are yoga teachers, but I need to not be both their student and teacher at the same time). As a part of my new year's intention to support myself more, I have committed to yoga at least once a week at Jewel in the Lotus in Madison. And the main class I've been taking is Yin.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grandfathered In

(from a collection of shots of odd/aged "handicap" signs I've taken over the years)
In writing an essay for an upcoming call from Creative Non-Fiction journal, I have been going through my grandfather's writings on his trips to Australia. I have these because I have nearly all of our family files - all the letters, all the paperwork. No bills, I hope, still up there, but at least three generations' worth of photos and other family ephemera. My grandfather - he was the only one I ever met, as the other one died before I was born - visited Australia annually over the course of a few years, for about a month at a time, with often side trips to Fiji or Tahiti or New Zealand. I always wanted to go with him, but never did. In writing this essay, I am addressing a question I never really asked myself. Why?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Topics from my Marquette University students

Each week I cull new writing topics from the writing that they share aloud.

We also make a bunch up ourselves, freely. They have endless options, in other words.
I wanted to share their wisdom and inquiries with a larger audience. So here you go! Just try a few of these on for size next time you write...

2000 miles from my front door
When I freak out...
Swore we would never speak of it
From my dad's insane need to...
My favorite things I own
Unfortunate parallel parking
My ridiculous inability to...
Plenty of science
Some people show intelligence in other ways
Don't forget...
Why we put ourselves through stress and pressure
Does society know what's best for...
I saw it before plenty of times, but...
Knees weak
When I feel/felt most alive...
Noise and silence
Maybe we're/I'm not good enough
The billions of other people who have stood in this very spot
When God somehow seems realer than ever
Taking a job/life way too seriously
Being our/yourself all the time
The only things to take seriously are death, true love and illness (or find your own three)
Social acceptability
I hate...
When I live by the walls society puts up...
Maybe I talk too much
100 shades of red
I'm a hungry sophomore in college
Something I wrote in Elementary school or day care
I'm not an asshole, I'm just...
What I don't like is...
It's nobody's fault
I didn't mean to get...
My God
Obey obey obey
Artsy stuff
How does art fit in to life/career/family?
Not certain enough
The words employers/parents/teachers love to hear

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Critic Cycle

Sometimes there's actually too much for me to blog about.

Sometimes? Often. I could post here everyday if I had the time - if I prioritized it.

But lately there's a spinning theme that all interrelates:
The critic.
Valuing writing/our voices.
Doing what we value, or not doing it, because of or despite the critic...
(Rinse, repeat)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Old Age, Sickness and Death

Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury

(From the Wikipedia article on Death)

In teachings at various points on my Buddhist path, people have pointed out that the phrase "Old Age, Sickness and Death" doesn't mean just the "end of life" as we commonly would (want to?) think it does. "Old Age begins at birth," one teacher noted - the second you are born, you begin to approach Death. Sickness is also a life-long deterioration. We are impermanent, that's part of the womb-to-tomb contract we sign in blood upon entering this world.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Abstract calligraphy made by participants in the LA Shambhala Art intensive I just attended.
"Ok," I start our writing practice, "Let's work on topics. What are some good things to write about - personal things, things you know and experience directly?"
"Relationships," the first student answers, without hesitation.
"Ok, good, but get more specific..."
"Close relationships, people you are close to," she guesses.
"Getting warmer, keep going, more specific..."
"Family relationships," she tries out, but then a light bulb goes off as I say:
"Ok, yup, keep going..."
And she practically screams out: "Your Mom."
The air goes out of the room. Everyone smiles or grimaces, all pens hit notebooks. I smile.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cool Versus Cold

Miniature Train show, January 2012, Discovery World, Milwaukee WI
One of my favorite quotes about Buddhism is - many of my favorite quotes, truthfully, are - from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In True Perception, the Path of Dharma Art, he says: "Usually people think that if you lose everything - your ambition, your self-centeredness, your integrity and dignities - you will become a vegetable, a jellyfish. But it's not so. Instead you are suspended in space. It is quite titillating!"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Uphill Both Ways (Missive from Eagle Rock #2)

It's true. Last year at about this time I was in Vermont a secular Buddhist seminary retreat. Now I am in LA on a city retreat, and both times, I stayed just over a mile from where the retreat was located. This time, it's sunny and 70, that time it was snowy and 30 (or below). Both times, my walk to and from - which I chose to walk the first part of my stays in both places - was uphill both ways. Really.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Missive from Eagle Rock

I have already written the dedication for my book on teaching writing:
"Dedicated to all my students and all my teachers.
If you are one, you are the other."
Natalie once told us to dedicate books to students, because you can't fail with that one.