Execute: A double edged sword and a noble mission

Kali "the destroyer" is the Hindu goddess of time and change.  Some also suggest she is a benevolent mother goddess.  Either way, the Hindus beat the surrealists for symbolism!

Kali “the destroyer” is the Hindu goddess of time and change. Some also suggest she is a benevolent mother goddess. Either way, the Hindus beat the surrealists for symbolism!

Execute: To bring to fruition, as in execute a project; to bring to termination, as in execute a prisoner.  I’m caught up in these beginnings and endings lately.  Caught up in the need to execute, on both fronts, and in awe of how my power sometimes lapses on both fronts.  To kill, and most of my experience is metaphorical here, is never easy.  There is no death—of a relationship, a dream, a desire, or the big real death—that doesn’t leave a maddening trace of possibility.  But of course, the new spring garden can’t grow until last years harvest is fully reaped, and all that remains is tilled in to nourish the next crop.  Farming metaphors, easy…actually doing it, well that’s another story.

To execute in the sense of birthing creative venture, putting pen to the page, parting the curtains that shield the soul’s window, equally daunting.  Why?  I remember a book in art school called “Art and Fear”, about the inextricable link between creative venture and temerity.  Fear of failure, or, harder to figure, fear of success.

We seem to fear the actualization of our zaniest dreams just a little bit more than we fear sinking into a well worn chair every evening, numbing out, and being able to converse about the latest series with others at the office.  The only thing worse than that, argues the weird amphibian part of our brain, is to stand out, to be different and strange, to say no and no and no way.  Because then, that ever protective amphibian reasons, we might get caught, not survive the hunt, having called too much attention to ourselves.

It’s nothing against the little amphibian that lives at the base of my brain; i’m grateful for his caution and watchful ways.  It’s brought me, and the rest of the human race, through many a famine and flight from war and destruction.  But just right this sec, I’m going to need to execute that neurotic creature, or at least dose him with a strong tranquilizer, so I’ll be a little freer to execute my deepest dreams and desires.

[the alchemy of a spider web]

I could have gone back, like a doll
that does what she’s
told, but I’m not that
good or that brave or
that stupid.  And besides,
the moon was big full in
the middle of the day,
and secrets were waiting to unfold
and there was a black widow
in a thick sticky
web

                                    ~moi

Black widow diagram

I rented a space to make art.  It is a large open space in an old warehouse building.  Little tufts of grass creep in through the walls, and occasionally couples who have no fixed residence sleep in the parking lot.  They put their food on top of the white van so animals won’t get it.  It’s not so different from when I go backpacking, though the scenery is certainly lacking as is, I imagine, the sense of a home to return to.  I get out of my car, say good morning, and go into the old warehouse; the parking lot campers wish me a good day.  The woman has a sweet sing-songy voice.

Whatever it was the ancients were trying to evolve with alchemy, this is my closest approximation.  A driving belief in based in slim possibility and scant evidence that keeps me coming back, opening the door, following one illogical decision with another, investing in broader, more open ended definitions of safety and wisdom.  When I cross the threshold, I abandon my subscription to order and thriving.  It is a big open space where I can simply play, or be, or do nothing.  And when my ego, or inner critic, or whoever that is pipes up and asks me why we’re wasting money on this big space when we could really be doing something useful with my/our life, I have full permission to duct tape it’s mouth shut and put that heavy body in the old trunk that is my coffee table.  Then I can get to work…

There is a large table on wheels that my Buddhist carpenter buddy Rick and I built, and it is IMG_3007covered with an artist’s version of a scientific study.  There are leaves, and insects and wings splayed out as if waiting to be cataloged.  There is an old typewriter, and odds and ends of fabric, sticks, and oranges peels that have been hollowed out by squirrels.  And this is my life, and lately, I desire no other.  That strange calm that comes when we balance gently on the edges our own quirky weirdness.

One day, while sweeping, I saw a black widow resplendent on her fortified web.  She was lithe and sleek with the perfect red hourglass on her torso that left no room for doubt.  And I couldn’t kill her, even though it seemed a logical reaction.  I did wipe out the web while marveling at its sticky durability.  There is nothing flimsy or casual about a black widow’s web; like her perfect, dangerous body, the web requires recognition.

images

With nothing left to do but ponder her symbolism, I learned of spider web metaphors, linked especially to writing and artistic processes, to the slow and patient weaving of structure in dark places; and in the case of the widow, there is this extra calling to respect and explore what is dark and mysterious in a woman’s psyche.  Not your average coffee shop conversation.  Hence the need for the studio.

Stuff…

stuff (n.)

early 14c., “quilted material worn under chain mail,” from Old French estoffe “quilted material, furniture, provisions” (Modern French étoffe), from estoffer “to equip or stock,” which according to French sources is from Old High German stopfon “to plug, stuff,” or from a related Frankish word (see stop), but OED has “strong objections” to this. Sense extended to material for working with in various trades (c.1400), then (1570s) “matter of an unspecified kind.” Meaning “narcotic, dope, drug” is attested from 1929. To know (one’s) stuff “have a grasp on a subject” is recorded from 1927.

http://www.etymonline.com

 Curious object, close-up 2Note:  These musings on the word stuff is accompanied by pictures of stuff, which I make out of discarded stuff.  Yes, it’s complicated.

Stuff.  This matter of an unspecified kind, which may be a drug.  Makes perfect sense to me. I have been immersed in it.  Moving, packing, unpacking, consolidating, swapping, and giving it away.  An still, there is more stuff, to be organized, filed, archived, folded, shredded, etc.  And yet the minute I feel that I cannot live with it, that I must in fact do without it, keeping perhaps a toothbrush and some underwear, other voices kick in, maybe the primal ones that survived famine and snowstorms; these voices are quite certain that the sweater with the hood might be useful, and the bent nail could still serve a purpose.CO detail, use

I am having this sort of existential struggle with my stuff.  Some of the stuff has meanings wound up in its fabric, stories, a beginning or an end, or a simple walk at sunset.  Other stuff is more humble, not romantic, but certainly useful.  And what of the stuff that I might only use a few times a year, but it seems essential at those moments.  I don’t have answers.  I just have stuff, in drawers and suitcases and plastic boxes.  And I dream of a funeral pyre to make it all go away, and at the same time, I see myself rescuing a few treasured items from the flames.  I both love and resent my stuff.  It keeps me warm, and it keeps me hemmed in.  And our world, or at least our culture, is so stuff ridden, that even as I give stuff away, someone is always offering me new, enticing stuff. 

all dressed up, in treeThe other day I helped someone clean a closet.  There was artwork and old Christmas wrap and childhood memories and a billion photo albums.  We pay for stuff, and boxes to organize it, and sometimes even people to help guide us when we have too much freakin stuff.  I have spent the last year downsizing, but I still don’t feel that I know my stuff enough to really reckon with it.  I dream of stufflessness, envisioned as the euphoric state of having way less stuff.  I imagine it feels something like zero gravity…but how would I know?

Into the great GONE

Except the heaven had come so near,      Spring branch 2
So seemed to choose my door,
The distance would not haunt me so;
I had not hoped before.

But just to hear the grace depart
I never thought to see,
Afflicts me with a double loss;
‘T is lost, and lost to me.

~Emily Dickinson

Thoughts on the blog entry I’ll never write:

IMG_2097

 

As I was watering my friend’s urban oasis garden the other day, the perfect entry for this month’s blog crystallized in my mind; it formed, as all perfect things do, from the nothing, from the nowhere.  As if the water misting all around me had set off some latent seed, mainlining a rapid vine to my brain.

And I would share it with you, in all its fleshy verdant glory; but alas, the withering was quick and complete.  It was so lovely a thought, so complete and full in all its details, that I was sure it would be with me once I reached pen and paper.  But as quickly as it sprang, as full and juicy as it was for that moment, it was gone.  Gone beyond any reach, gone and not even a shadow, or damp stain.  NOTHING.  GONE.  And a sense of disbelief, coupled with slight betrayal tinged the edges of the morning.

Some months back, my meditation teacher said to me: It’s good to grieve, but make sureIMG_2087 you realize that whatever it is you’re longing for is completely, totally gone.  It was one of those deceptively simple statements that rerouted fine wires in my brain.  And while I still insist on looking back, I recognize that the goneness is simply GONE.  Never to be again, never to appear in quite the same way.  Doppelgangers may crowd the subway platforms, and distant strains of music may trick the brain down  long ago streets, but no one and nothing will reappear in all its past glory.

So it is with April’s blog entry.  In place of a lush idea, I offer you its absence, as evidence of a creative process that dies, rebirths, sheds, and mourns with disturbing  and awesome efficiency.  If and when the lush and fickle vine chooses, it will pop up again, but by then, it will be a whole new thing.

Deluge, the great purging

IMG_2810

I was just sitting here, listening to the rain, pondering the etymology of deluge.  Lingering especially over its French roots, which lead to its Latin roots.  In short, an incredible outpouring from some sky god intent on diluere, or washing away (www.etymonline.com).  The online dictionary doesn’t mention the sky god; I added that.

My pondering ceased its rhapsody as hail began pelting the window of the home I’m caring for, beating so hard I worried for the glass.  And what of the buds that sprang early, and the small potted plants on the back porch?  Still, I’m grateful for the stormy dissonance.  I said little prayers to the deep gray clouds that hovered over the barren fields this morning.  It is that pivotal season of renewal and rebirth; Easter bunnies, eggs, chocolate, Seders, Persian New Year, to name a few.  Or I could say sex, sweetness, and flowers, if I wanted to remove religion from the equation and stick with the meat of the matter, those things that transcend all borders.

IMG_2816

Regardless, I looked at those deep and threatening clouds with gratitude because they mirrored a corner of my soul at present; a dark and cluttered corner that’s having a hard time connecting with the sweetness.  And the clouds reminded me of transience, of the ever-passing and constantly mutable nature of all things worldly.  If I imagine the clouds an old Jewish grandfather, they shrug off a seeming heaviness to opine “so it’s dark…so you’re stuck…you’ll get over it.”

And of course, I will.  That’s the deluge.  All that water, breaking free, washing and washing over the earth.  Moving things, killing things, saving things.  The rain has quieted down again, returned to soothing.  After I post this, I’m going to pack my bags in this after-storm, dusk light.  Tomorrow, I head off to meditate for a week, to remind myself yet again of the sweetness and the darkness and all things shifting in between.

IMG_2817

zero day

seeds and pod

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:                                                                                   ~T.S. Eliot

Spring branchI recently thought about getting on the Appalachian Trail; to walk, one step at a time, this snaky path that would wind me up my beloved coast, and land me back home, in Maine.  I thought about being one with harsh weather and giant snakes and self doubt and fear. I thought about gear and timelines and the startling plausibility of it all.  And then, strangely enough, at least for me, I decided to stay right where I am.  Nothing like the stern advice of an Englishman to embolden me to wait. “You are not even ready for thought” he cautions…and he’s right.

I’ve always found a certain chill, and a sublime light in Eliot’s work.  And when a friend read this passage to me over and over as part an exercise at a recent dance and writing workshop I attended, I realized that for me, the ultimate challenge comes in this kind of waiting, this pause, these moments of in between.  My inner adventurer pipes up and she’s brimming with ideas, exotic locals, bold horizons.  And I love her for it; but she’s just going to have to wait a sec, or even several.

Still Shovel

My Appalachian Trail research yielded the concept of the “zero day”.  These are the days when you accumulate no mileage on your tally.  Perhaps you do laundry, or eat at local dives, but mostly you recover from the intensity of it all.  This past Tuesday, I had a zero day of my own.  I wrote a few emails and finished a book, and eventually, after working up to it all day, I did some stitch work on a sculpture.  But for the most part I did nothing.  And the many different brains that live inside my one head were piping up.  There were grandmother voices and boss voices and all around productive people voices insisting that I really should do something (anything) useful.

seed podsBut what of the usefulness of not doing?  Another version of the zero day exists in the religious notion of the Sabbath.  I once heard an author discuss her secular interpretation of the Sabbath as a day when we stop trying to be the master of everything.  Resignation comes hard; we have so many electronic gadgets at our fingertips aiding in the illusion that we are in control.  And when the secular among us let go, who or what exactly are we yielding to.  Does it matter? Probably not; because if, in letting go of the need to control and direct absolutely everything, we encounter just a little bit of peace, that’s really the point.  Yield to a pelican, the ocean, a wise looking street cat.  Just yield!

Have a zero day.  Savor it’s roundness and slow curves.

Fierce compassion and disco lights

We may have all come in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.

~Martin Luther King Jr.          hand, heart head fire

Today I want to give a shout to the illogical, the unseeable, the unknowable.  The ties that bind us, though we see not the thread, or where exactly it enters or exits the fabric of our lives.

In this month of fierce compassion, the vision that arises for me is a tall, slim, man in his twenties with a crazy white-boy fro, and cut-off shorts. It’s an image I’ve carried in my mind’s eye for about 30 years now.

eye, head, heart

When I was 8, we went to the roller skating rink.  You know, the big chunky 4 wheeled skates, the dim lights, bad music that was SOO good, and the lights woo-wooing and splashing all around.  EVERYBODY wanted to be cool at the roller rink.  And everything about the roller rink seemed to guarantee that it could envelope us in endless coolness.

But alas, something got through…some moth, some flutter, some dream.  I was out skating around and around, awkward and gawky, when a slightly mad desire struck: I wanted to return to where my parents, and aunt and uncle were watching from the sidelines.  So I broke the golden rule of roller skating rinks everywhere.  I stopped circumnavigating.  I broke from the logically obedient clockwise crowd, and bee-lined directly across the middle of the floor.

me, hand, heart

There was a veritable 4 lane highway of skaters to get through before I reaching my wide-eyed, frantically gesturing family.  I was brazen, or 8, or scared, or a weird cocktail of all these elements.  And so I went for it.  Right through, sending far better skaters swerving, skating, and swearing out of my way.  Except for that one beautiful skater, who’d been turning and swirling his slim legs at full grace and full speed in my general direction; and since he’d imagined no perpendicular 8 year-old crossing his path, my skate caught his, and we both went down, though his crash was clearly worse.

I don’t remember him getting up, or saying anything.  Maybe because I was shocked; maybe because my parents had grabbed me, and they were assessing any physical damages before asking me what the HECK I was thinking.  I have no idea what magnetic force drew me directly across the floor to them.  I remember their concern, but not the dialogue.  I think I just started crying.

And then the tall figure was skating towards me again, presenting me with a snow cone, as if it was a prize I justly deserved.  He smiled, and apologized, and asked me if I was OK.  And he shrugged off my parents apologies, and skated back into the circular throng; so unfazed, so lovely, and so kind.

That’s such a small thing…I know.  I mean there’s Ghandi, and Mother Teresa, and Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr…and countless others who chose kindness when it would have been so tempting to wield the sword.  And awesome as they are, none of them has ever bought me a snow cone.  But that beautiful skater did; when he handed me the snow cone, he remapped a little part of my heart, sprinkled little seeds deep down into my soul, and they are still taking root and expanding all these years later.

Decide: a subtle killing

scissors life is the sum of all your choices

~albert camus

I recently confided my chronic indecision to a friend who has a calm, steady kind of wisdom.  In my adult life, I have berated myself for not being to make decisions quickly and easily, as others seem to.  I envy people who claim to have found their career path in kindergarten, and I linger over menus, knowing that I must give up something that isn’t even mine: fig infusion, or a hearty stew on a crisp winter’s evening. 

My friend, who seems adept at deciding, provided me with stew like comfort.  She stated, quite matter-of-factly, what a language teacher once told her: that to decide is to kill, related to many other –cide words.  The obvious ones come to mind: suicide, genocide…OK, I’m still indecisive; but at least I’m not crazy.  Deciding IS a big deal.

imagesI had NEVER related decide it’s harsher cousins.  Decide is surely gentler; she’s in the corner knitting… and yet, there is a sharp scissor by her side, and a strange little gleam in her eye, as she severs one strand in order to attach another.  But what color to use…what pattern to follow?

“The Phrontistery” http://phrontistery.info/kill.html, does not actually list “decide” among the killing words.  Its exhaustive list provides: acaricide, killer of mites and ticks; episcopicide, killing of bishops; and both giganticide and deicide, the killing of giants and gods, respectively.  So all this murder, from the tiniest of insects to the greatest of creatures and concepts, is etymologically registered. 

fate spinning

But Decide sits off to the side, like Penelope, wife of Odysseus, simultaneously creating and destroying an endless blanket of possibilities.  And perhaps it is this creative thread that separates her.  As my friend explained it, to decide is, certainly, to kill off other possibilities, that we may or may not revisit later. But in return we get clarity, and, when we follow our truth, a sense of peace.

A cursory review of etymologies for decide revealed  –cide’s gentler powers of fairness and discernment.  Evolving from the idea of “settling a dispute”, and showing up in the 1830’s as coming to some sort of a conclusion after deliberation, decide’s etymology is: From French décider or Latin dēcīdere, infintive of dēcīdō (“cut off, decide”), from  (“down from”) + caedō (“cut”), courtesy of wiktionary.

Presumably, the “cutting off from” suffered by the giant, the bishop, and the mite, involved the severing of major arteries.  In the case of dead gods, I imagine that a whole slew of cultural and metaphorical arteries were ravaged beyond hope. Whereas Decide prunes a tree, causing the existing branches to grow stronger, or causing multiple off shoots to replace the lost one.  If put on the stand, Decide would plead no contest.  She is aware of the potential pain inherent in employing cutting instruments, but she cites enhanced possibilities as her greatest defense.

three-fates-greek

The three fates, forever deciding…

As to where this leaves me in terms of job searches, and menu surfing…lately I notice that there is an instant feeling of attraction, repulsion, or indifference as soon as I read through, say, a menu item.  It is Decide, gently encouraging me from her dimly lit corner; I try to follow her lead, employing the scissors to create a pathway where greater patterns and colors can grow.

Our daily bread

posted by Faith

DSCN6715

I like the lord’s prayer.  This intrigues me because I am both Jewish, and not religious.  But every time I take off or land in a plane, I find myself reciting the lord’s prayer in my head.  I am not so interested in the Father/Heaven part, or the temptation/evil part.  It’s the middle that gets me:

Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us;

Meaning that if the Lord’s prayer were a sandwich, I’d generally forgo the Father/Heaven and  temptation/evil bread that encases the essential meat/tofurky of the equation.  Like anyone on a restrictive diet, I make exceptions for holidays, or, in my case, particularly long flights. IMG_2454

But it really is the middle that moves me, because what more do we really want, or need?  I picture my favorite bakery, down the hill from my house.  It succeeds very well at pretending to be a French bakery, and the bread is displayed in all its glory.  No garish plastic sheaths, no slices.  Each loaf is a little body, nestled against the other warm bodies in careful wooden crates.  And there are scars, and lumps, and odd twists and turns attesting to the fact that dough met fire.  Our daily bread.

I’ve been living on a tight budget lately.  My daily bread has become both serious and sacred.  I don’t bemoan this.  Though it’s been stressful at times,  I’ve truly appreciated this opportunity to marvel at each loaf; to be able to walk up and down the hill to buy it; to divide it by meals, and appreciate each section, to wonder at how long it will last.  To know that, however slim, my budget will accommodate another loaf.

DSCN3074And after that, what?  To be loved, to be held, to be rocked by the world’s crass lullaby whispering “You’re being crazy, but love will find a way through this maze.”  And to let this lullaby ripple through us, until we can turn to the world, and especially those who have harmed us, and repeat, “You’re all being crazy, but love will find a way through this maze…” Ahhh, nourishment.

Back East, Out West

“I never saw the east coast until I moved to the west”

                                                ~Tom Waits, San Diego Serenade

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in…”

                                                ~Robert Frost, Death of a Hired Man

As we approach All Hollow’s Eve, best friends, neighbors, and even perfect strangers reveal their hidden longings, repressed desires, and deepest fears by taking on the very forms they normally push into dark corners.  But what of the splits that are not so easily categorized, polarized, and put in a box until next year?  What of the chronic rifts of the psyche that can never be bridged?  Stay with me a while as I ponder the bi-coastal life; it is getting dark, and I hate to take this trip alone…

People say “back east” and “out west”…even if they’ve never set foot on the opposite coast, they proudly announce “I’m going back east”…even though it’s their first trip to the right coast.  Concepts embedded into our cultural psyche.

Back: the small towns, the steeples, the trees ablaze in the smoky sky…the puritans, the hard workers,the snow, the non-smilers, the Big Apple, people dressed in drab tones…

Out: the bigness, the vastness, space, the smilers, the surreal gravity games of San Francisco, the adventure sports loving foodies, the people who say “right on”, and drive 2 hours to be somewhere for 4 hours…

There’s a San Francisco/New York joke someone told me:  In New York, when they say “@#!# you” they may well mean “hello” and in San Francisco, when they say “hello” they may well mean “@#!# you”. How to navigate these things…?

When I first moved to California, I was confused by the instant invites to “come over for dinner sometime” that never materialized.  I thought “Wow…I’m gonna have so many friends here…it would take a year to get invited to dinner in New England”  But as the year went by, I was unsatisfied with shallow greetings and smiles that went nowhere.  I missed the steadfastness of my east coast friends, even if they were prone to snarky comments and had no desire to turn their frowns upside down; in fact, the mere rhyming suggestion would be sure to prompt a snarky comment.  And so I began a fruitless war with the West Coast, making long mental lists of its failings, so what if the yoga is great, and there are fresh figs, I told myself, and continued with my list.  I worked at this for a long time, calling on a puritan work ethic and the grit and steel of cold winters.

But eventually, I had to surrender; one day I simply looked on a map, and I focused on California, and I thought, “damn, that’s big!” So what could I do. I was “out west”, surrounded by vastness, bigness, sunshine and smiles that sometimes left me…ummm…cold.

It is not simple equation; there is no A/B, yes/no, just go back solution. Because the very going back implies the initial departure, and once you have been out west for any significant length of time—as I have been for almost 7 years now—you will never ever be fully back east again.  You become chronically, and hopelessly bi-coastal. Hence the back flips and strange yoga poses my soul has been doing ever since I made the journey west.  I now have anchors on both coasts, and they have held this boat that I call body steady through many storms.  And these are not rusty old metal contraptions.  They are, for the most part, people.  Friends, to be precise, and friends of friends, and even some well meaning strangers.   Because whether smiling and wearing flowy yoga pants or smirking sarcastically in tight knit black turtlenecks, my real friends have shown through like those glowing hearts in bad religious souvenirs.  And I no longer expect something from every smile I see; it’s not some bridge, some promised land, some possibility…it’s just a smile…they’re kinda nice sometimes.

And I’m sorry to every west coaster who’s told me a hell story about driving in New England.  I’m sorry your car broke down, and it was raining, and no one stopped to help you.  That really does suck.  But ya know, there’s I bridge I drive over, whenever I go back to Maine, and as I drive over it, I actually feel something stir in my soul, wherever that is.