Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for Dowsing


I want to live
where the sweet water flows
     and taste
         the clear,
             running dream.

I want to burrow into, and
dig down through the layers,
dig through all the layers


a whisper
    and a trickle
      begins the flood

Oh, quench my dowsing soul.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Cages

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the

A few years back I wrote a post based on this, my favorite of all things Hafiz. I love its whimsical gravitas.

In my post back then I admonished everyone to become a key dropper. I offer humble apology here, as I was wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, while searching for something other unrelated thing, I once again stumbled across this poem in a book of quote-y stuff that I've written down. I read it. Then I read it again. And once more. That was when I heard the ice floe begin to crack and the real stream of What Is at first trickled, and then tripped and burbled through. Okay. Okay. It was an epiphany. But I swear I heard ice cracking.

We can't all be key droppers all the time and it was silly of me to expect people to be so. It was silly of me to expect myself to be so. Because, guess what? That's not what Hafiz's poem is about. Not at all.

Hafiz was referring to us, as ourselves. As our complete selves. We are all of those characters, all the time. What's more is that we need to be. It is part of our process, part of our psychological make up. It is how we recognize and define where we are on our journey and what needs to happen next.

We are The Small Man. We build cages for others and for ourselves. We want everything boxed and organized in tidy lines. We might say we don't, but we do. Gone are our wild instincts; gone is the feral need to be awake and alive in every single moment. We fool ourselves into thinking that if we have order, we are safe. We think, "If I stay in this job, with this income, everything is fine." We think, "If he would just pick his socks up off the floor, I'd be happy." We think, "If I wear this style, they will accept me." We cage everything. We cage everyone. We don't just build the cage; we are the cage.

It's good for a while. We have structure, and safety, and there aren't a lot of startling surprises. But that gets really old after a while, doesn't it? We realize that our shoulders are cramped from trying to fit into a confined space. We find that the air is a stale and stifling. We aren't seeing the things and places we want to see, because they are Out There; we aren't interacting with the people we want to be with because they are Over There. We're here, stuck in a cage of our own making, and it dawns on us that we hate it.

So, we get rebellious. We see the moon through the slats in the cage and our ancient instincts stir. We chuff, and pace, and our agitation with being stuck builds to the howling point. We let it out, softly at first. It comes as a low moan. But we hear ourselves and the noise we make, and in it we recall who we were when the Universe was new. It is our true voice. It incites us until finally, we let loose with a long, loud, unrestrained keening. We don't let up. Because this is who we are. And we have had e-fucking-nough.

We become The Beautiful, Rowdy Prisoner. We don't care what the Small Man is up to. We're gonna make some noise. We're gonna party like it's year one. We're gonna get visceral, and real, and be authentic, and to hell with the cage. And we even say that every single time we bump into the walls of the cage. We say, "I'm gonna be visceral and real and authentic and to hell with the cage!"

In stoops The Sage, roused and amused by our boisterous behavior. He can't wait to see us run free in the moonlight. He thrills at the thought of us gulping the fresh night air. I imagine him humming a quiet, tuneless melody, a slight smile on his lips, as he begins to drop keys - magic keys that fall right into the locks and unhinge the doors.

Finally, finally, finally... we are free. Free to run wild in all the ecstatic, unfettered, fierce grace that was ours for the claiming since the beginning of time.

We are these things. We need to accept that we are The Small Man, that we are The Cage, that we are The Beautiful, Rowdy Prisoners just as much as we are The Sage.

We are those things. Yes. And... We are so much more.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for Barbarian

Burning Through

barbarian: -noun; a person in a savage, primitive state; uncivilized person

Various people, myself included, have often referred to me as Barbarian. I like it. It's a great amalgamation of my first and middle (Ann) names. There was a time when I used it as part of my email address. Once, when I called myself that, someone asked me why I would refer to myself in such pejorative terms. 

I can understand why some would think I was being unkind to myself or self-deprecating, but I really don't feel that's the case. I like the moniker. It works.

My own mother would agree on certain principles. Hard as she tried, and much to her chagrin, she never could turn my sister and me into proper little ladies. I will never be at home and comfortable in a dress and heels. Ever. Jeans, sweats, and t-shirts are my standard garb. Anything else on me, although I do clean up well when I have to, just makes me feel false, and fidgety, and grumpy.

But let's forget about appearances for a minute or three.

The Greeks originated the term barbarian. It was meant to refer to anyone who wasn't Greek - people who were considered to be outsiders, social outcasts. Again, it works. I've felt like an outsider all my life. I've never adhered to any definition of "normal." Proudly. I've never understood societal boundaries. Good job, Mom... I was well named. Barbara means "stranger."

I'm in touch with my inner savage, my primitive wild woman. I think that must be part of any creative soul, part of anyone who has the ability to look at the clouds and see elephants cavorting with goldfish. Most definitely there is a sense of savageness in making art and in writing. There is a need to go to a darker instinct in order to translate the soul gunk into something tangible. Well, for me there is.

I joke with people that I'm a direct descendant of Attila the Hun. Given my Hungarian heritage, that may or may not be true. I say it anyway, adding that I tend to storm the castle now and apologize later... if at all.

Uncivilized? Yes. While it isn't obvious to everyone upon meeting me, I tend to go against the grain of standard civility and social norms: 

-I'm blunt in my opinions and I don't hold back when I need to express them. I'm pragmatic and unfluffy. I tend to not like what everyone else likes.

-I've never been a fan of Elvis Presley. I think his music has a ring of insincerity to it. Right around the same time that Elvis was being lauded, there was a humble black man playing guitar (Playing?! He made that thing talk!), hopping across the stage, and singing his heart out. His musical influence upon rockers for the past 60+ years is tremendous and largely untold. That man was Chuck Berry - he should have been the one that the music world crowned and hailed as The King

-While I'm very well read, I think little of the works of Shakespeare. Sure, he came up with some great lines, and sure, you have to read his work with a nod toward the age in which it was written, but even so, it's all a bit overblown and fanciful. 

-I'm not girly-girl. I don't do manicures or pedicures or hairstyles or make-up or endless clothes shopping. I'm the one picking steak out of my teeth while others nibble on salad and talk of fashion.

-I'd rather sit by the river eating a cold take-out hamburger than sit in a restaurant amid 50 other patrons and have waitstaff stop by every five minutes to interrupt my contemplation or conversation just to ask if everything is okay and do I need anything else.

-Unlike most of my peers, I have absolutely no adoration or nostalgic yearning for the 80's - I don't like 80's music, 80's TV shows, 80's attitudes, and 80's hair and clothing styles make me want to regurgitate everything I've eaten since 1967. 

-I'm an atheist. Never mind that I do have a solid code of ethics and a ridiculously spiritual life, non-atheists tend to see a declaration of atheism as spewed sewage from the mindset of someone who is savage and uncivilized. Atheism is often seen as something that must be cleaned up, swept into a bin, and incinerated.

You see? I am a Barbarian. And that's just fine with me. Keep your clean white togas and well-ordered society. I'll be over here in my sweats, getting hopped up on caffeine, painting, writing, cussing in true, rowdy, barbarian form, unapologetically attacking castles, and running wild through the woods.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Adore

This month I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Today, April 1, we begin with the letter "A".

verb: to regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; to honor

In the book Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler writes, "There ought to be a whole separate language, she thought, for words that are truer than other words - for perfect absolute truth."

As a writer, and as a reader, I often find my thoughts drifting toward that quote. So many times I write, thinking, I'm not saying exactly what I mean to say. It isn't, as Tyler wishes, perfect absolute truth. That feeling is never more prevalent when I refer to love, and especially the love that I feel for my mate.

I can fling clichés all over the place that nail my feelings for him, but also somehow fall short and... well... sound cliché. I'm crazy for him. I'm head over heels for him. He makes the sun rise. Every day with him is like Christmas. I love him. All are true statements, but none of them the perfect absolute truth.

Let's face it, there are lots and lots of people that I love. By love I don't mean a generic, I love everybody (which, I nearly do were it not for a handful who just make it so damned difficult). I mean, there are people I love - people I identify as being part of my tribe; people I'd drop my cup of coffee and chocolate for in order to be there for them; people who affect my life in such a way that I can't imagine it without them. That kind of love. I feel it all the time. But, the love I feel for my mate? There's something esoteric there (as there should be), that I haven't been able, wordsmith that I am, to put into words. To say with perfect absolute truth.

The other day I was thumbing through the dictionary. If you know me at all, you know that's just who I am and you'll love me anyway. So, then. I was thumbing through the dictionary and came across the word adore. I'm not sure I've ever looked at the definition of it. This time I did, and nearly burst into tears as I proclaimed to my art supplies and bookshelves, "That's IT! That's perfect absolute truth for how I feel about him!"

Adore fits. It's right. It's right in terms of how I feel and it's right in terms of how I want to be perceived and understood whenever I talk about him. He is an impressive human being, but in my life, which I'm blessed enough to say is full of impressive human beings, he is the one I hold in utmost esteem, because I know he holds my heart with more reverence than anyone else in this world. He is the one I love beyond all others. He is the one I respect, not so much because of who he is to me, but because of who he is to others. His kindness isn't just for me; his willingness is unflagging; he shares his intelligence; his sense of humor knows no bounds; his humanity stretches to everyone he meets. I told you, he is an impressive human being. It is my honor, not just to choose him, but to be chosen by him.

I adore him, in all the vast depth of that word. I adore him.

That is the perfect absolute truth.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Surrender, Dorothy!

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of the movie, The Wizard of Oz. The movie has been among my top five favorites since before I could even talk. Not only do I know all the songs, but if pressed, I could probably recite all the lines along with the film. I read through all of L. Frank Baum’s books at an early age. All this is to say that I can’t remember a time when I didn't identify with Dorothy Gale. I can’t remember a time when she wasn't at the top of my list of literary and film heroines.

For all the times I've watched it, there’s something I did not notice until I watched the movie (for the 837th or so time) just a couple of weeks ago. The Wicked Witch was right. You heard me. The Wicked Witch was right when, in a fit of pique, she wrote across the sky, “Surrender, Dorothy!” Sure, she had the wrong idea about the terms of Dorothy's surrender, but she was on point with the surrendering part. And, given all of Dorothy’s co-dependence on others, a good-sized surrender was imminent.

Think about it. Back on the farm, Dorothy relied on Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to deal with the ever dyspeptic Miss Gulch. She relied on farmhands Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke not just for entertainment, but to rescue her from the pigs - a predicament she got herself into. When she ran away from home, she looked to Professor Marvel for a solution. Then, when she was whisked far away and over the rainbow, just as she dreamed and wished, she still wasn't happy. All she could think about was getting back home, and she was willing to rely on any number of characters to help her. (“Helping the little lady along, are we, my fine gentlemen?”)

Dorothy ran headlong into that age-old classic truism: wherever you go, there you are.

Of course, wanting to get back home was an altruistic, albeit rather guilt-laden decision. Dorothy felt badly for how she’d treated Aunt Em by running off. She wanted to go back and make amends, be more helpful, take less for granted, in short, be a better niece. She was tenacious in her quest and undaunted by setbacks. The only time she showed any real fear was when she thought she might not be able to get back to Kansas so that she could set things right with her aunt. Also to her credit, and one of the things I love most about Dorothy, was that she wasn't put off by differences in those she knew or met. Looks or abilities or disabilities meant little to her; she accepted everyone as they were.

Even with all her good attributes, Dorothy was due a reckoning. She put all her hopes in others, left her expectations in their hands. Doing that rarely ends well - at the very least it doesn't end the way we’d like it to. Her friends helped her get to the wizard. The wizard did nothing for them but point out that they were not as flawed as they thought themselves to be. (Nothing like a little external validation to give you confidence in your abilities, huh?) He had no solid way to tell Dorothy that, and being flawed and not just a little co-dependent himself, he catered to her co-dependency by offering her a ride.  Dorothy would have learned little in the end if Toto hadn't leaped from her arms, causing a Rube Goldberg effect that sent the wizard floating off without her.

That was when Dorothy gave up, completely and without any exception. She surrendered. Glinda saw that moment and seized it as an opportunity to enlighten Dorothy. “You've always had the power.” Dorothy's eyes widen in recognition of the truth (it’s subtle, but such a brilliant acting moment by Judy Garland). When pushed to reveal what she had learned, Dorothy says, “… if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

We like to talk a good game about finding our desires, our passions, our joie de vivre. Yay! We found them - as if they're Easter eggs hidden from us by some Universal bunny. The truth is, they were never lost. They were never not there. We need only surrender. We need to stop looking so hard in every direction, expecting them to magically appear. We need to stop relying on every person who crosses our path to supply them. We need only surrender.

Surrender. You've had the power within you all along.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Wild Woman and a Really Big Circle

Some of the circles and loops in our lives are tiny, so tiny they'd barely make it as pinkie rings. Other circles and loops are vast, spanning years, decades even, and the myriad people encompassed therein. In the past couple of weeks, I've found myself wandering rather gleefully in one of those great big circles. And friends, this particular circle comes with a campfire that is redolent with the sweetest wood smoke, and it is warm, and everything I expected. There is singing around that fire. Oh, baby, is there ever singing. It's loud. And there's dancing. It's wild. It's freakin' ineffable.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to May 3, 1998, Rockville, MD. I was having one of my monthly Sunday breakfasts with my dear friend Jessie. It was actually our second one in less than two weeks, but we knew it was probably our last. Two weeks prior, I had blurted out to Jesse that I was leaving my husband and moving to the west coast at the end of May. She was the first person I told. In fact, she was really the only person I told. To everyone else I simply said that I was moving and let them figure out the logistics for themselves. It wasn't that she was my only friend, but at the time, Jessie was my only friend who, I felt, I could tell anything to and still be loved in return.

So, she knew. And there we were two weeks later, having breakfast, when she reached into her bag and said, "I have something for you. This book changed my life. I bought you a copy, because I think you're headed toward something big and you need to read it." With that, she handed me a brand new copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD. Jessie had written on the dedication page, "Dear Barb, This book comes with lots and lots of love and the hope and assurance that you'll soar to your dreams each and every moment of each and every day. I love you - Jess." Stuck between that page and the following were two crisp one hundred dollar bills.

Tears sprang to my eyes. I said, "Oh, Jess... you didn't have to... this is... I... " Jessie just looked at me and said, "Go find your life and don't look back." I did just that. Two weeks later, with a couple of suitcases and my sewing machine in tow, I boarded a Greyhound. As I very slowly made my way West, I devoured Estés's book. Everything I'd ever felt and known deep down, all my crazy ideas and unknown longings for... what? All of it was in her book and her explanations and suggestions made so much sense. Besides all that, it was a ridiculously good read. Just to give you a small forkful to taste, here is the Foreword: We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire. We grew our hair long and used it to hide our feelings. But the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.

Here I am, nearly 16 years later, living my dreams, now able to hear the sound of feet and the chuff of breath and smell the musky sex of the Wild Woman within. I pick up the book and read from it now and then. As you can see from the picture, it is well loved - it has done some wandering with me, the pages are dog-eared and yellowing and the binding is beginning to crack. There's a word for how I feel about this book, and that word is reverence.

Now then, about those circles and loops I mentioned earlier. I've been part of a writing group for a few months and a couple of weeks ago, one of my fellow writers turned me on to The Wild Woman Community, saying that they were looking for writers. I sent them an email, they were interested, I jumped through hoops, they liked me, I liked them, they said please join us, I said yes, and the bonfire was set ablaze. So it is that I am to be a Wild Woman Writer and, as well, I will be collaborating with them on some artsy stuff to sell in the marketplace. I hold this in great honor.

Like all things in life, because circles, especially big ones, like to gather in all manner of stuff, it is an honor with a bittersweet edge to it.

Just two weeks after I made my way West, my beautiful friend Jessie died very suddenly. It was one of those things in life that made everything in me feel like it was made of glass. Jessie's death left me fragile and weeping for the loss of my friend as I clutched my treasured book with her handwriting in it. To this day, I can't touch the book without feeling Jessie's hands. I can't read the chapters without seeing her eyes. And I know, in all my creative undertakings, she's keeping watch and nudging me on as one of my Muses. But, with the advent of this new endeavor? Why, can't you see her? She's dancing around the fire, hair flying as she whirls, smiling that big smile of hers and laughing just for the joy in it.

That is why, nearly sixteen years later, I once again raise my mug full of coffee, smile through tears, and say, "Here's to you, Jessie Herman. I love you, my friend."

Loop... chuff... circle... sound of footsteps... whirl... scent of musk... pop of a bonfire log... and a new circle begins.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Let's Hear It For the Girl

I am writing this off of the prompt, "Dear Younger Self" given by Ariana Browning at The Blogging Lounge. I almost didn't accept the challenge because... well... it's kind of been done before. Plus, do I really want to revisit that sad little urchin again? Then I chastised myself. She wasn't always a sad little urchin. Maybe I should go back and point out the things she should celebrate about her life. And, so...


Dear Younger Self,

You were always a curious child. I mean that in a couple of ways. You were curious, as in perplexing, because you didn't think like every other kid on the block or in the classroom. That's because you were curious, as in auto-didactic. Although you weren't very vocal about it, you were the why kid, the how kid. You were the kid who couldn't stand not knowing a thing, and in knowing a thing, you found 27 other things you had to know. You were bright and eager for knowledge. That's why you were allowed to start school when you were four, and that's why you graduated a year younger than most of your classmates.

You were accused of being silly. It was exactly that, too, an accusation. "Oh, you're being silly again." "Stop being so silly." Those who said things like that were idiots and maybe even jealous, or perhaps they were blind and couldn't see what fantastic worlds you were trying to reveal. You weren't silly. Goofy, maybe, but not silly. You were imaginative. Pretending allowed you to dive into places where you couldn't (or wouldn't) otherwise go. You took tiny sparks and built huge fires that lit the night and saved you from darkness. You wrangled thoughts that were too big for your tiny self and put them in an order that made sense to you. How is that silly? Dear girl, that is profound, and mature, and fucking impressive.

You had the ability to feel people's moods before they spoke. Sometimes before they even walked in the room. You had a way of... just knowing. That's not weird and it's nothing to run from. It's a pretty cool gift to have, kiddo. It's called intuition and empathy - not rare gifts, but not all together common either. Hone those and use them. Even though it sometimes feels a little freaky to know what's coming, and sometimes it'll hurt because the weight of what you feel is overwhelming, it'll still help you more than you know. You'll be able to "be there" for people in ways that nobody else can.

You loved to laugh (still do), and you loved to make other people laugh. You liked to entertain, not so much because you wanted the accolades, but because you loved to see people smiling. It's a shame you were told to tone it down, to keep it quiet, to not break out from the rest of the group and let it ring. You had a voice that was true even then. You should have been allowed to stand tall and look 'em all in the eye and sing out.

I remember one beautiful summer day, you were walking home from the neighborhood swimming pool, towel wrapped around your waist, hair dripping water down your back. The sun was shining, the trees were green, and that ubiquitous scent of full-on summer was intoxicating. You were happy and you acknowledged it by singing, "If you're happy and you know it..." All the way home, you sang and clapped and stomped and twirled and whatever else was required to acknowledge your happiness. I'm certain that anybody looking out their windows at the kid dancing and singing her merry way down the street was infected by it. You opened the front door and there was your sister, shaking her head, disapproving, "Oh my god, you're such a dork!" How sad it is that you took seriously the one person whose words you should have brushed off like a pesky mosquito. The world could have used a lot more of your happy singing and clumsy, but sincere dancing.

Back to that unbridled imagination of yours. You don't know it yet, but it's possibly your greatest asset. It will take you everywhere and anywhere. You were making up scenes and stories in your head before you even fully understood that that's what you were doing. You called it, because that's what you were told to call it, "pretending." In truth, it was inventing and creating, and in those things, discovering. Each time you "pretended" you were showing yourself how to understand and cope. You were taking what you had within you and making your world better. Ridiculous? Folly? Impractical? No, child. Intelligence. Gumption. Sophistication.

Remember the time you had the nightmare at Grandma's house? Daddy came to get you and you pressed your chubby little cheek to his rough, whiskery neck, breathing in the scent of cigarettes and coffee and turpentine. Daddy patted your hair, saying, "Shhh... s'okay... Daddy's got you, Punkin...shhh." You've never felt safer than you did in that moment. Nearly 50 years later that moment still shines, because I know now as well as you did back then, that was the real Daddy. That's the Daddy who loved every atom of you and who saw you for the precious girl you were. It's not so surprising that scents of coffee and cigarettes and paint are, to this day, comforting smells.

Here's what's so wonderful, bright, beautiful girl. You're still here. You're still alive and well inside of all this wild imagination and these crazy dreams. You're still the one who delights in the extraordinary of the ordinary day. You still sing. You write. You paint. You play. You laugh. There are probably some people who still don't understand, who still might find you foolish, but this woman you've become has decided that those kind can just go pound sand. You're the one who, every morning, kicks off the covers and belts out (if only inside my mind) the words of Maria von Trapp, "What will this day be like? I wonder..."

I delight in you, little girl. You're my best friend and I love you down to the last atom,

PS Somewhere Over the Rainbow is still our favorite song to sing, but we try not to belt it out while we're on the toilet and our voice is cracking from laryngitis. Well, that's not entirely true. We might just do it, if we're the only one home.