strumming a chord

Ohmygolly, y'all. I have had such amazing mail in the 24 hours since I last posted... who knew how many of you felt this way, too, and understood that deep desire to live an authentic life, a life not made to someone else's order?
 It's so good to have company, and it's so good to hear your words. Thank you. One friend sent me this column by Cary Tennis in Salon. He says what I was trying to say in a different way, but with just as much conviction.

My favorite lines:

Consider this: The world approaches you like an ugly beggar and begins pawing through your backpack. So you resist. The world wants something. It just doesn't have a very nice way of going about it. It grabs for things you think are sacred. You resist. It grabs for things you think are worthless. You resist. You say, that's worthless, you don't want that. But the world keeps pawing through your backpack.


The world may not want what you think is your greatest talent. So we learn that we are not the best judge of what we have to offer. We learn that if we simply adopt a posture of service, the world will let us know....  Shift your perspective. You're not running the show.


What we express does not originate inside us. What we express we pass on. We borrow. We are conduits. This yearning, this is not from inside you. It is your response to an invitation....  The world is trying to pull something out of you. Let the world pull this thing out of you. Let the world act on you.

 Me again:

What I express does not originate inside me. I am not running the show. I am letting go, remember? I only run the show to the extent that I can say YES to what has opened in front of me, instead of resisting it. YES to seeing where it takes me. YES to loving-kindness and curiosity and open-ness and willingness to make myself available. To find out who I really am.

That's the entire struggle, in my opinion. All of life is a journey home. Home to our true selves, our true nature, our connectedness. We do nothing alone.

What is your invitation? What is the world offering you right now? That is the question.

How wonderful to be able to look the world in the eye and say, "Here I am. Where to?" And then to go at the pace you can travel.

My pace yesterday was... slow. I could have stayed with chapter three, but it was fidgety, finicky, and fussy. Jim texted me from his last break at his Valentine's Day gig at La Grotta: "I'm dead." He had worked three gigs yesterday, playing and singing, and I knew he was done-in. I texted back: "You're almost done. I'm making you something!" And I closed my laptop.

I finished these pans of brownies at 11pm. They were supposed to look like this, but I couldn't face doing the entire pan in that way at 11pm, so this was my concession.  
Jim walked through the door at midnight. The brownies were still warm. Chapter three could wait.

We are conduits. We are not running the show. We suit up and show up. We say yes to the invitation. We learn to be of service. We lean into the sharp points. We embrace our lives. 

It's good to have fellow travelers on the path. Thanks for writing, and for all the kind words. Let's remind one another, when we forget, of what's really important.

embracing the sharp points

I've been re-reading Pema Chodron's good book, When Things Fall Apart. One has time to do such things when illness falls and not much else can be done but lie abed and dream about the day, three weeks hence, when the body and mind come together enough to work well again.

I last read this book ten years ago, when my publishing career was just beginning, and my 23-year marriage was ending. My meditation teacher gave it to me. It was too dense for me then, but today it resonates, especially the advice to "lean into the sharp points," to name them with tenderness and loving-kindness. Then, to embrace the not-knowing; to give up control altogether and let concepts and ideals fall apart.
For the past ten years, I have been busy working toward the way a publishing career "ought to be," telling myself that "as soon as I'm home long enough, I can write," and "if I were home more, I'd write more and better," and "I'm really not a teacher; I'm a writer," and generally railing against the travel and time away from home, without fully appreciating the many gifts it has given me.
What has it given me? Well,  for starters: A way to make a living. Good friends. Excellent teaching and speaking practice. It has honed my skills. It has taught me that I am not alone. It has given me stories to tell. It has given me great happiness, yes it has. I can see this when I don't concentrate on the deadlines for the books ahead, therefore what's not working, instead of concentrating on all that does work, and work well. 
 I have worked hard and I am a teacher. I do meaningful, useful work in the world -- it's right livelihood. I have made a difference in my own life, doing this teaching and traveling and speaking. I have given myself the gift of a rich, full life of such interesting stories, a wealth of intensely interesting people and places, and amazing teaching experiences. 

 So instead of having that absolute discipline or those strict rules about traveling and home time, or waiting for those days when I am home to pick up my professional writing career, or even denying that I am a teacher, I am going to lean into the sharp points. They have much to teach me.
 Travel is hard, the road can be grueling, sometimes there are problems, just like there are with any job. I'm going to embrace my good fortune in being able to do the work I do, even when it means I'm not writing the next book.
 I've wanted more balance in my life. This is one way to get it. To give up rigid control and the push for "ought to be like this." To embrace what IS, which is a full calendar for spring 2011.  I embrace it fully and completely, and with joy. It's exciting! I've revamped my speaking/teaching page to reflect that joy. I'm a good teacher, and I have good work to do.
 YES, the new novel needs to be finished. YES, the next novel is waiting in the wings. And YES, there are other writing projects asking for my attention. They will be finished. They will be good books. And I will do good work along the way, in schools, at conferences, learning and teaching as I go.  Am I a teacher who writes, or a writer who teaches? I am both. And I am more than that, as are we all.
Pema Chodron writes: "We carry around an image of ourselves, an image we hold in our minds. One way to describe this is 'small mind.'" She goes on to say that once we get a glimpse of our true selves, our spaciousness, we begin to expand. We don't hang on to labels and limits. We take advantage of the beauty around us. We dissolve our resistance to life. We meet it face-to-face and realize that whatever occurs, it is not the beginning or the end. It is just part of being human. We can live in the present moment, wonderful moment.

I hereby enter into an experiment: I let go of needing to control just how it all works and comes together. It IS working. It IS coming together, and it has, year after year.
The writing is going to take care of itself. It is. I'm compelled to write - it's how I figure out the world and my life. But you know... and here's the bigger epiphany: if I had had all those travel days at home over the past ten years, would I have written more?

Truth? Probably not. Likely what I would have done is more gardening, cooking, sewing, knitting, puttering, redecorating and renovating, dreaming and singing and banjo playing, time with family and friends and... yes, there would have been writing. There has been writing, all along. There will always be the writing. It's part of who I am.

I realize this is not the kind of disciplined approach one might usually take toward creating a book a year or a considered career in the arts. But you know what?  I'm awfully tired of trying to force myself into that ultra-disciplined approach. It has been slowly killing me.

I'm a slow writer. It takes me time to figure out a story, to get to know my characters, to love them and serve them well. I have to do a lot of other things along the way, to give my mind and body some space, so my undermind can work on a story.

I have beat myself to death to write faster, and it doesn't work. Every atom in me rebels.

 And here's the thing: if I quit beating myself up about my writing pace, trying to satisfy someone else's calendar and schedule, quit moping about not being home more to write, quit pushing myself beyond my endurance with the writing... I will write more, and better. If I practice loving-kindness toward myself and my way of living my life, I will realize that my life is just about perfect, as-is. It really is. I am lucky. And this makes me happy.

So I'm going to be good to myself. I'm going to chronicle what that means, right here. See you on the road this spring. See you at the desk, or from the pink chair, writing. See you in the garden. See you in the kitchen. See you with two sticks and some yarn, with a sewing machine and a pattern. See you in gatherings with family and friends.
 See you right here, meeting whatever arises with a great curiosity, as much good humor as I can muster, and a whole lot of letting go... letting go of the "ought to be" storyline, and bobbing along in the great sea of the gentle universe at play.

hello, it's me

A terrific likeness! This drawing (of moi) is a gift from young writer Laura K, from Martinsburg, West Virginia. I did a library program in Martinsburg last Thursday and worked with young writers ages six to eighteen (yes, really!) on personal narrative. We had a blast, and I didn't hack too much.
I like this drawing so much, I'm going to put it on my website, on my teaching page. I have several drawings like this, that students have drawn of me, over the years. I always allow students to doodle or draw while I'm talking, since they bring their notebooks to assembly. The artists always amaze me. They all amaze me. Storytellers, all. Artists, all.

Thank you, thank you, Jane Levitan and your staff at the Martinsburg Public Library, and thanks to Paula Tremba, 4th-grade teacher and grant-writer extraordinaire, for organizing the day at Wright Denny Elementary School in Charles Town, West Virginia. I was back in my old stomping grounds, too -- Frederick County, Maryland. Staying with old friends was a boon and an important part of my recovery, even if I was in-and-out.

I'm slowly coming alive again, and on Friday will head for Harding University in Arkansas, to work with teachers, as part of their Young Adult Author Series. So I have a week home to write, and that's exactly what I'm doing. I lost three weeks to this illness, but I won't complain. I got a lot of other things done during that time... things that needed my attention, and many of them not quantifiable. That's good, too.

I'm still moving slowly, and I'm back to my oatmeal/yogurt/fruit breakfasts (finally eating again), so I know I'm on the recovery road. Thanks so much for the wonderful thinking-of-you mail. It helped.

Soon up: a longish post about book two. Where I am. Where I want to go. What's happening now, to Sunny and her world in 1964 Greenwood, Mississippi. Back to work.

coming back to life

Finally feeling well-enough to venture into the kitchen. I found some broccoli, some cheese, eggs, dry milk. I plugged in the food processor and chopped, shredded, blended. Soon I shoved a quiche into the oven, rummaged a bit more, and found the fresh beets I'd also bought on the way home Tuesday last. Washed them and put them in a pot to boil.
Then I lighted three lovely candles, right in the kitchen. The smell of real food brought my husband into the kitchen smiling. I smiled back. "I feel better. You?" Yes. (I actually felt like that candle on the right in the picture below; a little tilty, but steady enough.)
When we left the table, we'd eaten our first real meal in a week. It made all the difference, inside and out. Today I'll leave the house for the first time in a week. I'm ready. My voice is still shot, but it's better every day.
Sometimes it good to just be still, in the middle of the quiet. Tomorrow is time enough to begin again. Be well, everyone. Be well.