“Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity.”
– A. Edward Newton
A long time ago I stopped trick-or-treating. I remember taking my brother when I was about 16, but I stopped dressing up and getting treats at age 12. My daughter is 12 this year, and her desire to roam door to door hasn’t waned, in part because I’ve been an enthusiastic participant celebrating vicariously through her! And also because she has friends who want to go. However, this year I’ve been ambivalent toward Halloween. Didn’t really want to decorate; my daughter helped. Didn’t want to carve a pumpkin. However, Claire said she would be sad if there wasn’t a jack-o-lantern this year. She asked me to carve an Owo face. Being an uncool parent I had no idea what this meant, so she drew it for me. As it turned out, once I got started with the cutting and scooping, I felt calm enjoyment in the project. So here is the Owo pumpkin with its hat and without. Happy Halloween!
Leaving Target tonight, I was entranced by the evening sky. It was a rich Indigo blue, almost verging on navy. It was the shade of the not quite ripe night sky. Usually I see light blue skies, gray skies, or vivid optimistic blue skies. And when I looked later night had fallen. Usually when I think to look, the sky has transformed into black velvet. What I saw was the in between color. Funny how I’d never noticed it before. Or maybe I just don’t remember noticing it quite as vividly in an ordinary location. I know that I am often aware of beauty when I’m camping, but I miss the beauty of my mundane life.
So many summer trips, summer camps, heatwaves, gardening; then school began, and here we are. I took the summer off painting. I recently returned to a few begun last spring and finished them. And I’ve made a couple new ones, as I experiment.
Here is my self-talk: “I’m done. I’m done with so many books on my shelves that I’ve owned for decades and not read yet. Done with books I’ve read once and have no intention of reading again.”
I’ve purged two grocery bags of books from my shelves. I engage in a little dance with the books that remain, telling myself that some of them I will probably use sometime (they number in hundreds). It’s an interesting experience to look at a book and decide whether it departs, and why.
Books represent security to me — the idea that if I read enough, learn enough, I can control life. I can create safety. The idea that I don’t know enough, and that words and ideas will impart wisdom. I’m not judging myself for having spent the money on the books. They will find their homes. Yet it is time — Life is telling me — to interrupt this impulse and learn to BE with whatever arises that makes me uncomfortable.
Sometimes I tell myself I need to purchase a book because I cannot borrow it from the public library even via interlibrary loan (I like to read somewhat uncommon titles). At the root of this story, however, is again, the reflexive movement toward the familiar role of student. I delay action and avoid discomfort by returning to a role I know so intimately.
When I moved from Syracuse to Austin, I owned a personal library of 800 books. I couldn’t afford to move them all. I culled them severely and shipped only the books that generated the strongest connection within me, about 100. Over the years I’ve had the space and means to accrue more books. I want to engage with life differently. I own 1,311 books. It’s time to unburden myself.
The other day Claire and I were headed to Popeye’s for supper. The car started, but it wouldn’t shift into gear. Hub was able to override a safety mechanism to force it into gear and drove it to our local Honda dealer. They thought it was a switch failure, and since the car is warrantied, they replaced it. Car didn’t work. So they replaced another part. Car still didn’t work.
This morning, we found out what’s wrong. Somewhere in Wyoming, a little critter like the one below managed to crawl under and into our car, probably to sleep in a warm spot. And then it proceeded to chew all the insulation off the wiring on the transmission harness. This is causing systems to short out all over the car. We are lucky this didn’t happen until after we got home.
Because a problem like this is fairly rare, the dealer has to order the part. It might take a week to arrive — the day before our next camping trip. Then they have to take the entire transmission out to replace the harness, and there is no estimate as to time yet. However, we did get an estimate for the repair: roughly $2,100. Ouch!! Thank goodness for car insurance.
Between the trailer part falling over on the way to Wyoming — which Hub rigged a fix for since he’s that kind of guy — and this, I chuckle. So much for camping as a budget friendly vacation! Oh, but it was worth it.
I made a date with myself to go to Lori Krein Studios and play with collage today. It made me happy.
I’ve been working on uploading my SoulCollage® cards to share. You can find the link to them here.
I enjoy creating in so many ways. My friend L (mom of one of Claire’s friends) and I are developing an informal girl group. After spending many years driving to see friends (which we’ll continue doing) we want to create friendships and develop deeper connections in the neighborhood.
After careful consideration, we decided to forgo Girl Scouts for a number of reasons:
We plan to meet monthly. We have ideas of home-based activities to do; we also want to incorporate outings. For outings, each parent pays for her children and herself (if there are fees). To cover supplies for at-home activities, we suggest a nominal annual amount per child. We are researching the supplies and calculating costs.
While we want to have fun, we’re reaching beyond play dates. Our goal is to help our daughters become vibrant, confident, and engaged with the world. We want to nurture the development of their minds, souls, and bodies (and mother earth), and foster qualities such as integrity, curiosity, resiliency, and creativity. We are using several resources for ideas (adjusting for age with some activities):
So the girls and moms have a unifying element and develop a sense of belonging, we’re looking for inexpensive yellow t-shirts (a color that is sunny and gender-neutral). The quote we’re using is from Shakespeare: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” That will be on the front, and on the back will be our group name: Mighty Daring Girls.
Our first meeting is March 2, and we have 8-9 girls interested!
Introducing the Cat Walker, designed and created by Claire. It was engineered to exercise a cat while transporting other beings. (In this case, it’s Benjamin Cranklin the Cat hauling two Katinka the Dolphin Ballerinas.) She made this using her GoldieBlox toys.
The field of engineering consists roughly of 13 % women and 87% men. A couple of years ago, Debbie Sterling, an engineer, asked herself the question of why more girls aren’t interested in engineering, and how to get them excited about the skills related to it. I recall her Kickstarter video mentioning that girls love stories. They aren’t drawn just to build something for the sake of building. Girls like characters and plot. So Sterling set out to create a construction toy that would appeal to girls by giving them stories that incorporate spatial skills, teach engineering principles, and boost confidence in problem-solving.
I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign and ordered the first set, GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine. The focus is on the skill concept of a belt drive. It contains a storybook, 5 animal figurines, 1 pegboard, 5 wheels, 10 axles, 5 blocks, 5 washers, 1 crank, 1 ribbon. Claire loves playing with it. The biggest attraction is the five animals; they excite her imagination, and she incorporates the GoldieBlox pieces in all sorts of ways with her other toys. Other times she plays just with the pieces (as shown above) and creates things on her own.
Sterling’s company has subsequently produced two more toys. One is called GoldieBlox and the Parade Float; its skill concept is wheel and axel. The other — just released — is GoldieBlox and the Dunk tank, with a focus on hinge and lever mechanics.
We’ve also been pleased with Lego Friends. Claire considered Legos a “boy toy” and avoided them. As soon as the Friends line was introduced she became eager to play with them. Again, the appeal is in the story and characters. (And it thrills her father, who loves Lego and really wanted to share it with her.)
I really appreciate Debbie Sterling’s vision and am delighted there are engineering toys with special appeal to girls. And of course, boys are welcome to play with them (and they do)! The company website states that they will be introducing male characters in the future, and that “everyone is encouraged to discover engineering with Goldie and her friends.” These toys are available at Target, Toys R Us, and Amazon.
I don’t know what else to title this post. Back in the early days of blogging, people started blogs as social interaction. If the blog had a steady readership, the author would feel a need to explain any gap in posting.
Then, other writers started to mock the self-importance of those posts. Who cares why you aren’t posting? Either do it or don’t.
So I tried to avoid that habit. And while this post may sound a bit like an explanation of why I haven’t posted (and maybe get picked up by Sorry I Haven’t Posted, which, um, hasn’t posted in three years), I’m also simply trying to break the mental tomb I seemed to have sealed myself into. Well, that suggests action. It’s more like mental rigor mortis.
When I first began blogging in 2002, I updated often and at length. I was engaged this way for many years. I also posted photos of my artwork and crafts, and my poetry. When my daughter was born, I wrote about my experiences with her.
And then Facebook came on the scene. Most of my social group (online and off) migrated to using that, and I started to as well. And when Claire turned four, I decided it was time to back off on writing publicly about her in detail, and that gutted my motivation to write. I’d still post about crafts we did, and other activities, but eventually I moved it all to Facebook.
In the past year, when I sit down to write here, I fumble. I grope for something to say. I might have a wisp of inspiration, yet some part of me whispers that it’s nothing new, it’s just more noise in the world. Why bother?
And yet. Writing is how I sort myself out. How have I become so disinterested in what’s going on? One voice in me says, “It’s all ego driven.” My practice is to engage fully in the moment, with the world I inhabit and the tasks I complete. I have made a judgment that to be Buddhist requires forsaking the mind. I’ve projected that judgment onto my teacher (not that I’ve told her). In my head, Maezen says this, even though she’s never uttered those words.
Another voice in me calls out, reminding me of other reasons to write. In childhood I felt a deep yearning to know more about my parents, about their childhood experiences, about what they thought of life and current events. Now, as a parent, I understand the difficulty of dredging up memories with specifics to make a good story. Claire often asks me, “Tell me a story about your childhood,” and I simply don’t have access to the memories. Writing is a pathway into them.
I’ve also a strong desire to be known, seen, heard since childhood. I want my child to know about me, if she is interested when she is older. So there is some value in writing. I’ve approached my blog as a kind of commonplace book, where one might read and see what piqued my interest. But as I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, I am tantalized by the idea of a Codex Vitae. What is that, you ask? In the novel…
The Codex Vitae is something that special members of this fellowship “earn” the right to create, after rising up in the ranks. When written, it’s submitted to the fellowship, approved, and encrypted. 3 copies are made of the book, 1 goes to the central library, and 2 others go to branch libraries in other parts of the world. The key to the encryption is only given to 1 person, and it remains a secret until the writer’s death.
–Buster Benson, The Way of the Duck
He thought this was a great idea, and so do I. What if I created my own book of knowledge? A blog is a living book. And perhaps no one will read it, or only a few. My daughter might have no interest. After all, it’s a pretty large resource already, having existed for 12 years. In the end, I’ll die and this blog will go someday, but isn’t there some value in scribing my journey?
The truth is, I miss myself. For now, I will close with a poem that captures my hope:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
And a link to an article from a blog titled Thought Catalog about how and why to keep a commonplace book.
A whole month passed without a post, though I’d thought about it. I’ve been immersed in some personal work and stepping out into new areas that feel exciting. The depression has abated. I feel a need to write but am doing so with interruptions by my little girl and husband every so many minutes, so this post will be less polished.
We’ve been camping twice and will go again soon for the last summer trip. In June we went to Pfeiffer Big Sur, and in July we camped at Prairie Creek Redwoods. Our next trip is to Calaveras Big Trees. We like big trees and rivers a lot, and we like the ocean some. Camping is uncomfortable and requires more work, but it’s also relaxing and restful. My body aches in the morning from the less-than-ideal sleeping arrangement, but the peace I feel compensates. I am bathed in Being, in nature, in the Mystery; living outdoors brings complete contact with the world that creates itself.
After exploring the Quaker Society of Friends, I talked with Hub about where I’m at and what Claire wants. She wants to go to church. Hub was raised Unitarian Universalist and I attended as one years ago. It’s the best fit as far as spiritual community goes. Claire loved it the first time we visited two years ago. The Quaker group only had children’s program once a month, and unfortunately the one time I brought her no one else with children came, and there was no program. I realized, too, that I need and enjoy the ritual of a service. The Quaker service was traditional silent meeting with socializing after. The UU service includes the usual ingredients of a service: hymns, readings, sharing of joys and concerns, a sermon. Hub isn’t a seeker and doesn’t have the same community needs, but we came to the conclusion that the UU church is good for me and Claire. I attended the UU Fellowship in Los Gatos the past two weeks; both Claire and I enjoyed it, and the members are very welcoming.
I had a pilot zazen session on the first Saturday in July. I got cold feet and cancelled on the one person who’d signed up; then another friend last minute showed up. As I set up the small altar on my coffee table, it felt right, like putting on a perfectly fitting outfit. I also reached agreement with Hub that I will go to Hazy Moon Zen Center a couple times a year to attend sesshin and meet with my teacher.
I’ve continued attending salons called Intimacy With Truth, led by a dear friend. They occur in a format similar to Honesty Salons but move into deeper exploration within and between ourselves. I’m learning to listen to, trust, and speak from my intuition and truth. I’m also sitting with the idea of becoming trained to facilitate Honesty Salons or becoming a Getting Real Coach with Dr. Campbell.
I’m re-reading and incorporating the practice that Eckhart Tolle’s books explore. One thing I appreciate about his work is that he echoes my favorite quote, a koan I have cherished for years:
The secret is within your self. – Hui-Neng
Tolle claims that he’s not teaching anything that we don’t already have within us. His work is guidance to excavating it.
In conjunction, I’ve started to explore the process of healing offered by Al-Anon meetings.
After years of thinking about it, I attended a mixed-media collage Meetup at Lori Krein Studios. I immersed myself in the process and enjoyed it, as well as enjoyed the other people who attended. I’ll be going back.
This encounter with collage at the studio prompted me to rearrange my art supplies so they are stored in the same room as my work desk. Proximity will probably inspire more play!
I gathered my many small pieces of art into a binder, and I was astonished at the variety and amount. Seeing them all together gave me a surge of excitement to make more. A friend has suggested I have my own art show at home; I’m not ready to do that yet, but I’m ready to show and share from the binder.
I enrolled in a November training to learn a process called SoulCollage and to facilitate in groups. SoulCollage is a creative, meditative process of exploring one’s inner wisdom in all the ways it manifests. It’s rooted in Jungian psychology.
I’ve emphasized boundaries in certain relationships by limiting what I can listen to and discuss. The immersion in repeated stories about the problems of people I love when I cannot do anything to help was contributing to the depression.
Lastly, I’m contemplating becoming a volunteer at a hospice. For many years (since the mid-1990s) I’ve felt a pull toward it, and in 2004 I took steps in a parallel direction by training to provide grief support to survivors. It was the Centre for Living With Dying. However, my father-in-law was dying of cancer at the time, and I just didn’t have the energy to serve. Since that time the Centre was bought by another social service provider, and it seems they don’t use volunteers any more. But hospice does.
The call to hospice coincides with the sad news that a friend — Jen Bulik-Lang — who is only 35 is dying of stage-IV lung cancer. She began feeling ill in October 2012, and it took awhile for professionals to come to the correct diagnosis at the end of January 2013. She’d been shopping in December for engagement rings with her boyfriend, Jeffrey Lang. She got aggressive treatment, and there was hope they eradicated it, but in mid-June she received news it had metastasized to her spinal fluid. My insides quicken with grief and love as I watch her live with this news. She chose to celebrate life, and she and Jeff got married in a marvelous wedding. I admire Jen for embracing what is and fully experiencing it as a transformation with the faith, as she says, “that [it] will benefit the highest good for all those concerned.”
So in all, the shift in my life is toward community and participating in healing myself, others, and the world. As I wrote that last sentence my self-talk was, “Boy, that sounds lofty and new-Agey, and grandiose.” And yet… The world is broken and insane and aches for love.
If there’s a thing, a scene, maybe, an image that you want to see real bad, that you need to see but it doesn’t exist in the world around you, at least not in the form that you envision, then you create it so that you can look at it and have it around, or show it to other people who wouldn’t have imagined it because they perceive reality in a more narrow, predictable way. And that’s it. That’s all an artist does.
– Tom Robbins