Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Monday, May 5, 2014

Focus

Just last week I finished the final draft of 30 Perfect Days, Finding Abundance in Ordinary Days. The project took me 18 months, but it could have been done in six. Those of us who have a tendency to go in too many directions make our lives a little crazy, but there's calmness in focusing on a project at hand and putting your heart and soul into it. Only then do you believe in your project and the work, and only when we focus inwards do we get to the place that connects with thoughts that need to be given voice in words. Focus becomes a meditation, a letting go, a way of being present, if we're open to it. Once I decided it was time to complete the book, I finished the first draft, the second, and then the third; soon it will become a tangible and finished project that we can hold in our hands.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Enough is Enough - Don't You Think?

“Busy, busy, busy we pass the days of our lives—gone all too soon. Gone before we get to our dreams of creative expression, self-fulfillment, nurturing.” Carol Orsborn, Enough is Enough.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Relax into the Quiet that Contains the Mind

William Butler Yeats once said, "We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us to see their own images and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even a fiercer life because of our silence." Just being in present awareness, at ease in our own quiet hearts, can make us a reflecting pool, and those who gather around will tend to see their own images. It is possible to have profound life realizations while sitting in the company of teachers, friends, or loved ones without their speaking a word. There is a presence that transmits itself loud and clear, if we attune to it. In awakened awareness we use language to communicate while knowing that another, more powerful communication is taking place in deeper awareness. Rather than straining to quiet the mind in meditation, simply relax into the quiet that contains the mind.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Remember the Third Reich?

In the Garden of Beasts, Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is another non-fiction book by Eric Larson, whose Devil in the White City I read at least a dozen years ago. Larson has an uncanny way of telling non-fiction in an interesting way, the facts flowing like they were never researched, like the writer knew them first-hand. He’s a good historian storyteller. I was fascinated by several things: an American Jeffersonian ambassador is appointed to go to Germany and no one in power respects them; his daughter, recently divorced from a short marriage, sleeps with Nazis, Soviets, American reporters with no discrimination and seems to have no clue how her actions affect her father and her fragile lovers; and the Hitler monster, despite all reports that he is torturing and killing people who are disloyal to him and preparing for war, somehow gets full control of the country. It’s an amazing story, and I’m glad Larson put so much effort into telling the truth. “Change came to Germany so quickly and across such a wide front that German citizens who left the country for business or travel returned to find everything around them altered, as if they were characters in a horror movie who came back to find that people who once were their friends, clients, patients, and customers have become different in ways hard to discern.” The fear came upon them so gradually, the changes so stealthily, that the people didn’t understand what was happening to them, like they were in a trance or hypnotized. “The Gestapo enhanced its dark image by keeping its operations and its sources of information secret.” Secrecy was one thing, but another thing that was happening was people divided into innocent citizens, the Gestapo, the SS, the SA, foreigners, and Nazis, all concerned with the intrigue of the others. Many thought they could control Hitler, but the man had a lot of anger and not a lot of respect for human life, and those close to him were some of the first to die. The book ends on this note: “’But history,’ wrote Dodd’s friend Claude Bowers, ambassador to Spain and later Chile, ‘will record that in a period when the forces of tyranny were mobilizing for the extermination of liberty and democracy everywhere, when a mistaken policy of ‘appeasement’ was stocking the arsenals of despotism, and when in many high social, and some political circles, fascism was a fad and democracy anathema, he stood foursquare for our democratic way of life, fought the good fight and kept the faith, and when death touched him his flat was flying still.’ And indeed one has to wonder: For Goebbels’s Der Angriff to attack Dodd as he lay prostrate in a hospital bed, was he really so ineffectual as his enemies believed? In the end, Dodd proved to be exactly what Roosevelt had wanted, a lone beacon of American freedom and hope in a land of gathering darkness.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Becoming an Instrument

If Julia Cameron got me started, Anne L
amott keeps me going. In her inspired book Bird by Bird, Cameron says “Truth seems to want expression. Unacknowledged truth saps your energy and keeps you and your characters wired and delusional. But when you open the closet door and let what was inside out, you can get a rush of liberation and even joy.” Now I love that. I feel that if I find the truth and go from there, the writing becomes about giving. “There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver,” Lamott writes. That is what I do—I write to let others know what I know, so they can mull it over and find what their truth is. I have a mission. I try to choose my words so someone else will read it and think they never thought of it that way before. I live on faith that I write because I have to, that I have my own distinct and interesting voice, and I have something to say. If I devote myself to my writing, I can help someone else with their truth. Anne Lamott says, “The good news is that some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write it.” When the work takes over and I become an instrument, I’ve found what I was looking for, and so have my readers. As the story materializes, I find the truth, in my own plodding way, bird by bird.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Give me Faith

Theodore Roethke wrote, "I learn by going where I have to go." It takes a great deal of faith to trust that where we're going is where we have to go. I waver and don't believe my heart is in the right place. My faith isn't always strong enough to believe God's up there, with a plan. Choosing the right path is sure to lead to revelations because you're doing what you were meant to do.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

THE RIGHT PROJECTS

Toni Morrison once said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” She points out that a writer writes not just for others, but for herself. But yet, in writing about her struggles with life, Morrison finds ways to connect with the reader, crafting her writing in such a way that it becomes something she would want to read. She's already stated that she's writing books that she wants to read. How does one find an objectivity, while writing, to create someone you would want to read? When the words flow from within you, you're writing about something you know, something that happened to you or something you can imagine happening, something about the human condition, a universal problem to be solved. I suspect that when Morrison's got it all down on paper, she looks at what she wrote to see if it did what she intended. She becomes her own critic. But what she's really doing is telling a story that needs to be told. She's reaching out to other people. The message I get from this is how important it is to pick the right projects.
All our writing should be something that hasn't been written yet and it must be something we would want to read. If I don't like to read mysteries, why would I write a mystery? If I don't care about planes, why would I ghost write a book about planes?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Stories

Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." Daffodils and Fireflies has been that way--a story that needs to get out. So has White Preacher's Kid. As we tell the stories of our lives, they become agents of change because the way we tell the stories and their significance for us morphs into a new history, a new way of seeing ourselves. We learn more about who we are. As with anything in life, we can choose a path of goodness--forgiveness and acceptance and gratitude--or one of pain--blame and resent and anger. During our story time together at Unity Church at the end of April, we'll discover what's inside needing to be told and why those stories in particular rise to the top. How do they define us? My parents' love story, our foray into the maelstrom of racial tension, finding my place in each new town in which we lived, and growing into a creative person with my own love story are at the surface, but below the place where water meets the sky is so much more. Right now, my parents' aging is teaching me how to live better.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro, was a surprise. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting the main character to be an Englishmen who grew up playing detective games in the international section of Shanghai before the communist revolution. And then his father, followed by his mother, disappears, taken away by warlords whose livelihood was threatened by anti-opium rallying. But we’re in the head of Mr. Christopher Banks who became a famous detective, also known as Puffin by Uncle Phillip, who is not really his uncle but his mother’s liaison. We only know what he knows as a child, as a young adult, as an accomplished man. He’s whisked away, back to London, living on his aunt’s money, and he makes a name for himself in society and for his skills, and then all of a sudden he’s returning to the scene of the abduction of his parents and Shanghai is at war with Japan and he’s somehow going to save them from that situation, but it’s all tied up with finding his parents and I don’t know why Banks is going to save the world. The comment on Shanghai society’s partying in the middle of a war, with dancers and drinking and jazz quietly shocked our guy through whose eyes we were seeing the world, “the refusal of everyone here to acknowledge their drastic culpability . . . anything that could pass for honext shame. Here, in other words, at the heart of the maelstrom threatening to suck in the whole of the civilized world, is a pathetic conspiracy of denial; a denial of responsibility which has turned on itself and gone sour, manifesting itself in the sort of pompous defensiveness I have encountered so often. And here they now were, the so-called elite of Shanghai, treating with such contempt the suffering of their Chinese neighbors across the canal.” In the book, the crowd cheered when bombs fell, when shots rang out, and went back to their conversations and drinks. It’s a comment on us, our culpability while the world is starving, while the Earth is groaning. Is it real or not real, that he returns to Shanghai to save the world? Is that in his head, just like the stories he and his friend Akira played as children? And isn’t it convenient how his friend is a Japanese soldier and they meet in the war zone on their way to find the house where Puffin’s family is holed up? And what the hell is this thing where he and Sarah are going to run off together because they’ve always been in love, yet he doesn’t really know her and she marries Sir Cecil who mistreats her? The book seems to be about Christopher’s propensity for making the romantic stuff going on in his head real. The book, in the end, showed us inside a human brain, the maze of human memory. That’s not an easy thing to show. We can tell it, but to show it . . . he was brave to try. The jacket describes it as “a brilliantly realized story that illuminates the power of one’s past to determine the present.” Christopher is searching for his parents and he’s searching for understanding of what happened. He was required to sort it all out because children are “like the twine that kept the slats [of the blinds] together . . . we often failed to realize it, but it was we children who bound not only a family, but the whole world together.” At one point, Christopher thinks he must go off to save the world because his adopted daughter Jennifer will be “glad I rose to the challenge of my responsibilities.”

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tony Morrison on Writing

Toni Morrison once said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” She points out that a writer writes not just for others, but for herself. But yet, in writing about her struggles with life, Morrison finds ways to connect with the reader, crafting her writing in such a way that it becomes something she would want to read. She's already stated that she's writing books that she wants to read. How does one find an objectivity, while writing, to create someone you would want to read? When the words flow from within you, you're writing about something you know, something that happened to you or something you can imagine happening, something about the human condition, a universal problem to be solved. I suspect that when Morrison's got it all down on paper, she looks at what she wrote to see if it did what she intended. She becomes her own critic. But what she's really doing is telling a story that needs to be told. She's reaching out to other people. The message I get from this is how important it is to pick the right projects. All our writing should be something that hasn't been written yet and it must be something we would want to read. If I don't like to read mysteries, why would I write a mystery? If I don't care about planes, why would I ghost write a book about planes? It comes down to the number one rule of writing--we must write what we know.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Exploring Costa Rica

Home from Costa Rica after a relaxing vacation to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.
We were outdoors, even for meals, most of our days—hiking, sunbathing, swimming, or just taking in the scenery. The color of my skin shows it. The vacation came just in time to help me get well from the shingles, and I felt almost normal within two days of our arrival in the rejuvenating climate. Conditions were rugged on the trails and the roads going from place to place, but we were pampered with drivers picking us up, guides showing us the wildlife, spa hotels with great food and beautiful rooms and excellent service. It was relaxing even though we were up most mornings at six to eat breakfast so we could get on with the adventure of the day. During a night hike we saw viper snakes, several kinds of spiders including a tarantula, a scorpion, and a kinkajou. We saw many squirrel monkeys and white-faced monkeys and pacas right on the grounds of The Falls of Manuel Antonio. On our guided hikes we saw raccoons, their weird raccoon called a coatimundi, a wild boar, sloths, lizards, iguanas, crocodiles, blue morpho butterflies, and Costa Rican gray squirrels. We saw all kinds of birds, who were singing literally all night (also saw sleeping birds)--hummingbirds, parakeets, quetzels, turkey hawks, mockingbirds, egrets and herons, osprey and frigatebirds, a toucan, tanagers and the Montezuma Oropendola. On our bumpy dirt-road drives, we passed skinny-looking cattle, horses, and unchained and unfenced dogs, as well as mostly fenced-in houses. The landscape was filled with shimmering green hills, baron volcanos, strangler figs, lots of coconut trees, palm trees, huge ferns, waterfalls, and lots of flowers we don't get at home, like birds of paradise.
Paul and I can recommend the company that put together the package--Latin Destinations--and the outfit that coordinated all our ground travel--Swiss Travel. But Delta Airlines' delays in both directions for mechanical issues and our luggage being MIA for three days caused some unnecessary stress that could have been avoided if the airlines was better equipped to handle the out-of-ordinary.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wisdom of the Jungle

You're reading this as I'm living in the jungles of Costa Rica. I'm writing this before Paul and I leave to explore ancient paths through heavy forests and immerse ourselves in a culture that has evolved on a strip of mountainous volcanic earth between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Eight nights and nine days of living in the jungle will surely teach us something new, and I'll emerge with stories to share with friends and family. Maya Angelou write that "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” That's what drives me to write. You may tell your stories out loud and repeat the same ones over and over again, and as you do that, as you wait for the right moment to say what comes to mind at a dinner table or while walking in the woods, you are letting that untold story out into the world. What is it about human nature that makes us want to tell others what we've learned, what we feel, what we've experienced? I'm intrigued by storytelling, that desire we have to get our stories out into the world. I suspect that part of what we're doing when we tell them is wishing for a response from those to whom we tell our tales. No writer wants to write in a vacuum--even if our stories are never published, we have a sense, while writing, that someone's listening, even if it's only our muse or the God that watches over us.