Unbelievable. Mary Ruefle has made my invented literary school of "omitists" and "self-erasors" real. So does that make me a genius before my time, or an idiot? My original thoughts on that: http://litura.com/2006/01/22/newd-descending-a-blogspace.aspx
And litura (the url of this blog), while sounding like it has to do with writing literature, actually means erasure in Latin. My little joke.
"I use white-out, buff-out, blue-out, paper, ink, pencil, gouache,
carbon, and marker; sometimes I press postage stamps onto the page and
pull them off—that literally takes the text right off the page! Once,
while working on an all-white erasure, I had the sense I was somehow
blinding the words—blindfolding the ones I whited-out, and those that
were left had to become, I don’t know, extra-sensory or something. Then I
thought, no, I am bandaging the words, and the ones left were those
that seeped out."
After a week with a number of challenges, I found myself spiraling into old negative thoughts and patterns. And as on command, the universe provided me with an opportunity to learn and grow and remember some perspective today. It was windy and cold, which was invigorating as I biked 6 miles to the nearest coffee shop, where I intended to sit in a corner and read. On my ride, I saw a Northern Water Snake in the middle of the road, so I nudged it until it slithered across and into the grass. It's the first snake I have seen here, so I felt good as I went on my way. The coffee shop was closed when I arrived there, which was the universe's little nudge to me to slither down the road to a little bistro I hadn't been to before. I was delighted the moment I walked through the door. It was as though I had entered a cafe designed specifically for me and my needs. It was homey and warm, with a cheerful staff bustling behind the counter. The wide-plank wood floors, wooden counter, bistro tables, and wooden beams gave it a rustic charm, and Carla Bruni's sultry voice sang French torch songs as the espresso machine hummed. I sat down at a counter seat and admired the casual bunch of Lily of the Valley flowers in a glass in front of me, smelling sweet and looking even sweeter. And there I sat with a blueberry muffin and a latte done to perfection for the next hour and a half, feeling my attitude shift with each passing minute. I read essays from the stack of The Sun magazine I had brought, and again, each essay seemed to speak directly to me and my needs.
One essay was about a woman's quest to find her connection to the world and her self esteem. In it, she finds herself on the Sonoma Coast, somewhere around Pt. Reyes I imagine, talking to a French hippie healer, and her words could be mine. She tells about having a secret feeling that "things that are possible for other people are not possible for me. That I am excluded." The hippie woman asks what she feels excluded from. "Everything...A husband. A home. Nice underwear. Dinner parties with stimulating conversation. Vacations abroad. A garden with nasturtiums and sunflowers," the woman answers. I underline this passage. At the end of the essay, the woman sees her life's gifts, and sees her blessings, and believes that the world is open to her, even if it's two steps forward and one step back.
Another essay I read had a passage about a barred owl, oddly coincidental with the return of owls to my life lately in the woods, and in particular, a nightly serenade by a barred owl. The passage talks about the writer's belief after her friend's death that her spirit is inside of the barred owl, and it fits seemlessly into the conversation I had recently with someone about the sense of spirits living on in birds, my feelings about owls as some kind of spirit guide.
Everything about the afternoon nourished me perfectly for where I was at emotionally. I took the time to make a space for myself and nourish my own soul, sitting by myself at a counter, bathed in warmth. By the time I walked out the door, I felt a deep gratitude and had let go of my feeling of lack, my feeling of not having a place in the world. I felt moments of loving myself, something I work for every day and feel growing slowly but surely in my life. Riding my bike back through the windy rolling hills, my heart felt full for me, and during that ride, I didn't need anybody else to fill it. As I rode I was thinking about a quote I recently read, and I'll leave you with that:
"Be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should...
In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world."
On a beautiful spring day in the Berkshires, I headed up the mountain on a much needed solitary hike to check in with myself and become grounded. The woods were a flurry of activity- robins and woodpeckers, squirrels chattering. As I headed up the trail, I was surprised to suddenly see a fox off to my right, walking quite leisurely toward me. I stood still and was even more surprised when he continued and crossed the trail in front of me, no more than 20 feet away. Perhaps I was downwind, perhaps he was lost in thought about the juicy squirrel he'd consumed earlier, or thinking about some foxy fox he'd met at the creek, but he was completely oblivious to my presence. Amused, I watched him trot to a fallen tree right next to me and begin to dig out a little hollow in the shade. Then, very much like a house-dog, he circled his little spot several times before plopping down. Still completely clueless to me standing extremely close by, he began licking his paw lazily. After several minutes of quietly watching him, I realized he wasn't going to notice me, and decided to move on. When I moved and the leaves rustled, he finally spotted me right under his nose. Totally startled, he lept about 5 feet in the air and took off straight up the side of the mountain. Grinning at his foolishness, I walked on. Then I heard the repeated call of a Barred Owl, which I recognized thanks to the the talented naturalist Rene over at Bartholomew's Cobble, who can imitate the Barred Owl and sometimes prompt a call back. On my walk back down the mountain later, the owl (or another one) swooped down low through the trees to alight on another branch.
Foxes, along with hedgehogs and owls, have always represented a vague sense of "special" animal guides for me. When I was in France, I wrote about foxes. A few days after I arrived there, walking in the woods, I saw one, and wrote that evening, "In the woods, a red fox leaps across my path, its tail as a proud streaming flag behind it. It is an omen to tell me I will find my way here, that I am going to be OK"... And owls have been special to me since childhood, when my mother took me from my bed at around 4 years old and into the yard with a flashlight to show me the owl hooting in the tree. "There's your owl," she said, and I took it literally. For years after that, whenever I heard an owl, I said in childish language, "Mijne uil"- "Mine own owl", because I believed it was the same owl following me, talking to me directly. While that childish naivite has gone, the vague feeling remains that the owls are there for me, they are always, in a way, "mijne uil".
So the walk with both a fox and an owl encounter felt magical. The unusual moment with the fox felt very intimate, as though I had gotten a secret glimpse into a world that people generally are excluded from in the wild animal kingdom, by way of being top predator. And the owl felt like a familiar friend, always lurking in the shadows, following me through my life in glimpses to remind me that I am on the right path and I am not alone. I was smiling as I emerged from the woods at the bottom of the mountain, oddly secure in the belief that I hadn't just stumbled upon these creatures; I had been visited.
(January 10, 2010) It’s been a long time since I have blogged, particularly about my walks. But my most recent hike was my first hike in snow and so beautiful and inspiring that I was moved to record the experience.
I started up the trail, alone in the snowy woods, feeling very much like I was in a Robert Frost poem. The snow blanketed the woods around me, only punctuated by branches of red berries arched over the cool stillness. There was a set of footprints on the trail, the first to have traversed this path since it snowed, and I followed those to find my way until they abruptly stopped at a fence about half a mile up and turned back. I looked ahead and saw the break in the trees where the trail likely began again, and decided to go on. Soon I saw an animal’s footprints in the snow that I guessed to be a bobcat’s. I followed those up to guide me, enjoying the sensation that I was the first person to have made it up this far since the snowfall. It was harder work than I expected, the snow shifting underneath my feet, like running in dry sand. But at that point I decided that I was determined to make it to the top of the mountain.
Then the animal’s footprints veered off the trail, and I was left only with clean white powder before me. Following the line of the trees where I imagined the trail went, I went on. Occasionally, I veered slightly off course, sinking into the snow up to my knees, but self-corrected and got back to the shallower snow over the trail.
When I reached the summit, I was elated, as if I had climbed Mount Everest. The vistas were incredible. I could see for miles, could see the property below me from there, the mountains yet to climb in the distance...
On the way down, I followed the path I had forged. Coming up, I had followed the lead of rational thought in human tracks until they could only take me back where I came from. Then I had followed the path of nature and instinct in animals until they went down the side of the mountain where I couldn't follow. And then I created my own path to the top of the mountain, and my own footsteps led me home. Some great life lessons on this hike.
I’m in Los Angeles for a week, and this morning, I decided to explore hiking near where I am staying in Laurel Canyon. I settled on Franklin Canyon, which sounded nice because it was described as lush with incredible views, and had two lakes. It was possibly too hot for hiking on this 100 degree day in the center of L.A., but I headed out there anyway. It was indeed a nice oasis in the city, with miles of trails and lakes with abundant wildlife, all tucked away in the hills behind the Beverly Hills Hotel. Before heading onto the trail, I snapped pictures with my cell phone of several turtles sunning themselves on the banks of the lake, and saw baby birds in their nests, fish, water fowl, lizards, all kinds of birds, etc. It was a Monday, and hot as Hades, so there was nobody else as crazy as me out there, but I wanted to check this area out, so I continued my way down a series of trails toward the head of the trail I had planned to take, a trail that promised to ascend to the top of the mountain with a view of the city all the way to the ocean.
When I got to that trail, I encountered a large number of California Department of Corrections prisoners in orange jumpsuits, clearing brush from the trail. About 10 of them blocked the way onto the trail, and another 20 lined the trail. Their supervisor was chatting with a ranger at the bottom of the trail, barely paying attention. I considered turning back as they all sort of stopped doing what they were doing and turned their attention to me. I was nervous as I saw that I would literally have to walk through the middle of them to go where I wanted to go, but turning back would be an overt sign that I was afraid of them, and I had come all this way…So I proceeded. Alas, the cliché I imagined in my head came to fruition, as they really did start whistling and muttering lewd things under their breath as I passed. They didn’t look like very nice guys. Some had prison tattoos on their faces, which can’t be a sign of wholesomeness.
I kept my eyes fixed and tried to ignore their leering, but after I had successfully made my way past all of them, my imagination took over. The supervisor was just one guy, and he hadn’t really seemed to be on the ball. One of the prisoners could easily slip out of sight and up the trail. These guys had clearly not seen a woman for some time, judging by their behavior, and they were already identified as unsavory men by the mere fact of their incarceration. I began to imagine that one or more had quietly headed up the trail after me. I imagined it quite vividly until it practically became a fact.
I started to walk faster. Mind you, this is up a steep incline in 100 degree weather. I saw pretty blurs of colorful flowers as I passed, but didn’t want to stop, because the bad guys would gain ground. I needed to drink water, and I actually had a water bottle with me, but didn’t think slowing down to get it and drink would be worth getting raped and murdered for. Like a crazy speedwalker, I hurried up the trail, red-faced and sweaty, glancing over my shoulder every few moments. When I came to a fork, I didn’t consult my map, but zoomed to the left, the general direction of my car.
Eventually, I got back to my car, parched, heart pounding, drenched in sweat. I had missed all of the scenery of that part of the hike that I worked hard to get to. I had missed the turnoff that would have taken me to the pinnacle that looked over the city to the sea. And that’s the lesson I took. When we move forward out of fear instead of a desire or want, we miss a lot of joy. And we cannot reach the same heights. When we move away from something instead of toward something, we are looking backward, and not at the new journey ahead. We can’t be open to the beauty that we encounter if we are motivated by fear, because we are working too hard to get away from our demons. And sometimes our demons are imagined, those stories we tell ourselves, the things we believe are going to kill us, like prisoners in orange jumpsuits pursuing us up the trail of our lives. And how can we climb and stop to smell the flowers or look at the wonder of life if we are on the run from our demons? They may as well have put me in an orange jumpsuit myself.
(For A.C.) They say that elephants have funerals when they lose a member of the herd. They gather around the dead, sometimes for days on end, swaying over the body. People say they are in mourning, and after this period of mourning, they continue on. But I think they are waiting for resurrection as they stand around the dead. I think they are hoping, and not mourning. I think their mourning doesn't begin until they realize the body won't be getting up to join them again and they need to leave it behind.
I too, can't help but stop to circle back and stand over the bodies of those that peeled off from my herd. I nudge them with my toes, I try to lift them to their feet, and when they fall limp like ragdolls, I breathe and tell myself that this is the way of the world. And I shake them to be sure, and then I keep moving down the trail, always looking at their forms behind me.
And how I miss. There are empty caverns where they were, ghosts on the path at my side. It keeps me walking backwards every now and then, ever hopeful for the sound of footsteps on the trail. But they don't come.
I would tell you that you were in my stories. I would tell you how things are. I would tell you that I think the elephants are hopeful when they gather over a body, and only in mourning when they keep on walking.
Happy Hour event featuring Zainab Salbi of Women for Women
If you happen to be in the D.C. area, stop by a special Happy Hour event featuring Zainab
Salbi, renowned author of Between Two Worlds and
Founder and CEO of Women for Women International, with whom I sponsor a woman in Rwanda.
June 9th, 6-8pm
Steak, 1625 I Street, NW, Washington,
Event is proudly sponsored by BLT
Steak and the Meltzer Group.
Bring a Friend! There will
also be a unique opportunity to become involved or introduce a friend to Women
for Women International. For anyone that signs up to sponsor a woman at the
event, they will waive the $30 one-time enrollment fee.
hors d’oeuvres will be served and a cash bar will be available. There is
a $10 cover charge at the door.
We are on the eve of a historic event. Welcome, Barack Obama. We are ready to start healing this country. I understand Washington D.C. is one big party. And tomorrow, cities around the country will join them as we FINALLY get to kick G W Bush to the curb and welcome a president who is intelligent and sensible, and may possibly restore our reputation around the world. Below, two pieces that express my sentiments. From Amsterdam's Madam Tussauds:
Happy New Year, everyone! Here's to a new beginning with President Obama, a new shift in American policy and mentality. As we enter a recession, the consequences of our consumerism upon us both financially and environmentally, let this be a time of rebirth into a more conscientious way of living. Let us turn back to the simple pleasures of life, care about our fellow man, and make smart choices about our health and community. Support small businesses, support local organic farming. Take care of what we have as we enter a period of rebuilding. Happy 2009!
The republicans are fond of disseminating the myth that they are more fiscally responsible and better for the economy. For those of thus not stuck in a fantasy world and who actually paid attention during the Bush-Clinton-Bush eras, we know this is not so. Now I haven't fact-checked this chart yet, but for what it's worth, this blog seems to spell it out. This chart is posted on there.
Lately I've been having a bit of an identity crisis. Somewhere over the last years, it seems I lost my spirit. I miss the version of me that tramped all over Greece, jumped in the Hearst Castle pool, drove to New Mexico and camped on the red rocks and looked at the stars. My old wanderlust has seized me and I dream of adventure. I fantasize about renting a cottage in the Vermont woods in the deep of winter and exploring the countryside by snow-shoe, writing a memoir next to a crackling fire at night. I fantasize about renting a cottage in Cape Cod or in Mystic or in Maine, riding a bicycle down to the wharf to see fishermen unload lobsters and eating crab in pubs with newly-found friends. I dream about owning a canal-side pied-a-terre in Amsterdam and coming home from the flower market with my arms full of blossoms to set before the open window. But my job, with two weeks a year of vacation, doesn't afford the life I used to live.
In my funk, this afternoon, I took a walk in China Camp on the trail that follows the coastline. It was an insanely beautiful day, and as I looked out at the white sailboats dotting the bay, I played a mental game and pretended I was in Santorini. It was amazing how believable it was. The chaparral and trees look very much like those in Greece, as does the shore. Below, in the old China Camp fishing village (now a ghost town), the pier juts out into the sea and an old wooden fishing boat is anchored beside it. I breathed in deeply and thought about how relaxing it was to be in Greece and that later I would go into the village and have souvlaki and retsina mixed with 7-Up and rent a moped.
I plan to move my desk to the window in my bedroom later this week, so I can look at the trees and create a nook to write and pretend I am in exotic locales. It will sustain me until I have the means to jet to a Montana horse ranch.
John McCain thinks American workers won't pick lettuce for $50 an hour. That's because he has no freaking clue what an average person earns. Talk about out of touch, not being sure how many houses he owns and actually believing that $50 an hour is a wage that Americans won't do hard labor for. What an idiot.
A month ago, I signed up to become a sponsor of a woman in Rwanda through Women for Women, a really inspiring non-profit started by Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi woman who escaped war at the age of 19 to come to the U.S. Her organization, which helps women in several war-torn countries, has received the highest rating for a charitable organization by charity review groups and receives donations from people like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. And we know how committed Ms. Jolie is to her refugees. After researching the organization and finding out that nearly 85% of my donation goes directly into the hands of the woman I sponsor, I signed up. For $27 a month, a sum that's even doable for me, this woman I am sponsoring will literally be able to improve her life drastically and help support her for a month. Crazy, isn't it, when that's what we would spend on a round of drinks? Shit, this is a lesson in perspective that won't soon be forgotten. It's the cheapest therapy I've every gotten.
Why? Because today I got my sponsorship packet. Attached to it was a black and white picture of "Godelive M-" (I'm omitting her last name to protect her privacy). She was widowed during the genocide that wiped out almost a million people in her country during the heartbreaking ethnic cleansing slaughter (<—click that link to see an incredible Frontline documentary) of innocent people that the world's governments deliberately turned their back on. I want these people to know that while bureaucracy and politics didn't give a shit about their devastation, people did. And people like me still do.
Godelive, my "sister" (how hokey!) was probably raped regularly during the genocide, and may have had to watch her husband be hacked to death with a machete, as most of these cases went. What I know about her from the enrollment interview that Women for Women did with her is that she is 42, has three kids, has never been to school, cannot read or write, lives in a shack with no electricity or running water, has poor health, and lost more than one family member to the genocide. How's that for perspective? What the *F*am I complaining about? Do any of us (including the most "broke" of us) look at our refrigerators, our computers, our beds, our hot showers, our cars, the food on our table EVERY DAY, and realize that we really are the most blessed people on the planet, as well as the most powerful? Want to feel like Bill Gates every day? Do this program. I'm not lying. Best therapy EVER for me, and at the bargain price of $27 a month. "Little old me" isn't so "little old" when I can actually change someone's life and help support them for a whole month for the equivalent of an hour's pay (for some of you, the equivalent of ten minute's pay!). Remember how they used to talk about how much money Shaquille O'Neal would earn per minute? I kind of feel like Shaq to this Rwandan woman. It's all in your perspective.
Anyway, my "commemoration" of International Peace Day on September 21 is to spread the word to as many women as possible about the Women for Women sponsorship program. Not only will it help another woman on the planet who has seen some awful effects of war, but it could bring YOU some peace in your life. Sort of a double whammy. It will give you an overwhelming sense that you actually can control some of the strife in the world, and that "little old you" can do profound and beautiful things. And who doesn't need a little reminder of that?
I watched the opening ceremonies for the Olympics tonight, and am so excited to watch certain events. Having swum for so many years, I'm especially excited about that sport. I'm a total sentimental fool, so I always have a few moments of embarrassing choke-ups during the Olympics. For example, medals ceremonies, or watching the underdog win. This year, I'm unbelievably inspired by Dara Torres, 41 year-old mother of a toddler, and a contender for the gold in two events competing against swimmers half her age.
Looking back, here is one of my favorite Olympic moments of all times. Eric Moussambani was considered a hero for
having the courage to
represent his poor country (Equatorial Guinea) on the international stage, even
though he could barely swim. His country only has one pool and he taught himself
to swim in it. And then, the two other people in his preliminary heat
(the slowest one) got disqualified so he had to swim all alone in front of the world. I remember watching this epic moment in swimming . For me, it overshadowed the incredible swims by Ian Thorpe (the "Thorpedo"), Pieter van den Hoogenband, Team USA's women's 400 free relay world record, etc. Try to ignore these (Hungarian?) announcers, and listen to the crowd in the background. It was electric:
This month, scientists on the border of France and Switzerland plan to begin tests in the "Large Hadron Collider". I had never heard about this whole operation until yesterday, when a friend mentioned the concerns some scientists have that the tests will create a black hole and suck the planet into it. WHAT???? Back up. Why is this not being covered on major news stations? Granted, my dad, a nuclear physicist, and other scientists, dismiss this fear as being unreasonable, but when I called him in a panic, he did follow his assurances with, "I guess their fear is that it will create anti-matter." I'm sorry, but if there is even a ridiculous theory based on a conceivable circumstance in which this test could SUCK UP THE PLANET, I'd rather not, thanks. The scientists performing these tests admit that they aren't sure what will result from their tests. Apparently that's the draw. Now, I'm decidedly unscientific in nature and don't understand anything about the theories behind all this, but do we really need to be delving into this? They say they hope to prove the "big bang" theory by recreating it on a smaller level. There has been a lawsuit filed to stop the tests from happening, but they are still slated for this month. Keep your fingers crossed that we don't get sucked into a back hole and end life as we know it. Though I guess the naysayers won't be around to say "I told you so" if that happens.
So often, we become fixated on our own ailments, sadness, abandonments, circumstances...I'm going to start posting things I come across that might put things in perspective and make each of us take an opportunity to appreciate what we DO have. For example, normal hands that don't try to choke you when you aren't paying attention...
I recently reconnected with my old friend Kort, and we walked through my old friend Tennessee Valley to the sea. As I walked this old familiar trail, I delighted in the way that you can ease so comfortably back into an old familiar friend. Unlike with a new friend, old friends don’t need your back story. Often, they are the back story. They know what makes you tick, they know where your insecurities lie. And so you can leave them aside and just be. With old friends, you can quickly get to the heart. It had been a while since I had taken my walks in nature, and it had been a while since I had written anything creatively. My work-related writing has consumed me and sadness has pulled me into myself. I think in many ways, I have been asleep for the past 5 years. I’m still half asleep, but I feel myself emerging. How thrilled I am to rediscover my old friends as I wake. Ah, yes, this is what I loved about them. This is what I love about me. I remember this feeling! I remember being turned on by life, by drinking in the world with a passion, by being infinitely interested in the words of the people I admire, by moving and growing and breathing the air. And so they converge, as the trails converge at the Tennessee Valley beach, at the sea where the tides come in and the tides go out. All these old friends have somehow, without a word, fallen in step beside me again, quietly joining me on my journey. People, nature, walking, writing, my belief in possibility…one by one, they fell back in step when I wasn’t looking. I feel such comfort in their presence. I hope they stay a while.
As I sat at my desk today at work, contemplating photos of fur seals and sea lions for our website, a young woman was falling to her death across the parking lot. I hadn't expected to be shaken into a deep contemplation of mortality when I came to work today, but as for this young woman, life is unpredictable, and you never know what it will deliver or take away.
Sitting at my desk, I was asked to move my car out of the parking lot because a helicopter needed to land there. I moved the car and watched as assorted fire trucks, ambulances, National Park Service, police, and the Coast Guard descended on the scene. I listened in on the radio correspondence of rescue workers and overheard that there were two victims down the side of the cliff, and the "survivor" was alert. I heard them ask for the time on the radio so they could call the time of death. I watched the helicopter disappear behind the hill, then return to land in the parking lot, where a young man emerged and was led to the picnic tables. A blanket was put around him and he was given some water, as two officials wrote on a pad of paper while he spoke animatedly, gesturing. About ten minutes later, the helicopter returned, and a body bag on a stretcher was unloaded and walked to the ambulance. As I left work for the day, on my way to the post office to mail my tax return, the absurdity of life just hit me. I walked through the parking lot to where I had moved my car, and passed by the young man who had just lost his hiking companion. Police stood by as he took things out of an SUV with a dazed look on his face. He looked up as I passed, but looked right through me.
An hour earlier, this guy was hiking up a trail with a young lady. I'm left only to speculate on their relationship...a first date? Madly in love? What struck me was that he did not know (at least I certainly hope he didn't, lest this turn more sinister) when they pulled up and parked in the beach parking lot that one hour later his life would be forever changed, she would be dead, and he would be clearing out their belongings from the car.
As I drove to the post office, away from this scene, I was triggered into a spiraling internal dialogue. I was deeply disturbed, slightly nauseated. Later, I scanned the stories on the news websites for the one outside my
office, and saw that a woman was also killed in San Francisco today
when a tree fell on her while she was getting her dog out of the car at
a park. A man in Mill Valley was also killed when a wave washed him
overboard during a shark diving trip in South Africa. We don't know at what point the period at the end of our life will come. We can only create right now. This is it. There are no do-overs or practice games. Time doesn't wait for fear and doubt. I need to get to doing the things I want to do now. Remind me when humdrum life lulls me.
In a town meeting in New Hampshire on January 3, an audience member expressed concerns that we might be in Iraq for 50 years. John McCain flippantly remarks, "Make it a hundred." I'll be referencing him as "100 Years War McCain" from now on, and I hope you all do the same.