Tag Archives: commonalities

Meditating on driftwood: intolerance and the #BLM-Sanders kerfuffle.

I signed up for a workshop with Jeffrey Davis at the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference this past July. He uses mindfulness practices to smooth transitions between our multiple selves (writer/mother/wife/friend/asylum resident).

It’s the first writing workshop I’ve attended that blew the lid off my creativity (others have deepened and expanded my craft but not touched the how of my writing). Characters came faster, deeper and easier. My capacity to notice details expanded tenfold. (“It’s like a drug cabinet that is all in your brain.”) My understanding of my own process has resulted in the longest consistent stretch of daily writing practice I’ve ever experienced (as in, six out of seven days in the weeks since the conference, all while visiting friends, traveling, picking kids up from camp, going on family vacation, and getting kids ready for school).

Taos Mountain in the afternoon ...

Taos Mountain in the afternoon …

A colleague also participated in the Taos conference. Her afternoon workshop was in the same room as my morning one. And her workshop leader disparaged the driftwood that our morning workshop left in the center of the table. “This is disgusting, what is this, take it away, I didn’t bring that,” are all words my colleague reported her afternoon leader saying. Many of the other workshop participants, my colleague reported, “followed the leader” and joined in the disparagement, suggesting graffiti on the driftwood, etcetera.

Several years ago I would have been offended and upset. This year, I felt only sadness that fellow writers — aspiring and established, teacher and students  — engaged in this dismissive diminishment.

We cannot know what will work for another writer. For another human being.

And so when I heard that some #Black Lives Matter people took the microphone away from Bernie Sanders, I thought, well, maybe that’s not so bad.

Maybe it’s time to say: we’re going to do it differently. We’re not going to cede the microphone. We’re going to meditate on driftwood.

Maybe it is time for us white folk to sit down and shut up and listen. 

Maybe it is time to consider that meditating on driftwood could yield powerful stories.

Maybe powerful stories will lead to powerful actions.

Maybe powerful actions will expand our souls.

Maybe expanded souls would have room to hold the world’s simultaneous realities: our own experiences are true and the (different) experiences of others are equally true.

Maybe if we could hold the world’s simultaneous realities, we would also begin to transform our small scared parts, the parts so terrified of other that we would rather dismiss other than struggle to remain open.

May it be so.

Happy Birthday, us.

I pride myself on my capacity for informed choice about all manner of things: food, writing, garden design, paint colors, politics, religion. This is also known as Snobbery. Since my early twenties, when part of a summer internship was harvesting fish (read: clubbing them to death in a shallow pond), I have  bought into the worldview that All Meat is All Bad, All the Time. So it’s a fine how-do-you-do that for this Father’s Day slash Fourth of July, my family has celebrated by purchasing a grill. To grill meat on.

Our family’s vegetarianism was shaped by a variety of factors: general health, animal welfare, economics (personal and global). Our change of heart was shaped by changes in the meat available (local), the quality of it (high), and economics (personal) that allowed us the privilege of buying that local meat from local farmers. Plus, y’know, it tastes good.

But whose god? Whose lord?

God is on everyone’s side, right?

So perhaps you can imagine why I shudder every time I see a sentiment similar to this. I’ve experienced the expansion and humility inherent in reversing my  righteousness about dietary choices: if that lesson can be found in pork loin, I think it’s very likely that claiming one’s nation is blessed by god/lord is equally un-humble. Yet from the Amish to the Zen Buddhists: we claim the way. We are living the right way. The best way. Some of us do with humility; some of us with rigidity.

It’s similar to poets proclaiming the purity of their pantoums, the novelists touting the truth of their tomes, etcetera.

I have discovered that sometimes a poem is what I need to percolate through my morning*; other days I want to drizzle a short story atop my pancakes. And on summer afternoons, what joy to forget the heat and humidity in a deep cool pool of a novel. The range of expression and connection available to us through words is the ultimate just-right gift. We can connect and ponder and be awed through whatever form works for us.

Despite experiencing the power of the breadth of literary choice – or choice in anything: Ice cream flavors! Car colors! Fireworks! — we deem our choice of spiritual practice all-or-nothing. We are either tripping lightly down the lovely shaded path to salvation or tramping through the briars on the overgrown trail to damnation.

I know a spiritual practice is different from a readerly practice. Although both are, ideally, daily events, spiritual reflection and connection is often most effectively sustained and deepened within the frame or structure of a specific set of beliefs; it’s hard to go deep when surveying the surface. Just as the poet might splutter and flail about in the novelist’s form, so might the Buddhist flounder in a Catholic mass.

Except: some of the more effective prose writers have been poets; some of the more effective spiritual and secular (read: political) leaders lift up and articulate religions’ fundamental similarities. We are most powerful when we expand ourselves to integrate the blessings of other forms of writing, of praying, of being in the world.

America came into being in large part so that folks could practice a non-governmentally approved religion – so we could practice different ways than The Way that had been decreed. It was a good idea then, it’s a good idea now. And it’s always fun to have a big ole party. With ground-beef burgers and veggie burgers.

Happy birthday, us.

* Because no birthday is complete without a poem, I offer this, which was part of Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac yesterday and offers a different perspective about narrow choice than the one I promote above. Like most of life, both-and are true.

Imagine This

by Freya Manfred

When you’re young, and in good health,

you can imagine living in New York City,

or Nepal, or in a tree beyond the moon,

and who knows who you’ll marry: a millionaire,

a monkey, a sea captain, a clown.

But the best imaginers are the old and wounded,

who swim through ever narrowing choices,

dedicating their hearts to peace, a stray cat,

a bowl of homemade vegetable soup,

or red Mountain Ash berries in the snow.

Imagine this: only one leg and lucky to have it,

a jig-jagged jaunt with a cane along the shore,

leaning on a walker to get from grocery to car,

smoothing down the sidewalk on a magic moving chair,

teaching every child you meet the true story

of this sad, sweet, tragic, Fourth of July world.

Paying attention and honoring what we see …

My eldest son plays hard, Image by Jeannine Eddleton

I’m writing this as my older son sleeps, hopefully deeply enough to restore his depleted energy after yesterday’s intense soccer matches.  What a range of soccer parents schlep their kids to these games! There are of course the win-at-all-costs parents – and it’s not only dads who scream at players – but that is a stereotype, just as “the people” that are referred to during election seasons don’t fit into the stereotype of the shorthand labels we bandy about like Truth. When it comes down to it, most Tea Partiers, moderate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, in checkout lines and over a cup of coffee, would manage to find commonalities. Everyone has red blood.

And we all support our kids. No matter how we support them in their passions, most of us make an effort because we love our children and want to honor the spark of life manifest in their desires. Best as we can, we notice, nurture, and navigate the world to facilitate setting their ever-growing-and-when-they’re-teenage-soccer-players-STINKY feet on paths that in our (necessarily limited) experience will help them discover whether or not their passion is vocation, avocation or occasional hobby.


ye Olde Typewriter, Image by jcbonbon via Flickr

My parents were among the first to show me the path I’m on now. They read to me, gave me books from their childhood – and when I happily scrawled my own stories in kindergarten, they hied me to the library weekly, pointed out books about writers, outfitted an old desk with an equally old (manual!) typewriter and all the scrap paper I wanted. I wasn’t sent to any special camps, but they certainly honored what they witnessed in me.

Nonetheless: when I see a van full of kids being chauffeured down the interstate to soccer tournaments, or youth orchestra, or juggling classes, an echo of an interview rings in my head.

A female author was sharing her story of achieving success in her forties after a twenty-year hiatus (cannot for the life of me remember who it was, my apologies). She’d achieved a modicum of publishing success immediately after college, then fell in love and had a child. And a second. Not surprisingly, her creative output trickled and ceased. She’d found a mentor before she’d begun childrearing, and when she and her partner were debating adding a third child to their family, the mentor opined: every child you have is another novel you will not write.

I heard this while driving to work, pregnant with the boy who is now snoring quietly in the adjacent room (yes, I am drafting this in the hotel room’s bathroom, so the lights don’t wake him up, my forty-something butt cushioned by hotel towels).

The mentor was correct. I certainly have three or four collections of ideas and plot outlines and free writes that, given time enough, could well be novels, but probably won’t be. Because I am raising children as well as writing.

Portrait of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf: proof positive that great art is unrelated to one's parental status.

The mentor was also incorrect.  Despite the real and metaphorical headaches of bringing up my boys, and the incredible amount of time they consume, I could not possibly write as I do if I were not a parent. I imagine my writing would be different (not better or worse, different) if Engineer Hubby and I had remained child-free. This is certainly NOT to say those who aren’t parents don’t create complex, rich, and marvelous art. Arguably, since historically men have comprised the majority of the artist class and, also historically, they were very minimally involved in the grind of parenting, it’s hardly a requirement for great art. Or lousy art.

However, bottom line, one needs extended periods of solitude to make *anything* (nine months gestations for humans plus 18 years for ripening … no wonder Donna Tartt takes a decade per novel!), so hands-on parenting necessarily compromises those of us with artistic bents.  “Oh, but it’s worth it,” we say, after griping about our finicky eaters or the history teacher who doesn’t understand our precious progeny.

Actually, it’s not worth it, financially, for many of us. Nor is it even metaphorically worth it on the days consumed by the thrust-and-parry around their so-called “needs.” (I NEED an Xbox. Uh, no, you don’t. You need to get your ass outside and run a couple miles so you’re too tired to whine about material goods. Then you need to take out the compost so your mother doesn’t use words no former English major should unleash on her children before they’re twenty-one.)

Kids! Image by the awesome Anne Jacobsen

But our lives, with all the warts, whining, and wasted moments, are what we have to work with. The consequences of our choices, be they nights of passion or carefully plotted and sought-after goals, are with us. Here. Now. Though they won’t always be (we have fewer years with our kids at home before us than we have behind us).

These moments, on these days, the choices I make to write or not write, even if only for five minutes, is all that is. Annie Dillard is credited with the succinct, truthful observation that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

She’s right. If I want to write, even if it’s only for my eyes only, even if I aim for publication and fail, then I have to do it. Writers write. Period.

My parents noticed and honored the writer they saw in their little girl. Surely, even as I pass the gift of honor on to my sons, and chauffeur them hither and yon, I can continue to honor my own girl. Reading stories and making up my own, scrap paper at the ready.