Wednesday, February 28, 2007

say no evil, see no evil, hear no evil.

(yesterday's photo outside of the garden shop I'll be working at)

There's another snow storm on the way and, like the weather, I seem to be having a few ups and downs myself. Days like this I can't help but be amazed by the emotional complexities of being a woman.

I started the day out in a big fit of alligator tears over (once again) being stranded at home without a car. I planned on dropping V. off at work, running errands, and then finding a coffee shop to hole up in and write. I was also going to go on my "artist's date"--which is, really, the only thing I've been looking forward to all week. The forecast is predicting another 16" of snow in the next couple of days and since it's busy-rush-hour-freeway-traffic all the way to where V. works and back, it would be stupid for me to be driving back and forth to drop him off and pick him up just so that I can run around doing things that aren't absolutely necessary. So I was a bit of a cry baby. But after 7 months of this, do you blame me? I think we need another car. Seriously.

This morning I was feeling trapped because my world gets too small when it is limited between home and work, work and home. Maybe it's my lingering gypsy ways, but I have a tendency towards claustrophobia when things get redundant. And if it's going to snow, then fine. But right now it is a beautiful sunny day. The 30+ degree temperatures feel like spring and staying at home was most certainly going to drive me crazy. Around noon I finally said fuck it, put on my big clunky boots, and tromped my way through the snow and slush and extravagant-sized puddles to the neighborhood coffee shop--where I'm sitting now. And well...I admit it: this place makes me feel a little swollen with pride to be a part of this neighborhood.

It's been a while since I've actually walked anywhere without Anu and so I decided to treat my excursion with a bit of love. I felt a sense of purposelessness walking without wolfie, but I also found myself taking in my surroundings in a different way. Rather than watching squirrels or birds or snowbanks like I usually do with Anu, I found myself looking at houses and their relation to the sun. I exchanged smiles with passing cars, recognizing this person and that person, and exchanged hellos with quite a few of them. In the process I realized just how much I've become a part of this place and it made me wonder: How and when did that happen?

In the next few days I'll be starting work again at the garden shop (next door to this coffee shop). Technically, this neighborhood could be considered a village--but, living in the United States, what constitutes a village anyway?? A market, a coffee shop, a flower shop, a gas station, a (very liberal minded) church, a hair salon, a handful of residents, an elementary school, and a pizza joint--there you have it: a village.

Of course, working in the "village center" helps with getting to know people. Often times I crave to be anonymous (this might be the result of growing up in a small town)--but, more often, I find that I crave a sense of place. Admit it: it's good to feel like you belong.

And so, even though I have no desire to work in a garden shop forever (oh god, definitely not!), what it offers me at this point in my life is an incredible sense of belonging. These days, I feel a need for that. I'm not sure why. But I do.

I'm 32 years old and even though my traveler's soul requires a frequent change in scenery, it's beginning to feel like I've been searching for my "place" in the world ever since selling my house out in the country a couple years ago (even if subconsciously). Wait a did I end up on this thought? I guess this random thinking is just one of the many dangers of feeling "emotional." After an incredible conversation about loss (and many other things!) with a good friend, I came across a poem by Mary Oliver that caused another round of alligator tears.

On Losing a House

The bumble bees
know where their home is.
They have memorized
every stalk and leaf
of the field.
They fall from the air at
the right place,
they crawl
under the soft grasses,
they enter
the darkness

Where will we go
with our table and chairs,
our bed,
our nine thousand books
our TV, PC, VCR,
our cat
who is sixteen years old?
Where will we put down
our dishes and our blue carpets,
where will we put up
our rose-colored,

We never saw
such a beautiful house,
though it dipped toward the sea,
though it shook and creaked,
though it said to the rain: come in!
and had a ghost--
at night she rattled the teacups
with her narrow hands,
then left the cupboard open--
and once she slipped--or maybe it wasn't a slip--
and called to our cat, who ran to the empty room.
We only smiled.
Unwise! Unwise!

O, what is money?
O, never in our lives have we thought
about money.
O, we have only a little money.
O, now in our sleep
we dream of finding money.
But someone else
already has money.
Money, money, money.
Someone else
can sign the papers,
can turn the key.
O dark, O heave, O mossy money.

how the rich
don't even
hesitate--up go the
sloping rooflines, out goes the
garden, down goes the crooked,
green tree, out goes the
old sink, and the little windows, and
there you have it--a house
like any other--and there goes
the ghost, and then another, they glide over
the water, away, waving and waving
their fog-colored hands.

Don't tell us
how to love, don't tell us
how to grieve for, or how loss
shouldn't sit down like a gray
bundle of dust in the deepest
pockets of our energy, don't laugh at our belief
that money isn't
everything, don't tell us
how to behave in
anger, in longing, in loss, in home-
sickness, don't tell us,
dear friends.

Goodbye, house.
Goodbye, sweet and beautiful house,
we shouted, and it shouted back,
goodbye to you, and lifted itself
down from the town, and set off
like a packet of clouds across
the harbor's blue ring,
the tossing bell, the sandy point--and turned
lightly, wordlessly,
into the keep of the wind
where it floats still--
where it plunges and rises still
on the black and dreamy sea.

(by Mary Oliver from What Do We Know, 2002)

In the end, it turns out that I'm really starting to feel a sense of "home" here. And maybe, just maybe, it worked out ok that I didn't have the car today. I mean, it caused me to get frustrated enough to walk the 6 blocks from my house to here...and to be surrounded by good people in a packed-full coffee shop... and to maybe even see things in a different way.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Things that have recently made me happy:

This is my wolfie, Anu. I love her beyond words.
Snow makes her happy, too. :)

Sitting on my cold bum in the snow, laughing and talking to Bee.
I had just been playing with Anu when the phone rang.
Dang, the best of everything!

Dogs + Snow + A very good friend = A very happy Jessie!

Since the party Up North was cancelled due to weather, we celebrated my nephew's 8th birthday with sloppy joes and salad at my sister's house. This is a photo of our "massage-train." My sister is cooking at the stove...followed by my brother, then his girlfriend, then my brother-in-law, then me, and last but not least, my goof-ball nephew (the caboose!). Vinny, unfortunately, had to give up his place in line to take the photo. :)-

Luckily, my sister, my brother, and I
all live within a few blocks of each other.
Have I mentioned that I LOVE snow?!

This is Daniel Handler, one of the resident cats at the bookstore. I took his picture this morning because he was being a lover and is just too cute. As I look at the photo right now, I feel a sense of relief because I finally got a chance to talk to the bookstore matriarch and it seems that everything is going to work out perfectly. I was nervous about telling them about my other job...but I left work today feeling sense of relief. I'm glad to say that I will be enjoying the best of both worlds.

And speaking of books...
On Saturday I received a package from Martha in the mail.
She sent me something for the book swap and I suppose it goes without saying that I love what I found inside!
In the card she wrote:
"Enclosed you will find 3 thing that I love.
Out of Africa--for you pleasure
blank watercolor moleskine--for your art
post-its--to capture those fleeting brilliant insights."
And so it shall be. :)
Tonight I'm going to spend some time in my studio playing with watercolors. I can't wait! And Out of Africa is the very next book on my list. I'm drawn to the ever-so-blank pages of this new journal and the earthy, sepia tones of Out of Africa's dust jacket. I've never read the book, but have always wanted to.
I couldn't have received a more perfect gift!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Checking In...Week 1 of Finding Water.

We were supposed to drive up north this weekend for my grandpa's and nephew's shared birthday party. But the weather has caused a change in our plans. We'll be hunkering down at home instead.

V. and I ran a few errands after he was done with work, and you would have thought Armageddon was on its way! The weather is supposed to get truly nasty, but in all honesty I think most people are looking forward to the little bit of downtime a storm will provide. The stores were packed with people getting "supplies" to get them through the weekend--food, movies, liquor. Check-out lines strung out half way through the stores and it was a mad house every where we went!

I've been waiting for the snow to start ever since yesterday. So far everything is covered in an icy crust. Snow that, while walking Anu, shattered like grains of salt under my boots. In the last hour the snow has started to fall with growing heaviness--and, although I was looking forward to going to my grandparent's, I'm also looking forward to spending a weekend at home.

Yesterday, in honor of the coming storm, I decided to switch gears, started a fire in the fireplace, and had a real bona fide "artist's picnic." Leah shared this idea a couple weeks ago over on the Create a Connection blog and I've been wanting to do it ever since. I made a bowl of soup, warmed some bread in the oven, and poured myself a cup of my favorite herbal tea... then I snuggled up to write some poetry. It felt wonderful and I think I might already be addicted to this sort of thing!

One thing that I'm getting better at, even after only one week of doing work in Finding Water, is learning how to approach myself and my art from different angles. I have been so stubborn about "getting something done" that, as a result, nothing good has been coming from it. Going on an Artist's Date reminded me of the value of loosening up and allowing myself a sense of play-- while, on the other hand, Morning Pages are teaching me how to remain committed to something.

At first I was irritated by what I was writing in my morning pages. I kept writing about money and how frustrated I was by what I'm being paid at work. I'm not normally the type of person that thinks about money so often (I guess it's one of those things that I try not to think about). There are too many things that are more important to me than financial success. But lately I have been feeling a growing sense of frustration over the lack of time I have to do the things that are most important to me (such as work on my thesis). It has caused me to think about what my time is worth--and it didn't take me long to come to the conclusion that my time is worth more than a barely-above-minimum-wage job--no matter how much fun it might (on occasion) be.

The strangest thing that happened this week is that, immediately following the pinnacle of my frustration, the phone rang and I was offered a (nearly) full-time position at the garden shop (the one I helped out at over Christmas) for twice the pay I'm making at the bookstore. Even more strange, is that this all unfolded within an hour after I made the definite decision that my time was worth more than what I had been giving it away for. I made a list of what I wanted. And then I got it. Literally, I asked for more money--and I received it.

Of course, getting what I asked for has come with its own set of problems. Reality set in and I realized I would have to make a decision. What about the bookstore?! Despite the low wages, I still love it there and want to stay involved. But, truth be told, I can't afford to work there as my sole source of income. So I sat down, once again, and wrote down an ideal schedule. And you know what? It might just work out perfectly. I can have the best of both worlds, get paid more, and make my time management a whole lot simpler.

This is a huge shift for me and, in the process, it has caused me to feel much more capable of creating the reality that I want for myself in more ways that one. For me, Week 1 has been about possibilities. But, more than that, it has been about turning the notion of possibility into reality. This feels like a stepping stone, leading me to the next step on my path. I don't regret where I've been because it has brought me to now.

I've found that this new-found awareness is effecting not just one area of my life, but several. My thesis is moving (gracefully) forward and I'm actually starting to lose weight (that in itself is miraculous!). Like the last time I did The Artist's Way, I am feeling a profound shift in my center of gravity--and it's refreshing to feel a renewed sense of excitement towards my creative endeavors (especially in my writing life). A sense of balance, believe it or not, is returning.

I feel like I have been catapulted through the air--and, finally, have landed on a stretch of solid ground--solid ground with water on both sides of me, that is. And, in keeping with the Finding Water metaphor, this week I've come to the realization that I'm free to relax and go "swimming" anytime I want.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dear TypePad friends,

For some reason TypePad hasn't let me leave comments since yesterday. I've been trying to leave comments for several of you...with no luck. boo-hoo!! :(

Just know that I'm thinking about you...cuz I am!

Lots of love,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

artist's date numero uno.

Today I went on my first "artist's date" of the Finding Water adventure. It was spontaneous rather than planned, but after an especially efficient day of mural painting, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I had transportation and a little extra time...and since I was running errands near my new very favorite South Indian restaurant, well.... Okay, it probably sounds a little uneventful for my very first date but, you see, I've been CRAVING that place ever since the first time I was there a few weeks ago (oh, and it was so gooooood!).

Since there was no parking nearby, I had to walk several blocks to get there. It is warm and sunny and I felt like I was emerging from a very cold, dark, and dusty cocoon. Aaaah! It felt good. The city has come alive in all its strange ways. This thaw is releasing new smells into the world--some good and some not-so-good. But the second I stepped out of my car, I was immediately grateful for my decision to take a few moments from my day and enjoy myself.

Afterwards, I went to an art gallery next door to the restaurant. I figured, why cut a good date short? Anyway, I've been meaning to stop in and check it out ever since I moved here six months ago. I ended up having a great conversation with the girl working there, an artist about my age who does photography and mixed media. She gave me a some contact information on inexpensive studio spaces in town and told me about some upcoming art-crawls that I should visit. After an excellent conversation, we finally got around to introducing ourselves, shook hands, and I went on my merry way with a smile on my face, thinking about how friendly Minneapolis artists are. Hell yeah! Ok...that was a good first artist's date. And I'm saving that studio space info. I can't afford it yet, but having a real studio again is definitely on my wish list!

Today left with me with a feeling of possibility...and so it feels like a good time to make my list of "coulds" (rather than "shoulds").
  1. I could try to write the entire story in the form of a poem.
  2. I could continue eating healthier.
  3. I could write letters. You know, the old fashioned kind.
  4. I could get a Bernese Mountain Dog (awwww...I want one so bad).
  5. I could finish cleaning and organizing my basement studio space.
  6. I could start doing sit-ups.
  7. I could rearrange my writing space in order to help me gain a new perspective.
  8. I could finish some of the books I've started (you should see the pile I have stacked next to my bed!).
  9. I could slow down.
  10. I could start meditating again. It's been a long time (years?).
  11. I could say thank you to each day by welcoming the sacred back into my life and taking time to breathe.
  12. I could paint a self portrait (because I've been wanting to all week).
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. ~ Albert Einstein

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


At this very moment everything is absolutely perfect. I'm nestled on my bed with a big pile of pillows. Several weeks worth of clothes have been folded, ironed, and put away. I've dusted and vacuumed. To celebrate this new found sense of order, I've lit candles and am burning incense that I reserve for special occasions like this. It comes from the Tibetan refugee camp where I stayed in the oh-so-green hills of Southern India. While there, they showed me how they make it. I remember the way the aroma clung to the air and even my clothes as they ground the herbs and spices in an old, worn mortar and pestle. The smell of this particular incense reminds me of the extreme peacefulness that I felt after many months of India's chaos. It reminds me of Tashi, the smiling monk who brought me to the camp and who, over laughter and puffed rice, became a friend for life. It reminds me of sunshine. And so, unsurprisingly, I always feel comforted by its scent--as I do now.

Downstairs, Vinny is baking oatmeal raisin cookies and as these two smells wrap themselves around me, I am fairly certain that I've died and gone to heaven. I'm listening to Norah Jones and Beth Orton and Rickie Lee Jones on Pandora; the lamp sheds a soft light; my cat asleep at my feet; and the ceiling fan moves the air so-softly against my skin.

I'm thankful for this moment--because, to be honest, it's been a pretty crumb-dumb past couple of days. I've been feeling overwhelmed and disorganized and like I'm spinning my wheels and sputtering for air, but not getting anywhere.

After last night's post, I have been slowly arriving at the realization that something needs to change in my life--for real. I've been drowning in my own over-scheduled life. When I woke up, my ever-lasting cold had returned in the form of a sore throat and oogly sinus stuffiness. I stayed in bed until 8 and, of course, this threw all of my morning plans out the window. I felt anxious and frustrated and, at some point (as I was putting away mountains of clothes), I found myself feeling very angry about my under-paid work situation. "Fuck it!" I snapped at myself and to the air and to no one in particular. I guess that today is the day for a few deep-rooted frustrations to rear their ugly heads. Should I be surprised?

Time feels like an absolute precious commodity these days. Always, there is so much of everything all at once, I find that I am unable to concentrate on any one thing. Sometimes I feel as though I give my time away too easily. Well, actually, I know this about myself--but old habits die hard though, don't they? This morning, during my fuck-it-pinnacle-of-frustration, I felt something in me shift. It was strange and I wish that I could find words to explain it, but all I can say is that molecules shifted. Does that explain what an epiphany feels like?

...the weird part:

Not even 15 minutes later, the phone rang. And, for now, let's just say that my faith in the universe has been restored.

note to self: make a schedule (and don't forget to be realistic).

Already, I find myself craving to write morning pages (like all the time). Lately, it is the only part of my day that holds any sense of balance--when my mind is rested and it is quiet (both inwardly and outwardly).

It is already midnight and my day will begin again in 6 hours. I can't keep up! It dawned on me this morning that I need to make a schedule for myself--even just a temporary one. Between working at the bookstore, the mural project, my thesis, doing art jobs on the side, extra commuting time, and more hours at the garden shop about to start soon, I feel like I am working ALL the time! And, well, trying to keep it all straight has thrown me totally off balance.

There are so many things about my life right now that need to change. I suppose a good place to start would be going to bed and actually getting some rest. These days, I sort of feel like I'm running around in 5 circles all at once. Seems to me, there must be a better way of going about things.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

5 beautiful things I've recently spotted:

  1. when i got up this morning, i looked out the window to see gently falling snow.
  2. my husband sitting in front of his computer in his robe and a big, geeky pair of headphones, looking generally content. i love sundays.
  3. a woodpecker flying through the woods--feathers camouflaged perfectly by snow and trees.
  4. my wolfie standing at the top of the hill scanning the scenery. i love it when she does this. we often stop and look together, taking in as much of our surroundings as possible. this is one of the things i love about her. she teaches me how to see.
  5. a perfect cup of dark, oh so dark, coffee.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Day 1 of the next 12 weeks.

I slept late this morning...something that is relatively unheard of in the normal scheme of things. I got a full 11 hours of sleep and I think I needed it. Before I got up I was dreaming that I worked for a comical environmental-spoof game show. Just before waking up, the gorilla had thrown off his George Jetson costume and run away with the magic lipstick. Umm...yeah. I coughed half the night and I think my body is desperately trying to kick this sickness I've been carrying around for the past 3 weeks.

I've spent more time being sick since moving here, than I have being well. I suppose I should go to a doctor one of these days...but I have little faith in doctors. I've never found one that took the time to find out what is actually wrong with me. They usually just prescribe antibiotics and bustle on to their next patient. I'm also beginning to wonder if I maybe have allergies. If that's the case, then that causes a whole lot of mixed emotions because I have a feeling that it is the bookstore that's making me sick with its 2 chickens, 2 cockatiels, 2 rats, a lovebird, a dove, a ferret, a chinchilla, and 3 cats. ya think? But if that's the case, then what?

Needless to say, I slept hard this morning and woke up groggy. Two cups of coffee later and I am swimming my way to the surface. It is the first day of the next 12 weeks of Finding Water and I found myself dragging my feet to the couch, journal in hand, moving slowly and with reluctance towards writing morning pages. I think if finally dawned on me what I was getting myself into. But all it took to get me past my lack of enthusiasm, was sitting down and starting to write. I immediately felt better and am honestly looking forward to this.

Last night I sort of had a break through with my writing. I wrote all day, but the good stuff came out in all of two minutes. It might be soon to say, but I can see my writing evolving into something new with this. My body feels beaten, but my mind feels more settled than it has in some time. I am sitting with an idea...letting it incubate. It has been a long time since I've sat down in front of my computer with the intention of "playing" with words. It causes me to look forward to every little chance I get to write. And, my god, it is a refreshing feeling. I've needed that. More than anything.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

absolute random. musings.

I took this photo a few days ago for absolutely no reason other than I like stumbling upon random art (even if it is ever-so-slightly disturbing). One of the things that I love about living in a city is that there is plenty of it--art, that is. The interesting thing being that, the more I look, the more there is.

Yesterday I dropped V. off at work and then had to drive across town in rush hour traffic to get to my painting job. It was cold out, but the sun felt extra shiny and warm as it bounced off a sea of salt stained freeway and glinted off the bloom of skyscrapers that I have come to call home.

When did it start feeling like home?

I sang along to the music as I drove while drinking coffee and eating a banana. It was still early and I had the whole day in front of me. I felt, well...good. Really good. And I realized the extent of my city-ease (it was such a finely orchestrated overlapping of newness and normalcy). The feeling reminded me of picking that first dandelion of the year and looking into its petals until finally being overcome by the notion of "oh wow! look, how y e l l o w it is!"

The last time I experienced that sort of perfect yellow light, it was early morning in a small town and I had just stepped out of the grocery story.

Sometimes I can't help but be amazed by the number of facets one life can hold.

As I drove home from work today I looked up into the sky and followed the flight of a hawk across the lake and then an intersection.

I often forget that I live in the middle of a city.

Lately I find myself looking forward to spring. Take note. That is the first time I've ever heard myself say (write) that out loud. Usually spring comes too quickly and too soon. After a winter full of darkness and quiet contemplation, the excitement of spring always catches me off guard--too noisy, too outgoing, too much everything. But not this year.

This spring I am looking forward to easier movement. Much of my winter movements have been spent walking in the woods, but now I find myself wishing for long bike rides and strange adventures. I want to wander this city and photograph its grunge. I want to watch the sun set and to capture the urban lines that interrupt its color--a bridge, a railroad track, a lamp post, a building, the glint of glass. I want to wander and watch and absorb. And then I want to paint.

I still haven't gotten used to living here and maybe I never will.

I love the fact that, even after 6 months of this place, there is still so much newness. I don't know why, but lately it causes my world to glimmer with strange varietied potential.

And, for unknown reasons, in the light of February, everything and anything seems possible.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


This is the first Valentine's Day in like a 100 years that I haven't been working 20 hour days in a flower shop.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. This was the best Valentine's Day I have EVER had!!!!


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

okay. fine.

I got up early this morning and took V. to work so that I could have the car. I wanted to run errands and treat myself to a nice lunch before returning to the mural project. Lunch was supposed to be a date--just me and my journal at the Mysore Cafe. I was looking forward to eating (very delicious!!) South Indian cuisine and getting work done on my thesis at the same time.

But first I came back home to take a shower and get my stuff together when I noticed it was cold in the house. Very cold.

So I went down to the basement to check on the furnace and...


The heats out.

I messed around with the furnace for awhile, but it being nothing that I could fix, I called the landlord. The repair person will be here sometime in the next 7 hours....which means that I have to sit around and wait for him (or her) if I want heat again.


Ok. I'm mad. I don't know why, except that I am. Frustrated. Maybe that's a better word. I was going to get a lot done today, but now I'm stuck at home. Waiting.

Meanwhile I'm sitting here in front of a space heater in my biggest, thickest wool sweater trying to find the positive in this situation.

This is what I've come up with:
  • I just finished a very wonderfully warm bowl of homemade curried squash soup. I put extra cayenne pepper in it to warm me up from the inside, out.
  • The sweater I'm wearing is one that my mom knit for me when I was in high school. It's traveled with me a lot of strange places. I once lived the life of a Dharma Bum. Those were good days and this sweater reminds me of those times. It's been a long time since I've worn this sweater and it feels as comfortable as it always used to.
  • I have a space heater. Thank GOD.
  • I have two heat-seeking cats who are snuggled up next to me. Viscosa has my back and Moonshadow has my feet. I'm covered in cat warmth.
  • I can't go paint which means that I have time to catch up with writing a few letters and emails to friends. Being busy all the time has gotten in the way of some really incredible friendships that I would hate to lose. Being home-bound means that I can redirect some of my energy in the form of letter writing. And that's good, because I miss my friends!!!
  • I made a latte in my very biggest mug and put extra cinnamon on top. After that big bowl of soup, it is making me feel much calmer. Maybe I'm not so mad anymore.
  • It is a balmy 14 degrees f. It could be worse, much worse.
  • The sun is shining.
  • They're coming to fix the furnace TODAY versus tomorrow. The temp. is supposed to fall below zero tonight.
  • I can work on a story from home. Believe it or not, after painting and working for the past 3 days, I actually miss working on my thesis. Did I just say that?
  • If it gets too cold in here I might be "forced" to bake a loaf of bread or something.
  • We'll eat an extra warm meal tonight. Something that requires both the stove and the oven!
  • If time, I might even curl up in a warm blanket and read the first chapter of Finding Water.
  • I'm burning candles because it at least smells warmer in here that way.'s not that bad. This is a better list than I thought it would be.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Work in progress.

I've started my new life as a muralist. Well, it's not quite Diego Rivera, but.... I'm having fun anyway. It feels good to get out of my head for awhile and just paint. I started work on the mural commission yesterday. And, to be honest, my brain is feeling a bit fried.

(click on the image to see more detail)
I still have a tiger, a mama kangaroo and her joey, a mouse, a frog, a bee, an elephant, and a quote to finish. I also have to finish the detailing on the pig, the duck, and the polar bear. Oh my! I was feeling pretty good about my progress...but now I'm not so sure. Eventually, it's meant to become a goofy hodge-podge animal parade. feels good to paint these strange literature-inspired creatures. They're bigger than they appear. The top of the pig is probably 6 or 7 feet tall...and there are even bigger animals to come.

So this is what I've been doing. I doubled as a pet-sitter and got to hang out with Edgar (the great dane/shar pei mix) and Erwin (the chocolate lab) and the two cats (whose names I do not know) all weekend. Animal sitting and mural painting....hey, I could make a career out of this. ;)

I'd write something more intelligent, but my brain is absolutely empty (feels good).

Sweet dreams.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Compulsive, but not crazy.

I've been doing the math and it's beginning to look a little bit more optimistic than I thought. After a lot of thinking and brainstorming and even decided to change my thesis topic, I went to Barnes and Noble last night to find books on Creative Nonfiction and Memoir and, as luck would have it, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love was there. She must be getting around...because Leah heard her talk just the other day.

Eat, Pray, Love is one of the best books I've read all year (competing only with Sold), so when they announced over the loudspeakers that she would begin her reading at 7:30, I got an incredible rush that went shooting through my blood in an "OMG! Elizabeth Gilbert is here?!! Right now!?!" sort of way.

But when she started talking, I immediately became irritated. Well, excited and irritated. I couldn't tell what I was, actually. There I was, looking for books for my "NEW" thesis topic, trying to escape my self-imposed pressure/prison of writing about my travels in India...and goddamnit if Elizabeth Gilbert wasn't there!!!!

Oh...and now I laugh.

Well, it turns out that she has a lovely, sexy, energetic voice, she's beautiful, and funny, too. She was so very perfect that I decided to leave early. Gah. Despite the early exit, I spent the ride home thinking about how interesting and wonderful it is to find writing that is so deeply satisfying that you need nothing more than the words on the page. I didn't need to meet Elizabeth. The book itself had been enough.

Now that I seem to have crawled (at least part way) out of the very deep hole of thesis-depression, I am grateful for last night's synchronicity. And I'm grateful that I almost changed my topic. Because, in doing so, I came across this book.

I stayed up half the night reading it and then got up early this morning to read some more. I hope to write more about it soon, but basically she talks about writer's block, why we write, how we write, and the myriad of ways that writing is effected by our emotional, mental, and physical states of being. She addresses the deep need to write, what it feels like when one can't write, and explains creativity from a (very) scientific perspective. It makes me wish I had gone into psychology.

The best thing about the book is that the author, Alice Flaherty, writes from her own experience. I know that this probably sounds stupid, but I feel like this book has rescued me from a profound darkness. I have been struggling so hard and for so long over this thesis, that I have been all but frozen solid. For the life of me, I could not tell if what I've written is any good or not. But Flaherty has done something very simple to help me see my situation differently.

She acknowledges that writer's block is a very real thing. A physical, mental, emotional thing. That's it. That's all she did. She acknowledged that my problem is real. And this alone helps to lift the weight.

I'm not saying that I think it's going to be a piece of cake from here on out (oh, I wish). But what I am saying is that I've gained a new perspective of myself and my situation.

This allowed me enough breathing space to go back and read some of the stuff I've written in the past few weeks...and you know what? It's not as bad as I thought. I was dead serious about abandoning my India stories and going with a new topic (and I have piles of books and papers and outlines and ideas strewn across my room to prove it). But after reading a few pieces, I got out a notebook and started doing the math.

I have at least 6 stories in progress. Apparently, I get so far and then I lose confidence in myself. BUT--if I keep working with what I've already started, that means that I only need to write another 30-40 pages (from what I already have started!).

Ok. I can do that.

Needless to say, I ended up with a few very good books on the art of creative nonfiction and memoir, a necessary dose of deep rooted understanding, and a chance to see Elizabeth Gilbert in the flesh. I guess my trip to Barnes and Noble was worth something.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

specific gravity.

Ok...let's face it. I'm not going to get any more writing done tonight so I might as well just take a break and blog. I think it's kinda funny that I take a break from writing to write. hmmmm....what does that say about me?

Well, according to my interpretation, it means that I'm taking my thesis writing much too seriously and if I approached it in the same way that I approach this blog, then I would have been done months, no, years ago. (But I've tried that...and it's not as easy as it sounds.)

I have to admit, it hasn't been going well. I've been dedicated though (too bad they don't hand out diplomas for dedication). I have successfully hibernated for the past 3 days, only taking breaks for walking Anu, half of a movie, and dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my ever-loving husband. In the past three days I've written roughly 4 or 5 pages. Half of that is usable material. And the other half is...well? It might make for a good place to start another day...or it might be met by a slow death in the files of Microsoft Word. Only time will tell.

Today, as Anu and I walked in the woods, my boots creaked in the snow. We were alone and it was quiet and, as I followed the snow-packed path, I was reminded of a word that I learned in India: pugdandi. It means “path.” But it is not just any path. It is a path made by feet. It is a path of need.

I've been thinking about that word, pugdandi, ever since it came to me as I looked at the cold, white path stretching out in front of me. The sun was so bright that the world felt bleached. For a moment, my vision felt clearer.

I went home and convinced myself to do a freewrite. I used to make my students do this to get them loosened up. And when things get tough, I try to take my own advice. I wrote the word "Pugdandi" at the top of the page and then I started to write. The first sentence out of the end of my pen was: "I think what a pugdandi is, for me, is a path that leads me to writing."

For months now I have been trying to tell the story of my encounter with India. But it’s too huge. I don’t know where to begin and I don’t know where to end. Don't get me wrong--I work from small moments. I know that I can't write it all at once and so I try to take it just one little piece, one little detail at a time. I have struggled and cried and, more times than I dare count, I have wanted to give up on it. But, despite my struggles, I keep returning to it. I don’t know why, except that I can’t leave it alone. India and her stories are in my blood and in my bones. She has coiled herself so deeply into my being that I cannot separate myself from her.

I have walked back and forth so many times between my memories and my writing that I have worn my own path. It has become a path of need. One that, no matter how difficult it has been, I cannot seem to walk away from.

Lately I've been pulling books off of the shelf like a girl might pull clothes out of her closet when she can't find anything to wear. I keep looking for something in all those books, but I know it's not there. What I'm looking for is inside of me. What I'm looking for hasn't been written yet. Eventually my desk got piled so high with all of these books that I finally had to do some mental house-cleaning and put them away. In the process, I ran across a book that we were required to purchase for a Creative Nonfiction class: Writing the Australian Crawl by William Stafford. I've never liked the book but, for some reason, have held onto it anyway. It's old and dusty and water stained.

I couldn't remember what I disliked about it so much, but out of curiousity I opened it up at random and started to read. This is what I found:
Just as any reasonable person who looks at water, and passes a hand through it, can see that it would not hold a person up; so it is the judgement of commonsense people that reliance on the weak material of students' experiences cannot possibly sustain a work of literature. But swimmers know that if they relax on the water it will prove to be miraculously buoyant; and writers know that a succession of little strokes on the material nearest them--without any prejudgments about the specific gravity of the topic or the reasonableness of their expectations--will result in creative progress. Writers are persons who write; swimmers are (and from teaching a child I know how hard it is to persuade a reasonable person of this)--swimmers are persons who relax in the water, let their heads go down, and reach out with ease and confidence.
My god. I've been so goddamned tense, it's a wonder that I didn't drown a long time ago. I didn't find anything else in the whole book that I liked. But that paragraph spoke to me.

It's the same story over and over again. I sit down to write this blog post and I'm miraculously able to do it in one breath. When I sit down to work on my thesis, it may take me 12 hours or two months to write the same amount of material. This feeling of tension is a very real sensation. My words and my sentences get constipated. I feel a tight knot form in my stomach.

One summer a few years ago, I used to go down to the Mississippi River with my dogs and a few friends to go swimming. We had to drive way back into the woods down old logging roads to get there. But, once there, it was always quiet and peaceful. The river was fairly narrow, but deep. The bottom was sandy and there was a current. I'd go there every day after work and was always tired and tense from the day's stresses. But then I'd dive into the river somewhere upstream and float on my back all the way down to the rope swing. Then I'd get out and do it all over again. In the water, I'd let my arms float outward. Relaxed, absolutely relaxed, I would look up into the sky. I felt like I was floating with the clouds. And I was.

I keep returning to writing like my life depends on it. And, in a way, I guess it does. But I picked up too many insecurities while in grad school. If I could do anything, I would sit down and write as though I were swimming. I would forget about gravity. I would set aside expectations.

The funny thing is...that's what I'm doing right now. I guess it's just a matter of letting go.

Next week I will be starting Finding Water and I've already decided what I'm going to do on my first artist's date. Yep, you guessed it--I'm going swimming.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Day 2

Day 2 of hibernation and I woke up to snow. How lucky can I get?! As the morning progresses, the snow continues to fall and I've just returned from a walk out in the woods. The ski-trails haven't been groomed yet, so we were able to walk wherever we wanted. We saw no one. But it is still cold (-9 degrees F with the windchill). We walked until my eyelashes grew icicles and my hat and scarf frosted over to the point of uncomfortable. I was wearing my slippery snow pants so we took the opportunity to do some impromptu sledding down one of the big hills. Anu loves it. And, I swear, dogs really can smile.

As I slid down the hill on my ass with my dog flying through the air behind me, I was aware of the fact that I am seriously not like most adults. But, I admit, I find great satisfaction in the actions of my weirdness.

(back to work)

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Our windows have been covered in ice crystals for days. I like to pretend that our bedroom windows have transformed into frosted forests; and the others are covered in intricate layers of sparkling lace. This is a morning photo that Vinny took. Our world is brittle and cold--even by my standards. Things break easily in this weather. Last time I checked, it was -35 degrees.

Having worked all day, it feels especially nice to be home. We ate big bowls of homemade chili with freshly baked cornbread for supper. The furnace runs almost constantly, trying to keep up with the cold outside. These old houses are not insulated well, but I have a healthy dose of candles and incense burning to complete the perceived sensation of warmth.

Lately, I've been catching myself looking forward to summer. This catches me off guard, because I'm a winter soul at heart. Whether I'm walking the dog or waiting for the car to warm up, for some reason, I find myself daydreaming of green grass, easy walks, and hot humid afternoons spent napping under the ceiling fan in the bedroom.

Winter in the city has been harder than winters up north. I feel more isolated here. It's strange, but it is harder to get places. You would think the opposite would be true--but, in my case, it's not. Even walking Anu in the woods has become more difficult. They've turned all of our favorite trails into cross-country ski trails--walkers are not welcome. Because of this, our routes have become limited and so, lately, these woods have been making me feel bored and irritated and like I'm going to get in trouble for something.

Last year, I spent much of the winter running with Anu on the frozen lake. Out in the middle of all that big-white-nothing, we were happy as could be. I don't miss that town, but I miss the lake. I miss the open space. And I miss all those acres of ski trail-less, people-less woods. It is space that I miss having the most. I have space here...(lots of it, actually), but it's different. It is easily interrupted.

These past few weeks of winter have been oddly unsatisfying. And now this is intense. But I've decided to use it to my advantage. I've taken the next week off from work to get some real work done. It's too hard to accomplish much with only a day or two here or there. I need a chunk of time and decided to take it. I wish it could be more than 5 days...but I'll take what I can get. Anyway, 5 days is a lot like heaven--and I'm grateful for it.

Winter is the symbolic time of "going within." And, while many people can't stand the idea of all those cold, dark months, I've always looked forward to it. For me, it is a time of hunkering down, a time of of reflection. It is a quiet time, a time to focus inward.

And because there is nothing else I can really do about it...I've decided to renew my appreciation for winter.

I'm going to spend the next 5 days:
  • writing
  • wearing big, wool sweaters
  • and fleece pajamas underneath
  • and fuzzy socks
  • and slippers
  • burning candles
  • and incense
  • and more candles
  • writing
  • enjoying the ice crystals that form on the windows
  • getting up in the early morning dark to write
  • drinking large amounts of coffee...including lattes and mochas (because the colder it is, the better they taste)
  • snuggling my cats
  • and my dog
  • and my husband
  • writing
  • taking long hot baths before bed
  • eating warm, home-cooked food
  • not answering my phone
  • hanging out in my office with the door closed
  • with my star lamp turned on
  • wrapped in soft, warm blankets
  • and yep, you guessed it...writing
For the next five days I do not exist to the outside world. I'm not going to leave the house except to walk Anu. I might allow myself to go to a coffee shop or an Indian restaurant for inspiration and sanity. I've alerted all family members that I am not available for anything. Period. I'm going to wear pajamas until well into the afternoon--or maybe all day. I'll take long baths instead of showers. I'm going to listen to music and stretch and stay up late or get up early. I probably won't talk much. Life will revolve around writing.

In short, I'm going to hibernate.

It has been a long winter. But, despite such extreme cold, I've decided to use it to my advantage.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Oz and other workings of magic.

At the moment, I'm waiting for my brother to pick me up so that we can size up the fish tank situation and then go to the pet store to get whatever supplies we need for cleaning it. I'm actually looking forward it. Excuse me? Looking forward to it? Yes, that is how badly I need a break.

And in case you're wondering what I'm going on about, I'm talking about the fish tank at work. The one hiding behind the 2-way mirror in the bathroom. It's a very cool set up, actually--because if you look in the mirror without turning on the lights, you see swimming fish instead of your reflection. The mechanics of the fish tank are completely hidden in the wall. Needless to say, feeding the fish in the morning before we open makes me feel a little bit like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz. Pull back the curtain (or, in our case, open the cabinet door) and you might be disappointed by what you find. And so, a full-on (and horribly over-due) cleaning of the fish tank takes me (and my brother) to a whole new level of magic making. Magic is not an illusion. There are very real janitorial duties involved. And I suppose this goes for anything we do. Whether we keep fish behind our bathroom mirrors or paint or write or raise babies or work for the circus... let's face it, the manifestation of magic requires unfeigned effort.

This past week has been a rather difficult week of writing. I feel stuck and unsure of where I'm headed with it. I want to get done with this thesis because I can't seem to get the censors to leave me alone. Despite my best efforts, I still have Thesis Committee Members hanging out in my head every time I sit down to work on it. They're all nice enough people...but (in my imagination) they impose too many demands on my writing--one is a stickler for commas, one must have a reason for everything, and another...well, I just can't tell with her. Then there's the Grad office. That censor takes the form of a secretary who will only accept standard formatting. Period. In the end, I write for myself. But, my god, such terrain I must muck through to reach the end of each sentence!

I guess you could say that cleaning fish tanks is a little like cleaning out the quagmire of my writing-mind. I need a break and I'm willing to clean fish tanks to get one! Has it really come to this?

Afterwards, we're headed to a new Indian restaurant, the Mysore Cafe. It just opened and I've been looking forward to eating there ever since I saw them putting the sign up. I watched from the windows of the bus as they hung precariously from ladders in the Minneapolis cold. M.Y.S.O... mmmmmmmmmm...did someone say dosas? I've recently decided that I'm going to spend the next month eating nothing but Indian food, listening to nothing but ragas, and watching nothing but Bollywood.

There's more than one way to work magic, you know.