Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday Scribbings: "Now and Then" {an Epilogue}

Today is December 31st, 2007. It is still morning and I have just now finished writing my thesis. I don't even know if it is any good, but right now that doesn't matter. What matters is that I got my story down on paper as best I could. What's important is that I print this thing out and send copies to my adviser, then my committee members. After that I will do any necessary editing and formatting. I won't be truly done until the day I pass my defense (assuming I pass it). Still, the hard part is done. I feel like crying...because I feel so wonderfully quiet inside my heart.

Snow falls gently outside my window. It is the first day of something new.

* * * * * * * * * *

Roots and wings--they are such mysterious things.

When I was nineteen, I loaded up my little red pick-up truck and my old dog Japhy and, together, we hit the road. We traveled south through the Ozarks all the way down to to New Orleans, then west through vast amounts of nothingness. We made our "home" down old logging roads, on the tops of mountains, on the edges of lakes and river and, eventually, the ocean. For nearly a year we traveled this way, with no destination in mind. But, every night, upon arriving at a comfortable place to sleep, whatever strange or wonderful place it might be, I would announce to Japhy: "We're home!" And with those words, both of our bodies would relax into our new environment, wherever it was.

Before buying land and building a house, I lived the life of a traveler--and I loved every second of it. Sometimes I traveled alone and sometimes I had companions. I got good at traveling with the contents of my universe strapped to my back. I never felt lonely. And I never felt out of place. How could I know that one day I would buy a piece of land made up of field, woods and swamp? How could I know that I would plant roots so deeply that, upon leaving, I would feel more lost than I ever before? I've been a traveler much of my adult life, but losing my sense of home--my place, my center--was something new to me. Writing this collection of essays is an act of moving forward. It is an act of letting go. And what has become most apparent to me is that it is a process.

A dear friend recently shared these words of Mother Teresa with me: "I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, only more love." Writing these essays has helped me to realize the importance of this time in my life. I have never hurt so deeply. And I have never loved so much. All of this--the pain, the struggle, the loss of direction--has brought me to here. I don't know where, exactly, my future will lead me. But I do know that I am grateful for ever single step that has led me from then to Now.

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star,
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but simply can't imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

~Mary Oliver (from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays).

Friday, December 28, 2007

nevr-dull and other inspirations...

I will be amazed if I survive the month of January. I am fairly self entertaining, but today boredom got the best of me. Garden shop life in these deep winter months is proving to be slower than ever and, by mid-afternoon I was surprised to find myself still standing and not laying across the counter in a puddle of drool.

Seriously. At one point it got so bad that I considered rubbing myself down with a can of NEVR-DULL that I found under the counter next to a pile of dirty rags and goo-gone. Instead, I finished two more essays for my thesis, wrote a letter, dusted, did inventory, called my husband, then my brother, and then my husband again. I read part of a book, shoveled, made lists, took out the garbage, sang bad honky-tonk, and ate way more than I should. I have a feeling that the month of January might prove to be very, very long.

I know, I know...I should be more thankful to have a job that allows me to write letters and read books. But I've found that these things are only good in moderation. Since my boss is hitting the road for the month of January, I've committed myself to holding down the fort until she gets back. My only question: can I survive a whole month of talking to myself?

Yes, too much quiet can be a bad thing. I'm sure there are some mom's out there who might disagree with me, but uh....yeah. I suppose I could treat the time alone as though it were a spiritual retreat of some sort and, if possible, I might just try that. But in the meantime I took my Christmas booty of gift cards and went on a little Barnes and Noble shopping spree tonight. It took nearly an hour to snap out of my flat-line funk, but OH! A few good books finally pulled me back into the world.
{side note:}
*I got this beautiful little Fabriano Artist's Journal from my husband for Christmas
*I signed up for Leah's Creative Every Day 2008
*I decided that journal energy is better than drooling
Before hitting the bookstore, I stopped at the art supply store to pick up some stretcher bars that I had ordered for prints. Yes, my friends,
on my Etsy! :) While I was there I picked up some fantabulously super pigmented pastels to play with. mmmm, yum--they make my eyes light up every time I look at them!

And at the bookstore I found 2 wonderfully inspiring books:

* * *
The Creative License
by Danny Gregory

This one looks like a lot of fun. I looked at it more closely while waiting for our Chinese take-out. I sat there drinking tea and smiling as I flipped through the pages. I love this guy's sense of humor. It totally makes me want to play, be messy, and get inspired.

* * *

* * *
Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox.

This one seems a bit more serious, but I'm really into the idea of working intuitively lately.

* * *

On a bit of a whim, I also picked up Excuse Me, Your LIFE is Waiting:The Astonishing Power of Feelings by Lynn Grabhorn. I don't usually dive this deeply into the Self-Help section, but the title grabbed my attention (yes, this is how I'm feeling these days). I've been slowly reading Ask and It is Given over the past several months and am really getting a lot out of it. Since this book has a similar philosophy, I thought it might be good to give it a chance. I'll let you know if it's any good. ;)

In other news, it seems as though doing horse and dog portraits has found its way into my future. Hopefully it will be more lucrative than the NYT interview--but, hey, I just find it incredibly interesting the way my life keeps presenting me with options and opportunities. Although it requires ample amounts of patience, I'm finding the whole process (well, certain parts of it anyway--ie, the truest parts) to feel very organic and natural.

Despite boredom, I'm looking forward to whatever it is that I seem to be waiting for. When I visualize what it would be like to follow my heart, it feels a lot like this:

*lotus image from here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

persist, dear sister.

Remember the wish box? Well, the last wish I added to it was to finish my thesis by December 31st. Last time I checked that only gives me 4 days left to work on it. I've been fluctuating somewhere between absolute glee and despair. I realize that most of you are probably wondering what the hell is taking me so long to reach the finish line. I often wonder the same thing myself. These past couple of weeks I have entirely let myself off the thesis-hook. I mean, for god's sake, I had enough going on without trying to slog my way through the last anxiety-ridden pages of my thesis. I let myself off the hook for the sake of mental health and, I admit: I am glad that I did.

I should mention that I am taking my wish box seriously. Very seriously. I've dragged this thesis along with me into eternity, but I am sooooooooo NOT willing to carry it with me into the next year. Granted, I'll still have to do some minor editing, formatting, and then DEFEND it...but for some reason, the biggest hurdle seems to be just getting it OUT of my hands and INTO my adviser's hands.

These days I feel a little bit like I did the night before my senior show in art. I was putting the final touches on my last painting when my brain completely melted. It turned out to be one of my best paintings, but my god, at the moment I couldn't tell what it was! It was late at night, I was the only one left in the studio, and there was almost no one left in the department. By some stroke of luck I found the art history professor holed up in his office and made him come down to the studio to do an impromptu critique with me. I honestly could no longer see my work for what it was. Yes, folks, total brain melt. Ok, I haven't quite reached that stage with my thesis, but I feel the brain melt starting to sneak up on me, especially during particular desperate moments like last night (after having worked on my thesis for most of the day). I'm scared that it's all shit. But here's the deal: I WILL NOT GIVE UP!!!

Holy crap, I can't wait to finish this thing. Because when I do, you know what's gonna happen?


Well, that's my firm belief anyway. Blah, blah, blah...but for now I am barely surviving. Funny how barely surviving can feel so heavy and full I can't even explain it.

In other news...I did not make the news. Damn. After a second interview I was told that I would be quoted saying: "Jessie (last name goes here), a writer, dreams of training dogs." Or something to that effect. Lame? Yes. But, hell, it's the New York Times!!! I was willing to take what I could get!

It seems I got edited out. And instead of mentioning my fantabulous quote the article instead said something like: "Finding a dog owner nursing daydreams of becoming a trainer has become about as difficult as finding a waiter with a headshot."


And so today I have been licking my NYT wounds and plugging away at my everlasting thesis. But there's one thing you should know about me:

I never give up.

And, yes, you can quote me on that.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I feel like I'm undergoing a serious process of metamorphosis these days. I went to get my hair done yesterday and, for the hell of it, decided to do something different (not to mention, dark hair wasn't really complimenting my lily white skin). Also, I've gone down almost 2 sizes in my clothes. From hauling Christmas trees? I don't know, but this new muscle gain feels good. Today, posting this photo of myself, I'm a little bit shocked by the amount of change that has happened, not only on the outside, but the inside too. Looking at myself right now I am feeling like these changes in my looks are a subconscious reflection the the serious changes within. I can't really explain it, but I am curious as to what sort of butterfly (or moth) might eventually emerge.

Something very exciting has happened this week and it's weird how one little event can cause a whole lot of other thoughts to come tumbling into focus. As you all can probably gather, I've been becoming progressively more unhappy with my work. I am so very ready to move on to the next stage in my life, but instead I keep running into frustrating dead-ends. The other day at work I felt myself spiraling into a horrible bout of negativity (which seems to be happening all too often lately), but rather than go down that road I decided I would sit down with my journal (it was slow at the time) and write down my top 5 dream jobs. For #1 I wrote: "Work with dogs; help them to live better lives." I wrote that first because it is what came to mind first and most strongly--and even though I was looking for something more "serious," I decided to try working intuitively rather than rationally. One thing I know about myself is that dogs make me happiest--so I wrote it down. The next night I dreamed that I got kicked out of class because I couldn't quit laughing. I went to sit outside of the school and, upon doing so, ended up watching a bunch of dog trainers with their dogs. That's when I realized that I didn't have to go back to anything if it didn't make me happy. This huge sense of FREEDOM opened up inside of me and it was like this incredible "ah-ha!" moment. Ok, that was a good dream (I wrote a better version of it here.)...but do you wanna know the kicker??

The very next morning (Wednesday) I got up to check my email and there was a message from a journalist for the New York Times with an interview request for a story on dog trainers. Yes, that's right...the NEW YORK TIMES!!! Ok, I nearly pissed my pants with excitement, but then my wariness over the internet kicked in and so I thought I better check her out and make sure she was legitimate before I called her. OY-YA!! Yes, she was legitimate...and so I called and was interviewed. I was nervous, but overlooked it because, really, how many chances does one get to be interviewed for the NYT?!

Here's the deal, I may or may not make it into her story (and if I do, I want a t-shirt that says "I was quoted in the NYT!!!"), but the important thing is that it set the ball in motion for something that has been tapping on my shoulder for a long time now. The universe has been, as a friend put it, banging me on the head with signs all along while I've been floundering around trying to make sense of my life. Needless to say, I've started checking into the notion of dog training. I've already even inquired into one job and certification. All of a sudden, everything seems so much easier! It's like: DUH!!

I kept seeing myself working in an office somewhere, wearing nice clothes, and perhaps planning/working on creative pursuits. Or maybe I saw myself working in an office doing something to help others figure out/navigate through their life. Maybe these things will actualize themselves in my life also, but I think that the real reason I kept imagining myself in a clean office setting wearing nice clothes is that, somehow, it represented something more respectable that the poor garden shop schlep that I feel like now. This, I see, is definitely the wrong reason to take a certain kind a job--especially if it doesn't really reflect my true self. Taking a job just to satiate my ego feels really, really misguided and, although I want to feel good about myself, I know the ego-road is not the one I want to walk.

One thing that an office job leaves out is my deep need for physical, outdoor activity. Sure, I could do it for awhile, but I'm afraid that it wouldn't be long before it started taking it's toll on me and my creative spirit.

Anyway, there are so many details that I'm leaving out about all the little things that have been leading up to this thought of pursuing a dog training career--but I'll have to save it for another day. All I know is that I feel good. I feel more hopeful. I even feel more beautiful, from the inside. You know, since Wednesday, my heart has had this weird "singing" feeling. Yes, it's weird and I'm sure it sounds cheesy. But I feel exactly like I did in my dream. My heart feels a little bit cracked open.

I don't know what's gonna happen, but whatever it is, it's really starting to shift more quickly now. I can feel it. In the meantime, keep an eye out for me in the New York Times!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

meditative time, revisited.

I've come to the conclusion that it's absolutely necessary that I treat myself with a little bit of love and kindness these days. I don't mean to sound self-centered, but I get the feeling that, if I don't, I will veer dangerously close to having a melt-down. These days, I suppose it's a common syndrome for many. I'm tempted to whine about how incredibly complicated my familial life has become, but for right now I think it's best if I just set it aside.

Actually, I've come to the conclusion that it would be best for me to set several things aside--at least for the time being. See that photo to the left? That is the cup of tea that I have decided to drink before I have to go to work. Notice that it is not caffeinated. I am taking my cue from the tea's name and have chosen to appreciate a moment of meditative time for myself rather than trying to crash my way through the to-do list that sits to the left of my elbow. The tea tastes good--and it tastes even better because I'm drinking it out of the double-walled Bodum cup that I so frivolously spent some of my birthday money on. I love these cups for their simplicity. They are so clean, uncluttered, and beautiful--I thought I might incorporate some of that into my life, if nothing else, in the form of a cup.

Yesterday I had an early a.m. car appointment for an oil change and maintenance. I'll tell you, I was actually looking foward to it. I was sitting in the lobby with a cup of coffee, totally lost in the pages of my journal and, an hour later, when they came to tell me that my car was ready, I was actually disappointed they had finished so quickly. I said to the woman: "Already?! But this is the most peace I've had in weeks!" We laughed, but honestly, I wish I could have stayed there all day.

One of the things I wrote about was the little piece of paper that I recently stumbled upon. I had written a random thought that read:

The snake taught

me to hold my
chin up and to stand
strong despite extreme
discomfort, fear,
and pain.

I was referring to the snake dream I had at the very beginning of the Be Brave Project and, you know, I had no idea that these words would remain so important to me, even now. Speaking of dreams, I have been having many meaningful dreams lately. By meaningful I mean that they speak directly to the thoughts I've been carrying around inside of me, but have not been able to truly focus on, cope with, or make sense of in my waking life.

Last night I had a dream that I was in school. In the dream I couldn't stop laughing and even though I knew it was rude, I just couldn't stop myself. The teacher asked me, politely, to please leave. I apologized to her on my way out, but was happy to go. In my dream I was at the Catholic school that I went to as a child. I left the cafeteria and found myself in the hallway and then went up the stone steps and outside. I sat around outside for awhile watching some dog trainers with their dogs which is when I realized that I could quit school if I wanted to and not go back. I liked my teacher and I liked school. But I much preferred the feeling of laughter. I felt so much freer the moment I made the decision that I was done and that, by doing so, I was making room for the next step in my life.

There is an easy interpretation to this dream in that, I spent a large chunk of my morning journaling about the idea that "when you allow your connection, you thrive. When you do not allow your connection, you do not thrive" (Ask and It is Given 104). I've been asking myself how I might allow my connection to thrive and the first thought that came to my mind was to quit my job so that I might better work from a place of pure and positive intention rather than unhappiness. Unfortunately, it is time for work and my bills will not allow for a clean slate to manifest itself in exactly that way.

Ok...but I'll have to save the rest of my thoughts for another day. In the meantime, thank you everyone for your comments in my last post. Gah. Some days just suck. But your words definitely had a soothing effect. ;)

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I can't seem to get my act together these days. Or, rather, no matter how together my act is, I can't seem to catch up with myself. I suppose this is true for a lot of us these days. The holidays are busy for everyone.

One thing that I've neglected to write about here on my blog is that my dad is getting remarried next weekend. Next weekend? Wow. I haven't written about it here because I'm quite certain that the internet isn't exactly the space in which to untangle my thoughts on the topic. Needless to say, I haven't really given myself the time that I should to think about it at all. I'm not one to evade my emotions, but when it comes to my relationship with my dad, I'm not even really sure where to start...but, like I said, I just don't feel up to trying to figure it out in front of an audience. You know what I mean?

Anyway, there's this huge event looming ahead and all I know is that I feel like an alien visiting a foreign country--a stranger in a strange land.

I've been absent from my blog these days because I can't seem to write because of this vast and frustrating inability to make sense of anything. I get home from work and running errands and doing the zillion things that need to get done and there's just nothing left of me. Half the things running around in my head aren't exactly blog-friendly (work and family). I try to write in my journal and I think I'd be better off, not writing, but scribbling...which is what I sometimes end up doing.

This is all starting to sound horribly depressing, isn't it. Well, it's not all bad. I mean, my relationship with my dad is mending. I love my dogs. And the sky, lately, has contained a lot of blue. But I'll tell you: I miss long walks. I miss sitting down to correspond with my friends. I miss my paints and words and time to think. I miss those little moments that used to exist in so much abundance--because, these days, I've been barely swimming from one day to the next. Existing, but only on the surface.

Things will get easier, I know they will; but the question is: when?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

margin notes

Yesterday was one of those crystalline days when the sky is all sunshine and blue, a day when snow glitters and floats through the air as if from nowhere. I'm sure that there is a scientific explanation for these atmospheric delights, but since I'm unable to explain it (and even if I could) I am quite content with the notion that, once in awhile, it is simply magic that graces my world, sometimes in the form of a perfectly frosted landscape.

Monday, December 10, 2007

wish boxes, new beginnings, and a full heart.

A few weeks ago, Jamie wrote a post about the wish box that she made. Shortly after, Fiona made one too. The idea has been haunting me ever since and so, for my birthday yesterday, I promised to give myself unadulterated time to work on a wish box of my own.

I started my project the night before with a trip to the paper store where I stocked up on enough paper for a few other projects as well (including a new "33 journal"...which I will post photos of once I make it). Oh, delicious PAPER!! I am in love with Paper Gami. I tell you: in LOVE!

I am now 33 years old and, for some reason, this seems like a good, solid number to me. 33 is a balanced number. The edges of a 3 are round and open to possibility. 33 is more alive and spontaneous than 32 (at least, for me). 32 is a nice number. It was a year of healing. 32 included some pretty profound and sometimes painful internal shifting. But 33 has elbows to protect itself. 33 has an element of rebellion built into it. 33 is not too young and not too old. 33 is confident and willing to take chances. 33 has more fun.

Yes, so for my birthday this year I indulged myself heavily in a day of self-care (much to my husband's dismay). 32 was wonderful in many ways, but it sucked in just as many. Let me just say: I'm happy to move on. 32 was a major transition between my old life and the one I am living now. 33, I believe, is going to be the year that I make things happen. And you know what? I am oddly excited about this year. I can't really explain it, but I feel like some really wonderful things are going to start to happen for me.

I felt most alive when I was in my early twenties. I lived my life to the farthest reaches and back again. And, for some reason, I feel like my mid-thirties are going to be a whole new era of aliveness and unexpected adventures.

While working on my wish box I was thinking about what it is that I want it to represent and attract. There were several words that kept repeating through my head.


I spent a long time yesterday writing in my journal about where I've been and where I want to go. I'm beginning to see how even the painful bits of the past few years have led me to the precipice of where I am right now. I think the painful parts have, in their own way, made me a better person. It's taught me who I am. And at 33 I feel more solid within myself than I ever have in my entire life. 33 is strong. It's independent, but it's also open-hearted. 33 is a good year to be exactly the type of woman that I want to be.

And thank you for all of your awesome birthday wishes. You, my friends, make my heart feel FULL!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

the gift of nothing.

Because tomorrow is my birthday, I've decided to give myself the best gift possible: the gift of nothing (no, not the book--although it is good). That is, the gift of DO nothing. I have a full day planned of:
  • staying in my pajamas until at least noon
  • enjoying my first cup of coffee buried under a warm pile of blankets and cats and a dog
  • lighting a fire in the fire place
  • eating lots of fruit or nachos or whatever I want
  • lounging around on the couch for hours on end
  • reading books and magazines and watching really stupid tv
  • going out for either a late brunch or maybe dinner with my husband
  • spending as much time as I'd like in the aisles of a book store
  • a nice long bout of journal writing
  • and a whole lot of n o t h i n g ...oh, wondrous NOTHING!
This, I'm finding, is a very difficult thing for me to do. But in order to evade the temptation of productivity (the doom of any and all relaxation), there are rules to my do-nothing day. They are:
  • I may NOT feel guilty about doing nothing
  • I may NOT feel like I should do something because it needs to get done
  • I may NOT cook, clean, or run errands
  • I may NOT use my time wisely in any way
  • I may NOT do anything work, thesis, work, or other work related
  • I may NOT worry about what time it is
  • And, once again (because I'm a slow learner), I may NOT feel guilty about doing nothing.
...but I suppose that I should clarify that by "nothing," what I really mean is ANYTHING! Tomorrow I get to do anything I want, but the thing I really want to do the most is enjoy a nice sized dose of nothin' at all.

Want to join me? I cordially invite you to lavish yourself with complete laziness and absolute comfort. Oh, sweet Sunday birthdays! Lazy, lazy, wonderful Sunday.... ;)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

selected quotations (and other musings) from Life.

"When you travel towards your objective,
be sure to pay attention to the path.
The path teaches us the best way to arrive
and enriches us while we are traveling along."
~ Paulo Coelho

Having just finished eating an orange, its citrus fragrance reminds me, for some reason, of old school desks or of the crooked little house I briefly rented in my early twenties. In that house I had a turquoise kitchen table, read books on zen, grew an enormous spider plant, and was fond of burning orange scented incense. I worked in a coffee shop, wrote a lot, and liked listening to Elizabeth Cotton sing about freight trains.

I wish I could write everything in color, but maybe I'm saying that because I spent the evening painting in my studio. It's been roughly a month since I last picked up my paint brushes, but a few recent Etsy sales have inspired me to create some new pieces. I lost my momentum with painting when I immersed myself more deeply in writing. Then today, after eating lunch at a wonderful art-filled cafe with M., I found myself overcome with a craving for color.

So I went home and started painting. This time I chose a little bit bigger canvas because last night I rearranged the house to make room for our Christmas tree and now have a big blank spot in the dining room where I used to have a stack of over-sized paintings stacked up against the wall. They have been temporarily banished to basement, but that's ok because now I'm looking forward to hanging something new. I've decided to paint several random sized pieces, hang them in a grouping, and then put them up for sale on my Etsy. Each time one sells I'll make a new one and, in this way, gain a fresh perspective on my art. This process of creation and release makes me think of the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas. I want to create a flow of art in my life.


That is a word that I would like to incorporate more fully into my life. To be flowing, one must be willing to accept the transitory nature of all things.

Since signing up for Jamie's Circe's Circle a few days ago, I've noticed my energy shift once again towards art-making. I started my Etsy with high ambitions, got distracted and busy with other things and, in the end, became discouraged. However, I've become much more aware of how the energy I put out into the world is met by equal energy. My Etsy sales slowed down, because my energy shifted away from it.

On a creative level, there are three things that are most important for me right now. They are:
  1. Writing (finishing my thesis).
  2. Painting (for my Etsy).
  3. Web Design (freelance).
I also find it important to achieve some financial stability. This doesn't necessarily need to be through creative endeavors, but it does need to be fulfilling and satisfying in a way that allows me enough energy and inspiration at the end of the day in order to pursue my other interests.

Eventually, V. and I want to leave the city. We want forests and stars and room to roam. I can't help but notice how all of my current endeavors and desires are part of the process of working towards that goal (and beyond). The details are a still a mystery to me and there are days when I feel stretched much too thin, but I must admit that the path is quite interesting when I take the time to appreciate it. Maybe someday I'll look back at the way my life was when I was in my early thirties with the same rich sort of pleasure that I get in looking back at my twenties. Note to self: Enjoy... because "the path teaches us the best way to arrive and enriches us while we are traveling along."

*quotation from LIFE, by Paulo Coelho.