His Book of Questions

“And what is the name of the month
that falls between December and January?

By what authority did they number
the twelve grapes of the cluster?

Why didn’t they give us longer
months that last all year?

Did spring never deceive you”
with kisses that didn’t blossom?”

Pablo Neruda

Neruda has his book of questions.  Each question could be a meditation.  And each one of us, taking the time, could write our own book of questions.  Once written, perhaps we  then could open to the answers that swirl around us in the ethers.  Ready to be snatched from space and turned over and around–examined in a state of awe at some wisdom that usually lies outside of our usual perceptions.  Until we take the time to tune in.

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While a child, asking questions wasn’t allowed.  The land of childhood was ruled by a tyrant, a dictator, my father.  In his land of authority, questions weren’t supposed to be thought let alone voiced!  That said, every child has questions.  They are born into a world that they are yet to discover.  Under such circumstances, questions, when we learn to talk, are a natural response to being alive.  They are the avenue of discovery of what the heck we’re doing here.  To have that normal curiosity curtailed, inhibited or prohibited is a sin.

Today, in the midst of a pandemic, we have questions…and yes, we question our elected authority figures, the scientists and researchers and our religious or spiritual teachers.  We turn to one another inquiring into “what’s going on here?”  And we are hard pressed to get direct and truthful answers.  The frustration that we feel in the face of a pandemic is exacerbated by a media that contradicts itself.  Sometimes the lack of wise leadership compounds the challenges that we are facing personally as a result of the pandemic.

All of this uncertainty doesn’t prevent us from asking the questions that surface for each one of us.  Get your journal and write the questions that weigh on your mind at this time.  They are important.  They are relevant.  While they are your individual questions, chances are that they are the questions from your subconscious and/or the greater unconscious.  I trust the questioning process.  Choose one question and don’t force an answer.  Linger with the question for a day or the week.  When answers come to you, write them in your journal beneath the question.  And answers are going to come.  This process has been very helpful when I crafted creative writing workshops.

The invitation to lean into your questions is placed on the table.  It is an activating process.

Question

 

 

Forget Perfection

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
― Salvador Dali

 

forgetperfection2

This face is hiding amidst my journal pages–a practice piece.  She looks worried…or sad…her eyes a bit glossy.  Has she been crying?  This is not a perfectly drawn or crafted portrait.  With that, she conveys something, doesn’t she?

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Several years ago, one of my younger sisters held her wedding in Lake Tahoe.  As many of the eight siblings as could get there, gathered with the newlyweds to celebrate.  When she and her new husband were leaving the celebratory party we had staged, as they were getting into the elevator, her new husband made a comment about my sister not being perfect.  His comment came across as derogatory.  I looked at him and I said, “She’s the perfect Robin (her name).”  Isn’t that what any one of us can aspire to be…the perfect you or me?  Or him or her?

How does one even establish a standard for PERFECTION?  It seems that we need to measure it against something that’s been confirmed–(the highest score) or someone else (a society’s idea of beauty)?  So to describe perfection, we make a comparison.  In science, that might work.  But in a world of variety, diversity, melange–in the sheer array of humans on the planet, how can one even begin to establish a standard of perfection?  If we consider that perfection is overrated or invalid, what can we strive for?

Ah, to be you and me, each in his/her own wholeness, what greater thing to design for yourself!

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When making art, there is the artist, the substrate, the paint, the brush and what begs to be expressed through the artist.  Art is one avenue to express the emotions that want to run away with you.  And there are so many deeply felt emotions during these days of pandemic.  An artist is able to transmute a deeply felt emotion into a creative action through making art.  The chemical response in your body as you make art is felt.  Try it, don’t take my word for it!  And please do forget perfection.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
― Leonard Cohen

Adrift

lostatsea

2018 was the year that if anything in my personal life could go wrong…it did.

I had my first tooth pulled in January.  One sister began chemotherapy in January.  A month later, a second sister started chemotherapy.  My best friend became gravely ill.  One of my daughters faced a serious issue that took months to resolve.  We experienced a summer of smoke and encroaching forest fires in the surrounding mountains where I live.  I took a short trip and ended up in a hospital away from home with a kidney stone.  My ex-husband had a major stroke.  My sister and best friend died in December.  There was more but you get the gist, right?

I painted this piece in my journal as this torrent of challenges was only starting.  Already, I was feeling lost at sea.  Without a paddle.

Seeing this painting, one of my daughters thought I should call it The Bell Peppers…as their clothing is the color of bell peppers.

I appreciate when my art gives me an outlet for feelings.  Sometimes I’m overwrought and life is just too much for me to even consider putting brush or pen to page.  Most of the time, it’s the best elixir for the despair or trauma or whatever is at hand that seems too big to handle.

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These days we feel things coming at us right and left.  Top it off with a pandemic!  Yet, there has always been an undercurrent of unrest with social injustices, political and corporate greed, economic inequities, media manipulation, repercussions of climate change.  The list goes on.  What’s been undercover is now on the surface.  I’m told that this is good because now we know what we’re dealing with.  Now, we can begin to address these inequities and other imperative issues.

What is your way of dealing with “TOO MUCH?”

 

Speak

A doodle in a journal becomes a message to oneself.

Not fancy.  Not elaborate and not necessarily meant for anyone else’s eyes.

Yet, here we are in a time when many of us haven’t spoken up.

Sheltering in place, we are taken out of society, given this time for reflection.  Contemplation.

Where are we going to go from here?

How are we going to do things differently, with more consciousness?

We see the effects, for instance, of global warming across the planet.
What are you and I going to do differently to preserve the planet for
the future generations?

How helpless are we feeling?

What are the topics of discussion that we want to air?

Instead of zoning out in front of a tv screen, what is it that is important to you, today?

What do you want to talk about that you haven’t given voice to yet?

What do you deeply know to be true that is different from all the belief structures that your society, culture has overwhelmed you with?

What needs to change?

SPEAK about it.

IMG_8856
We see the Himalayas.  The air is clear in areas where it’s been polluted for years.  Nature is in the forefront of our vision right now…especially as we experience spring in the northern hemisphere.

It seems that which we have put in the background, at the bottom of the list, is thrusting itself in front of manmade institutions and systems and saying

REMEMBER ME! I’M HERE!  I’M YOUR MOTHER!

Lost at Sea

When I painted this piece in my journal, I was feeling adrift.  So much was out of my hands in regards to the well-being of those I love.

I wrote:

I cannot pretend anything–neither false affection nor that I am practicing a devotion except for this writing and this painting.

Rain today, rain tomorrow.  They’ve colored the sky gray.  The optimism of our generation is deflated.  We wanted to hold up banners of “BRAVA!”  But we are too wise to think that things could be different, better.  We are humans, only humans.  Only that…is that true?  or only an excuse?  We are each the chosen one.  The nadis–weave them all together–then, there’s a wholeness.  In our disconnect, we are adrift in our own limited consciousness.  Out at sea, each in his/her own skincraft.  Aren’t we always looking for a friendly shore upon which to land.  A welcome home sign, a cry of recognition–

“Yay, you’re here.”

 

lostatsea

mining the journals

so it has been said that… “90% of the iceberg sits below the water.”

I do think that a good portion of who we are is sitting below the surface, unexamined.  A journal is an opportunity to put your toe into the deep water…a place to explore yourself and to write freely, so long as you feel safe…that no one is going to discover your journal and share it with “the world.”

Do I intend that my journal be shared?  Sometimes?  Or never?  Within its pages, I show my humanness and vulnerability.  It is in these vulnerables places that I connect with myself on a deeper level.  And if I choose, with another.

As I browse through a few of my earlier journals, I rediscover parts of myself–experiences, curiosities, confusions, illusions, poetry, painful places, the sci fi novel I started, unfinished short stories or complete essays waiting to be published.  I can revisit  whole periods of my life–what I felt, the choices that I made.  What about you?  Do you keep a journal?  Reviewing it, are you ever surprised by what you’ve written?

For me, a journal has been many things…
–a place to express and clear an immediate feeling, catharsis.
–a way to find a path through a difficult experience or time.
–a place to describe something memorable.
–salvation in the written word.
–a place to practice writing.
–for wordplay.
–to write poetry.
–to process
–for describing something in detail, as in word paintings.
–a place to explore ideas.
–to write out dialogue.
–for laundry list writing.
–for an actual laundry or shopping list.
–exploring areas where growth is desired.
–designing the next step, visioning.
–writing a letter I won’t send
–a place for prayer
–or to offer a blessing
–a place for gratitude

What is your journal to you?

A journal can provide that safe space to write freely.  If I considered that someone, someday might be reading my journals, would I express so freely?  If my journals are written with an audience in mind, that’s different.

I wonder if most writers keep a journal…has there ever been a survey on this?

While, it is true that some of what I write about in my journals is fodder for writing that I choose to make public, most of it is for my eyes only.  I ask myself if I would want my daughters to read my journals.  I consider assigning a friend the task of disposing of my journals when I meet my demise?

Do you mine your journals, shelve them, box them, keep them under lock and key, burn them, share them?

 

 

 

 

What Do You See?

As a writer, how do you PRACTICE describing what you see?

Following is one of my favorite poems that illustrates deeply seeing and then portraying what the poet observes.

Nude Descending a Staircase
© 1961 by X. J. Kennedy

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.
We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.
One-woman waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long cape
and pausing on the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.
I appreciate this poem because it not only succinctly describes a nude woman walking down the stairs, it creates an imagery whereby I, as the reader, also see her.  And, in her descent of the staircase, I note the action of her walking, the movement.  This is a great feat in poetry.
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We’ve seen artists with their pencils and art journals sketching what they see.  As a writer, do you practice writing word sketches?  These word sketches can be used later on in other writing that you do or to simply facilitate your ability to observe.  Either way, it’s not time wasted.
Writing Prompt:
Here’s  fun exercise.  Take yourself outdoors to a park bench and sit with your pen, a  journal and notice people, your surroundings, the array of dogs?  Find the precise words to describe the flowers, trees, any movement.  What adjectives or metaphors come to mind as you allow yourself to really see someone or something?  Jot them down.  Practice doing a word sketch…or several.
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Thank you to X.J. Kennedy for permission to print his poem.
“From In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems (Johns Hopkins University Press), copyright 2007 by X. J. Kennedy.  By permission of the author.”

Where Do We Begin?

“BEHOLD A SACRED VOICE IS CALLING YOU.  ALL OVER THE SKY A SACRED VOICE IS CALLING YOU.”    a quote from Black Elk

Once you establish (for yourself) why you write–is it because you feel something or are provoked in some way; is it for catharsis, clarity, to communicate, for integration, revelation, pleasure or because you can, because you must?–from here you begin.  And, as Pablo Neruda spoke so eloquently in his poem…we write to “convey to others what we are.”

BUT HOW DO I BEGIN?  WHERE DO I BEGIN?  These are age-old questions for the new writer especially.  The simplest answer is to begin where you are with what you know. As we’ve seen in an earlier post, listing your curiosities and passions can be the lead-ins for writing something.

WRITING PROMPT
Sometimes, beginning is just about making a mark on a page…a symbol, favorite number, any letter, a scribble…MAKE A MARK!  NOW!

Phew, you got that out of the way; a beginning.

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Intrinsically, we know how to begin. We begin again and again with each new day.  That first cup of tea, coffee or juice in the morning marks the starting gate for entering the portal of a new day.  I love the optimism in waking to a new day.  I remember the old man in the beginning of the film, “The Milagros Beanfield Wars.”  He wakes up as a ray of sunshine warms his face, he gives a slight smile.  With some effort he sits up on the side of his bed.  He stands with greater effort and his breath quickens.  Stooped, he shuffles across the tiny space of his hovel, his breathing hard and fast.  The rooster in the yard crows.  He squints into the oval mirror and says–“Thank you, God, for letting me have another day.”  

Beginning signifies entering.  When you designate a time for writing, you enter non-ordinary or altered time.  It is a time apart.  This time apart can be referred to as sacred.
In this time and the physical space that you have created, there is the possibility for something new to emerge.  You are the scribe who shows up, pen-in-hand, open to this possible emergence.  However, if you don’t begin, don’t enter, there is only dreaming and dormancy.  Entering, beginning, taking the first step, we accept the invitation to write.

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WRITING PROMPT
On the next page of your journal, print your full name.  If you have a middle name, include that.  Write the date, time and place of your birth.  Write the name of the hospital where you were born (or was it a home birth–or in a taxi on the way to the hospital?). Write down the city, state and country of your birth.  What are the names of your parents?  Do you have siblings, older or  younger and how many?  Where are you in the birth order?  Write it all down.  Write one significant thing that you would like to note about your birth?

Ah, you’ve noted a few details about your beginnings.  Good for you!  Details are important to a writer.  Details make one story unique from another.

WRITING TIP
In order to feel that you can say whatever wants to be spoken, you have to feel a great degree of safety–especially in your private journal.  I recommend that you safeguard your writing.  Store your journal in a place which feels secure and away from prying eyes.  Freedom to write, at this stage, means that you are not inhibited in exploring your truths, thoughts and feelings.  You decide when and what you want to share and with whom when the time and conditions are right.