All posts by LSquared

Go Say Hello to the Ocean

fullsizeoutput_1f25

It was a good day to say hello to the ocean, from the West Cliff Drive walkway with four generations of women in my family.

DSCN5580

But first we shopped for veggies and J and R made baby bok choy tofu stir fry. Delish!

Then we got out for the walk on the cliffs — along with dozens of families with small children, many dog walkers, rafts of surfers, bicyclers of all styles, and teens making the scene.  Cars drifting by, scooters and skate boarders. The air was a balmy 70 degrees with the wind only 2 mph.  Over the cliff, dozens of wet-suited surfers on boards bobbed along in the low tide below waiting for waves. And the water was smooth and almost still.

We got a bench spot for D. to rest while J. and R. went down the sandy stairways to the tide pools.  D. routed for the surfers to get a ride while I took a walk up the road.

Ocean, I have not seen you in awhile.  It looks at though you’re doing well, as ever.  You don’t look a bit older.  I like that pale shade of blue you’re wearing in this light.  Very sympatico with the light haze of clouds in the otherwise clear sky.

Your narrow beaches below the drive still draw sunbathers, and kids who want to puddle in the waves, and silly dogs who will chase sticks into the water and swim back with them in their jaws.

And the rubble of sandstone and kelp covered rocks mixed with broken concrete and other ways we keep you from undermining this popular street have a peaceful look today in the sunshine.  There is no hint today of your fits when winter winds squall.

Have you been doing meditation?  You really are quite serene.

DSCN5639

After a dive for mussels or crustaceans the cormorants who sit in the Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and in the Monterey pines (Pinus radiata) fan out their wings to dry off.  They watch you, Ocean, not only for the snacks you offer, but attentive to the seasonal stories you tell — your tales of whale migrations, with leaping pods of dolphins, and how the moon may tell the tides what to do — which amuses you, because nobody is your boss.  They, the drying birds, watching in a forgetful kind of way, become part of the silhouettes, settling in with the tourists and locals who are enjoying West Cliffs. The noise of children’s voices, cars, and people talking as they walk.

R. and J. returned, climbing the long, windy sandy stairs up from the tide pools.  J. brought D. a stone; very round and super polished by the fine sand and wave action.  It felt almost silky.

J. asked a man (who was kissing his woman friend) if he might take our photo, which he did cheerfully.  We leaned against the rail with the water in the background to verify that we had indeed made it out to say hello to the ocean.

fullsizeoutput_1fc2

If you live where you can say hello to large natural wonders, don’t forget to take the time to pay your respects and enjoy nature.  We had a gorgeous day in December and you may live in a place where you have to wait for spring or summer to see the mountains, or rivers and falls, or woods, or lakes.  They are wonderful, constant friends who ask very little and give much.

Where the Sweeney Hall courtyard opens onto the SJSU promenade

September 30, 2017

Red mesh fencing drapes

around grassy islands

surrounded by crisscrossing sidewalks

skateboard wheels click click

across each crack

while three young writers’ voices

rise from a bench

laughing and joking.

 

Other writers quiet

on cool concrete steps

A breeze moves leafy trees

and a small flutter of journal pages.

 

Distant gardening tools buzz

Crows lift up over rooftops

in argumentative cadence

Walkers in Keds with earbuds

glide by silently.

 

I will write, dammit.

 

Sometimes life is so beautiful it breaks your heart

A semi-imaginary correspondence with Anne Lamott, I wrote in 2010

Dear Anne Lamott,

You write extraordinary insights and pointed advice:  listen to your broccoli, accept your emptiness, start with a one-inch frame, do short assignments, be militantly on your own side, etc.   Yet, in an uncharacteristically schmaltzy tone, you wrote in Bird by Bird, “There’s ecstasy in paying attention.”  Anne, you are usually much more grounded than this!  With all due respect, this sounds like the pop-Zen of the sixties.

I have recently re-opened myself to the writing process; and, as this observant life takes over my sleep, my waking thoughts, my eating habits, my housekeeping and my reactions to all the little things in daily life, I feel like a supporting actress in a soap who is the last one on the set to find out she has spleen cancer in this week’s episode.  I’m just not getting the noble part of this paying attention.

I cried over the dance scene in Toy Story 3 in which Buzz Light-year. en modo Espanol, Latin dances with Jessie, the redhead cowgirl prototype of Annie Oakley.

I wept at the downtown carwash.  Tears dripped under my sunglasses viewing the latest bridal fashions in the window of Trudy’s  — with their flamenco skin-tight bodice and torso and sweeping narrow cut to the flourishing ruffles below the knees.  Ole!  Not grief for the fashion statement, but mourning my own binding belief that women who are married are happier and more worthy than women who are single.  Definitely not ecstatically appreciating my newfound freedom.  And talk about pinched by pain, like a corset; I am bound to dancing with daddy as his “little girl.” This was my first notion of romance without having a trendy purity ball.

Somewhere around midnight last night, I woke up to silence in my neighborhood.  As I lay there wondering why I was awake, one explosion – a gunshot, I think – broke the stillness and then the quiet returned.  Did a bullet lodge in someone’s wall?  Was it a threat?  Did someone shoot a raccoon in his or her backyard?  Did they mistake my black and white cat and shoot Mickey?  Is another bullet going to come zinging closer?  Was it really not a weapon after all, etc., etc.  Waking up to what is going in and around me is shocking like that explosion.

So, I’m wondering where’s the ecstasy in becoming a leaky-eyed lunatic who cannot stop looking below the surface of things that make normal people happy?  I mean, weddings!

Sincerely,

Laura

Dear Laura,

            When I wrote my chapter, “Looking Around,” I did say you might get into a special “Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness…” Maybe.  I simply meant that if you start to look around you see.  Beauty and pain.  Please re-read my introduction in the chapter in which I explain my position clearly: what’s going on is we’re all up to here in it… 

            I advise you to try to see who you really are in the most compassionate possible sense.  This is likely to be a new experience of your self.  As you have experienced this summer, it’s hard to look at yourself with compassionate detachment.  It will take practice.  On page 99, I suggest looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train.  You don’t drop kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor.  You just keep bringing it back to the newspapers. 

            So I keep trying gently to bring my mind back to what is really there with reverence.  Let’s think of reverence as awe, openness to the world.  The alternative is that we stultify, shut down. 

            Laura, please read my Toni Morrison story on pg. 193 again.  You are just breaking free of bondage to people in your history and from a way of life.  As Toni says, “Go ahead, tell your story.  Risk freeing someone else.”

                                                            Sincerely,

                                                            Anne Lamott

 

Dear Anne,

I think I get what your ecstasy is about.  My new favorite quote from Bird by Bird is the end of the Looking Around chapter: “To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up it own ass—seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one”

I will hang in with the mind training and take a more compassionate view of myself.  I don’t want to go back to shut down mode.  I’ll pay attention.

 

Yours truly,

Laura

Goal 1 Get a Writing Group

Writing Retreat

Retreat is a serious word that can mean life or death if one is in a war.  Retreat, from a puppy’s perspective, means if I sit up and beg again I have a good chance of getting another little doggie biscuit.  A writing retreat has nuances of both for me.

Tucking into a beautiful historic home with thirteen other creative types for five days does imply that I have not really been able to write like I want to in my “normal” routines at work and home.  The war with distraction and fatigue has not gone so well so I am withdrawing from the front line to regroup.  Perhaps to practice running away into retirement.

A retreat of any sort might not interest me, but this tug from my soul — this surge of joy in drawing and writing —  drew me to the Ralston Writing retreat.  Many biscuits already in meeting interesting new people, in the lovely surroundings, and hearing their writerly goals for the retreat time. Something stirred in me about renewing the writing on our co-authored blog.  So, here’s an early morning, before breakfast post.  And I am off to enjoy nature.

Nook in main room

Apprehension

About a week ago, my composed, mindful life hit a barrier that catapulted me into anxiety.  Insecurity and misgiving clamped me shut when my supervisor went back on his word about my teaching location.  I’m not a fan of betrayal.  I moved right into counter action, but it took over a week to resolve.

Anxiety plays me by nervousness, sleeplessness, and difficulty focusing.  I’m watching my diet and exercise, and even though they were good, I gained two pounds the first two days in stress mode.

Sleepless didn’t mean I stayed up late watching Netflix.  I went to bed early and on time since I get up at 5:00 a.m.  I tossed, fiddled with my phone, read a chapter of Truly, Madly Guilty and flopped around to the point where my cat got annoyed and jumped off the bed. Sleepless meant I’d doze into a light trance and then jerk awake, to have to start the cycle over.  I don’t know how many times I did this.  I decided to sit up and meditate in my spa room where I have a candle.  The sputtering of the birch scented candle matched my mental field and I sat, recrossed and uncrossed my legs and tried to say aum.  It was really futile, which panicked me.  “Did I accidentally drink caffeine this afternoon? I was tempted to go on FB, but I have signed off and quit Words with Friends for my creative time.

My return from that unsupported tunnel of mental disharmony came in two levels.  In the real world, real time, my real boss finally met with me after two calendar postponements and decided to move me to a different campus. I will teach reading in a real room with walls and a door – at a school with a greater need for intervention.  Plus, I not only got a transfer, but I also got an invite to coach writing and offer Moonlight Universities in writing. Did you see me do a little happy dance when I returned to my “room” in the open pod?

The next evening after the fortunate meeting, I was driving home from Whole Foods through downtown San Jose, heading east on Santa Clara. I had the top down and the air was balmy.  Time slowed as I people-watched at the frequent stoplights.  I’d tuned into KDFC playing a contemporary classical piece, Peter Boyer’s Symphony #1 [2012].  The symphony had a motif that got into my brain.  Soon I was singing along with it.  I remember having the thought that one doesn’t hum symphonic melodies, but I did.  Meanwhile I was noticing the light play on building facades, the cloud piles over the east foothills, and sliding deeply into the musical meditation.

Yes, I was driving, that easy, stop and go 25 mph downtown rate.  Each block I drove seemed a ride on another wave of peace and visual pleasure.  As I turned into my driveway, stopping at the gate, the symphony was ending in slow, descending crescendos like a mountain range melts into foothills.  So I sat there in my car.

Before me, massive Bird of Paradise flowers were catching the setting sun.  They became electric in the music and air, charged with life.  I saw them shooting up into a connected, live atmosphere that was pouring life back into them.  I could feel the active, ongoing flowering and I was enrapt in the light, air, and flaming orange.

As the music ended with a long, satisfied exhale, I was back.  Alive and well.

Bird of Paradise

Story Telling Advice

Notes from Anne Lamott’s workshop, these on story telling, which is advice from her friend Terri Tate.  Book Passages, Corte Madera last Saturday May 13, 2017.

From my new lime green notebook, a Fabriano with tiny grey dot grids on every page, I’m sharing Anne’s lead in on story telling.  If I shared all the notes I took during the almost three hours Anne talked, this blog would go on and on.  If I boil down all her writing advice to what I really HEARD this time I attend her workshop, it would come down to get a habit.  Writing, like your diet, your exercise, your health, your teaching runs on routines…make it a 5-day a week daily habit and stick to it.

So, my reader might see why I’d rather focus on advice for storytelling.  Making another good habit stick in my day is challenging, and that’s not an excuse not to do it.  Another thought about storytelling is that I see how kids long to tell and hear stories and less and less time is allowed for that.  Thanks to David Coleman and other trolls, narrative is considered baby stuff that has to be tolerated in primary age children, but otherwise ignored.  Writing to learn is where it’s at.  Ugh, the boring stepchild of close reading. (Real close reading does not confine one to the four corners of the page,) And, don’t get me started on his weird triangulation of the text types, two of which are purposes, not even genres.

Story Telling

  1. Trust that you’re loaded with stories waiting to be told
  2. Don’t think the story onto the page — let it flow.
  3. Blocked?  That’s KFuck Radio (or The Vile Bitch Upstairs).  Do what you can to clear the blockage. Like, give your inner critic something to do – for example, “Go sort those photos, please” and then get back to your story.
  4. Start IN the story.  Don’t start with “I’m going to tell you” and don’t explain why.  Jump in.
  5. Don’t force humor.  If you are honest and descriptive it’ll probably be humorous, but you annoy your reader if you are Trying.
  6. Even heartbreak in a story, if it is told with sensory detail, can carry humor.
  7. Sometimes you’re too close to a story to tell it yet.  Get some distance.

 

Now I’ve gotten to read through all those notes I took last Saturday.  Anne is so quotable.  Honest and witty.  And I have to believe that I have stories, bunches of stories inside me, all wanting and waiting to be told.

 

 

 

Cat Nap

I was lying on my bed recuperating from bronchitis, staring dully at the sunlight and branches playing across the windows, but not feeling up to being vertical or going outside. 

 

“Meow, meow….meow!” My black and white kitty’s voice finally entered my half sleep state.  “Meow!  Meow!”  I knew this was not ordinary pestering, but an invitation to look.  I could see from my covers that Mickey was in my closet, so I guessed he brought in a critter.

I got a glimpse of coil, something reptilian and largish. I also watched the cat now turn his attention to the bookcase next to the closet.

“Ugh!  You let it go, Mickey!”  I was climbing to the foot of the bed for a better look.  He was pawing under the book case.  So I got up and pulled it a bit away from the wall. A large, fat lizard slithered behind my dresser.  Mickey was excited for a few moments, but with no access, lost interest.

Now I had a big lizard under my dresser. I shored up the exits, one side with an old portable sewing machine and the other side with a typewriter case.  I still expected the thing to slide out from under and wrap around my bare feet.  I climbed back to my sick bed.

I thought perhaps I could interest Mickey in getting the lizard if I took out the two bottom drawers, but by now the cat was sleeping in the dining room.  Very likely he had forgotten the entire thing, but I was keenly aware there was a reptile in my room.

Later in the afternoon, I took out the drawers and got Mickey to sniff around and peer in. There wasn’t a lizard.

I don’t know if he went back to living behind the bookcase, or if he made a run for it. It is a long way through the house to the back door.  Maybe he’s earning an honest lizard living by catching bugs under my desk.

Funny how, even though we never recovered him, I don’t cringe when I go near my dresser.

IMG_4620

Hello, Messy Desk

The more orderly my overall lifestyle becomes, the more chaotic my writing desk.  I am looking at this non-writing stuff with the same eye I give the weeds in the yard, which are still rampant in spite of recent efforts.

So, there are drawing pencils, and a book, Crafting the Personal Essay, which I have a better chance of reading if it moves over to the nightstand pile.  My recent Omada health program materials need to be filed:  a paper book Daily Food Tracker which is never going to work, because I can do this on my phone, always knowing where my phone is located.  A paintbrush I used doing doors at my daughters.  How did it get back in my room?  A pile of handouts from Instructional Coaching training.  Uh oh, where did I put the original pile –in the armoire or back to school?  The property tax bill (paid) and a request for Partners in Health for annual support, which I intend to do.

Some items are so random they don’t deserve mention, but the point is — what happened to my lovely, clear writing desk?  I used to use the kitchen fold down table for “business” and avoided doing chore type work at my desk, because, it is a writing desk.

Even the windowsill that has little objects has gotten full and obscures the view of the Chinese Lantern bush, blooming in spite of my very thorough pruning.  This is where hummingbirds come right up to the window for the orange flowers’ nectar.

And how can I make an extravagant claim to a generally more orderly life?  I guess I should say rather a more purposeful life.  I am settled in a morning routine of yoga stretches and meditation before getting ready to go to work, or before the weekend day starts.  This practice of super conscious meditation is connecting me.  I am finding moments of wisdom bubbling up.  Definitely more peaceful.  And of course, the yoga stretches not only support the meditation, but they also make it possible to walk without pain after injuring myself several months back.

Another point of more purpose is in getting my household things done on the weekend and planning for my week’s needs ahead of time.  This hasn’t always been the case.  “What?  I need clean laundry?” I’d sound querulous as I stared into my closet at 5:30 a.m. on a Thursday.

More health purpose, too, is making me feel connected and balanced.  Managing my eating and activity to support my energy levels.  The point is to have something left over when I come home from school, not only to tend the household, but also for my creative endeavors.  Less numbing and more waking up.  I may be getting old, but I don’t want to be frazzled all the time.

Overall, I attribute some of this life purpose wake up to participating in the Dharma365 course online since January 1, and also to reading the book Designing Your Life, and sharing with my writing partner, as well as making some wise changes to my teaching situation.

This, to my ears, sounds like bragging.  Another might think it is positive self-talk.  I am acknowledging growth and motivating myself to stay with it.  I seldom give myself kudus, so if that’s what this desk post is about, then, good job, L2.

I think I’ll post and straighten up this desk.  I do love a clear, orderly space to slide into to write.

chinese lantern in b:w