November 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
A few weekends ago, we went out-of-town for just 48 hours and stayed only 90 minutes away, but our B&B felt like it was in a different world. Nestled in the woods outside of Aptos (near Santa Cruz), we were spoiled with fresh berries from the garden, still blooming jasmine and orange blossoms and a whirlpool tub. The coastal air was quiet and we spent time in endless sitting rooms and scattered quiet garden seats with at least four garden fountains.
We visited the Monterey Aquarium where I channeled my eleven-year-old self visiting Sea World for the first time, but this time instead of being seduced by huge marine mammals, it was the delicate jellyfish and seahorses that entranced me. The aquarium has a video of a male seahorse giving birth. Rarely do you see a crowd of people with their mouths hanging open, but watching the little guy racked by “contractions” as he pops out his little ones left the crowd speechless.
The aquarium displays are like art – each lighted to make the jellyfish bodies and sea anemones glow like neon. With my face pressed up to the glass, I felt I was floating in a world ruled by gentle invertebrate beings. The loveliest of them all was the Giant Pacific Octopus. Watching her tentacles rippling in eight different directions was wondrous. She put on a little show for us embracing the glass and eyeing us. When she feeds, she comes to the top of her tank and greets her caretaker by gently running her tentacles up her arms. Such a contrast to the 20 pound snapping turtle I used to feed raw chunks of venison when I worked at the Aksarben Aquarium (Aksarben is Nebraska spelled backwards). He would extend up out of the water, snap his jaws around the giant tweezers I held and clamp down on his piece of meat. I always reflexively pulled away.
I wanted to share these amazing pictures taken by my husband. They give you a glimpse of an ethereal and quiet world we rarely get the opportunity to see.
November 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
November 11, 2011 § 2 Comments
Fall in California.
Wait for it . . . wait for it . . .
Brilliant colors tease us, then we’re slammed with summer temperatures once again. Just last week I brought home a bounty of ripe tomatoes from my coworker’s garden. This fall our oak shed mass quantities of sappy acorns. They stick to everything: lounge chairs, pants, sweaters and the cat’s tail. In return, squirrels entertain us with their jumps and our resident blue jay drops acorn bombs directly onto our heads. If you know blue jays, you know it’s intentional. Cold weather has arrived when our two cats pin us down in bed, lying on both sides of us, creating a cocoon of coziness bordering on claustrophobia.
With the time change, I become complacent about working late. With darkness at such an early time, I’ve already given myself over to the evening by the end of the working day. There is no daylight to rush home to, promising time to pick herbs in the garden or take a long walk. The neon lights of Shattuck and the dark BART car windows will be there whether I go home at five or six or seven. Evening work almost becomes a party, friends plugging away in front of the warm glow of the computer screen. A comfort compared to heading home into the dark.
I still long after my years living in Miami and always someone asks, “Didn’t you miss the seasons?” Well, I was traumatized by Nebraska winters and I don’t need an icy, bitter 30 miles per hour windy Christmas. But there is never a cocoon season in the tropics. There is no loss of green or the winding down of life that marks Fall. Instead there is a world always bursting with color and sunshine. Life is kind of hyped up. Self-reflection can wait until next year.
Last year, I read the book Wild Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which takes place on an ageing plantation in the West Indies:
There was a soft warm wind blowing but I understood why the porter had called it a wild place. Not only wild but menacing. Those hills could close in on you […] Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near.
I could never find darkness in the “menacing” tropical world. Even when we would find headless chickens from a Santeria ritual along the waterfront near my husband’s apartment, it only seemed exotic to me. Transport that headless chicken to the beach in the Presidio, and you have the makings of a seedy mystery – call in Dirty Harry. I thought I would live in Miami indefinitely. If so, I wonder if I would be sitting like this, blogging unmemorable narratives to the world. Probably not. I’d be too busy with no self-reflective care in the world.
August 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
A landscape reflection on water has a way of relaying peace and stillness. Perhaps it is the quiet of the water needed to make the reflection or the time of the day when the sun is low. For a time, the world looks unreal because it has turned into a mirror. The trees are allowed to gaze upon themselves, like Narcissus, only lacking dimension.
I heard about a man on NPR who makes mirrors that reflect the reflection that a mirror makes. The resultant image is the true appearance of the object as it looks to others. Apparently, most people upon seeing themselves in this way are disturbed and upset. We spend our whole lives seeing only a reflection of ourselves and never what we really look like to others.
Thanks for the great picture, Jack, and for teaching me a new word, luminist.
August 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
This is a blind, self-portrait by my sister.
What I love about the drawing is how much I can see my six-year-old sister in it. The glasses dominate suggesting adult inquisitiveness but they are big almost like a little girl trying on her mom’s glasses. The face and eyes behind the glasses have a child-like look of curiosity and serious thought, even a hint of stubbornness. Her eyes are big and leading her into the world. It is her now, but also pared down to her essence which was already present as a child.
August 27, 2011 § 3 Comments
My writing group is meeting this weekend, and I’m thinking about process, process, process. Process in the most organic kind of way. What is my process to get the creative juices flowing? This week my work team of four people was in town to inspire and create. Our process was to get in a room, with no constraints on time and brainflow (not brainstorm, too aggressive).
The brainflow takes you where you want to go and where that is nobody knows.
A couple weeks ago, M and I checked out of the east bay treadmill to a cabin in the woods. We purposely did not pack movies or computers and our cell phones didn’t work. It felt sooooo good. The smell of pine soothes the soul. I wrote nonstop in the morning and evening. The brainflow is always there and it just needs the space to expand into. It reminds me of my pet worms. My pet worms live in a large tray in their own little earth-soil microcosm, and they compost our food and create worm juice and soil. The worm juice waters and feeds the garden. Our creativity is composting, stewing, recycling back on itself, ready to nourish and to feed us.
Pieces of inspiration
Inspiration is like wrapping up in a warm blanket. Last week I was inspired by the beautiful words we drove by in the Central Valley. Say them out loud . . . “Calaveras” . . . “Slough” (pronounced sloooooo). They feel good on the tongue.
Often times my inspiration begins with my cup of coffee in the morning. At home, I drink out of an earthenware mug with elephants on it – it is heavy and grounding and sweet with mother and baby. Next to it is where I write.
This photo of a piece of sculpture by Artist Martin Spei sat on my desk during the time I was not working.
Last October, in Santa Fe, a whole room of sculpture with variations on this theme touched me. I walked in and felt, yes I know this. It may represent the man that worships wealth, but I related to it in a much more personal way. There is a time in everyone’s life when the choice of vocation and monetary comfort or security move up on the value scale. Our values juggle around as we reach middle age, have kids and realize we want to retire in comfort someday. At the time I left my job, I was thinking about those changing priorities a lot. I feel tremendous sadness for the toiling fellow and sympathy for him with his soft, fumbling body and drugged smile. I don’t even see it as excess or greed, but more like his golden calf – his god he worships and gives him pleasure.
I would love it if you would share with me anything that inspires you (pictures, words) and/or your artwork or writing or pictures of your embroidery, vegetables, cakes . . . anything. I will post them and share with others. E-mail me at email@example.com.
July 19, 2011 § 2 Comments
(Or what did the diablogger do with all her time off?)
Twitter message: “3 happiness essentials: something to do, to love, & to hope for”
This twitter message popped up in April and my first thought was that it wasn’t quite right. (Except the part about love.)
I started this sporadic blog to keep an open line to my near and distant friends as to how the great mid-thirties taking time off experiment
was going. From the responses I received, there seemed to be a collective need for a break in life. Well . . . I returned to work in April, and I wanted to share with you the fallout of my foray into the dark vortex that is taking time off.
I’ve been working since I was 14. Phew! I’ve had great jobs and ok jobs – housecleaner, state park trash changer and landscaper, aquarium tourist guide, restroom cleaner, frog, goose and fish feeder, babysitter, microscope smear slide maker, teacher, and geologist. Along the way life has been filled with drive and ambition always towards a future goal (see twitter message). I’ve always been immersed in “something to do” (see twitter message) or something to look forward to (see twitter message).
But for some time now, I was in the “I don’t know what I want to do with my life” burnout cycle. The symptoms of which are statements like, “maybe I should become a yoga instructor” or “I want to bake cakes for a living” or “I want to become Mother Teresa”. I’m sure many of you have a fantasy with great variation on the dream – shop owner, landscaper, school teacher, mountain biking guide, ski bum. It’s difficult to know if those thoughts come from a place of burnout or are genuine. When I left my job, I was overcome with the clear message that I had an opportunity to find out.
Idleness is the root of mischief
I didn’t have much of a time-off plan but I thought it would go something like this: clean the closets, landscape the yard, wash the windows, have lunch with everyone I love to strengthen neglected relationships, do yoga everyday, meditate, get started on my book, read a book, job hunt, get in super physical shape, write letters and hopefully levitate right into my next job with all my shit together.
That was the fantasy. But after a couple of weeks, I realized the above was not going to get me anywhere.
Here is what I did instead . . .
Sat on my couch
Cat sat on my lap.
The birds sang outside my window.
It may not sound like it, but it was kind of brutal. I felt pretty lost. I purposely refused to fill my time with distractions: going to a museum, writing scientific papers, reading books and magazines, cooking, exercising, and cleaning. I literally stared out the window. No vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end is rather scary when it’s your life.
I refused to fill my time with distractions – the “should do’s” and activity for the sake of activity. In other words I did nothing. Not the nothing of “I’m relaxing and reading a book and puttering in the garden,” (that’s for destressing from a job) but the nothing of creating a vacuum where no preconceived ideas of what I was meant to do or should be doing could exist. I created an emptiness that just waited for what is natural to fill it. And it was a lot of work.
I’ve carried this quote with me for years since a dear friend gave me “A Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh:
The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.
I always knew what the quote meant but could never make it happen. I often could catch a glimpse of its relevance in my life but never could quite grasp it.
But at last, things just sort of started happening in the dark vortex that was my life. It’s like when you are at a party and everyone spontaneously decides to jump in the pool. I just started doing things as an expression of myself and not just to fill time or accomplish a goal or to relax.
I did a lot of writing. Sometimes I went on a bike ride. Sometimes I baked a cake. Sometimes I stared out the window. I didn’t have much need to stimulate myself with the outside world – all I needed for the moment anyway was what I had inside myself. The vacuum became filled with creativity.
I found my creativity needed space – space to kind of go wherever and follow an idea here and there and see what happens. My lateral, creative thinking took a life of its own. I hadn’t written in an organized fashion since school, and I didn’t know where to start, i.e. I never developed a method. I looked for pieces to develop with the help of some writing classes. I became passionate about what I was writing. I felt satisfied finishing my writings. And I fell in love with my schedule of journaling, seducing an idea from my subconscious to coherency. I sat at my computer and took in the sun coming in through the window.
It wasn’t always happy of course – plenty of dark moments. Like when I remembered I didn’t have a job. Or when I dwelled on the blessings of my old vocation – traveling and working around the world, being part of some cool science, making multi-million dollar decisions. It was sorrowful letting those things go. But those were egotistical bits and my dark vortex became an open window through which I could let those bits go.
So what’s wrong with that twitter message? Things to do and to hope for can be part of an unending cycle of distractions – hamsters on a wheel.
My twitter message would be: fill your time with nothing instead of something and wait to see what happens.