Thursday, June 11, 2015

Perfectionism vs. Clementines: It's not about the feelings or the fruit, it's what you do with them

I've been struggling with an extra dose of crippling perfectionism in the last few weeks.  Acknowledging the reasons why in an email to a trusted friend (but then, you're ALL my trusted friends, right, people of the internet?) I started to have the smallest of anxiety attacks. My chest tightened, I seemed to have forgotten how to swallow, and my temperature went up a couple degrees.  What the hell, mind?  What is it so afraid of?  I say "it," because I'm trying to remember that my true self is a free spirit, limitless.  "It" doesn't feel that way.  I think it is time to re-read The Untethered Soul, one of my go-to guides, a book the above-referenced trusted, smart friend introduced me to. To practice observing my mind, and training it to go along with my free-spirit self more frequently.

What's happening is this:  I sit in front of my computer, trying to compile a collection of essays, to expand on them, to find the cohesive thread to tie them together into a book, and fear gets the best of me, and I stop.  Fear of having nothing to say.  Of not being as good a writer or as intelligent a thinker as Rebecca Solnit, so why try? Of public mocking.

Standing to fill my glass of water and hoping I'd learned how to swallow again by the time I drank it, I remembered a day, years ago, when I went to see my hair stylist at her little bungalow cottage in the middle of Hollywood.  I can't share here why I was feeling so much stress and pain, but it had to do with helping a friend to safety, and it was hard to think about anything else.  Even my hair.  When she asked simply, "How are you?" tears started to well up in my eyes, and I explained briefly my fears. 

She hugged me, beckoned me to follow her to her kitchen, poured me a glass of water, and placed a small, perfect clementine into the center of my palm, bright orange and easy to peel.  "It's important to feed yourself good things when you're feeling stressed," she told me.

My thoughts returned to this week, my physical anxiety having abated a bit.  The friend I was writing to is one who listens when the universe nudges her, and checks in on friends who are in her thoughts.  The universe gave her a nudge in my direction these last two weeks, and her text message was a shot of confidence for me. I met this friend when she "blog-stalked" me (her words), and shared that she had read my writing and felt a connection to me. We had friends in common: she hailed from my grandmother's small church in Portland, and we'd gone to the same small college, a few years (five?) apart, and after a few of those soul-baring e-mails and coffee dates that I love because I have no filter, we became fast friends, and confidantes. 


Anne Lamott writes how she has an inch-sized square picture frame on her writing desk, an icon to remind her to write just what she sees if she looks at the story through that one-inch square. When you get overwhelmed, Annie teaches us all, you take it bird by bird

I plan to frame a photo of a clementine and place it where my eye can catch it.  To remind myself that when I'm feeling overwhelmed, or I'm letting the voice of perfectionism win, it's important to feed myself good things, to hone in on the good thoughts in my head, and hold the fearful ones tenderly.  I mean, my mind is a rough place for those thoughts to live. I feel for them.  The feelings will come and go. What matters is surrounding yourself with friends who check in, who understand, who place a good piece of fruit in your palm.

(Photo credit:  SFGate - where you can learn how to prune your clementine orange tree!)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Joshua Tree: My love affair with the desert begins.

“I’m not really a “desert” girl,” I’d explain when someone asked why I had never camped out in Joshua Tree National Park.  I grew up in the lush green of Oregon’s rainy Willamette Valley.  The desert just leaves me thirsty.
“I may be a desert girl,” I said to the boyfriend while we sat on the cold wall of the patio of a Joshua Tree house, watching the sun rise over the stark mountain range, the sky slowly turning a baby blue with streaks of golden-tinged pink, quails waking to scuttle across the hard-packed dirt that is spotted with succulents whose beauty is neither flashy nor brilliant, but spare, somehow both delicate and hardy.
And then I entered Joshua Tree National Park, and I GOT IT.  It’s a magical place.
Initially created as an 825,000 acre National Monument in August of 1936, Joshua Tree was designated a National Park on October 31st, 1994 by the Desert Protection Act, adding an additional 234,000 acres to the park. The rock formations look like they must come alive at night, gentle giants that stomp through the park, illuminated by moonlight, campers exhausted from a day of bouldering and hiking too deep in sleep to know. Each rock-monster step shakes the ground, witnessed only by the slow-growing, deeply rooted Joshua trees.


“Yucca brevifolia” the plant species now known to Bono fans and desert-lovers as a Joshua tree was so-nicknamed by a group of Mormons, settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. According to Wikipedia, the tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Joshua trees may need more than prayer; the Wiki entry notes that conservationists are concerned that they will be eliminated from the National Park, “with ecological research suggesting a high probability that their populations will be reduced by 90 percent of their current range by the end of the 21st century, thus fundamentally transforming the ecosystem of the park.”
- Read the rest over at The City Farm

(Photo Credit: Rebecca Snavely)

Friday, September 19, 2014

I Know You: Singing Lessons from Mike the Bus Driver

I'd just crowded into my seat, squeezing between my knees the bottle of water giving life to my bunch of sunflowers wrapped in plastic. A man boarded the rapid bus behind me, and I watched as he stepped past his fellow passengers who were huddled in a bunch, tapping passes on the fare reader or ironing dollar bills against their pants before guiding them into the machine.

The man got close to the driver and leaned in, asking if the driver needed to see his card.

"No, it's cool. I know you," the driver replied.

The man's face broke into a toothy, beaming smile. "He knows me!" he announced as he made his way down the bus aisle.

Taking his seat midway through the double carriage, he arranged his bright blue earphones and pushed play on his potable CD player. It wasn't long before the sound of his singing(?) filled the bus.
People looked over their shoulders, trying to identify the source of what could barely be called a song, more an off-key mrowling-howling-growling that hit occasional notes of pain and momentary highlights of someone recovering from a root canal yet attempting to learn to incant a sermon in Hebrew.

But when the crooner's critics noted that he was developmentally disabled, they turned back in their seats, resigned to what is with a grimace of annoyance. Maybe actual aural pain.

"I don't know this tune," my seatmate, a man with wavy Paul McCartney hair and a nervous, sweet smile whispered to me, pained.

"Likely not a top 40 hit," I replied.

A few blocks and bars of UNIMAGINABLY bad music later, McCartney leaned his head toward me again. "Are you tempted to harmonize?"

I laughed, and to illustrate how god-awful my own voice is, told him the story of how my father, a pastor, had a naturally off-key singing voice, but loved to sing to God so much, he just belted it out, without a care. Until the ladies down in the nursery watching the babies, who listened to the Sunday sermon via the mic my dad wore during the service, made a request. "Could you turn off the mic during the singing?' they asked sweetly. "You're making the babies cry." 

My father turned off the mic, took a singing lesson or two, and continues to sing songs of love, in a more tear-free key. And though the idea of harmonizing with this bus-serenader triggered visions of the BEST FLASH MOB EVER in my head, you know, the one where the whole bus joins in and makes sense and real song of this man's guttural whining, bringing tears to the eyes and reminding millions of YouTube viewers how we're all connected in the greater song called life, it didn't happen.

Instead, at the next stop, the driver walked back to the minstrel's seat. Driver Mike, let's call him, smiled, leaned down, and said in a low voice only audible to me and the man, "Hey, man. I know you like to sing. But it's really loud, so I have to ask you to stop."

Immediately flustered, the man started apologizing and growing agitated, but Mike the driver calmed him. He stood up straight, looked him in the eye, and said, "It's all good. You're my friend," before making his way back to the front of the bus.

That's the song Mike and the bus-minstrel left me singing tonight. That it's all good, as long as someone takes the time to look you in the eyes and say, "I know you." 

(And tells you to keep it down, you're making the babies cry.)


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tales from the L.A. Bus: Tips from a single mom on school, sex, and syphilis.

She was a a young, lovely African-American woman in her late 20s. She leaned forward to emphasize her points as she sat on that side-facing bench that straddles the middle of the extra-long Rapid-line bus.  Her two-year-old perched next to her, her little legs sticking straight into the aisle, mostly ignoring her mother, who was talking to a couple of older Latina women.

eavesdropped on jumped into the conversation a little late, and missed some salient parts about bed bugs and Ebola, but caught up when the young mother started discussing where she was headed: community college. The older women asked about her daughter traveling with her, and she informed them (and any other interested bus-rider) that the community college provides day care for your kids if they're potty-trained. "So there's no excuse not to go to college," she said. She laid it down, in that way that people do who have made the decision to change their life, and are ready to evangelize to the lazy or mis-informed.  She was making a change in her life.

And she was NOT having any more of what gave her her precious two-year-old. 

"Do you have a boyfriend," the women asked?

"Oh.  Oooohhh." the college-student nodded emphatically.  "I know what sexy is. But." She held on to a long, pregnant pause.  "Syphilis. Syph. AH. LIS. Syphilisssss."

She nodded, apparently having avoided a fate that others she knew had not.  (I mean, what Angeleno has NOT seen the sad bear with the shame of "We're #2!" weighing heavily on its California pride?)


When she was certain that she had convinced the women that she was oh-ver men who did not meet her high standards, she asked how old they were.

"60?!  I cannot WAIT to be 60," she told them.  "I'll have worked my job, raised my little girl, I won't care what the world says.  I'll just be Living. My. Life."

It seemed she was already doing just that.  My hero. 

(Photo Credit: DailyBillboardBlog)
 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Car-Free Day in L.A.: It Has Been A Beautiful Fight

One day in L.A., and I'm surrounded by life in all its messiness and beauty. In just one day, a walk down steep city stairs that are a respite for the homeless: scattered bottles and trash mix with succulents and pink flowers and palms. 

A delicious latte at Muddy Paw Coffee, where part of their proceeds go to animal rescues, and a chat with the proprietor about the health of organic, whole milk, and his childhood in Vermont.
Catching up on life with an old L.A. friend, and how the city and our relationships in it and to it change as life brings new experiences, a child, a longer-than-I've-ever-been-in-a-relationship, the unknowns of new jobs. 


A bus ride with a lovely driver, friendly and helpful, to downtown L.A., to continue to foster a friendship that was birthed in my junior high years in Tennessee, and get to know her husband. To watch the police respond calmly to a man off his meds, wondering if he'll be sent to jail to get two square meals, and drifting off into other conversations before we can solve the lack of mental health care in our country. 


Walking to the bus stop at 11th and Broadway, stopped by a homeless man asking for a frozen mocha at Starbucks. Buying a banana for a different homeless man, hovered over a city trash can to eat from the food we waste. 


Boarding an empty bus with my choice of a seat, to watch it fill in front of me. A 50-something resting her head on the shoulder of her 70-something mother/friend as the bus drifted down Sunset.


A load of fresh laundry done, folded, and put into drawers. A boyfriend to welcome home later and talk about the day and odd news and conversations about books or where science makes life more fascinating and known-yet-mysterious. 


"IT HAS BEEN A BEAUTIFUL FIGHT" ~ Micheltorena Stairs, Silverlake

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Hollywood Highs & Hell: Finding Beauty and Balance at the Bowl

Standing before my bench seat at the Bowl, a cup of wine in one hand, a fervent patriot a few rows back singing along with the L.A. Phil to the national anthem, I sat down as the sun set, and had one of those moments.  Looking at the curved lines of the bowl, the lights inside growing warmer as the night sky changed from blue to navy, listening to the sounds of the Phil playing, clapping after Joshua Bell made magic come from his violin, sitting in awe as Glenn Close sang "One Look" from the film Sunset Boulevard. Where I realized it felt like I was living in a movie. The first time I saw the Bowl was in Beaches, Bette Midler singing "The Glory of Love." Now the Bowl is a normal part of my summer plans, buying cheap seats for nights of music ranging from the Ray LaMontagne to Dolly Parton.

My movie-like night started as most of my days do, sweating as I walked through the July afternoon to catch the bus down Sunset Blvd.  Smelling odd odors that wafted from my seat-mate's canvas bag. Watching the overweight driver labor out of his seat to help a mother situate her son's wheelchair, spending an extra few minutes listening to the beep beep beep of the automated ramp that allowed him to wheel onto the bus.

Walking amongst the tourists milling about Hollywood & Highland, their traveler's disorientation palpable as they circled blocks and got swindled into paying for photographs with one of the three Captain Jack Sparrows working the boulevard.  Climbing past them to the Bowl, my friend and I finding a picnic table to share, sitting with cheese and cherries and a bottle of pinot noir to catch up on life. 

A violin will almost always bring me to tears, whether from the horrific sounds of an eight-year-old's first lesson, or the heart-breaking beauty of a virtuoso like Joshua Bell.  When he brought out his friend Frankie Moreno, a pianist and lounge singer from Las Vegas, I was skeptical, until their rendition of one of my favorite Beatles songs wrapped around me.

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

A conversation from earlier that evening about the hell that this world can be came to mind, a story of a girl tortured and killed.  Someone known, not just a news story.  As I sat wrapped in a world of classically trained artists and music and light filling the amphitheater, a police helicopter buzzed overhead, on its way to shine its searchlight into a dark part of the city. A bird flew by the conductor's wand, a large, winged bug landed and breathed its last right on his score, as he shared with a laugh.  And in the midst of all the beauty, I was highly aware of all the lonely people. 

I woke to open Pema Chödrön's quote of the week:

Joining Heaven and Earth

"Recently," she writes, "in a friend’s kitchen I saw on the wall a quotation from one of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s talks, which said: 'Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea.'

"I was struck by it because when I read it I realized that I myself have some kind of preference for stillness. The notion of holding the sadness and pain of samsara in my heart rang true, but I realized I didn’t do that; at least, I had a definite preference for the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. My reference point was always to be awake and to live fully, to remember the Great Eastern Sun—the quality of being continually awake. But what about holding the sadness and pain of samsara in my heart at the same time?

"The quotation really made an impression on me. It was completely true: if you can live with the sadness of human life (what Rinpoche often called the tender heart or genuine heart of sadness), if you can be willing to feel fully and acknowledge continually your own sadness and the sadness of life, but at the same time not be drowned in it, because you also remember the vision and power of the Great Eastern Sun, you experience balance and completeness, joining heaven and earth, joining vision and practicality."    ~Pema Chödrön



Friday, April 25, 2014

Walking in L.A.: Choir Practice and Sleeping on Sidewalks

If I'd been in a car, I wouldn't have heard the sound of voices.  At first it sounded like a carol, then a choir. From my church'd childhood, I immediately looked for the chapel, the taste of sour coffee and stale cookies filling my mouth. But, on the dark sidewalk, all I saw was a long driveway leading to one of the many, rambling, Craftsman houses that line Silver Lake's streets.

I paused on my walk to downhill to the bar, appreciating the sound of voices harmonizing, and the fact that I was in a tank top in late April after the sun had set, that I was on my way to see a friend and catch up over a glass of great wine.  I tried to capture the sound of song via the video on my phone, but with all the ambient noise of the neighborhood, it's difficult to hear. 

As I continued down the hill, the choir fading, I saw shadows beneath the trees, people sleeping on the dark side of the street, the sound of the traffic on Sunset their choir.  I was reminded of the Anderson Cooper report — of how it costs us less as tax payers to provide homes for the homeless.  And how lucky I am to have a home, a friend to meet.  And how my work is to be aware, present with what is, yet fighting to change systems to create a more connected life.

And my job is to stop to listen to the music around me.  Happily car-free.