Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear Diary: Friday morning at the market as a Turkish tourist

Friday, 10:30 am: Walked to bank to pay KEK (electricity bill) and wire money to my mom to deposit to my bank account.

11:14 am: Practiced ignoring line of 10 + angry Kosovars waiting to wire money.  Composed chapter of how to win friends and influence people in Kosova.

11:15 am: Smiled in response to five dirty looks from people waiting OUTSIDE the bank to wire money.

11:30 am: American friend and I joined a Turkish tour group.  Surrounded and photographed an elderly Albanian man in traditional hat.

11:35 am: Turkish tourists began to suspect they had not seen Sarahann and I on their bus...

11:41 am: "They're probably a Muslim group, going to the mosque to pray." ~ Sarahann

11:42 am: Turned off camera and ditched Turkish tourists outside mosque when they entered to pray.  All about respect.

11:45 am:  Continued on way to the market. Quickly turned on camera and circled back to grab a photo of little man in blue, who saw me coming and picked up his pace.

11:46 am:  Got'im

11:51 am: Made it to the market, yelled at for taking photos. (See earlier entry re: winning friends.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Holding close the narrow-nosed, claw-footed creature

Walking with my neighbor Lena of Kazakhstan after lunch in downtown Prishtina, I shared a recent, rather bizarre dream I'd had.  Did you dream it last night? she asked.  No. I thought back in my week.  On Wednesday night.  Oh, she said.  You should pay special attention to dreams you have on Thursdays through Sundays.  Why, I asked, wondering if those cigarettes she'd smoked were packed with something more potent than tobacco.  They tell you more, they mean more, she said.  It's just something about the cycle of time.

Hmm.  I continued to share about the small dog I had adopted in my dream.  It was soft, small and furry, but its head kept shape-shifting into an anteater's, with a long, skinny nose. I had to hold it close to my chest all the time, and when I took it outside to go to the bathroom, it fell into a puddle of rain water and started to drown. I snatched it up and squeezed its little brown body like a balloon, so that water squirted out its long nose. It sputtered and started breathing again, its little feet turning into the claws of a lizard, gripping my fingers as if it would never let go.

Lena thought about the dream as we turned into the alley on the way to our apartment building. Just hearing this, she said, I think there's someone in your life who has to make a change, make a decision. And this decision might hurt other people.  But the person has to choose.  She paused.  I think this person will choose what is best for herself/himself, even if it hurts other people.

At the time, I'd found her interpretation interesting, as I had a friend in a job he didn't like, and I wondered whether his choice to quit or stay would hurt loved ones or colleagues.

A week later, I think the dream may have been more personal than that.

Since I arrived in Kosovo a month ago, I've been struggling, not only to adapt to the culture, the "Albanian" way of communicating and interacting, but to my teaching job. I feel overwhelmed, exhausted. When I'm not teaching class, trying to convince adults not to interrupt or speak over each other, while simultaneously explaining the rules of when to use the past perfect continuous verb tense, I'm prepping, trying to understand how to be a more creative teacher. I've never taught before, and so much is unknown.

I'm an introvert by nature. Some people are surprised when I say this, unless you've roomed with me, and know how much time I spend alone.  I love people, I love talking to new people, hearing their stories, but I most love one-on-one time, to really engage and get to know them.  And after that hour with someone?  I spend two or four hours by myself, processing and recharging.

After three weeks of teaching, the exhaustion and feeling of being overwhelmed was getting worse.  It seemed a good time for my psyche to add anxiety and panic attacks to the mix.  I like my students, I'm sure they're good people, I just want them to stop asking me questions.  To stop expecting me to have all the answers.

Maaaaaybe teaching isn't for me.

Within a week I had made my decision to return to the U.S. It wasn't only to find a different job and escape the bad evaluations of my teaching style. I was reminded of another, more practical conversation with Lena of Kazakhstan.  You're going to have to decide whether you're living abroad or in the U.S., she told me.  You're going to have to choose.  The longer you're away, the harder it is to return. You need to decide where you want to create community.

Lena seems prone to seeing the negative side of things, and making pronouncements. But this stuck with me.  I want to travel, to see new places, meet new people, share their stories through my writing.  But I want to be in community with my family and friends, to honor and foster the long-term friendships that have shaped my life. To be present for major occasions, the birth of a baby, a birthday, an anniversary, as well as everyday occasions, little revelations over cups of coffee and unexpected laughter.  I want to create this community at home, and continue to travel to expand my understanding of it in the world.

I don't want to hurt the friends I have to say goodbye to here, but I believe that you can only give real love and joy from a healthy, full reserve in yourself.  Looking back at the dream where I reached into the water to rescue the drowning, sputtering animal who couldn't pull itself out, I realize I may be both that little, narrow-nosed, furry, claw-footed creature, and its caretaker. 

The life you save may be your own. (Flannery O'Connor)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Invitation to Novelty

I often take brain breaks from my lesson planning, my eyes crossed from internet searches, hunting for a creative way to teach the present continuous.  Leave space in the lesson, a friend and former ESL teacher in China told me.  That way the students have room to create as well.  It's hard for me to do this. I fear sitting in a quiet room, all eyes on me, waiting for me to impart knowledge.  But when I DO leave space for creativity, wonderful conversations happen. Stories of falling in love, a debate about the best age to get married, a lesson in Albanian culture about family planning (you must keep trying til you have a boy).  And how much all of this has changed in the last ten years.

John O'Donohue writes about advice given him by a philosopher of science.  "Try to discover a few questions in this area that no one has thought of asking, then (you) will have discovered something truly original and important. This advice was an invitation to novelty, an inspiration to perceive a given situation in a completely new way."

I want to ask new questions about why I am here, what it means, what life is like for Kosovars, 10 years after the war.  I want to introduce my students to the opportunities of imagination, in studying and in the workplace.  Yesterday I wrote an excerpt on the board of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, "When Death Comes."  Grim subject, you say?  The language book was introducing the idea of a "bucket list," things you want to do before you kick the bucket.  So after teaching the class of hospital administrators and public health students another crazy American idiom, we read through the poem on the board.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
~Mary Oliver

There was a pause after the students finished reading the stanzas aloud.  This is beautiful, one said.  I like this very much.  Can I get a copy?

In that moment I saw not only how important imagination is to everyone's day and workplace, but how important it is for me, in my current work teaching.  To share something that means so much to me, and see another person, almost a stranger to me, who has lived through and seen so much pain, fear, anger and tyranny of humanity, respond in a similar way. 

I reminded them to look for the details of life, that we'd be using more poetry and story to improve our writing and our work, how we see the world.  In the words of Mary Oliver, "Imagination is better than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work."

Cows grazing on the hospital grounds

Ferris Wheel of Death?  Just outside hospital, hearses and a carnival.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fluctuation of Feelings - Get Some Headspace

I'm learning to sit with my emotions.  Since moving to Kosovo, that means I'm acknowledging and sitting with 17 different moods a day.  At least.  They come without warning, the smell of Yogi's Deep Breathing tea steeping reminds me of the cup I drank with my mom and my sister before I left, sitting around the kitchen table, the cats winding around our legs.  And suddenly I want nothing more than to be at home with them.  Never mind that I wouldn't have a job or the money to purchase the Yogi tea.  Rational thought is not one of my mood swings. 

But occasionally the rational thought seeps in, especially while I'm practicing guided meditation.  After reading a particularly panicked email in which I described how exhausted I felt by daily interactions in a foreign culture, not to mention my non-stop schedule of teaching or preparing for class, my sister suggested I visit  They offer short, guided meditation in a soothing, practical British voice.  It's all about the fact that you don't have to make an effort, that you shouldn't try to be perfect at meditation.
Why can't I stop thinking? "Because you’re a human being, and our default setting has become frenetic thought! If we could stop thinking at will, we wouldn’t need to learn to meditate. Just be gentle with yourself. It’s like whack–a–mole — the more you try to quash your thoughts, the more they’ll pop up. Bring your attention back to your breath each time, and with a little practice the sense of calm will begin to increase."
It's helping.  It's interesting to slow down and be aware of what thoughts do flit through, as I sit back and watch them pass by.  Yesterday, when my new friend, British Mind-Guide/Guru told me to let me mind be free, to let whatever thoughts might come run free, I saw, smelled and heard the streets I walk everyday.  The muddy puddles of potholes where the alley isn't paved. The car horns honked in anger at the inevitable traffic jams. My heeled boots pounding on the pavement outside the market, announcing my arrival.

Today when British Mind-Guide/Guru asked me to scan down my body to see how each part was feeling, tense? relaxed? heavy? light? and to recognize my emotions, what we're actually feeling beneath our thoughts, the first thought was "I miss my best friend."  While that's a given, it's interesting to see that it's right there, beneath all my thoughts about my neck tension and needing to do the dishes.  Today I also thought about a countdown calendar.  That I'm almost to month 1, looking forward to month 3, when everyone tells me I will feel more comfortable in this new, different place.  And, looking forward to month 6, which is my deadline to consider returning home, to decide what comes next in life.

While I'm being very loving with these thoughts and emotions, I also recognize that focusing only on the future defeats the purpose. It defeats the present moment.  My Daily OM email today reminded me of the power of positive thinking:

"Confidence and empowerment are mental choices, so you may have to convince yourself by acting as if you already possess the feelings you want to have. Today you are able to convince yourself and others of the truth of your confidence and inner strength. Positive thinking, the use of affirmations, and our imaginations are powerful tools in building our dreams.

"...When we can convince our minds that such things are possible, we have made the first step in making them our reality. As with any energy, this works in the negative as well. This is why it is important to keep our thoughts positive. We have the same power to create and experience negative outcomes as positive ones; it is up to us." ~Daily OM

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Engage the depth, danger, and darkness of your life

Tomorrow is my two week anniversary of Kosovo: Round 3.  It's been a great two weeks, but, as my closest friends and family know, an emotional time.  Emails arrive in their inboxes ranging from the ecstatic to the forlorn.  Some are filled with long, run-on sentences describing my day with students, visiting the SOS Children's Village, meeting another American woman who has a fun sense of humor, a friend with Celiac so she gets it, and a truck and willingness to hunt for gluten-free foods.  Some are filled with audio files of me weeping.

I'd forgotten that homesickness actually feels like you're sick.  It's a heartsick, gut-sick feeling.  My walls are thin and I'm positive my lovely neighbor Lena is terrified to visit me, or is preparing a care-package to leave at my door with tissues and prozac.  Mornings seem to be the hardest for me.  I wake to emails written by friends who are nine hours behind in time, and something is triggered in my tear ducts.  That I'm missing out on so much of their lives.  My best friend is having a baby soon, and there is nothing I want more than to fly back to be there to meet this little girl the moment she arrives.

To BE there for my closest friend, to experience her growing excitement and belly, to shop for baby furniture and soft little onesies. Talking to my father about it, he told me he worried most about how much I'd miss this close friendship, and that I'll have to grieve the loss of proximity (but NEVER the friendship).  But then I wonder, why did I create this loss? And more doubt creeps in.  Yet I also feel, when I'm not in the throes of the heartsick feeling, that this move was the best decision for this time in my life. I needed to create change in my life, to push myself.  I absolutely want to be in two places at once.  Why is that not possible?

Reading Anam Cara this morning with my breakfast and Nescafe coffee, I opened it to a section about contradiction.  Have something to teach me, Universe?  John O'Donohue writes:
"We need to have greater patience with our sense of inner contradiction in order to allow its different dimensions to come into conversation within us. There is a secret light and vital energy in contradiction. Where there is energy there is life and growth. Your ascetic solitude will allow your contradictions to emerge with clarity and force. If you remain faithful to this energy, you will gradually come to participate in a harmony that lies deeper than any contradiction. This will give you new courage to engage the depth, danger, and darkness of your life."
So, this morning, instead of turning on an episode of Gilmore Girls to escape, I'm going to try a guided meditation, to try to remain faithful to the energy of contradiction, when all I want to do is run away from it.  It's too early to start drinking, so meditation it is.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ask Teacher Rebecca your most awkward question

How do you explain to your class of students, in your most proper English, a sexually explicit phrase?  With illustrations, of course!

It started when I was using the technique of drawing a picture on the white board to help understand a vocabulary question my student was asking.  So confident, such a great, creative teacher.  Repeat that phrase, I asked her.  It doesn't quite make sense, I said, as I illustrated the first word, lips, with a big set of smackers on a cartoon face.  What is the second word, I asked again?  Repeat so the whole class can hear.  Downstairs, she said in a thick accent.  Down, where?  Oh, stairs!  I started drawing stairs before I froze.

Taking my sweet, unknowing student aside, I asked in sotto voce, where did you learn this phrase?  She replied, mimicking my low tones, "From a Tokyo Police Club interview.  He said something about kissing? They're one of my favorite bands."

I erased my illustration with the back of my hand and told my student I could describe what that meant at a later time, perhaps not in mixed company.

Week 1 down.  It was off to a bumpy start, what with my perfectionism kicking into high gear (why can't you be the best the first time at something you've never done before?) but I've relaxed a bit and tonight was just fun. I love my pre-intermediate class, askers of inappropriate questions. We meet every weeknight.  They're loud and eager to speak in English, interrupting each other when someone is not working fast enough.  The class ranges from two teen-aged girls to men who are journalists to two women who, as doctors in their 50s, obviously led the way on the path to equal rights.  I can't wait to hear their stories, in a place where women only recently began working outside the home.

Last night, after a rambunctious round of role-playing, the two teen-aged girls stayed after class.  Teacher, what are you doing after tomorrow night's class, they asked me.  While I debated whether I'd buy my Milka chocolate bar and a bottle of wine BEFORE going home or stop at home to drop my books off first, they interrupted my daydream of doldrums and asked me to go out with them.

Hangin' with the high schoolers on a Friday night might not sound like I've found my community, but these girls are so sweet and funny and dream big dreams, I feel I have two new little sisters.  One of the girls brought her younger brother to meet the American.  Poor kid, he sat through 90 minutes of  English, his only consolation a mocha piled with whipped cream while he patiently observed three girls and another 2 hours of unintelligible chatter. Plus the hysterical laughing when "teacher" finally explained the lips downstairs comment.  (I made sure he didn't understand ANY English.)

I don't know whether to curse you or thank you, Tokyo Police Club. Not my finest hour of teaching, but probably the most fun. 

Cartoon robots have nothing to do with Tokyo Police Club or a night in Kosovo, but this popped up when I googled "cartoon drawings of people" and who doesn't love a cartoon robot?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

this too shall pass ... with a little help from cross-cultural comedy

My first night teaching fell apart a little. The make-shift classroom was overly heated, I overheated, and the books hadn't arrived. Books on which I had based most of my lesson. That's okay, I had the placement test to give the students. Wrong answer. The chairs with built-in desks had not yet arrived, making it nearly impossible to force students to write on their laps. These are part of the growing pains for the language center. Roll with punches, right? It's a good sign when one group has to meet at a cafe to find space/tables on which to write. But a bad sign, when a teacher, sans books and lesson plan, cannot roll with said punches.

Already nervous for my first class, I FROZE, off my lesson plan, jumping around from grammar lesson to past participle, certain the students could smell weakness. I couldn't seem to form an active sentence that I could convert into a passive one. I FROZE. It was like that bad dream, but I was wearing all my clothes. So when the guy from Turkey with the unintelligible lisp gave me an active sentence, followed with the joke "I could teach the class!" any remaining confidence I had was destroyed.

Thankfully, my second class of pre-intermediate students went much more smoothly. But I was questioning why I was in Kosova, why I thought I could teach, why I thought I knew English. Had I actually ever felt a punch before, let alone rolled with one? I couldn't remember. I was set to start my period the next day, my hormones out of whack with the time change, and I hadn't eaten a full meal in days, trying to avoid gluten in a food-culture based on flour.

Ahhh... emotions, flaky, easy come easy go emotions. After a day of feeling downright depressed and ready to board the first plane to L.A., tonight I had a lovely evening with my nightly pre-intermediate class. We discussed friendship, vocabulary and grammar. We talked about the uses of "who" vs. "whom," watched the "Scrubs" scene below, and learned that sometimes, comedy transcends the painful comedic moments of my own life and puts everything into perspective again.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Been there, done that

"Generally, the familiar, precisely because it is familiar, is not known." (Hegel)
Day 4 in Kosovo: I take the same routes every day: to the store, to the language center, to the cafe to meet a friend. If I stray off the path, I might get lost, and the only way I know to describe where I live is to reference a sports center and a park, and hope a stranger will direct me back home.  But even in my known path, I have to treat each step as new, eyes on the ground to avoid open, uncovered drains in the street, deep ditches left unguarded when the construction workers go home.  Will this ever feel familiar to me?

In Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O'Donohue warns about the familiar, and explains that it is merely a facade.  "Familiarity enables us to tame, control, and ultimately forget the mystery. We make our peace with the surface as image and we stay away from the Otherness and fecund turbulence of the unknown that it masks. Familiarity is one of the most subtle and pervasive forms of human alienation."

Yesterday, as I waited for the bus to take me to JYSK (the Ikea of Kosovo, pronounced "Yoosk") I felt the familiar sense of being isolated. The women on the street here are so close to each other, walking arm in arm, laughing and kissing goodbye, and seem to eye me with a questioning look. I also think they're judging my shoes. They're very European, wearing fabulous heels and boots that I doubt they carry in my size (BIG). Most likely I'm reading into this, but I find it very difficult to connect and break that language and cultural barrier with women.  I felt myself closing off, trying not to smile at strangers, which is my normal way of greeting people. (I was once told by a grip on a film set that he thought I was "simple" when he first met me, since I smiled all the time.)

Reading O'Donohue and Hegel's quote, I was reminded that if I shut off from engaging in each day, as I am, open and present to the mystery that surrounds me in the familiar, I will miss out on life.  So I hope that as I study the Albanian language and Kosovo culture, I can bring my own open eyes/mind/soul to it, to stay aware of the "turbulence of the unknown." 

JYSK, by the way, is a Danish company, and FAR more expensive than I expected (a wool throw for 50 Euros? Really?)  I bought new sheets and pillows, and baffled by the use of centimeters on the packages, ended up buying twin sheets for my double bed. I cuddled into my too-small sheets last night, thankful that nothing yet is too familiar.

Monday, October 11, 2010

(Almost) At Home in Kosovo

Home! In a hotel.

The Prishtina airport smelled like cigarette smoke, and reminded me why the British Airways flight attendant kept reminding our flight that smoking was prohibited on the plane and in the terminal. My friend Fisnik picked me up – so lovely to see him after almost five years.

As we drove down what I dub Narrow-Miss Lane, Fisnik navigated what seems to be rule-free traffic while I called my new boss. We parked and I kept reminding Fisnik to look for the street address I had for the language center, while he kept reminding me that street addresses don’t matter and aren’t listed. Naturally, the national was right, tourist was wrong, and we happened upon the sign for the center. I walked up the 4 flights of stairs to the language center office. I met Boss, his kids, and his accountant. He commented that I am tall. (It’s true.)

Walking downstairs to meet Fisnik and talk about apartment hunting, in hopes to find an available place where I could land for the night, it was only fitting that we talk over a cup of coffee. The main boulevard was crowded with students and vendors, and draped with the American flag flying next to the newly adopted flag of Kosovo. “See,” Boss said. “They knew you were coming today!” (Apparently, so is Hilary Clinton.)

We entered a smoke-filled café. Boss asked if I mind if he smoked. Since one cigarette would not mean much difference to the general cloud of smoke, and since he was really only being polite, I said yes.

As we sat, drank, smoked and talked, I brought the conversation back to the apartment hunt. Fisnik looked at his watch. Suddenly, a tall, solidly built man in a dark overcoat joined us. They said hello, and Boss introduced us to his friend, who sat, ordered an espresso, pulled out his pack of cigarettes and sat down to smoke.

Fisnik was eerily silent most of the coffee talk. Turns out, he is more paranoid than I am, which is hard to believe if you know me, or have received my 2am phone calls checking in on you after a bad dream. I am the girl who expects to find a dead body in every dumpster (watch Law & Order people – finding a body is inevitable, only a matter of time), and who lives by the motto: Only the paranoid survive. Fisnik was sizing up my new boss, and then the man he dubbed the “Silent Killer” (S.K.) in his overcoat, who, granted, could be straight out of Central Casting for that role. And is a lovely soul who went out of his way to try to find me a flat. Fisi told me all his paranoid suspicions later, when he felt better about my safety and life-span after Boss's wife arrived. She was lovely, smiling, straight from a pilates class and her job. Suddenly, we were all friends, and Fisi was driving Boss, S.K. and I through the dark, rainy streets of Prishtina, on our search to find me a home.

Boss and S.K. did their best and showed me a couple of places, while I played the role of American perfectly and dove in, trying to negotiate a rent I could afford. I’m typing from a hotel room (it smells like smoke), so the search continues tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to move

I'm moving again, away from a lovely apartment, neighborhood and a community of friends I adore.  And I'm ready to do it, to see what comes next, to start a new chapter in Kosovo.  I've grown to love change, to lend it a helping hand if it's not happening fast enough, but this was not always the case.  I hyperventilated the night my parents told me we might move to Tennessee. In front of a plate of bribery Chinese food, inedible at the words that my father was checking out a new church.  I won't move to Texas, I shouted before nearly passing out.  Driving across the country in an aerostar, landing in a new junior high halfway through my 6th grade year, this little 12-year-old drama queen had many more breakdowns.  

How could I move to land-locked Tennessee? I'd lived in Oregon since I was two years old, where my favorite summer memories were at the coast, waking (being woken) at dawn to splash barefoot across the ocean inlet, searching for the perfect sand dollar.  Lying in the dunes at night to watch for shooting stars, running down to scuff along the dark water line to "spark" in the phosphorescent-rich sand.  How could Tennessee compare? 

But I remember one summer night at our house out in the country, joining my mother on our front stoop, watching neighbors stroll by, saying hello and commenting on the heat of the day.  We sat in silence as one by one the fireflies created a sea of lights in our overgrown grass. 

I'm looking forward to see how my world expands, and what I grow to love in my new home. 

(Photo from Desktop Nexus)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

poetry in the laundromat

My friend just posted this video on "dirty jobs," thinking about the worth of work and our perception of manual labor. (It starts off talking about the castration of lambs, a unarguably dirty job, but he gets to the point, if you stick with it.)  It added to a journal entry I re-read last night as I'm packing away my books, sorting through what to keep, and a Mary Oliver poem that finds the beauty in everyday life. 

To the man in the laundromat calling out loudly to the owner, a wiry white guy whose faded jeans were too big for him, Hey, man, you need someone to sweep the floors? The owner continued uninterrupted, walking to the back, saying over his shoulder, Not right now but give me your info, you never know when we'll need someone. He was still walking as the first guy halfway followed him, Yeah, I could sweep, clean up - whatever you could pay me.

by Mary Oliver

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that's not possible,
a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment
struggled together, and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch as she stares
down at her labor, which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays,
as big as hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from
the crust and the slop and fly down to the river
This probably won't happen
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic,
who would want it?

Of course, it isn't
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life.
I mean the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for me sake;
I mean the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beautiful Beets and Demanding Squash: A Love Story

I almost didn't read the last page of Orion's Sept|Oct issue.  The title "On Cold-Weather Vegetables" didn't exactly reach out and grab me.  I live in L.A, where roots and beets and squash are not necessities.  But.  I'm moving to Kosovo.  Cold-weather will once again be part of my seasonal life.  Meals are more of a celebration; unexpected visitors always mean caj (tea) or coffee, snacks, and perhaps a meal shared at the table.  So, on my bus ride to downtown L.A., I folded back the last page of the magazine and settled into Katrina Vandenberg's beautiful homage to the demanding parts of life, unexpected tastes, that commitment to what's difficult and unwieldy in love and life and veggies.

veggies"Back in July, the tomatoes and corn the farmers offered were cheery, Crayola-bright. October is scary ... Cold-weather vegetables are demanding. They require a little muscle behind the knife... Inside, their flesh is richly colored and dense. They're messy ... We wrestle with them. They refuse the ease of the salad bowl and insist on long roasting.

...They're acquired tastes, ones I didn't love until I was in my thirties, my husband an even more reluctant convert than I. But this time of year and at this time in our lives, our meals together are changing. When the air begins to bite with cold and the smell of decaying leaves, the colors and tastes of what we eat begin to deepen.

I watch my husband from the kitchen window as he pulls dead morning glory vines from the trellises. I love him differently than I did the day I married him.

...Andre Dubus describes the meals between married couples as not mere eating but a 'pausing in the march to perform an act together,' a sacrament that says, 'I know you will die; I am sharing food with you; it is all I can do, and it is everything.'

...Christians regularly take communion, a ritually shared meal that acknowledges the mysteries of life and death, but mealtime is especially poignant in the fall, when Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead, and Celts once celebrated Samhain, and ancient Greeks told the story of Persephone disappearing into the underworld — all harvest festivals that connect sharing food with death and gratitude. So we start with what the earth has given us. We shape it into something else. Perhaps there are candles. We talk. We have enough and are together..."

~Katrina Vandenberg

You can listen to the whole story here

(Photo: loxosceles,

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Illustrations | Art I Love: Nathan Ota

Head for the Clouds
Flavorpill's Daily Dose Pick today was Nathan Ota, an artist trained in illustration. Magical.

Watching Over Me

See more of Ota's work here.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

"To Franz Kafka"

Like you, I want the time to meditate
To wander and sit still, to let the day's
Humiliations redeploy and blaze
Across my field of vision to irritate
My soul until the demon language flow
And purge experience to common sense
Making me master of inconsequence,
Letting me know the little that I know.

Yet, like you, I am bogged by aptitude
For getting tedious work done fast, amazing
My colleagues daily by my skill, and hear it
Praised, take it to heart, and know that interlude
Of felt responsibility, hair-raising
Pride of doing well what breaks the spirit.

~ To Franz Kafka, by David Galler

cheese and fruit plate, originally uploaded by rosidae.

(This poem rang particularly true when I was praised at work for the beauty of my cheese plates.)

Writing prompt: You hear music in the background

, originally uploaded by Lucas SD.

Rounding the corner of the park, I skirt the edge of the busy street. The crossing guard sees me and waves just like every Monday. His stop sign swings in the air, back and forth, different today. I slow down and look closely at each person, car and vendor on the street. I hear it, faint in the background, the music that everyone seems to be moving to. The crossing guard lilts as he leads children across the street. The kids swing their satchels to the beat. The policeman directs traffic, his whistle the off beat.

Whatever the song is, I quickly realize I am the only one who doesn't recognize it, who is not involved in the intricate dance. When I stop to listen, the crowd spills around me, not missing a beat. Spinning in a slow circle, I see the homeless man helping the lady with her groceries, their dance a ballet. Stepping closer to hear, to feel the beat through the sidewalk, I narrowly miss being hit by the streetcar whose bell chimes in time; I am out of the rhythm.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Danny & Annie on StoryCorps

The story of Danny & Annie's first date, marriage and being parted by death. Absolutely beautiful, inspiring and heartbreaking. Break out the tissue box, and maybe write a love letter to someone in your life. Or at least a romantic weather report.

Danny & Annie from StoryCorps on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Last days in L.A.: Celebrity Stories

Griffith Park, originally uploaded by williwieberg.

It's official! I'm moving to Kosovo to teach English. My tickets are booked, I've given away and sold over 200 of my books, shredded old production documents and given my roomie and landlord my 30 days notice. At this point, if I don't move to Kosovo, I'll have to join the homeless guys camped outside the public library. Not that free internet and books aren't tempting.

As I'm packing up, reading through old journals (mostly mortifying), I've come across those rare moments that make for great L.A. stories. Hanging up on Mel Gibson — twice. (This before his recent rants, so there was really no good reason to disconnect him from the head of Sony.) Cat-sitting for Toni Basil. Taking Bono's digits and chatting with him about his flat in Nice.

In one journal from my days at Icon Productions: Today a man called, asked my name. "What would YOU do, Rebecca, if someone put your experience, your life, in a movie?" he asked. A bit confused, I asked him to elaborate (first mistake: engaging the crazy). The movie "Braveheart" used some of his experiences, he clarified. Too curious to hang up, I asked him which scenes specifically were from his life. 'Well, my brain, for one!' he replied. Regaining my speech, I told him I didn't think we could help him, so he asked for Columbia Pictures' number. I advised him to call information, if the people in the white jackets didn't find him and revoke his phone privileges first.

Or the older couple who called from the midwest and demanded a refund of their $9.25 movie money for "Payback," saying it was too violent, and they only went based on their trust of Mel Gibson's history of past roles.

Or Toni Basil (of "Hey Mickey" fame) and her cat-sitting to-do list, reminding me to call nightly with an update on her hairless wonders.

I'll miss L.A. — the neighborhoods I've come to love, the unattainable beauty of the gay men of West Hollywood, the Arclight movie experience, the pre-show picnics at the Hollywood Bowl, the smell of Kings Road coffee roasting, the hikes at Griffith Park, the jacaranda blooming soft purple, the thrifting on Melrose. I can't wait to tell the stories of life in Prishtina, but I know L.A. will always be home.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Flea Market Fancy Fabric Giveaway and Fundraiser for Women's Sewing Workshop in Congo

Are you crafty?  Want to help your sewing sisters in the Congo? 

My friend Cate and I have been working alongside Amani of Action Kivu, a nonprofit in the Congo that works to empower and educate women and children affected by the ongoing conflict there.  The war has stolen over 5.4 million lives, and rape is widely used as a weapon of war, with estimates putting the number of rapes in the hundreds of thousands.

Cate's twin sister is a sewing / quilting queen, and has launched a fundraiser for Action Kivu's sewing workshop, to fund a safe place of community for the women to meet and learn a lifelong skill and to purchase sewing machines and fabric.  If you want to partner with and help your sewing sisters in the Congo, visit Handmade by Alissa to see a video about Action Kivu's work, the women in the workshop, and to read the details of how you can donate and also enter to win a fabulous giveaway.  I have no talent for sewing besides the odd button that keeps popping off, but apparently, this flea market fancy fabric is hard to find, and makes sewing that much more fun.  And fancy.

Your donations are tax deductible, go towards helping empower women to heal and become self-sustaining members of society, and every dollar makes a difference.  And if you want to partner with the women on a monthly basis, you can do that as well.

Visit Alissa's blog to read the details of how to donate for this specific fundraiser and be entered in the fabric giveaway.  And tell your friends / bloggers!  So thankful for your help.

(Generously donated by Jacquie from Tallgrass Prairie Studio.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Illustrations and Sculpture I Love: Lisa Kaser

High Desert Gallery was our fifth art gallery in two blocks, and I was cruising through it. Bright, beautiful oils and watercolors, but nothing caught my eye, until I stopped to peer closer at a wax sculpture titled "She Went As A Pumpkin That Went As A Tree." Fanciful and slightly spooky at once, I was in love. And if I wasn't already planning my "Dooneese" costume for Halloween, I'd start working on the papier mache for a pumpkin that dresses as a tree, though the photo on the website doesn't do it justice.  

I also loved "Delighted by the Wind."

Lisa Kaser is an illustrator / sculpture...ess living in Portland, Oregon. Her illustrations are off beat and magical as well.

"Respite Under a Wild Umbrella" courtesy of Mireio (who has an interview with Lisa Kaser here).

And from Lisa's Etsy shop:

"The Angel of Mercy Moves in Mysterious Ways"

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Hero in Your Story

Par-delà les nuages..., originally uploaded by Aelin Quan.

After 36 hours of lecture on story from Robert McKee, Donald Miller's roommate Jordan sums up what makes a good story in just 11 words: A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.

Miller's latest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life talks about living your own life like a movie story, cutting down on those superfluous scenes where nothing changes. Hearing this idea that we could be living good stories, Miller's friend Jason decides to craft a better story for his family, in hopes that it will help his teenage daughter make better decisions.

Looking for something worthwhile for his family to pursue, Jason came across an organization that builds orphanages around the world. When he learned that it takes about $25,000.00 to build one, he remembered that a good story involves risk, and not knowing where the money would be found, agreed to build it.

After his wife and daughter took some time to process how this chapter might change their lives, each jumped in the journey. His daughter asked to travel to Mexico to meet the kids, so she could share their stories and photographs on her website in the hopes that more people would find their place in the story, and help. And she quickly dumped her loser boyfriend, because, as her dad said, "No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her."

It reminds me of Iris, Kate Winslet's character in "The Holiday." (Mock the movie all you want, but Jude Law has never been more delicious.) When Iris flees her newly engaged, player of a non-boyfriend for Los Angeles, she meets Arthur, a screenwriter from the golden age of cinema. He introduces her to the leading ladies of his day, and teaches her to stop playing the best friend role and start acting like the star of her own life.

How many of us are walking through life, watching them happen to us, not sure that we would want to watch our own story on the big screen? As Miller asks, "I wondered if life could be lived more like a good story in the first place. I wondered whether a person could plan a story for (her) life and live it intentionally."

This year has been a period of quiet reflection, also known as unemployment. And now, I'm ready to take some risks.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
~ Mary Oliver

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Eat, Pray, JAVIER

"I want to go someplace where I can ... marvel ... at something," says Julia Roberts, playing Elizabeth Gilbert in the film adaptation of Eat Pray Love.

I too, want to go someplace where I can marvel at something, or someone. I plan to go straight to the Arclight, without stopping, to marvel at Javier Bardem. He's the reason I went to (and purchased the DVD of) "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."  He's the reason I almost lost my web producing job for posting too many photos of him during the "No Country for Old Men" Oscar season.  (Red carpet photos, of course, not the creepy bowl cut with a cattle prod look he rocked in the movie.) 

Here's the trailer, one more time (or twelve) before the movie opens this Friday.  Feel free to fast forward to 2:00 in, where you get a glimpse, just a tease, really, of Javier.  

(Photo courtesy

Friday, July 30, 2010

Path Finding: Teach Abroad?

The Path, originally uploaded by Arkadius Zagrabski.
I've been a job-search schizophrenic lately. In just over one month, I've sent out emails to my poor, poor patient friends and family with the following subject lines: "Massage therapy! Info please," "What do you know about broadcast journalism?" "Nutritionist, could that get me work in a developing nation?" and "Hey, Obama, will you pay for my grad school?"

That last one may have put me on a watch list.

Perhaps I should take my meds, you might be thinking. Unemployed over a year, receiving no feedback from flinging my resume far and wide, feeling undereducated without a masters, but underemployed to afford said masters, I'm spinning myself in circles. My meds in this case include deep breathing, closing my eyes to slow the spinning, and to look at what is connected in all my dream jobs.

Helping others (massage, nutrition). Hearing and telling stories (journalism). And most of all, always, travel. I was recently reminded of one of the quintessential quirks of my Sagittarius sign, the willingness to try new things. The get up and go of life is what makes me feel alive.

And suddenly, it came to me, a little voice or possibly an ad via gmail: teach English overseas! "I can't believe we didn't think of this sooner," a friend said. "It's perfect for you!" And from my mother, my biggest champion, and the woman who helped finance my first adventure overseas (Serbia & Kosovo): "It's perfect! You could have taught English when you were 7." Granted, though I was a geeky kid whose idea of a fun car game was asking for harder and harder words to spell, I was also so shy I couldn't be found in crowds, hiding behind my mother's skirts. But now? I still love the bizarre rules of the English language, and bonus! I'm WAY too tall to hide behind anyone, thus accustomed to being on display.

I'm researching the best online programs for certification, and would prefer to be placed back in Kosovo, or Eastern Europe. I understand the pay is not great in developing nations, but that's where I want to be, to help those who are hungry to learn. If you know anything, please email me! (rebecca.snavely at gmail) Especially if you know of an organization known to help supplement the local pay, as incentive for native English speakers to work in developing countries. Student loans must be paid, or else I'd go for the people, their stories and live on peanut butter, bananas, and Turkish coffee.

This feels less schizo, more right. Ready to jump in to the unknown.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dream Decorating: Soul Space

"Your emotional impulses could push you toward extravagance, which might mean that you could be more inclined to indulge in buying things that aren’t necessary today. This need to treat yourself might be rooted in a much deeper desire, however—the desire to feel completely satisfied. Perhaps you can reflect on what you think you lack in your life and the things you feel you need to be fulfilled; the items you crave could give you some insight into where the emptiness inside may lie. Try asking your deeper self what your true emotional need is. ...
"Once we understand our unmet desires, we are able to treat ourselves to what we really need. With the messages we get every day telling us that we are not nearly as good as we should be, it is easy to buy into the idea that we have to acquire more to feel good about ourselves. Turning our focus inward, however, allows us to realize that while we do need to indulge ourselves once in a while, it is usually our spirit that needs love and pampering; this is something that no material good can fulfill. Seeing that there is a connection between your material desires and deeper yearnings will help you find satisfaction in something that is infinitely more meaningful today." (Daily OM)

Unemployed, I have no extra cash to blow on my unmet desires. But if I did, what would be my indulgence? I'd makeover my apartment, my space.  I'm talking real makeover, upheaval. One for which I'd need to enlist one of the handy men from HGTV, to tear up the nappy carpet and put down beautiful, aged hardwood floors.  To make some built-in bookshelves and an outdoor space to feed friends and sip cocktails. To invest in luscious fabrics from India (oh, yeah, let's throw in a trip to India in there, while we're at it). 

While I can't redecorate, I can rid my life of excess stuff, to open up my space.  And I can pay attention to that impulse to make things more lovely, to create space and ask what that means for me in a spiritual sense of self care.  A little organizing, re-decorating and clearing of space in my soul.

Based on my dream decorating photos (below), I like simple, open, light and airy rooms, filled with books, greens and twinkly lights. I haven't felt very open or sparkly lately, more bogged down with stress of a never-ending job search, uncertainty about the future. Unsure of what I bring to the world, if I can live the dreams of a writing life that I want. Sitting with this meditation, looking at what I'd buy for my soul care, if purchases could fix my inner angst, I realize I need to clear my head of all the clutter and clanging. To write and let myself get creative, without fear. To seek out beauty, green and sparkle.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Walkin' in L.A.

One thing's for sure, he isn't starring in the movies.
'Cause he's walkin' in L.A.
Walkin' in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.
(Missing Persons)

Life lived outside the box and outside the car gives you a different perspective, a closer view and proximity to people. I love living car-free in Los Angeles. I wonder about the 20-something girl with sad eyes who laughs at her son's stories. About the man at the back of the bus, his head buried in his arm, leaning against the window, wailing and sobbing into his cell, unintelligible through his tears and language. The giggly 3 year old girl trying to turn the attention of the teenaged kid from his phone.

The driver who stops in the middle of the road to ask the wobbly woman, who looks drunk? off her meds? if she needs help. She waits til the woman makes it safely to the sidewalk before driving on. The driver who drops us at Book Soup, and circling back on his route a half hour later, honks to see if we need a ride back down the hill. It makes L.A. seems a little smaller, a little less of a sprawl, a little more a community.

We’re caffeinated by rain inside concrete underpasses,
rolling along treetops, Chinese elms, palm trees, California peppers.
(from "We're Caffeinated by Rain," ~ Sesshu Foster)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Song for Saturday: Michael Franti - Sometimes

Sound body and sound of mind
Sound of the rhythm and sound of the rhyme
Somebody marchin' out all of the time
Biggest mistakes are the humanest kind
Judge not, lest you be judged

Show love and love who you know
Family wherever you go
Tokyo to acapulco
Bravissimo, magnifico
Peace to the people who be losin' their head
Peace to the people who be needin' a bed
Love to the people who be feelin' alone
Spreadin' love upon the microphone
Hope to the people to be feelin' down
Smile to the people who be wearin' a frown
Faith to the people who be seekin' the truth y'all
All of the time, and i say

Sometimes, i feel like i can do anything
Sometimes i'm so alive
Sometimes, i feel like i can swim ‘cross the sky
Sometimes, i wanna cry

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Researching sadness

As my close friends know, I often revel in the melancholy. It makes my extroverted happy-all-the-time friends quite nervous, but I need it. Some days I crave the grey, the unknown, the mood in between. I'm having a quiet day today, and took a break from job searching and picked up Words Under the Words, a book of selected poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, and opened it to "The White Road."

The White Road

I can't even count
how many of my own feet
walk the white stone road today.
As if the feet of past years
tramped alongside,
and the future feet,
anchors already forming
in the sea of blood,
Why should such a simple sadness
well up like a crowd?

Now I've even forgotten
whose sadness it was to begin with.
May it belongs to the nun
who waits for the 6 A.M. bus,
whose headscarf is white
and always tied.
Maybe she feels lighter today
having dropped it.
Or the man at the state hospital
who kept singing
"These are a few of my favorite things"
though his cigarette trembled
and he wore pajamas in the afternoon—

These stones have smooth backs.
They could be praying, or sleeping.
I could be anyone else,
researching sadness,
finding out how it adheres to the world,
bubbling and thickening, flour in broth,
how women who have lost children
sometimes feel like women
who have lost homes in fires
or men in their fifties who feel
the days shrinking in front of them
sometimes weep for a neighbor boy's dog.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Stories: Are You There God? It's me, Rebecca

The little boy slouched further down the back of the pew, sliding until his neck seemed to disappear into his tee-shirt. I don't want to, he whispered desperately to his mother, who said, Fine, and grabbed the hand of his younger, more pliable brother, leading him to the front of the small church to sit to listen to the story being told for the children. The boy left behind crouched down into the wooden pew, leaning as far back as he could to become one with the wood, hidden in the bench.  

Seated right behind him, too tall to lie down length-wise in the pew to hide myself, I nodded my approval. This was all a bit much, wasn't it?   

As the woman in the brightly colored dress started reading a story to the children gathered at the front of the church, the boy squirmed and wriggled, well-hidden and ignored. Having ditched my church-going ways a few years ago, I thought about the rational, positive, progressive points of the Episcopal church. They openly ordained gay leaders and welcomed all. Madeleine L'engle, one of my favorite writers, was Episcopalian and loved the liturgy. The church was 20 yards from the front door of the house where I was staying for two weeks.  

During the announcement time, a man stood up at the back of the church and asked us, if we cared at all about the environment, to check out, to see photos from the organization's recent gathering. If you're concerned about the oil spill and global warming, and, you know, want to save the planet, he added. A lady with long braids, big hips, and daring cleavage bounced around the aisle, her announcement excited and unintelligible. During the prayer time, people raised up names of those in pain and need they wanted to remember, and the visiting pastor asked for blessings and care for the animals affected by the oil spill in the gulf. This was definitely a northern California crowd.

Something was tugging at me. When the service started with a procession of the cross, some old, ancient part of my churched soul stirred. A low-church protestant, I had to follow along with the Episcopal high-church service by the bulletin, all those phrases to recite in unison: God is Goods and And Also with Yous.

The kids up front were engrossed in the pictures in the storybook reading of the 23rd Psalm, and I saw an arm in front of me shoot out from his hiding place. Grabbing a hymnal from the back of the pew before him, he pretended to be bored, flipping through the pages. You could almost hear him sigh and see him look at his pocket watch, as if he were an old man waiting outside the salon for his wife. His head cocked in curiosity when the church lady read from the story: Thou anointest my head with oil, she said, pointing to the illustration of two polar bears. Huh? said one little boy. Where'd a polar bear get oil? asked another. The boy hiding in the pew raised his head and scuttled to the edge of the bench, looking down the aisle at the group up front.  

The pastor called out for blessings, and the crazy lady with deep breast-baring cleavage dragged her husband to the front, (if you don't ask, you may miss out! her voice sang out) where she bounced from one foot to another, asking for traveling mercies for her husband's upcoming trip and a blessing for their wedding anniversary. Hearing it was another woman's birthday, the lady grabbed her and placed her in a squeeze between herself and her husband. The pastor gave the blessings for the coming year.

During story time for the adults, the pastor reflected on Luke 9: 51-62.  He spoke of centering, and his own story, when he had felt lost. Studying for his PhD, involved in the activism of the 60s, he said, I was doing everything I could to be good. And I realized that there was a dead feeling inside, that what was real and was truly me was dying, and if I didn't do something, I would die. One day, he said, I opened a book about pottery, and read this quote by John Middleton Murry: "For the good man to realize that it is better to be whole than to be good is to enter on a straight and narrow path to which his previous rectitude was flowery license."

What does it mean to be whole, versus being good? Years of church, Sunday school, bible study, youth group and Christian college courses, and I too am tired and dead inside from being good. But when I start to open myself to what it means to be whole, I feel that spark of life come back. I was shocked to find it sparked inside a church, but maybe that is right. If church is where I got bogged down by do-gooder-ness, perhaps that is where I needed to be reminded of the beauty of metaphor and story of Jesus's teachings, that he taught in stories. 

As the little boy leaned into the aisle for a better view, he gripped the edge of the pew, willing himself to stay in the spot he had claimed. Suddenly he was up and in quick, jerking, jogging steps rushed to the front of the church, nestling into his mother's arms, absorbed in the story. 

I leaned forward to take in the pastor's story, to be reminded of Jesus's stories, and the ongoing stories all around me. To wonder where polar bears would get oil with which to be anointed. To be reminded of people who live authentic lives of faith and questioning, who bounce to the beat of a different drum, who demand blessings and join hands to save the planet and each other. Stories that call us to justice, love and being whole, being who we are, my story different from yours.  

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Writing & Life Advice: Anne Lamott on Making Time

Finding time to be creative, to give yourself over to whatever feeds your soul, means making time. And according to Anne Lamott, that means giving up something that you may feel is a necessary part of your multi-tasking life.

"I sometimes teach classes on writing, during which I tell my students every single thing I know about the craft and habit. This takes approximately 45 minutes. I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

"Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.

"This means you have to grasp that your manic forms of connectivity—cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life. That a close friendship is worth more than material success.

"Needless to say, this is very distressing for my writing students."

Blogs are good for creating that space, and reminding you to tend to your creative side. When it is ignored and outdated, a blog eyes you with the forlorn look of a neglected puppy, eyes deep pools of hurt and confusion. Blogs keep you coming back, to find community, to feel you're sharing a bit of you with the world, and to keep up the hits (and we allll crave the hits, stats are how you know you're not just shouting into deep space).

My friend Paul has created a blog for just that sort of creative accountability. Get a hit of inspiration from him at Pablo's Doodles.

Anne writes,
"I often remember the story from India of a beggar who sat outside a temple, begging for just enough every day to keep body and soul alive, until the temple elders convinced him to move across the street and sit under a tree. Years of begging and bare subsistence followed until he died. The temple elders decided to bury him beneath his cherished tree, where, after shoveling away a couple of feet of earth, they found a stash of gold coins that he had unknowingly sat on, all those hand-to-mouth years.

You already have the gold coins beneath you, of presence, creativity, intimacy, time for wonder, and nature, and life. Oh, yeah, you say? And where would those rascally coins be?"

Read the rest of Anne's advice on how to find time here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

When There Is No Flow: Haruki Murakami

I felt decidedly out of the flow of life last Sunday.  Parking the car my friend so lovingly loaned me, I griped and grumbled at people who couldn't park perfectly, leaving three feet on each side of their car, and no room for mine. For making me walk an extra three blocks to Larchmont Avenue, which on a farmer's market Sunday morning is packed with people who have the gall to stop mid-sidewalk, kissing the air hello, clustering in groups of strollers, stray kids and dogs. Side walk people. Walk. I'm truly surprised they didn't scatter at the sight of the dark thundercloud that must have been brewing above my furrowed brow, or run from the Wicked Witch of the East soundtrack that surely accompanied my angry, determined, weaving walk up the cafe-lined street.

The smell of ripe peaches and flowers filled the air as I neared the open-air farmer's market, mingling with the faint smell of puppy dander and pee from the makeshift, mobile pet adoption park.  Pushing past strollers of babies giggling and clapping at playful puppies and tumbly kittens, I was caught off guard by the gaze of an older girl with Down syndrome.  She sat quietly on the bench, completely still in the midst of the madness, her legs crossed like a Yogi. 

Her serene look made me pause, to take in the orange tabby kittens (but not take them home), little toddlers wagging their whole bodies in time with the puppies' tails, begging. To take in both the hopeful faces as well as the sad reality that most of the animals would not find homes.  She reminded me of what I'd just read in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, when Mr. Honda tells Toru about being in the flow.

"The law presides over things of this world, finally. The world where shadow is shadow and light is light, yin is yin and yang is yang, I'm me and he's him. 'I am me and / He is him: / Autumn eve.' But you don't belong to that world, sonny. The world you belong to is above that or below that."

"Which is better? I asked, out of simple curiosity. "Above or below?"

"It's not that either one is better," he said ... "It's not a question of better or worse. The point is, not to resist the flow. You go up when you're supposed to go up, and find the highest tower and climb to the top. When you're supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. When there's no flow, stay still. If you resist the flow, everything dries up, the world is darkness. 'I am he and / He is me: / Spring nightfall.' Abandon the self, and there you are."

(From The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami)

"When there's no flow, stay still." That might be the hardest thing to do, especially in our society. I wish I could draw better than I do, to capture the stillness of the girl I saw, to remind myself to stay still, to pay attention to the flow of the present moment.

Old wooden boat!, originally uploaded by CyrusMafi.

Monday, June 07, 2010

An Eye on the Sparrow

I'm afraid. Afraid when I consider what is happening in the world, and my place in it.  I get overwhelmed when I read about collapsitarians and the peak oil crisis in light of the gushing gallons of oil in the Gulf Coast. I read about political unrest, babies dying from treatable diseases, and fear and ignorance.  And I'm afraid that God's eye is not on the sparrow. 

One year, we discovered a dead baby bird on the floor of the fireplace at my parents' house. A family of chimney swifts, small, sparrow-like birds had made a nest in their chimney.  My folks forgot to seal it before the next season, and they came once again. We heard more fluttering in the firebox. The cats were elated to have prey trapped so close, frustrated that we wouldn't open the glass fireplace doors to let the birds out to play. 

Peering inside, we saw two little birds clinging to the metal netting of the screen. I worried they couldn't fly, but when my dad looked inside later, they were gone.  The chirping and thundering of wings grew louder and louder until it was an alarm clock at feeding time, early in the morning.  Then one day, silence.  The birds had flown the chimney.  But the cats were still on patrol outside the fireplace, poised to pounce.  Looking inside, I saw one bird, quiet on the floor, and one fluttering next to it.  Dad put on gloves and picked them both up -- tiny, the two barely filled one of his palms.  I was sure the one was still alive, and we took it outside, placing its head near a shallow saucer with water, thinking it was dehydrated and hungry.  I crushed almonds into easy to eat almond-dust. I know nothing about birds.  It lay propped on the little dish we used for soy sauce, breathing tiny shallow bird breaths. 

Wearing vinyl gloves to protect it from my human-ness should its parents return for their abandoned baby, I took a small garden claw and dug for worms.  Tears welled up as I prayed to find a worm in one breath and demanded that God honor the promise to keep an eye on the sparrow.  As far as I could tell, only my eyes were on this one.  I found one small worm, and dangled it near the bird's beak, alternating that with drops of water.  I rearranged her, trying to aim her beak for the shallow pool of water.  Every time I turned her on her stomach, she would struggle and flip on her side, then on her back.  Her beak opened, and occasionally when I dropped water on it she shook her head, making her whole tiny body shake like a dog coming out from a swim.  Watching her tiny claw feet grasp, I was hopeful.  She made two brief chirps, and I thought if her wings were broken from the fall, she could be my new pet, kept safe in a roomy cage from the kitties. 

She took one last gaspy breath, and when I moved the almond dust towards her, I noticed she was no longer fighting.  I couldn't admit my nursing hadn't worked.  It was getting cold; I warmed a fluffy old towel in the drier and wrapped her in it.  I had a glimpse into Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, where she could not throw away her husband's shoes the year after he died.  If she did, what would he wear when he returned?  I couldn't think that I had watched a helpless creature die and been impotent to save her.  Not yet willing to admit the physics of the world, I wrapped her lightly in the towel and placed her in a shoe box in the shed.  When my dog had died earlier that year, I'd learned that I am physically and emotionally unable to bury a pet.  I felt like I was suffocating with the finality of throwing dirt on top of his body. If it weren't for my mother burying the dog, and her promise to bury the bird that night, I might end up the crazy lady with all the dead pets boxed in the shed. 

I am the crazy lady who hopes that death is not the end. Perhaps that is where faith kicks in for me, not that God will save every creature, but that there is something beyond this, for the little soul of this bird and my clumsy cocker spaniel.  And that God's eye on the sparrow is us, looking out for each other.  That we can make positive changes to live in community, growing local food, relying less on oil.  That we can support and care for those around the world for whom our way of life and war have left in poverty, helping to find what it means to live sustainably.  That we do all we can to feed, water and wrap each other in warm towels (shoe boxes optional).

(Photo: "An eye on the community," Carf photostream, Flickr)