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Where I Am

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The hermit thrush is nesting farther away this year, yet his evening song still drifts across the meadow to the porch where I sit with my journal awkwardly perched on my arm to accommodate the cat in my lap.

The bird’s new territory is at the edge of ‘my’ forty acres, which of course belong to him as much as they do to me. My ancestors have been here in southwestern New Hampshire just seventy-five years – who knows how long his line has blessed these woods and meadows with their ethereal songs?

The thrush music blends with the faint trickle of a wispy creek at the base of the granite cliff that borders my property. Later this summer, the creek will disappear underground.

There’s a spring over there somewhere; I remember it from when I was a kid, but I haven’t been able to find it lately.

These quiet waters flow over meadows and through woods, past horse pastures and chicken pens, down, down this mountain and into the rushing Ashuelot River. To my citified ears, the river sounds like distant traffic until I remember where I am.

I smile.

The cat lies purring in my lap, her paws busily kneading as she sucks on my tee-shirt, a kittenish habit I assumed she would outgrow, but which comforts her still as she approaches old age.

I am, in theory, vacuuming. But what a waste that would be of this magic time of day when dusk turns to dark, and shapes darker still move across the meadow amidst the early fireflies.

Last year I saw a fisher cat slink across the lawn — a vicious relative of the weasel  — and I often see a shadowy silver fox trotting up the lane.

Here is a star. And now another.

The owl gives fair warning to its prey. Woo hoo – hoo hooooo.

The cat jumps off my lap and hurries to the door.

Night falls.

Night Falls

Night Falls

Online Dating as a Creative Process

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Reading about creativity is way easier than actually creating something, just as messing about on a dating website is way easier than going on a date.

Today I’ve been reading about art as process, rather than product; about how our consumer mindset cramps our creativity by asking questions like, “Where is this idea going?” or “How might this direction help my career?”

creativity

creativity (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee) Creative Commons

Fine questions for a certain time and place, but there’s a time in the creative process – the writing process, in my case – when you have to let your wild woman/man be in charge. No judge, no editor, just gut.

You can read a superb essay by Betty S. Flowers about this artistic process here.

Asking “What is this going to be?” might be asking for a creative block. It tells your curiosity and sense of fun that they are not welcome.

“When we focus on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure,” says Julia Cameron. “Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.”

Foolish. Not to mention barren.

Sex or True Love?

Which brings me to online dating. If you read my last post, you will know that I have just entered this baffling world, after many moons of being happily single and date-free.

One of the questions on the site I’m using asks:

“Are you interested in A.) Sex or B.) True Love?”

That’s it? Those are my options? The “products” I’m allowed to choose from?

What about C.) Having Fun and D.) Enjoying Myself and E.) Trying New Things?

Daydreaming a Date

One person who commented on my last blog said I should make haste to meet anyone I might be interested in, lest I start daydreaming and create imaginary partners. Point well taken: I’m already doing the imaginary man thing. She warns against wasting time in case there’s no chemistry once prose becomes human voice and personality. She is a wise woman.

On the other hand, I have time. Perhaps there is a place for daydreaming, making stuff up, letting my wild woman romp around in my head for a while.

I think that for someone like me who has not focused on dating for an eternity, simply enjoying the process can be healthy. For instance, contemplating all this has led me to seriously consider what I’m looking for in a guy . . . to create that guy in my mind. This gives me an ideal to compare the “real thing” with, if and when I decide to meet one of those real things.

The Perfect Product

When I consider what I’m seeking, not one of my desires resembles a product or an end goal.

From my journal, I offer just a taste: “Someone to share perspectives with – to laugh together, be outraged together, wonder together, be grateful together, pray together . . . I want somebody to encourage me, to share my dreams for who I want to be and to support me getting there in a loving, ego-free way . . .”

All process, not product.

All journey, not destination.

My two-page list also hopes for someone creative and maybe a little quirky who will cherish and adore me and help me with projects around the house. Yes, I’m asking for a lot, but if I’m going to give up one iota of my freedom, it’s going to have to be for a VERY good reason.

The wish-list ends with a heartfelt prayer: “God save me from being bored.”

To be continued . . .

What Have I Done??

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Now I’ve gone and done it – I’ve joined an online dating site and THERE ARE MEN OUT THERE! How do I get out of this?

I assure you that my actions were entirely unpremeditated, and there was no alcohol involved.

Well, OK, I had a few glasses of Cabernet with my girlfriend the other night, and I do blame her for egging me on and for showing me how the dating site works and telling me amazing dating stories.

But today when I actually signed up, my mind had been clouded by nothing. Unless you can call curiosity a clouding agent.

I didn’t realize I was doing it; I was just investigating, clicking around, and the next thing I knew, I was “live!”

Yikes.

You see, I’ve been single a very, very long time and I’m quite happy, rarely feeling the need for male companionship except when the trash is extraordinarily stinky or the lawn needs mowing and it’s 98 degrees out. Otherwise, I’m good, thank you very much.

I don’t think I’m in denial. I simply like my space. I like my life – why complicate things?

So I don’t know what possessed me. But there you have it.

A Pack of Wolves

Within the first few minutes, seventeen guys had invaded my space, which made me feel like there was a pack of wolves after me until I realized that this attitude is likely one of the reasons I’m not a big dater. Or any kind of dater.

I’m scared of the male animal.

I’m working on this, especially because it impacts my relationship with God, who I unfortunately can’t help envisioning as a white male. I find it hard to trust in a loving Higher Power if I think HE might go into a rage or start sleeping around.

But a wise girlfriend of mine recently had me list all of the men I love and all of their good qualities. As it turns out, I have a lot of fine male friends who have a lot of outstanding qualities. They totally love me, and I totally love them.

And I trust them.

Rationally, I know that males are not horrid and out to get me. It just feels that way.

Wildlife Research

One of the personality questions this dating site asked was, “Would you do something dangerous or crazy just because you might have good stories to tell later?” I said no. Now I realize that (neurotic as it sounds) my new online adventure feels like exactly that.

So that’s how I’ll look at it. I am a budding writer. A blogger. I need material. I need stories to tell.

I’m going to call this “research,” and then I’ll be in charge . . . or at least I can tell myself that.

Already, I’m curious about these dudes who have no shirt on in their profile pictures. What’s that about? Put your damn clothes on.

I’ve come across a few contenders who have pictures of their CARS as their profile. Really? Better than a shotgun, but not by much.

Some men post pictures of themselves in hotel mirrors. Don’t they have any real pictures, like at a barbecue or with friends at a baseball game? Do they use work trips to peruse dating sites while their wives sit home oblivious?  (I told you I had trust issues.)

Peeking out from behind the underbrush, I enter uncharted territory and begin to research the wildlife in the area.

Now Who's the Stalker?

Now Who’s the Stalker?

I would love to hear your experiences in the world of online dating – weddings, warnings, war stories, whatever. . .

Lovely photo courtesy of Oregon Fish and Wildlife — Thanks!

Here’s an interesting review site  for online dating services.

For Book Lovers Only

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This morning I was doing some housecleaning. Perhaps you felt the shift in the cosmos? I wouldn’t have been doing anything so drastic if it weren’t for the fact that I’m inheriting a new dining room table from some friends, and it’s much bigger than my old one. Rearranging is in order and that means digging out.

The first task in cleaning any room in my house, after gathering hundreds of papers into piles to do deal with later, is books. They accumulate around me like treasures in an archaeological site; when unearthed, they provide clues to how life was once lived in vaguely chronological layers.

Dusk mask in place and dust rag in hand, I offer a few fun finds you might like:

My New Favorite Author

The Shadow of the Wind, which I recently finished, was on top of the mound. Not only did this book expose me to my new favorite “undiscovered author” (who seems to be known by everyone else on the planet), Carlos Ruiz Zafon, it also opened a new world of book lovers to me.

A few months back, I queried my “friends” (or so I supposed) on Goodreads for recommendations of good novels in which I could completely lose myself. Much to my surprise, I got recommendations from total strangers all around the country!

Pretty cool.

Zafon’s book was recommended by a guy named Steve, I think in Seattle, with whom I’m now friends. I’m mining his reading list.

Sifting Through Spiritual Stories

This spring I co-led a spiritual practices group at my church, so I had hauled out many books in that vein and left them lying around.

Holy Silence is a quiet little Quaker book that I rediscovered when we studied meditative silent prayer in our group. I’m fond of J. Brent Bill’s books. They simply say “Quaker” — small, unassuming things with black and white drawings on the covers. The books contain nuggets like, “Quakers call the presence of the Holy Spirit working within us a ‘sifting silence.’ It separates the worthwhile from the worthless.”

I think we could all use a little more of this sifting silence in our lives.

In the same stack of spiritually themed books, I found one of my absolute favorites. It’s the first one I read by Father Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M. I love, love, love this guy. I had lent my signed copy of Everything Belongs to a friend years ago and only just got it back.

I know everyone’s journey is different, but for me, this is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.

Rohr talks about “spiritual capitalism,” trying to acquire new things and knowledge to attain spiritual growth. “In reality,” he says, “our growth is hidden. It is accomplished by the release of our current defense postures, by the letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Thus, we grow by subtraction much more than by addition. It’s not a matter of more and better information…Once our defenses are out of the way and we are humble and poor, truth is allowed to show itself.”

Another spiritual book that I just got a few weeks ago but which was already being buried under the detritus of my life is Anne Lamott’s new one, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I never regret spending time with Anne; she always makes me laugh out loud. This one’s a very short book, so I’m waiting until the proper time to savor it. Maybe I’ll read it all in one sitting later in the summer when I have some time alone.

005.lamott

Me Giving Writing Advice to Anne Lamott

The Goddess and Mona Lisa

The Goddess and Mona LisaMy Friend Joe  B.

My Friend Joe B.

A friend of mine passed away last winter and his wife did a wonderful thing. She held a big party for all his friends and family at which she laid out his things and said, “Have at it. He would want you to have his stuff.”

Clothes, musical instruments, tools, houseplants….and books. Tons of books. I helped her shelve them in preparation for the party, so I got first pick. A couple I particularly liked were As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway, and Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwartz. I enjoyed thinking about Joe reading and reacting to them as I made my way through the stories.

Writing Books

I fear that I’m in danger of becoming one of those writers who spends so much time reading about writing that she never gets down to actually writing. I have a ton of books on writing, and I enjoy reading journals by writers about the writing life. I’m currently reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, which I find eerie because she’s living and writing in a little white house in New Hampshire, like me, and her days are so similar to mine. Taciturn neighbors coming to hay the fields, same flowers blooming, black flies biting, raccoons gadding about in the trash.

I have several volumes of Gail Godwin’s journals on writing. I find her writing inconsistent, so she’s not one of my favorite authors, but some is quite good, and I like her “voice.” So I think I’ll enjoy the journals when I get around to them.

I was especially glad to find a Natalie Goldberg that’s been MIA for a long time. It’s my go-to writing book, called Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. It has great writing prompts and is far better than most of those types of books.

One of her prompts led to a moving experience for me, writing about a bicycle I had when was eleven – it was olive green.

“Why would I get a green bike,” I wondered, “since I don’t like green?” I came to realize through my writing that in fact I had stopped liking green as an adolescent because it was my father’s favorite color and I was angry at him for his drinking. A simple but profound realization that is helping me redeem my relationship with my late father and also with the glorious color green.

Reading Books

Near the bottom of the piles was a book that I’m truly looking forward to falling into. For now I’m leaving it out of my boxing-up project so that I don’t lose track of it again. A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel is not the type of book I usually read. At almost 400 pages, it’s a dense tome of nonfiction. But ever since I first flipped through it in the used book store, I feel excited at the prospect of tackling it.

As Manguel writes, “We come to feel that the books we own are the books we know…to glance at the spines of the books we call ours, obediently standing guard along the walls of our room, willing to speak to us and us alone at the mere flick of a page, allows us to say, ‘All this is mine,’ as if their presence alone fills us with their wisdom, without our actually having to labour through their contents.”

This challenging read has been standing guard long enough – it’s time for me to labor through its contents!

I hope you get to enjoy some good reading this summer.

Any suggestions for me?

Creating Abundance

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I was chatting with my neighbor Linda this morning about psychology, types of therapy, and what constitutes childhood trauma. You know, the usual over-the-back-fence conversations.

We agreed that there are two ways to view life, metaphysically speaking: as if the universe, or God, or whatever Higher Power might exist is good and benevolent, or as if She/He/It is vindictive and negative. Some folks simply expect good things, like the person who says (and actually believes) “everything will work out OK,” while others cycle between “It figures,” or “What do you expect?” or “Of course this would happen to me.”

You can see the physical manifestation of these mindsets in the lined faces of elderly people, can’t  you? Were their eyebrows often raised in wonder or expectation, their cheeks creased by smiles? Or were their mouths drawn down in discontent or bitterness?

Johnny

What’s Johnny’s mindset?

Family Flack

Our childhoods and the attitudes we absorbed from our families heavily influence which side of the dichotomy we occupy. If your father regularly dumped his obsessive financial angst on your little head, you might have grown up fearful, expecting the worst. If your older siblings railed at you, “What the hell is wrong with you??” whenever something happened to spill or break in your vicinity, you might have grown up believing that you are such a loser you don’t deserve anything good to happen to you anyway.

I have a friend who invariably remarks whenever I share anything good that’s come my way, “How come nothing like that ever happens to me?” His attitude sucks the joy out of his own life and out of our interactions.

Counting the Cost of Freedom

My point is this: we have choices in this matter. If we have learned an attitude of scarcity and a mistrust of fate as kids, we can decide to do the hard work of recovery as adults and unlearn the negative beliefs that make us unhappy.

Oh sure, there is some satisfaction in playing the victim or in anticipating scarcity and/or trouble. It feels good to say, “See? I knew it. I was right.” There’s a certain sense of control in that. And it’s familiar and comfortable.

One has to calculate the costs of abandoning negativity and the benefits of launching into the unknown realm of hope.

What we Nurture

One of the bugaboos that clings to me like a fat tick is my habit of nurturing dread. When things are going smoothly, my default is to wonder what’s going to go wrong.

“This can’t last – when’s the other shoe going to drop?” is a perfectly natural reaction for a person who grew up in an alcoholic family. Anything could and would happen.

And this is true in general. Good times will pass because change is the nature of life. Good times pass, but so do bad times. Happy times and sad times. Life is both/and.

It’s what you choose to focus on that creates your reality. Something awful might happen tomorrow, but why should I ruin today by thinking about it? I have better things to nurture.

Which brings me to creativity.

Creating Abundance

One of the reasons I enjoy reading fine literature is that I find the world of words and ideas to be infinitely expansive. That’s why I write, too. When I’m in the zone, my tiny mind is released from all constraints, and I expect magic. It might not *read* like magic, but it *feels* like magic.

Creating and experiencing art gives me a sense of open, boundless freedom through which I can connect to others.

My neighbor Linda is sitting on her patio picking out a new song on the guitar. She plucks and sings, then picks up her pen and writes. I’m sitting on my porch, writing this blog. The fact that Linda is exhibiting her creativity doesn’t mean that there’s less for me. In fact, there’s a symbiosis going on. Her guitar is providing a soundtrack for my morning and bringing back memories loaded with creative potential; she asks if I can help her with lyrics.

Inside a human head and heart there exists a reality of limitless abundance and possibility waiting to be unleashed, no matter what’s going on in day-to-day reality. When you open to this creative spirit, whether its visual arts, music, or writing, you are saying you believe in abundance. You believe there is more than enough.

And it is all good.

Julia Cameron writes in her book, The Artist’s Way Every Day: A Year of Creative Living:

“Because art is born in expansion, in a belief in sufficient supply, it is critical that we (artists) pamper ourselves for the sense of abundance that it brings to us.”

She says that creative blocks usually come from our attitudes. “The actual block is our feeling of constriction, our sense of powerlessness. Art requires us to empower ourselves with choice. At the most basic level, this means choosing to do self-care.”

I like people who tell me to pamper myself. I’m thinking I might go see a movie instead of cleaning my dining room. For the sake of creativity, of course.

Make Something Good!

I hope that you get a chance to do something fun and creative this summer. If you don’t think of yourself as the creative type, I call B.S. You were creative when you were a little kid, and you can recapture it. It’s all in the attitude.

Give yourself permission to believe something different.

Finger paint.

Write a poem or a children’s story.

Build an awesome sand castle.

Make some quality mud pies with your kid.

Experience the abundance that’s bottled up inside you.

Happy summer!

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