Compelling stories can be transformative for both reader and writer. They unify us because everyone’s got one. Even non- fiction and poetry genres tell a story, or they aren’t reaching anyone who cares.
Lincoln In the Bardo is one hell of a weird, wonderful, super-unique, cosmic journey of a novel. The author has painstakingly researched and accumulated real newspaper reports and book quotes from the time of Lincoln about him, his family, his acquaintances and party, and the Civil War, and incorporated these into a novel astounding in its breadth and scope, spanning love, war, hate, grief, loss, life, death, and beyond, blurring the boundaries of them all.
Too many details will give away too much, but like other great novels such as The Goldfinch,The Nightingale, and All the Light We Cannot See, this work’s profundity sneaks up on the reader and will leave him or her breathless and thoughtful for quite a while.
It confronts the darker instincts and fears that unite us in our humanity, and shows these darkest instincts and circumstances can give way to something brilliant, good, and immortal.
Likewise, books give us a kind of immortality: they spawn further creativity, clarity, and invention. They get under our skin like a virulent contagion, and change us, as we pass our insights and creations on and on. Enjoy!
Hello again, dear friends! I’ve missed you. I’ve been locked in a room for several months chained to my computer, finishing my second book, which it took me 14 years to write and one year to edit. I finally looked up and saw Thanksgiving on the horizon. It’s time to return to the world of humanity.
For me, gratitude is not a Thanksgiving cliché, now replaced with Black Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It is the essential remedy of the fear, frustration and confusion living in today’s world can cause on a daily basis. Gratitude and inspiration breed hope and courage; fear takes them away. So, here is a little dose of hope for the holidays.
1) I’m grateful for the French people– even in the wake of the latest round of devastating attacks on Paris– beautiful, proud, un- cowed.
The French response to the fact that one of the terrorists may have pretended to be a Syrian refugee? They not only upheld their commitment to said Syrian refugees, but also deepened that commitment.
The Parisian response to all- out brutality and hatred was not to hide in their homes, but to continue to enjoy the pleasures of their great city, and to live as only the French can. This people have always known exactly whom they are, and what they were made for, and fear will not change that. Their art, culture and joie de vivre have always inspired and served as a model for capturing the best of every moment. Now their strength, resolve and courage do so.
2) I ‘m grateful that there is always another source of inspiration just around the corner. The world is full of unsung heroes quietly living their lives.
Life is bewildering, frustrating, dangerous, and exhausting. Sometimes it makes me simultaneously frightened to death and of the frame of mind, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!
But, each of our lives is populated with people who help us and give us the love and courage to be exactly who we are. For every image that inspires fear, there are many more people that inspire faith, courage and admiration.
3) I’m thankful that I am still capable of being inspired by people.
4) I ‘m thankful for the movie, Field Of Dreams, and others like it dealing with faith in the unseen, in one’s self, and the Hero’s Journey. I ‘m thankful for that old Big Daddy Weave song called What I was Made For, which I play frequently when I’m in a funk, and the reminder it provides that I, like each and every one of us, was made by my creator for a specific purpose, and the spiritual journey I must make is finding what that purpose is, sometimes daily.
5) I am so fortunate and grateful that something like a movie, song, or book can live in me like a joyful virus for weeks and months, keeping me strong, and that there are others like me, discussing, forming book clubs, film clubs, artist groups and retreats and other homes away from home.
I get to catch inspiration, use it as fuel to create something from nothing, and hopefully once in a while, pass that inspiration on.
6) I ‘m grateful that there still are books and poetry in the world and that people still read them and love them passionately.
7) I’m doubly grateful that, after so many different directions, careers and mistakes, I am fairly certain my purpose is to create. This certainty stems from these wrong turns and course corrections, all of them essential to the process. It also arises from the fact that, at this point in my life, I can’t refrain or abstain from creating.
More people are writing books now, than there are people who still read. So what? I do this because it is what I was made for. A late bloomer still flowers:)
8) I’m thankful I have a dream. Bringing this dream into being usually makes me spring out of bed every day with excitement and optimism. At times, it prompts me to spring out of bed with cursing and wailing, but I am thankful that it will, in fact, be born in a few months, and the creative process never ends. It provides me with joy and strength and restores my faith and youth, when the world has worn me out.
9) I am thankful for the struggle. If it was easy, I would have no need for courage, perseverance, help, or the common sense to know I don’t know enough.
10) Mostly I’m grateful for the fact that God brought each of you into my life, as a continual source of inspiration.That makes me feel like the most fortunate person in the world.You are the unsung heroes I refer to in paragraph 2.
11) Oh, and coffee; I can’t forget coffee!
Without the wonderful aroma, the beautiful-bitter taste and the sizable jolt it provides, I’d never make it out of bed to ponder the imponderables, journey towards my purpose, or write or communicate anything intelligible to anyone. Happy Thanksgiving and thanks to each and every one of you!
Do you ever wonder why you can be so peaceful on vacation but can’t keep that feeling when you get home? Is there a way to take your vacation ” to go?”
Once immersed in the warm ocean water of Florida and sinking my feet in the brilliant white sand, decades of Epic Fail meditation training suddenly kicked in. My mind slowed down and blanked until all I was aware of was my immediate place in the cosmos: spinning on this planet, swimming in jade water and walking on a tiny silken thread of beach.
Is there something I can drag from this experience to my daily quest for and practice of peace? There are 3 elements of every successful vacation that are, in fact portable that we can click and drag with us when we are ” back on the chain gang”.
Doesn’t the view at right make one’s concerns not only seem small, but ridiculous? The problems are still there: what happened?
We focused on something beautiful, instead of something scary or vexing. We also focused on something happening right now, something right in front of our eyes; not a phantom or something we created in the future with our minds.
… And what else happens after a great vacation? We can’t wait to get home. Why is this? Because we remember what we treasure most, and with renewed focus, we return home with new zeal. We can do this without a plane ticket because distance isn’t a physical destination.
2) We step into our proper role. Our thoughts and emotions are like the storms portrayed in these pictures. If we watch them objectively, they simply peter out on their own.
While on vacation, I was able to view these magnificent storms from the proper perspective: that of spectator.
There was nothing about this storm to threaten anything I have or am: it was simply a wonderful and transient piece of performance art, to be watched and enjoyed. This storm brought every person on the island to his or her balcony at the same exact time to revel in what was going on. It wasn’t menacing, It was spectacular!
In a matter of minutes, it was gone.
This is how our crises are most of the time. If we drill right down to it, 8 times out of 10, what we are driving ourselves mad about is something our thoughts have created: there is danger to our precious concept of ourselves: our wealth, our power, our beauty, our youth, our creativity, our freedom: all of which are mental constructs!
Who we are has nothing to do with these things. Life is not the sum total of our challenges, neither are we. Life is an adventure and a teacher, not a sentence to be endured.
We cling to these fears because we think they are part of who we are, but they are just a storm of the mind and the heart.
3) Limited Time Only! Who on earth would waste a perfectly wonderful vacation obsessing for even one minute about what could be going on at home? These storms and life itself only last briefly. Why contaminate one transient event with another?
In his book, the Untethered Soul, Michael Singer uses the example of someone who has always dreamed of hearing a certain piece performed by a certain orchestra live. Then it happens. Transcendental peace occurs in a few notes. The point is made to illustrate that peace isn’t a miraculous set of circumstances all coming into alignment like the planets every eon.
We can do this any time; the key is the same transcendence that occurs on vacation or when hearing this favorite piece played: we become fully engaged in experiencing what is actually happening— life itself, and all that is good in it and, sometimes without our knowing it, peace creeps in.
If we do this, then peace becomes portable… until the next time we need to press the reset button. It’s a practice, like reading the Bible or meditating, not a transitory event. Thank God!
It’s 100 percent optional whether and how often we decide to reset and begin again.
The truth of any teaching can never be found in the words. Rather, the truth is found in that which is revealed inside our own selves. By exploring in this way, we make the teachings our own. And by making a teaching our own… we come to awaken to a view of life that is whole and unified…and addresses the deepest yearning and longing of the human heart.
I so want to consider myself a mystic. I’m always looking for that next burning bush, while ignoring that my left foot is on fire. Can’t see the tree, for looking at the forest. I want to have a positive impact on the world. But, the true point of impact is the fundamentals, not the polished product. I have learned this again and again and yet, the lesson is far from over. When I am trying to accomplish a lot, I focus so intently on the finished work that I literally lose myself, and lose these critical benefits in the process:
DIRECTION AND PERSPECTIVE
I can’t accomplish big things, if I can’t even accomplish little things consistently. I must remove all the fluff, drilling down to the most basic level first, before doing anything else.
If I don’t put my spiritual life first, my entire perception of everything and everyone becomes skewed.
I am a person of words, but words can and often do lie. In his wonderful book, Falling Into Grace, Adyashanti posits that the reason for human suffering is that we believe our own thoughts.
My thoughts are just a story I tell myself. If I don’t make my time with God my top priority, I start to live in the story, instead of the truth. I have a story about everything: the past, the future, and my motivations for doing what I am doing. I even tell myself a story about my spiritual time:
“ It’s something I have to do, or God will be mad at me.”
“ I need to master the art of prayer and read scriptures or books about prayer.” Well, that’s just the enemy telling me another story.
It is best to start my day with God, before things get too far afield. Otherwise, I will take off in the wrong direction going 200 miles an hour until l hit the wall and finally collapse. My time with God can be 30 minutes or 3 minutes— it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be fluffy or perfect. My prayer and meditation time is where I find the fount of truth, which becomes, freedom, insight, purpose, direction, energy and inspiration. It starts out being like spiritual broccoli, how I get my antioxidants. But, soon it becomes the most pleasurable part of my day, because it leads me to:
AWAKENING. I get out of my head and my stories, and focus on what is true, and what is happening right in front of my face or even in my own beating heart right now. There is no truth, or happiness or peace or love living in my head. It is happening in this very moment. I even tell myself stories about the truth, wanting it to be bigger, something I can’t miss, like a neon sign. It isn’t.
It is amazing how often the truth for which I search is hiding in my own body. I drive and drive myself, ignoring the evidence. Am I sleeping and eating well, in other words, treating myself like I matter? If not, why? What am I feeling? Is fear or resentment from the past driving me? What is my true motivation for the present course I am charting? Have I been feeling sick or tired for a long time? What is the story I’m telling myself about this? Is it even true? The evidence is not just physical: it is spiritual. Something is off. My life is skewed and out of balance and the cure is not driving myself harder, but drilling down to the Paleo: finding the truth in each and every moment. It is far from easy; it is peeling an enormous onion, but it is the seed from which everything else grows.
God speaks to me in metaphors because it is the only thing I understand. Every year, I go to a retreat at Laity Lodge to get closer to the Creator and his creations and foster the creative process in myself. Usually, I am presented with a lesson or several on the last day. I offer this, for what it may be worth to you.
I had been feeling severely depleted and removed from my Higher Power due to some serious and ongoing personal crises, aka life. I just wanted to hunker down somewhere and hide and try to find my center again.
I found a cool spot on the footbridge facing some waterfalls and situated myself where no one could see me. I tried to get still and quiet, but the beauty of it all was too much. I tried to catch the 4 big waterfalls with my iPad camera from every angle, but they didn’t show up. I got up and changed position, but it didn’t work. I resorted to my phone, because it had a zoom, and I figured I could capture the beauty and crop it after the fact.
Finally, I gave up and sat back down. I resumed staring at the falls. As soon as I did, a 5th big waterfall came into view. I don’t know how I missed it, but I did. This sent me into a new tailspin. I began to try to capture the 5th fall with my cameras; it was the biggest one! This effort to capture a moment was even more fruitless and frustrating than the last.
Slowly, I realized the sound of tumbling water was coming from more than 5 places. My eye was drawn, each in turn; to 3 other small falls spewing from the rocks.
The lesson just kept coming. I tried to capture these new, hidden sources of flow with my camera, but they didn’t materialize either.
I looked around again at my surroundings, paying attention and noticing two additional falls staring me in the face. This was getting ridiculous!
All of these sources had been there all along, biding their time. Not waiting to be revealed, but waiting to be noticed.
I ‘m always trying to capture the infinite and reduce it to a sound bite. But, then it disappears. This is complete insanity on my part, but we all have those moments of craziness, when what we are trying to accomplish for ourselves, for others, or even for God completely takes over our thoughts and makes us completely lose perspective. What is required at this moment of lunacy is to sit there and do nothing, reconnecting with our Source of infinite peace, intelligence, wisdom, love.
The Infinite Source is magnificent, but not necessarily glamorous. It is like the support girders that keep our national highways humming without falling down. We are supposed to keep driving: not stop and take pictures of them as we make our way down the road. Imagine what would happen if we did! Well, that is exactly what does happen in each individual instance of mini-crazy. We go off- course and can stay there until we can stop long enough to check our direction. I can veer dramatically off course before my feet even hit the floor in the morning.
Perhaps, for me personally, the best thing I can do every morning before I bounce out of bed is to simply ask ” God, what are you going to show me today? What’s my lesson? Please help me to see it and receive it.
This is when being a storyteller can be a less than good thing, because I’m so excited about relating the miracle, the blessing or the lesson, that I don’t give it time to sink in. Hopefully, next time I’ll just sit there for a while and take it all in.
1. COMPILE YOUR BUCKET LIST NOW– NOT WHEN YOU ARE SERIOUSLY CONTEMPLATING YOUR OWN MORTALITY. This is the best way there is to discern and get clarity on where your priorities really are and to what hidden parts of you have been denied all of these years. Then, start doing those things now. Guess what? You are now living the dream.
REDEFINE “WEALTH” ACCORDING TO PRIORITIES FOUND IN # 1. For me, wealth is discretionary time and freedom. It’s the likelihood and ability to do the things I want to now, not “when I retire in 40 years.” The truth is our friend, and the truth is that there are no guarantees. Do you really want your life to begin decades from now?
REMOVE THE CLUTTER. It affects your attitude and potential. If I hang on to every purchase I’ve ever made, “ because I might need it someday” or “ I might lose everything”, it creates an attitude of scarcity and fear. I’m the worst about this. Every object has sentimental value, but I live in a small house, and if I don’t get rid of the things I haven’t used in a year, my precious living- space becomes an episode of Hoarders. There is another reason: Even though I tell myself I’m a disorganized artist, the clutter affects my mental clarity, discipline, and peace. I don’t want to have to double the size of my house every 10 years simply to store my “ things.” Think of all of the people living in huge warehouse- type houses, who are under water on their mortgages.
LIVE A LIFE THAT ALLOWS FOR MORE OPPORTUNITY AND CHANGE. What if the opportunity of a lifetime presents itself today? Could you pick up and go follow it tomorrow?
AS A COROLLARY TO NUMBERS 1-4, LIVE A LIFE THAT IS FREE. Debt- free, cage- free, worry- free, clutter free. It’s freakishly weird, but almost every adult in my extended family growing up was a banker. They all said the same thing: “If you don’t have the cash to buy it, don’t buy it.” Obviously, I am not suggesting going off the grid. For anyone not Amish, that could present an obstacle or two. But, it’s a matter of degree, isn’t it? One or two credit cards may be necessary, but 6-10, may be quicksand.
LOOSEN THE GRIP. I have my first dime, and my second and my third. I want to be ready for emergencies, so I tend to not spend, even if it might be critical for my long term well being. This stems from the delusion that if I am cautious nothing bad will happen. But, while I’m trying to control everything, I’m not discovering, learning, or living. It helps me to remember that my material possessions aren’t really mine. They come from the Source of Infinite Wealth to be funneled through me to go where they need to go, and eventually replenished. If God doesn’t call the equipped, but equips the called, I will have what I need when I need it, as I continue on my journey of discovery. My job is to stay limber, stay ready and await further instructions:)
Tina Turner of aging: It’s’ just a number. Bring it on!
1) Don’t associate with people who insist on knowing your age. It is an artificial limit and there is no need to even acknowledge it in any way. It may be their limitation, but it isn’t yours. You can do anything at any time, period.
2) Realize that the reason you feel insulted when people say, you look great for your age is because it is an insult. Shake it or them off. It is someone putting his or her own limitations on you, even if unintentionally. Beauty is ageless, timeless and radiates outward from the soul. Don’t let anyone else diminish it. You are beautiful without qualification.
3) Limit your mirror time. The amount of time we spend looking in the mirror is inversely proportional to contentment and confidence. The brain is programmed to find what it is searching for. If we search our mirrors for flaws we will find them, no matter our age.
4) Exercise for 30 minutes. It makes you feel powerful, capable and strong and radiant. Of course, if you feel flush with endorphins, you will look fantastic. Exercise also rushes oxygenated blood to the connective tissue that supports your skin, and keeps it from sagging.
5) If you can’t view every image you see in magazines, videos or the Internet as a highly produced and edited work of art, stay away or limit your time consuming them. Almost no picture we see isn’t filtered, photo-shopped or edited. That isn’t a standard: it’s a fantasy. Be in your own beautiful skin here and now, own it, and maybe strut just a little! You were created to be a blessing and that is beautiful.
She leads me to the middle of nowhere then, according to her whims, says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Did you mean Istanbul?”
The Memo Pad barks its commands
and I spring into frenzy while
the owl outside succumbs to sleep.
I can see it now:
Death by To Do List
I am absolutely in love with Twitter. Nothing but death will part me from it. It stimulates my creativity and my intellect, and I love its brevity and immediacy. One can get involved and informed immediately. But I fight being a slave daily. Without the proper mindset, I become nothing more than the agent of my digital tools. The infinite totality of digital access (Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Vine, and all of the others) makes me twitchy and affects my creativity. It says, Hurry Up. I’m never going to catch up- ever. .
It’s like the proverbial Lays potato chip: there is no such thing as viewing only one cat video or vacation photo from someone I met 10 years ago at a conference, at least not for me. I love that I can keep up with friends and family quickly on Facebook. Sometimes getting a window into someone else ‘s life is thought provoking, inspirational, and a blessing. But, it’s like quicksand.
As an artist, I need the digital media to get my works and myself out there, but, without balance or a limit, it stops me from creating. Ultimately, it’s what draws me closer to my higher power that must be my treasure and my priority, for, without that link to infinite intelligence, love and creativity, I will be dominated by external criteria ultimately having nothing to do with me. That divine link is sparked by the act of creating, even if no one sees the creation.
It makes me joyous, and that draws me into my ultimate creator’s arms.
So, I’m going on a digital diet. Not a complete fast, just a daily time limit for all things digital.:) If you need to get in touch with me, tweet or call. I’m running a little behind on my e mailJ (5000 unread messages).
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
1) Serenity first and foremost. There is nothing and no one on this earth worth sacrificing my own peace of mind. Getting myself in a mental muddle won’t help anyone or make the world any better. I will engage in any practice necessary to preserve my serenity, no matter how unusual or subversive, including the following:
2) Brazenness. I simply will not accept shame from anyone, including myself. Shame is a tactic, not a truth. I’m also going to refuse any guilt that I myself haven’t earned.
3) Keeping an open mind. As unlikely as it may seem, there may be a different point of view even from my most dug- in perceptions and beliefs.
As Voltaire said, I’m going to enjoy my ability to make up my own mind and let others enjoy the dignity of making up theirs. How could I ever hope to earn someone’s respect, if I don’t try to respect his or her thinking and beliefs?
Practicing # 3 will inevitably lead down the slippery slope ending in # 4.
4) I might have to utter the dreaded phrase, ” you might be right.”
5) I’m going to re- learn the now seemingly extinct practices of consensus and compromise, and ask myself, “how important is it?” before endeavoring to assist anyone to get back on the side of the Angels. Am I really sure I’m on the right side? A difference of opinion isn’t a personal attack. The more emotional I am about something, the more likely I am to have distorted perceptions, which may lead me away from the solution or resolution I seek.
6) In law school we learned the rule of reasonableness: what would a reasonable man or woman do in the same situation? It’s kind of bizarre that with all the lawyers roaming the earth, I never hear this word. I’m going to attempt to resuscitate this all but extinct practice, and use it as the criterion in my interactions, instead of my feelings and perceptions.