Friday, December 5, 2014

In the Company of Kind

"I'm glad to find this group," our new writing partner says. "Writing can be so isolating," she explains.  I nod my head, even though I haven't the faintest idea of what she means.  For one thing, I rarely accomplish much writing, left to my own devices.  That's why I started a writing meetup, to create the environment and accountability to accomplish writing on a regular basis.  It's been wildly successful in that regard; I've never written more than I have in the months since I began the group.

The deeper reason I can't relate is because I never feel completely alone when I write.  I have the writer's voice, the critic's voice and the doubter's voice all wrapped up inside my mind.  When I'm alone and writing, I am so busy fending off the "that's a lousy description" and the "nobody will care what you write" voices that it can be a challenge to hear the writer's voice at all.

When I'm out writing with other writers, whether they be published authors or casual bloggers, the writer's voice comes to the forefront of my mind.  Some days, I don't even hear the critic's voice at all, and I'm not sure the doubter's voice ever leaves my house.  There's an alchemical reaction that takes place in my brain when I'm in the creative soup that only brews in the company of People who Write.  People who must write because otherwise they will go crazy.  People who write what will burn them up inside them if it doesn't come out.  People who write, no matter if anyone will read it, because it's who and what they are.  People who encourage another writer's creative genius because it speaks to their own.

In this company of kindred writing spirits, I not only feel more free to express what I must say, I feel compelled to be engaged in The Work, if only in solidarity with my fellow writers. If I don't keep putting words on the page, if I'm not contributing my own alchemical creativity to the Soup, who knows what great novel or epic poem might be stymied? If we don't support each other in this travail, who will? 

Nature does. Our writing meetup gathers at the most unlikely places in urban Los Angeles: duck ponds. Hiking trails. Parks with playgrounds. Japanese gardens. Wildlife preserves. Historic sites. Meditation gardens. And, yes, on the patios of coffee bars. The format of our group is simple. Check in and write, write, write. We don't review or critique each other's work. We just write. 

It's not that I don't ever want a critical review or see the value in sharing and receiving constructive input.  There is a time and place for it.  However, I will never get to the point of asking for reviews if I don't first put some words down on a page.  I'll never even get to that first necessary shitty draft (in the words of Anne LaMotte), but for the inspired and magical environment that sitting down with a group of devoted writers generates.

I bless the Writers of the world, especially the kind and courageous souls who keep showing up in the most unlikely places with me to write. I am grateful to be among kindred spirits.  

This post is dedicated to the Natural Muse meetup writers, especially Christy, Laura and Tony, who have kept me writing diligently for more than a year.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Do You Have a Blanket?


The doorbell rings, and I ignore it. We're not expecting anyone, and I'm in the middle of cooking, tending three pans on a hot stove. Our kitchen is readily visible to anyone approaching our front door, so there's no pretending we're not home when the door bell rings. I've tried various measures to avoid answering the door, none successfully.  I've found that gesturing wildly to indicate my preoccupation with the food on the stove, inspires a cheery wave in return—along with a hopeful look I cannot ignore. 

Tonight, however, my husband is closer to the door than I am, so I wait for him to respond. He's watching the game, but he pushes back from the table and makes his way to the door. I listen in to discover the cause du jour: selling magazines for a school? Re-painting house numbers on the curb? Soliciting donations for a good cause? 

Instead I hear, "Do you have a blanket?" All of my cynicism flies out the window. "I'm staying down at the church, and they don't have enough blankets," the voice continues. "They do have food tonight, and I'm glad for that but it's supposed to get real cold and I wonder if you have an extra blanket?"

Dinner can wait. I turn off the burners and go to the door. I take in the weathered face and gentle countenance of the weary traveler on our doorstep. I'm transported to a time and place when traveling pilgrims could expect charity by knocking on the kitchen door and a venerated monk's bowl would be filled without even asking. "Yes," I say, "wait just a minute." I search the basket full of blankets in the living room. "What a bounty," I think. I press the warmest blanket into the Traveler's hands.  He nods and says, "thank you now." I watch him as he turns and ambles back down our pathway, my eyes brimming with tears. "I've seen an angel," I think.

There are no end of opportunities to give these days. Letters from charities asking for donations arrive daily. Hungry people stand on corners with battered signs. Commercials of abused animals and starving children parade across our flat screens. The kids bring home pleas for money from school in their backpacks. There is so much want and hurt and need in the world that I have to shut off the noise of it all to make it through the day. 

It's easy to feel suspicious and jaded with all the stories of corruption in organizations we entrust to be our agents of compassion—of wealthy people pretending to be homeless while racking in thousands.  And so I pretend not to see the homeless vet crumpled on the corner, I toss unread letters from charities straight into the recycle bin, and I turn off the TV at the first sign of discomfort. 

And then someone knocks on my door and asks for a blanket, and I'm reconnected with the power and the blessing of Giving. How rare the opportunity to connect directly with another human, a fellow traveler on this Life journey, asking for something so simple for me to give—and so meaningful for him to have. No charitable organizations in the middle, taking their cut.  No wondering if the cash will be used to buy liquor. Just a simple act of Ask and Receive. 

Don't be afraid to ask, I've heard my teachers say, because you deprive someone of the opportunity to give. Giving feels good. There's no quicker path to Gratitude than the experience of giving, freely, lovingly, gladly. And Gratitude is the bullet train to the experiencing the essential Joy of this life. 

On this day of Thanks Giving, I give thanks for all who read this blog post. I am grateful for the traveling soul who reminded me of how blessed I am--and how easily I may shift my perspective from the mundane to the miraculous with simple appreciation. May we all appreciate our warm blankets tonight and all of our simple blessings. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mystique of Multitasking



My productivity this morning is off the chart. Right now, I'm organizing the writing implements on my son's desk, watching a pot boiling on the stove, folding laundry and rearranging the china cabinet. NOT! I can hear you snort, which isn't very nice of you, even though, of course, it's true. I'm not really doing any of those things at this very moment. I'm taking a wee break to jot down some deeply profound thoughts, the kind that only come when I'm running the vacuum, the droning noise of which drowns out the everyday mind chatter, and the lint in my brain gets cleared away long enough for something deeply profound to be uncovered like the shiny, silver dollar buried in between the couch cushions. 

Yes, those kind of Jack Handy Deep Thoughts are zipping around in my brain this morning as I flit from task to meaningless task, fueled by the "just one cup!" of coffee that I'm allowing myself today.  Just a quick jot, and then I must get back to that laundry in the dryer before it wrinkles.  And figure out why the oven timer is beeping.  There's nothing in the oven, is there? Are those almonds I put in to dehydrate yesterday still there? I'd better check. Be right back to share those profound thoughts.  

Whew! I just need to sit down for another minute and clear my thoughts.  I haven't put away the laundry yet, but I'm making real headway on sorting the Nerf gun parts. I'm so glad that beeping sound stopped.  It turned out to be the coffee I had reheated in the microwave.  How could I forget the "just one cup!" I've promised myself to get me through the laundry list of all that I want to accomplish today.  Laundry!  Be right back.  

Gosh, it's fun to dust every single hanger before I can even hang up the clean laundry in the closet.  We've done a bit of remodeling here this month, and absolutely everything is covered with a fine layer of dust. I had no idea how much dust a skinny hanger could hold!  I don't want my Fun Meter to peak too soon today (still two hours to go!), so I'm taking a wee break from dusting hangers while I savor the last drip of my "just one cup!" of coffee.  

OMG, THERE'S NO MORE COFFEE IN MY CUP!  *Head banging.* I do believe I deserve another cup because I've been working so hard.  I'm just coming off a three week cleanse, however, and I mean to inject my drug of choice back into my system slowly.  I've chosen a handrafted, locally sourced, cold brew which is supposed to be easier to digest. Nonetheless, the caffeine is a real jolt to my system.  That's the point of it, isn't it?   

I really don't get decaf.  Go caffeinated or go home, I always say!  But I AM home, so that saying is no help at all. The lack of caffeine withdrawal is making me testy already.  A little voice tells me that this is a great time to do a meditation. Where the hell did that come from? Probably the same idiot who came up with the "just one cup!" policy. I'll allow myself three deep breaths .... and blast! There's that infernal beeping sound again.  I wonder what it's for? If I had the clarity of more coffee I'm sure I could figure it out.  I'll just check it out and then...
Be still my heart!  I found a way to reorganize the china cabinet that really works. Sitting on the floor surrounded by the knicks and knacks that didn't quite make their way back into the china cabinet, I realize I'm exhausted. 

My cleaning sprint is done for the day, and, I'm sorry to report, those deeply profound and meaningful insights seem to have flown the mental coop along with my energy.   They've all been whisked away like the lint I need to take out of the dryer trap. Right.  The laundry. That's what I had set the timer to me remind myself to do. Sigh. With apologies to Mother Earth for the extra outlay of energy, I will sit here and bask in the glow of what I did accomplish and I'll de-wrinkle the clothes with that extra Touch Up cycle on the dryer clothes tomorrow ....is it too early for happy hour?  No, wait a minute, it's time for my meditation. I'm sure that's what I meant to say.

P.S. If you've read all the way to the end of this meaningless post, it just might be possible there's something you're avoiding, too. You might want to go check the dryer....

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Tribute to a Not-so-Monstrous Lady

I proposed to her right there at the Eiffel tower!" gushes the fresh-faced young man at the table next to us. We're sitting in a sports bar to watch a baseball game, and his interjection comes uninvited.  I'm one part annoyed by his interruption and one part intrigued by the similarities between the fervor of sports fans and young lovers. I'm in no part focused in his story.

"People were clapping and cheering for us. They threw money, lots of money, at us, like tens and twenties," he continues, unfazed by our lack of enthusiasm for his tale. "We got like $250 that night!"  And that's when I realized he was talking about the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas...


The Eiffel Tower was on my mind again this morning when I awoke to see my daughter's drawing of it which hangs on the wall of the guest room at her aunt's house. The coincidence of the young man's outburst the previous evening and seeing her drawing first thing this morning has me musing about the Iron Lady.

Our whole family went to Europe together a couple of years ago, and Paris was the last city on our jam-packed itinerary. We were all travel-weary by the time we got there.

Some of the lifts at the Eiffel Tower were out of commission when we were in Paris, and tourists were standing in ticket lines for hours, just to get a ride to the top.  We opted not to devote our few precious hours (and flagging energy) in Paris standing in line or making the stair climb in the hot sun. We told ourselves that missing the view from the Eiffel Tower would give us a reason to return to Paris, much as our coins in the Trevi fountain assured our return to Rome. 

We settled for a nighttime stroll around her massive legs. Suddenly, the 5 billion lights adorning the Eiffel Tower began twinkling rapid-fire, looking more like a glimpse into the Milky Way than a mass of ten thousand tons of iron.  We were as surprised and elated as if the Mona Lisa had suddenly begun to sing when we were at the Louvre.  

On the last day of our trip, Aunt Kathy had said, "Of all the cities we visited on this trip, Paris is one place I don't feel any need to come back." I felt I'd failed Paris. I've loved Paris since I came here as a teen on a student tour. That trip was my first without my parents, my first trip outside the US—and my first plane ride anywhere.  I stayed with a Parisian family who treated me like their own daughter.  "Ma fille américaine," my French dad called me. I felt I have done a disservice to the city of my adopted family.  "But we were here such a short time," I protest, "and we were exhausted. There's so much more to Paris than what little we saw!"  

Fast forward a month, and we're all gathered to reminisce and share "favorite moments" from our trip. "There's something about the Eiffel Tower," Aunt Kathy muses.  "It affected me in a way I didn't appreciate at the time." I can only nod, my heart too full to speak. Today, I wander around her home and count no less than a dozen renditions of the Eiffel Tower—from the gift bag she gave me last night to the blue glass bottle sitting atop a platter emblazoned with a map of Paris. 

While the Eiffel Tower is recognized around the world as a much-beloved symbol for Paris today, it was not an emblem that was readily embraced.  Three hundred artists, including the most notable of the French arts establishment, penned a letter of protest demanding a halt to the construction of "this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower," a “hateful column of bolted sheet metal."  Aunt Kathy's comments make me realize that it is just as impossible to predict the impact of the great iron lady today as it was for those famed artists who had not yet set their sights on her.

What is it about the Eiffel Tower? Every person I know who has been to experience it has shared a tale of an intimate experience. 

"We snuck a bottle of wine to the top."

"We didn't have money for the lift ticket but we were on our honeymoon so the guard to let us ride."

My own first memory of the Eiffel Tower was of my French dad carrying my girly purse for me as we climbed the 300 steps to the 1er étage. My own father would not have been seen sporting such a decidedly female possession.  As terrified as I was of heights, I gratefully accepted French dad's offer—and the opportunity to grab the handrails with both hands.

"Let's go back to Paris!" reads the script on my daughter's drawing.  Judging from the number and variety of Eiffel Tower renditions in Aunt Kathy's home, I'm thinking that she doesn't need much convincing. 

Why this column of bolted sheet metal commands the hearts of so many people, I can't say.  I'm content to know that the great Iron Lady continues to inspire my family to dream and adventure, and, for this, I say "merci beaucoup." 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Racehorse Mind

The waning light and the chill in the air at the end of a long beach day lure me to the campfire.  The firepit is is a tall can designed to discourage embers from escaping into this dry canyon, and I can't see the fire inside it from the vantage of my camp chair.  My desire to contemplate the fire, at this point, is far less than my desire for rest, so I content myself with observing the smoke that billows out.  The cloud of smoke is thick and stinging, suggesting that the hard wood has not yet ignited.    

A hand reaches in to stoke the fire. Fine flakes of ash now spring into the air and hang suspended like twinkle lights before riding the downdrafts, swirling and dancing like tiny snowflakes being kissed from the sky.  The billows of smoke thin, as the hard wood takes light, and the stillness of night is pierced with the cracks and pops of a once-living being, now surrendering noisily unto a greater power.  This fire, once as reluctant to ignite as a tomboy to dance, is now as hungry and eager to consume as a bear after a long winter's nap.  

So like me, I think.  Most days, my biggest challenge is getting my mind out of bed.  My soul's first and foremost intention of the day is to devote the first stirrings of the day to quiet and peaceful meditation.   Not ready to engage in the activity of the day before aligning with all that is Peace and Love, my Soul urges me to get up, light some incense and sit in quiet contemplation.

My mind, however, wakes up revving with all the fervor of a racehorse after a good night's rest, the thrill of being alive coursing through its veins, the unabashed desire for the thrill of the run firing its naked need to feel every muscle and sinew working in perfect harmony to Be. The. Run.  My Soul's longing for Stillness is quiet, virtually impossible to hear over the bugle fanfare that calls racehorse mind to post, chomping at the bit to do what it has trained its entire life to do.

I contemplate the irony that it is my Soul's thirst for stillness that urges me out of bed, while it is the eager insistence of my mind to race through the paces of the day, to anticipate the curves of the track and to brace for the perceived pitfalls of the course that keeps me in bed.  "If you want Stillness," my mind reasons, "you can lay right here and have it."  

Soul is not fooled.  It knows well the cunning of my mind and its habit of employing trickery to get its own way.  Lying in bed is where racehorse mind does its best work, whether it be at 3:00 am or at the start of a new day.  This is where it enjoys a home field advantage.  

I lure my mind into the kitchen where I promise to scan my phone for messages, an activity that both pleases and occupies it.  Seeing nothing urgent, I silently, without any bugle fanfare or PA announcement, slip into my meditation room where Soul enjoys its home field advantage.  My mind makes one last appeal for control, as it examines the clock and sets a time for departure.  And then the racehorse settles back into its stall for a nap as my Soul has its way with the Divine.  

Day after day, this is how it goes, appeasing two toddlers, both demanding to be heard and to be validated.  Whereas once I tore out my hair trying to keep them in check, to keep them from scratching and clawing each other, now I'm learning to allow them each their time and to aknowledge each their contributions.  And still, the conversation begins anew every day when I wake up.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Negotiating Integrity

I'm sitting in a torture chamber as I write this blog post. Cleverly disguised as a neighborhood coffee house, this is a den of iniquity for me right now.  The tantalizing smell of coffee brewing wafts around me like a favorite hat that is swooped from my head by a gust of wind.   It is swirling around me, tantalizingly close and always inches out of reach.   

I'm on a cleanse. This is day 16 of a 21-day cleanse, as a matter of fact.  I've had a couple of blips along the way but no coffee. I don't drink coffee on a daily basis, saving it for those days when I need that extra pick-me-up or for a weekend coffee date with my husband.  And I've been doing fine with a daily cup of Yerba mate tea, which has it's own smidge of naturally occurring caffeine, in place of the latte I so dearly love, for lo these past sweet sixteen.  I was caught totally off guard this morning, then, when the urge for one great coffee buzz flattened me like Wile E. Coyote running himself over with a steamroller.   

"Just one cup," I thought. "One small cup will give me the energy to get some work done." I haven't felt a real sense of accomplishment since I started this cleanse.  "It will be organic," I reasoned. "I can maintain my integrity and my pledge to reduce my toxic load, if it's a cold brewed, shade grown, Fair Trade, organic coffee. It will be nothing less than a heroic, selfless act of Eco-commerce." I will do whatever it takes to negotiate with Mr. Will & Ms. Integrity and get myself out of this caffeine and sugar deprived stupor. 

This is what I do. I'm an excellent negotiator, if I say so myself, even if the bulk of my professional experience is among Me, Myself and I. We can be a tough crowd, so it's a testament to my skill to note just how often I'm able to get us all to come to terms. 

We all three got into the car and drove to Organix, the local organic food store, to see what we could work out.  I noticed immediately that the store is out of my favorite tea.  This didn't bode well for Me.  "Do you have any organic coffee?" I heard Myself ask. 

"There's a nice organic cold brew in the refrigerator," the clerk said, as he handed a bottle to Me who could barely contain her joy. I saw Myself reflected in the glass of the refrigerator glass, and I could see she was pissed. "You're not going to give up so easily, are you?" she hissed. I shrugged. "Perhaps it's meant to be," I said.  I put a single bottle in my cart. "It's got a real bottle cap, so we can't open it until we get home to a bottle opener," I said to reassure Myself. "Maybe this will all have blown over by then."

Back at home, I had just enough time to put away the groceries before it was time to head out to this writing meetup. I made Me put the cold brew into the fridge. She relented only because I pointed out, "this is a brew to savor, not to be slammed down in a rush." I saw Myself giving Me a celebratory thumbs up, which deflated Me. "Besides," I said, "we don't need it. Our next stop is a coffeehouse.  With all organic coffee!"  

We all got back into the car. "Blackberry tea, please!" I heard Myself blurt out at the counter, before anyone else could speak. I glanced at Me who fell into a petulant pout.  I took the tea to our usual table and set us up to write. "Isn't this nice?" I said. "We worked it all out and we're still friends."

The mere suggestion of a compromise riled Me.  I heard her scheming, "okay, fine, not today, but the cold brew is definitely on for breakfast tomorrow. It's organic, there's no need to rush tomorrow, plenty of time to savor it..."  I heard Myself sigh. 

All this dissension is making it hard for me to my concentrate on writing.    Maybe it will be better tomorrow, after that coffee.....

Monday, August 18, 2014

Missing My Blankie

Laying on my back with my legs up on the wall, I'm enjoying an end-of-yoga class reverie when I hear the instructor say, "I love that you brought your own blanket!" to another student.  I'm flooded with anguish.  Just last week, I was relieved of the possession of my favorite blanket.   I'm still grieving its loss.  It wasn't just any blanket, mind you.  It was a cheery red plaid and designed for outdoor use, with a waterproof backside.  It rolled up and had a handy leather handle, so I could take it anywhere in nature I wanted to write.  I've written countless blog posts and most of my eBook while sitting on that blanket.  It has accompanied me to to mountaintops and creek beds, from cultivated gardens to wild woods.  

Oh, I know you can find replacements everywhere now.  Ours was the first I'd ever seen,however, when David bought it in an after-Christmas sale more than ten years ago.  I remember it clearly because I thought it was still too expensive, not "clearance" priced at all. "We already have blankets," I protested.  I just couldn't see the value of it.  Fast forward to starting the Natural Muse meetup, and I'm trekking all over Los Angeles, finding remote and often dirty or muddy places in nature where I can sit with Nature to write.  I quickly discovered the value of that blanket.  Easy to tote.  Big enough for me and all my gear. Waterproof backside to stay dry even when I'm perched creekside.  

A week ago, I brought it home from writing by the duck pond at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center.  We also use it in our "outdoor room," so I dropped it in a lawn chair on the way from my car to the front door.  That's the last time I saw it.  Part of me still holds out hope that I've done something with it that I just don't remember.  That happens more often than I care to recount.  The other part of me says that it's gone to a good home, that anyone who would take a blanket needs a warm, dry place to sit (or sleep) more than I do.  

And still I miss it.  Why am I so sentimental about this blanket, anyway?  It wasn't handmade or a family heirloom. I have the means to replace it.  My mind is baffled even as my heart aches for it.  (My mind also says that nobody is going to be interested in a missing blanket to read an entire blog post about it).

I'm sitting indoors, as I write this, a rare blog post composed while sitting at an actual table.  Call me Linus, I just can't bring myself to write outside today without my trusty blanket.  The blanket was a sort of ticket to explore, I muse.  No matter where I went, whether I knew where I was going or how to find it, I knew I'd have a familiar place to sit. 

Have blanket.  Will travel.  And write.  

What's making this whole experience so miserable for me, I realize, is that I'm keeping my focus on "what I've lost."  We're remodeling a bathroom in our house now, and, as excited as I am to see the progress, I'm also feeling pangs of nostalgia.  The bathroom where we've bathed babies is no more.  My children are babies no more.  Am I just a sentimental mess, always missing what is no more?  Maybe there's more wrapped up in this blanket than I have realized.

I'm reminded of a suggestion made by life coach Jessica Colp in a master class on Acceptance and Surrender.  Use your own breath to move into the feeling of acceptance and surrender, she says.  Every inhale is an experience of  receiving (acceptance) and every exhale is an experience of letting go (surrender).  I settle back into my chair and, with every exhale, I imagine my blanket keeping someone else warm on cool summer night or a with family picnicking by a babbling creek. 

My act of Surrender "complete," I do a quick search online, and I find replacement blankets are readily available, costing half of what we paid years ago.  I just can't bring myself to buy one of them.  I don't want just "any blanket" to replace mine.  I'm going to Etsy and find one that's handmade.  One that's special.  And I can't help but hope (you know it goes) that I just might find the old one as soon as I buy the new.

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For more about life coach Jessica Colp, see www.JessicaColp.com