Monday, April 20, 2015

the 100 day project: like basting a turkey, and other creative thoughts

A few of you might have heard about the 100 day project. For those who haven't, the rules are simple: pick a way to be creative every day for 100 consecutive days, then document it on social media for accountability/community. Remembering how fun and useful and focusing other streaks I've done have been (my blog every day in May streak, and then my #rwrunstreak, documented on Instagram), I knew I wanted to join in. A day or two later I used Instagram to post part of a poem that had become meaningful to me and used a photo I thought had the feel of the poem and that's where I found my 100 day task: caption an original photo (by me) with a poem I choose (not by me).

(Yes, this blog post is in part a plug for my Instagram feed. Follow me! My nieces and nephews keep asking how many likes they get when I post their photos, and they are clearly un-impressed by my following. I promise photos of cute kids, scenic runs and, now, poetry.)

But more than a scheme to get more followers, this project is about fostering creativity. The image of basting just came to mind when I thought of the term "creative juices." I'm not a huge meat eater, so the image isn't the most appealing to me, but it's a true one. This creative streak is about keeping things juicy with the hopes of serving up something good real soon.

It's been two weeks since the 100 day project started. Time to reflect:

  • Choosing a poem a day requires me to read lots of poetry. And poems require slow, sometimes repeated, reading. Some days I'm not so discerning, and may just skim a few before I find one I want to post. Other days, I've sat with a poetry book and read deeply and slowly.
  • Being quick and dirty about creative work is useful. It helps me to let go of perfection, and sometimes even understand a hunch or gut response that led me to match a photo with a poem, or take a photo from a certain angle, etc. (Or sometimes it's the opposite, like, there is nothing of value in that - which is ok!)
  • Choosing two mediums that are not my own craft (not a photographer, not a poet - though I love both images and words) helps me to disconnect myself from the product. Both also refine the way I see, hear and think, which has been fun.
  • I like that I'm promoting the reading of poetry. Posting poetry on Instagram makes me feel slightly subversive because it's all about scrolling, quick looks, a tap for a like. I don't know if everyone who likes the poetry-captioned photos are reading the poems (or just liking the photo itself) but if I can help one person to discover something or slow down while reading a poem they wouldn't have normally read, that's a win.
  • Reading more poetry has helped me get more words in me. I think of it as eating, swallowing. I have more heft as a writer. My mind sings more. I have been thinking in story and image. This is a very good thing for me.
I may have more to say as the project goes on. But for now - see all of my poetry-captioned photos here! And if you have a favorite poem, I'll consider requests.

Monday, April 6, 2015

sliding down and losing control

Every summer, my family took a day trip to Dorney Park and Wild Water Kingdom. On the wave swinger, my sisters and I dangled our legs and felt the wind blow into our faces and the up and down of the ride lift our stomachs and then plop them back down again. We raced for the seats at the very back of the sea dragon so that we would be at the very highest tip as the ride swung back and forth until it was nearly vertical. And we closed our eyes and screamed.

At the water slides, we waited in long, slow lines as they climbed up wooden steps and platforms to the top of the yellow, lubed tubes. Down below, kids splashed and screamed in the water. My dad was sitting on a bench somewhere nearby with the small Coleman cooler that held our lunch, or the remnants of it, and my mom likely stood closer to the pool to watch us as we sailed off the slide and hit the water below.

When I was still fairly young, there was one time that I climbed behind my sisters and they slid down ahead of me while I waited my turn. Then I came to the front, and the teen-aged summer worker in charge of the ride waved me forward toward the slide. All alone, I realized I didn’t want to slide all the way down from that high up. I don’t remember now what scared me about sliding down in to the water, but I do remember turning around. After waiting so long for what I thought would be a lovely thrill, a cool splash in water on a hot day, what might have made me giggle or whip my head back in delight, what would have been gravity playing its part to pull me under water in the most delightfully human way (which is to say, losing control) – instead of all of this, I turned around. I pushed my way through the small crowd at the top of the long line to the top. I slowly made my way back down those steps I had just climbed. As I passed the people still waiting in line, some assumed I’d been denied a turn on the ride, maybe because I was too short or too young (though I was neither). They pitied me, while I felt tears sting my eyes, both from the foolishness I felt from turning around and passing all these many people who might guess at my fear, and also from my disappointment. I hadn’t been able to do it after all.

I think now of siting at the top of the slide, cool water sloshing around my bottom to help carry me down faster. I think of sailing around the bends, not seeing what’s ahead. I think of the splash into the pool below, not feeling the floor beneath me, water fill my nose and maybe pushing one my of suit straps off my shoulders. And then I think of coming up for air, and how I’d probably want to do it all over again.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

on the phone with my mom

There's my mom, now with an iPhone. 

I have a confession: I hate talking on the phone. This becomes a problem when you move 3,000 miles across the country. And it's even more of a problem when your mom doesn't know how to use email.* I guess college helped me to get into the habit of calling her. I was two hours away, which was close enough to come home just for the weekend, but far enough that I didn't make that a habit. I don't remember now what we talked about in those early days of my living away from home. I probably told her about my classes, she probably told me about the flowers in her garden. I'm sure we talked about my sisters (and that they talked with her about me).

I went through a stage soon after I moved to Los Angeles in which I blamed my parents for all that was wrong with my world. I was 25 years old, and at the time I thought my feelings were completely unique to me - and I guess in some ways they were. But I came to realize that that's a stage that most of us need to go through to separate from our parents, to deal with disappointment, and then to move on. I didn't call my mom as much during this time. What used to be a weekly Sunday phone call stretched to every other week, or more, sometimes just once a month. I asked my mother at least once why she didn't call me in the interim. "I figured you were busy," she replied. I couldn't tell if the hurt I detected just on the edge of her voice was really there or if it was just that I wanted to hear it.

More than once I talked to her about love. That was when I was younger and more reckless about the whole venture. The time I broke up with my boyfriend two days before Christmas, and he was supposed to come home with me for the holiday, I called her before my trip to tell her. "Oh, Betsy," she said. Later, desperate to connect despite the 3,000 miles and young-adult blame that spanned between us, I told her about boys I liked and wish would like me. She responded mostly with non-verbal affirmations so that I could tell she was listening, but little else. I wonder if she knew how lost I felt trying to navigate those friendships and feelings, and if she felt just as lost trying to keep her ever-leaving daughter close to her.

At some point, showing up for our phone calls seemed to get easier for me. They started to not feel as much like an obligation as a healthy discipline. And as I get a little older and less self-absorbed, I realize our conversations are really so valuable. A few months ago we started talking about my aunt, who at age 67 is living in a nursing home with advancing Alzheimer's disease. My mom and I didn't talk much about this when it first happened - when my aunt and her husband sold her home a few years ago and moved into assisted living. My mom told me about her visits with her older sister, and why sometimes she avoids visiting. She told me how my aunt likes to look at old photo albums but stays mostly quiet, while my mom makes small talk with her sister's husband. My mom told me how she started to see the unraveling of her sister's memory as long as 7 years ago, around the time my Pop-pop died. Now I can't imagine what that must have been like for my mother - to lose her last living parent, and then see that her sister was leaving her, too.

It was February then, the ground all around my mom still frozen by the long, cold winter nights. A few days after the funeral, I hopped on a plane back to Los Angeles, to my life in the sunny distant horizon, where she reached me every couple of Sundays on our weekly phone call.

*My mom still doesn't use email, but she does text. With emojis.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

morning run

My morning runs are dark again, thanks to the time change. I used to hate running in the dark - it just made everything feel a little more tricky and a lot more lonely. But now I like how still the darkness feels. Only a few cars are on the streets and only a few people walk the mostly-empty sidewalks.

This morning, I chose a route that took me into a nice neighborhood, then down a hill that's lined with dirt and trees. That's the closest to nature I can get in a 5 mile loop in my neighborhood. A bunny rabbit hopped out of the trees just ahead of me, then made a mad dash across the street and back into the woods.

At an intersection a mile away from my apartment - closer to city blocks and traffic lights - I stopped and hit the walk button, then waited, hands on waist, breathing heavy. A man I had just passed as he walked by the trash can and bench at the corner came up behind me and said, "I thought you'd stopped running, I never see you out here any more!" His face was all smile. I explained that I moved a while back and don't run over this way as much as I used to. He laughed and said he was glad to know I'm still running as he turned the corner to keep walking up the street. Then he turned around and said, "I'm Jerry, by the way."

I told him my name and smiled back. A few seconds later, my light turned green and I ran across the street. It was still dark and quiet for my last mile, but also a little brighter after meeting Jerry.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

the one guest

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth -
it's she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration

where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it's you she receives.

You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.

-The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Ranier Maria Rilke

Thursday, January 22, 2015

stay in the light

I've been paying lots of attention to the light recently. During the day, I'm stuck in a my new office that doesn't really have windows, so all of the light we see is artificial. Then I walk to my car and see how the setting sun gives the sky its gold hues, reflects pinks of the clouds, and turns the mountains to purple and deep reds in the distance. The whole ride home the sky gives me a show.

Today, I was going to escape my cube and eat lunch outside, but the temperature wasn't reliable, and I'm already cold. So I found a new nook by the large windows in the lobby. The seat was warmed from the light. I ate salad and read some assigned stories for a class I'm taking - fiction and poetry, which is a relief after some of the technical science I read for work. It might have been the words, but I think it was also the light that helped me feel something different. I had some new ideas, whereas recently I've felt a bit stuck and uninspired creatively. Even these words now are coming slowly and a bit stilted. But today was a direction: stay in the light.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

waiting for seeds to be dropped

The year has started off a bit stark for me. I sat pen in hand, prayer on tongue, eyes on the sky, but not much came in the way of lists or brainstorms or hopes for the new year. So I'm taking a cue from the earth: just let it sit fallow for a while. I think I've written about that here before -- how in some parts of the country, the empty branches and snow-blanketed grass feel like perfect company for this time of year. Because somewhere under there, the ground is turning, preparing to nurture all those seeds to be dropped in the upcoming months.

2014 held some big (dare I say life-changing?) moments for me: attending a writer's conference, traveling to Kenya, finishing a marathon, and another big one I can't quite announce here yet. And there were also some important commitments that I made -- like writing every day in May, like running every day between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, like refusing to tiptoe away quietly from every scary conflict that arises in me or with friends. These were daily decisions to stay the course, decisions that are still driving me forward today. 2014 was a field full of harvest. So my instinct was to quickly plant 2015 with the same. And yet every single gift of 2014 grew and appeared in its time.

And so an empty field is before me, and soon I will turn it over and let the planting begin.