Sunday, December 31, 2006

Coming or Going?

The theme over at Sunday Scribblings today is Destination. I think this is a lovely and appropriate New Year topic, and one that I have thought about lately on the metaphoric/ spiritual level a lot.

Where am I going? Will I know when I arrive? Is the act of getting there worth just as much?

On the practical level, since moving 2 hours south of where I have lived most of my life, I've re-oriented my perception of things like how far away something is and how long is "long" to get somewhere. In order to see any of our "old" (tried and true) friends, the minimum driving time is about 1 hour 15 minutes, with 2 hours being more likely. I used to get impatient driving from Sonoma County to Marin County--approximately 35 minutes. Now I don't. Now I surrender to the distance, and I let go of how long it will take and allow myself to wander in my mind, rather than notice how far I've gotten. It's freeing. And fortunately time/distance don't make a significant difference with any of our closest friends. That's a good feeling.

On the other level, the 'where am I going in this lifetime and as a spirtual being' level...well...I've found the ideas of "process over product" and "enjoy the journey, not just the destination" to be very useful to me. Because the truth is, while finishing/arriving have a deeply satisfying quality to them, pretty quickly you long for another round. It's the rough dream-making of ideas, the wild energy of creating that excites me as well as the anticipation of the long drive; the beauty of waiting.

It gets easier to become a lover of the journey when you've had a lot of rejection or failed attempts. You get used to the idea that experiences come again, that there will always be new ones, and that there's still value in that which doesn't necessarily go on to bear fruit. In a sense, all attempts do actually bear some kind of fruit. You learn from the rough drafts, the failed projects, the disappointments and heartbreaks. You put it all back into the creative soup, or into your self-awareness, or into your heart, and something better comes out so long as you keep open.

I vow to make 2007 not just a year of great projects and destinations, but one of being aware, present and happy in the acts of doing/seeing/experiencing and even just anticipating.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Oh yes, there will be pictures of the holiday debauchery. I received so many gifts this year I feel the need to give them away, or do something to balance the scales. It was actually obscene. But of course, the gifts were not the point, not at all. The point was captured in a few instances of real, joyous or meaningful contact with various people, which I hope to elaborate on later.

And when I find my camera buried in the mass of stuff somewhere I will post photos and then, most likely, I will begin to spin those kinds of sentiments that always come as I begin to think of fresh starts and the new year.

Hope yours were lovely


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Belated Solstice and Early New Year

Photo credit: Tracy B.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Put on a Happy Face

Other than having more time to write, the number two reason I have trouble with "real" jobs, which often made me want to quit in the past, was this: At work, you're not allowed to have a bad day. Not before you come in, at least. I've had bosses ask me to do things as incomprehensible (to me) as "change channels" when I was an emotional wreck. Not, "Take twenty minutes to breathe, or even, "Maybe you should go home," but just "turn off the bad feelings and put on your happy face." I've cried, hidden in storage closets and bathrooms; and been grateful for the silence of the client on the massage table, hoping to hide my feelings before the boss found out.

There is a degree of this at every job, and of course from the customer's point of view it makes sense. Who hasn't been rung up by a surly clerk who's clearly had a bad day? Who hasn't received hostile comments or undeserved brusqeness when all you want to do is pay for your tomatoes and go home? Nobody likes a sour puss, or worse, someone crying sad, mucus tears while they serve you food.

I totally understand the reasons behind why it is good to put on a happy face in a workplace. The problem is, I have never been any good at that.

You could be one of those people slow to interpret feelings and you'd still know mine with a quick glance because I wear them like brashly colored medals. When I'm upset, my voice shakes. Trembles! It drives me nuts. I can't lie for the same reason. Dark circles form under my eyes. I cry even in public. I get "hollow" and faraway no matter how hard I try to come out of it, it's like being on a weird elevator that keeps going down when you want to go up.

It's been two blissful years of getting to feel how I want, when I want, as often as I want because I work for myself at home where the only one to notice when my husband isn't home, is the cat--and between us, Figaro is very self-centered.

Now that I'm back interacting with the world, I realize that I am going to have to take a "happy face" lesson pretty damn fast, because there's always going to be another bad day.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holiday Miscellany

Silly me, thinking any of you have time to read long posts during the holidaze. I should stick to photo essays, but I'm too lazy to take new photos or borrow from others. Suffice it to say that it at 11:00 I was still in my pajamas. Yeah baby! Not that I'm lazing about, oh no! I'm working, but there's a strange stigma you feel when you are still in pajamas beyond the time when other people are. Alas, I'll deal with it.

Today I wish my name were Jordana. That extra 'a' at the end is so sophisticated, so exotique, so European, don't you agree? The name Jordana says "I've lived in Monaca and walked white sand beaches. I've drunk champagne from gold fluted crystal and kept company with bankers, royals and celebrities.' It says, 'I am mysterious, commanding and succeed at everything I do.'

Jordan, on the other hand, while a very sturdy, good name, says, 'Am I male or female? It says, 'You make me think of tall basketball players and small, Jewish boys.'

Well, at least I'm not "Jordie" anymore (except to those numbskulls who insist on continuing to call me that. You know who you are :)

Other than questioning the very essence of my name today, I have little to report. It's freaking cold; I survived the post office thanks to my amusement at a socially awkward, red-faced young man from Canada entertaining the entire post office with tales of the various family members he was sending presents to ("My cousin's wedding was very unusual..."). Actually, he held the lady in front of him hostage and I giggled because I was at the front of the line and didn't have to twist my neck around and pay attention to him.

And despite all my grumbliness, I'm looking forward to Christmas if for no other reason than to see the look on my beloved's face. He's awful cute on Christmas.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Write Free Home

Some years ago--I've lost count if it was three or four--I was introduced to a writer by one of my favorite people, Susan Bono (of Tiny Lights). This writer was one of the first women river-raft guides in the Western U.S. and it's no joke to say that she has a very deep relationship to the water, especially when in her kayak. She has an equally tight relationship to the written word and has seen success in such places as Orion Magazine, More Magazine, THEMA and the San Francisco Chronicle. I met her just as her first book Reading Water: Lessons from the River was published when she agreed to read at the old LiveWire Literary Salon at Zebulon's Lounge (now closed).

I had no idea that my friendship with her would change my life. By now I think she knows that her inspiration was in great part responsible for the path leading to the day I quit my last real job, began working for myself and accepted the truth that writing is all I ever really need to do.

Becca Lawton brought into my life the idea that where we focus our attention, backed by the quality of feelings we bring to that focus, we actively create----situations, ideas, things, and relationships--in our lives and can choose to do so consciously. We immediately thought this was a genuinely simple and true principle but we were stunned by how well it actually works. The day after we began meeting once a week to talk about these ideas and our writing, where there had been stagnation, suddenly there was movement in ways neither of us imagined possible. In the few years since we began working with what we've now come to call Write Free (formerly Creating Space), for example, Becca has won an award for her writing, been published in magazines she once simply coveted and is on the road to having her other books published. I got my first and then second book contract, achieved freelance goals I'd once thought unlikely and most of all--both of us have been able to put our fiction writing first in our lives.

That's not bragging; that's just Write Free for you. We are often as surprised as anyone.

Our book on the subject will be out in summer of 2007, but we aren't content to wait to share what we have been so grateful to learn. We've led retreats and workshops and online classes in the meantime and we both want to share the work with as many people as we can. We can't help it.

Now don't go getting nervous; neither of us longs to be the next Big Name Guru. We won't flash our big white teeth at you and jump around on-stage to encourage you to Be the Best You! or anything like that. Our silent slogan is "guides, not gurus." We just want to share the fact that by focusing on your creative life, your writing, by really giving it room and belief to grow and feeling genuinely positive and hopeful about it--you can, in fact, create a far bigger, more bountiful reality than you may have believed possible. Because the more of us doing this in the world, the better.

And that's why we created the Write Free E-Newsletter. 10 issues full of information that works.

We hope you'll consider joining us in this venture.

You can subscribe HERE

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Stumbling Through the Wilderness

I do a lot of thinking about "the craft" of writing because I write a lot of articles in that "how to" category. Believe it or not I'm drawn to this know-it-all kind of writing for my own sake, not because I actually wish to enlighten others (nor do I believe I am some kind of expert). When I am forced to break down into six points or five paragraphs or 1800 words what it means to use action, or how to create a plot, or what makes characters seem 'real' to the reader, I have to scrutinize what is otherwise a very intuitive, non-logic based, frankly mysterious process that I engage in on a regular basis.

People generally think of writers as intellectuals, but I am NOT an intellectual. Nor am I a scholar. I am actually bad at details and hazy on specifics and I'm a bad argument-constructor and problem solver. I don't traffic in the world of well-thought out logic. I must work overtime when it comes to that element of writing until my head hurts and my eyes are sore.

I write much the same way I do any creative act: spontaneously, grasping filaments of imagination and idea and pulling them onto the page to see what I've got. For me, writing is far more like finger painting, or making soup than it is like thinking or idea-making. In fact, it's a lot like dreaming--abstract, emotionally-driven, vaguely imagistic but mostly just a bizarre assortment of symbol and a sense that meaning lurks beneath if only I can get lucid enough to figure it out.

I know there are many writers for whom writing IS an intellectual, logic-based act, who carefully plot and compose and revise with full awareness all the while. But I think there are a lot of writers out there like me. We write to discover, and we don't even know what it is we're after when a draft is done.

So when someone comments on our work, "What did you MEAN?" or "Why did X do that?" we often don't know ourselves until the moment the question is asked. Even then, maybe not.

I have only maybe once or twice in my life set out to write something with the meaning in mind (fiction, at least) and it usually didn't succeed because the better-honed skill in me is the one where I take all the odd mosaic pieces of my intention, put them together, then stand far back from the wall where I can look at the image as a whole. Then I rearrange and move and change and get frustrated and really stuck and kick and fight and go temporarily blind. And then meaning comes. It often surprises me, excites me and on really good days, makes me feel like ruler of my own universe.

I was telling someone the other day that I don't really like the process of writing those first drafts because it always feels rough and ungainly and imperfect--and I get very critical of myself. But I think that was an untrue statement. I do like it--I like that wild searching, that groping in the pitch after vague traceries of something important. More than liking it, it's the way I navigate through the world.

But I will keep writing those "how to" articles and books because they are the other half of the process by which I learn to shape my own wilderness into a landscape that someone else can enter into. Because along with a creative impulse, I still have a damn ego, too.


'Tis the Season for the following (photo essay...figure out the theme for yourself):

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Things I like About the Holiday Season

Since i've been a bit of a grumblypants the past few posts I'd like to make it up to you by telling you what I like about this season.

1. Lebkuchen! (If you don't know what this is, find out. It's wonderful).

2. The first rains--because it makes indoors more cozy and fire seem like a good thing.

3. Watching birds and squirrels bathe in the rain water outside my window

4. Twinkly, sparkly lights (these should be mandatory at night in all cities)

5. Mittens

6. Having to use your significant other as a heater at night

7. The sound of the UPS truck delivering pacakges. I know that's weird, but I get excited every time it drives past my house even though it's usually not for me.

8. I don't feel guilty for staying inside

9. Cold outdoors equals good indoor writing time

10. MORE reading!

I'm such an old lady, right?


Monday, December 11, 2006

Wintry Reminiscence

I don't miss the grind of being in graduate school, no way. But I do miss the place (Bennington, Vermont), especially--believe it or not--in winter. Of my five total residencies, I was there twice in January. The first one was the most extreme and magical. The second one was not as magical, but still I love the spare quality of a winter with snow.

After this mini-tour of photos, I posted half of the graduate log I wrote after returning from the January '05 residency--which also, significantly, marked the time I left my day job for good and began working for myself--now, almost 2 years ago!

The lovely campus, awash with snow:

The people that I miss (there are more, not pictured):


From my Bennington "Graduate Log"--January, 2005:

"A lot has changed for me personally between June ‘04 and January ‘05, which feels as though it bears on the experience I had this time at school. For one thing, I had a very tough semester with (name withheld), my professor. She does her job with the utmost attention and skill, leaving no stone unturned, if you will, and my tough time isn’t her fault. But I came the closest to doubting myself under her tutelage than ever before. Plus I kept writing fiction that was closer to the truth of my real life than ever before, and no matter how hard I tried to pull away from it, the same themes and characters continued to appear, seeming not to care that I was trying to make a work of art, and not allowing themselves to be shaped and crafted to a satisfying end, certainly not to her satisfaction.

Ultimately, though, I finished the semester knowing that I had to satisfy myself, and that as long as I looked to a mentor or any outside force to validate my worth or talent, I would continue to thwart myself.

And then, yet again, I lugged what were really only three items, but felt as though they had expanded to an impossible fifteen, down staircases, through Penn Station, past the pushy, irritable rush-hour masses and over that gap they’re always instructing you to watch (how, I ask, can you watch it when you’re busy figuring out how to lift three things with two hands without twisting an ankle?) onto the train, marveling at how much god damned work traveling to Bennington is. Fortunately I thought to bring a movie for the train ride, which made it pass quickly and lulled me back into complacency.

The weather, unlike the idyllic snow of last January was slushy, sleety and hard. A new poet, whom my friend Keith also chauffeured along with me, described it as “cosmic saliva.” That first day there it came hard and painfully, like little tiny, icy spitwads shot out of hundreds of straws. I complained to Tracy about it, since I had failed to bring an umbrella, thinking we’d have nothing less than snow, but she assured me, being a native New Englander, that like all things ephemeral, this too would pass.

A strange phenomena surfaced amongst us fourth semesterites. Within two days we were as exhausted as we usually get by the end of the entire residency. There was a noticeable feeling of energy falling flat, of having no real oomph, of being, I hate to say it, jaded. The magic seemed to have worn off and the sense that we had all survived a long semester loomed on our shoulders. But as the days passed on I realized that it was more than that. The flatness reflected a couple of things: One, now that we have been there a year and a half, are no longer new and can see the end ahead of us, some of the posturing we’ve done started to slide. Personally I can say that rather than keep up the dance of trying to get those people I have struggled with to like me, despite our obvious lack of chemistry, I let it drop and stopped playing the games. On the other hand, the reality that those people I really, truly care about and I will not get to spend four weeks a year together come the end of next summer, hit me very hard. I realized that on some level all of us were in a kind of denial, a withdrawing from the routine because it’s going to end sooner than later.

But then, three days in, I wrote this in my journal:

“I keep having this feeling like, ‘hold onto this all, honey, while it lasts.’ I want to embrace the smells, the tastes, the interactions. The way the snowy commons looks from the lounge; the sound of murmur in the cafeteria; the various walks to the various buildings; the familiar pathways, the comforting views; the fetid smell of the pub and the clustered groups of smokers outside of it; the capsule feeling, that we are all somehow marooned on an island, that each of us is integral to the other’s survival.”

My friends and I discussed a thing that happens to us at Benn. There we are, completely out of the context of our regular routines. No jobs, no relationships, no responsibilities besides getting to things on time. And for hours every day, through the guise of writing, we hear lectures about the big subjects of life. Death and love, murder and rape, identity and art. All day long we muse and ponder these things, and our place as artists trying to offer something to the world about these things through words. It’s the equivalent, I’ve come to think, to that syndrome that occurs when one has been to too many museums, which can cause an actual physical sickness, an overstimulation of a part of the brain. At Bennington, many of us have to remember that we are happy and well-adjusted, because for two weeks we become moody and emotional, irrational and strange.

And this, written after I graduated in June, '05:

"I told myself that I would soak it up, drink the place into my very cells so that I would never, ever be able to forget what it felt like crunching up the dirt pathway past the pond where the goslings were bigger this year, up to the remodeled carriage barn with its high ceilings and skylights. I promised myself that I would be able to smell the air—slightly sweet, but not floral sweet, the sugary taste of greenery in one’s mouth-- standing at the head of the commons lawn just before you take a running start and rush out onto its wide expanse of grass to the wall at “the edge of the world.” I promised myself I would never forget the slightly rancid smell of spilled beer and body odor in the commons lounge, the way the walls seem to ripple with ghosts of the girls who went there in the thirties, the way the little post-office seemed cooler than the rest of the building. I promised myself I would not forget the hum and drone of the cafeteria as we stood in line, clattering silverware against plastic tray, trying to guess what the most recent reconstituted meal really was. I hoped not to forget the endless bowls of chocolate pudding I ate, the slightly scary baskets of “bar food”—popcorn, pretzels and other assorted munchies that one felt compelled to eat even when it was disgusting. There are so many things I promised myself I would memorize, and you know what? I think I have."

* * *

Sometimes I realize I have had more experiences than I have capacity to remember them all.

Friday, December 08, 2006

You've all been very kind to me since my last post. Thank you. And if it wasn't clear, I'm deeply grateful for what I do have; for what does work; for my life. I wouldn't change it.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Confessions, continued (with photos)

Well, I promised you all who have kindly shared your holiday joys and woes that I would share mine. Sadly, the odds lean toward people feeling obligated to unpleasant situations, with the occasional joyous person thrown in (hooray for you folks!), and a few who just take the holidays in stride.

For me, the holidays are a mixture of joy and dread. I'm a child of divorce, and now an adult of divorce and I envy those who can go to one, or even two places for their holidays--in their own family, that is.

My parents got together when they were teenagers. They stayed together as long as they could--about 10 years. They split when I was two.

Christmases in my childhood were magically able to erase some of the hard realities of my life: that my parents were no longer married never bothered me--that my mother was still in the grips of a serious addiction, did. That my father had his own nefarious way of getting by that didn't involve a 9 to 5 job, did. That I pinged back and forth between them on a weekly basis, having to change my routine and my comforts every week of my life, did. That there was often a new man or woman in their lives, did. But for one day a year, the seam healed, the dramas ceased, and there were presents, and my grandmother flew out from New York, and my parents even came to the same house--as they were always friendly to one another--and celebrated what I now just think of as "holiday togetherness," since Christmas has always been about family, not Christ, in my houses.

After my Dad remarried and my brother and sister were born Christmas got complicated. It became my holiday with my mom and her husband--because now there was this other family that my Dad needed tending to.
I wasn't the child of the family anymore. With two little children Christmas turned into something else--an event thrown together after two exhausted parents managed to find time to put up a doggy little tree and wrap some presents. Christmas wasn't mine anymore and I wasn't so little and I remember feeling as though a door had been left open, letting in a gust of cold air. This is when I began to feel outside.

I guess this is what children normally go through when they have a sibling born who is 2 or 4 or even 6 years apart, but it happened to me at quite a late age. I was 14.5 when my brother was born, nearly 17 when my sister was.

For me, Christmas at my dad's has since been a strange affair. Less magic, more obligation. But at least we got together. As my siblings got older, it got better because they were people I came to know and feel close to.

Then, three years ago, my father and my stepmother split.

And not in an easy way. And yet there I was, a married adult with my own life. This wouldn't affect me, right? But it has. It does. There are now more family lines, more allegiances and alliances and people's feelings to consider, and households...

Yet this year, getting together just reminds me how unglued this family is, how angry and hurt I am that I got cast out so many years ago (yes, there's some teenage drama still left in that feeling bag) how unhealed so many things are. No matter how hard I try to let everyone live their own life, without being too judgmental, I react. I lose myself.

Fortunately for me, I chose a husband who has an uncanny way of providing me with all the things I feel I didn't "get" and who knows how to help me through this unpleasant time. He, who grew up without Christmas, has learned to love it for me and he generally does something to make me cry (with joy).

Christmas is a holiday we celebrate, not for me--the adult--but for that little, lonely girl who truly looked forward to the one day a year when she could believe that everything was going to be okay. And if we ever should become parents, I will just be glad that we have created this family, this single place, where it's okay to want to feel special.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Starving Cat...Bad for Shoes

My cat just threw up in my new shoes. I kid you not. Well, I caught him in time, actually, so he really only drooled into one, but still!...I mean, do they KNOW just how to make you want to turn murderous??

And the little bastard went outside just prior to this and ate grass because he's hungry (30 mins to food time), which he knows makes him throw up.

If that isn't manipulative, I don't know what is.



You're Obliged...

Okay, confession time. Which is there more of in your holiday plans: obligation, or true pleasure? Excited anticipation, or dread? Are you going to visit the family because you feel guilty/shamed/lost/fear being written out of the will...if you don't go, or because it actually brings you joy?

For those of you under the obligation umbrella, what would happen if you didn't do what you're "supposed" to do? Didn't make nice; didn't put up with; didn't appease or play a role?

For those of you who experience family bliss, tell me why you think it works. Why do you look forward to it so?

I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tuesday Miscellany

How is it that I can subscribe to a new blog almost every week and yet there is never enough to read? I fear sometimes that the pace of technology has zapped out the part of my brain that once was accustomed to waiting for things. Now, if a page doesn't load in .00000000000923 seconds I start to get huffy. So perhaps the same thing is happening with my blog rations. I started out reading a few blogs a day, then a dozen, then a couple dozen. I subscribe to at least thirty blogs a day but now it isn't enough. I have a theory that a new brain is developing in humans that requires a steady diet of 0's and 1's to survive. (You know how brain theory suggests that there are really "four" brains: "the amphibian brain," "the emotional brain," *"the embarass your family brain" and the *"What do I want to do with my life brain.)"

So please, blog friends, write more! More, more, more!

Or else I will sick Figaro the diet-starved attack cat on you:

*Okay, I forget the other two.

Also, I contributed a little something to Susan Bono's online column, Searchlights & Signal Flares Details below:

It’s that time of year again, and I bet you’ve got at least one writer on your gift list. Don’t have a clue what to get? Let Searchlights & Signal Flares ease your confusion and put the spirit of inspired giving back into the holidays.

This month’s featured writer, novelist Judith Hendricks joins Arlene Mandell, Bonnie-Jean Kimball, Charlene Bunas, Claudia Larson, Dan Coshnear, Jo Lauer, Jordan Rosenfeld, Kate Douglas, Ken Rodgers, Marylu Downing, Mimi Ghez, Paula Matzinger, Rebecca Lawton and Susan Bono as they reveal: What’s the best gift you can give a writer?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Whine with your Cheese?

I would like to, just briefly, whine. As of yesterday morning, which happened to be the day after I carried a giant lollypop wearing an elf-hat through the cold streets of town as the entire citizenry lined the streets watching, I can now only turn my neck 1 inch to the left, and 2 inches to the right. Painful. And I have my period if you must know. You must, because it explains a lot. Like how I choke up crying at things I hear on the radio or see on 60 minutes; and how I actually got into a brawl with my cat. That's right--a brawl. It's hard to say who won, but I am the only one who came away scratched (and yes, I provoked it--and no, there as no kitty abuse for any of you SPCA folks reading.)

I also have an overly full work plate--the kind where you don't quite know what to "eat" first because it's so heavily loaded, and by the time you make your way through half of it you're beyond full. I'm sure that's why my neck went out. It does that at the most inconvenient times--throws in the towel for me if I don't do it myself. Stupid. I'm going to the chiropractor this morning however becuase I would like to be able to talk to customers at the bookstore by turning just my head, not my whole body.

This full plate business is why I didn't get my act together to blog about Daniel Woodrell's "Winter's Bone" as part of the Third Day Book Club. The other part is that I'm still second in the cue for it at the library and as I have just purchased a heap of books for Christmas, I decided that buying one more book might just be the straw that pushed me over the edge into "woman who keeps company with books found dead under pile of dictionaries." So I simply missed out this month, and it's sad, but that's how it goes.

Anyway, to make up for my grumpiness, I will leave you with a few photos of my new co-workers and the funny way they dress:

Oh, and I will leave you with a photo expression of the love I feel for my new Christmas tree: