“This place where you are right now…”

“This place where you are right now/ God circled on a map for you” — Hafiz

On “Survivors,” a British TV show about the 1% of the population left alive after a sudden virus, fear and terror are the greatest threats to survival. In one episode, a father isolates himself and his two children from all of life out of fear of coming in contact with the deadly virus and in terror of the ill will of others to take their resources. He does not let his children out of the house and uses violence to ward off anyone who approaches. He does not wait to find out if they harbingers of good or evil. His daughter states that being alive is more than just breathing. His terror smothers.

In an interview on WTF, Judd Apatow paints the surrendering to joy as the throwing back of the head in laughter, as we do so, opening our necks to vulnerability.  He continues with the idea that we stop ourselves from succumbing to the full experience of joy as we envision someone waiting to “slit our throat” when so exposed. We are conditioned, through experience, through parents, through history, through poetry and literature, to anticipate the end of joy. Thus, we live in the terror of joy rather than in joy.

In reality, no one is waiting to slit our throats. In reality, we often slits our own throat before finding out no throats need to be slit in the aftermath of joy.

This is painful and exhausting.

In his blog, Stephen Archer writes, “I didn’t want to look for­ward to some­thing with an expectation. Too easy to get burned.” He avoids hope; he doubts it.  Is it a delusion? Is it “simply wishing for a future that is not like this present”?  Maybe sometimes there is some throat slitting, but isn’t hope what allows that to heal, to have the faith to throw back our heads in laughter when joy, inevitably, reappears?  Or that allows us to believe we will be able to do so again one day?

I want to not need hope. I want to just be in what is moment.

In our fear of the unfamiliar, the unknown, the inexplicable, we risk killing the joy for which we long. Luke 2:9-10 states, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’”  The sermon that followed concluded with the need of the shepherds for active, everyday hope in their otherwise dreary lives.

In yoga this week, my teacher talked of sradha, the yogic teaching that we continue to do what we do with the confidence that it matters based on our past experiences. She called this the yogic version of  faith, different than the blind faith of other philosophies or religions.

I find the phrase blind faith redundant. Is there really any other kind?

I cannot reconile the oxymoron of faith being built on evidence.  It is when I seek evidence that faith falters, that it turns into terror of joy and fear of hope.

Faith is what allows me to go forth even without sradha/experience, to believe that if I listen beyond my fear/terror and act in love that joy will find me wherever I am because I am where I was meant to be.

I want angels to point me in the right direction.   I want a sign, which is perhaps a sign that I need more faith.


Art of Nothing

Thursday my new iPad arrived.  Today, I returned it.

In the two days with my iPad  I tried to get Google docs to work for when I would want to edit my poems or write new ones on my new portable electronic device, I spent time downloading apps so I could read the news in flashy formats, listen to Pandora, play words with friends and tweet about how much I was not doing, I even ambitiously figured out how to download books from the public library.

I decided to stay home this summer to relax, finish my manuscript, and plan a cross-country move.  The iPad, I realized, was useless for progressing any of these goals.

Friday night, I cried through yoga class (for reasons which are inexplicable or which I will not explain publicly) and then through the movie, Crime After Crime.   Debbie, the subject of this impassioned and inspirational movie, lived 26 years in prison, wrongfully incarcerated.  Two attorneys spent six years of their personal time and money to get her out.   Debbie was a devout Christian and Joshua, one of her attorneys, is an orthodox Jew. I was grateful to be in a movie theater, the darkness and the ticket I purchased that contracted me to sit and listen for two hours to a story that reminded me to believe in the power of faith and in the compassion of humans.    I cried for Debbie and for myself.

Where had my faith gone, when I had no reason to lose faith and Debbie, who had no reason to hope, had faith in abundance?  Through faith, the attorneys achieved what seemed impossible and gave the gift of healing and liberation.  My lack of faith leaves me exhausted and keeps me from the joys I am given each day.

I went home to work on some poems on my iPad.  It would have been more effective to do nothing.   Pen and paper would have been more efficient in capturing what my soul was trying to learn.   I set up apps to help me plan my trip to San Francisco.  I longed for maps I could fold, that would not, with the wrong swipe of my finger down a road, turn into an advertisement.

Add up all those wasted swipes I could have done my yoga practice, read another chapter of a book, or practiced with a choir like Debbie. I missed being in a choir.  I felt guilty for thinking this. Debbie could only sing in prison; I could sing wherever I want, but can’t seem to find the time.  I felt I was squandering my time, yet I can never see the end of the list of things to do.

Saturday I felt depleted.  I went to another movie.  I did not enjoy the movie, but felt the relief of the sanctuary of the movie theater.   There is nowhere to go.  All else will wait.

I have trouble waiting.  This staying put is challenging.  It is the hardest part of writing.  It is the hardest part, for me, of living, particularly when I know what I want.   I want to be there, forget that being here is as important.   The iPad, the traffic of LA, the tedium of online applications, the fear that my poems are not ‘good enough’ do not help.   I want the next thing, but there is no form to complete, no fee to pay to make it happen sooner.

And it shouldn’t.   This is where I want Debbie’s faith.  I want to believe that each moment is where I need to be, is a gift, that will lead me to the next one.

So Sunday morning I  went to church, another place we are allowed to sit for an hour and do nothing except listen and sing and greet the people sitting around us.   It has been about a year since I went to church on a non-holiday.   The sermon was about the sacredness of everyday language, how we speak and transform ourselves and others with words.   Like, thank you and I love you and you are beautiful and it will get better.   And poems.  I was sitting, doing nothing, so I could hear that God was saying, “Lisa, just go write.  Don’t do anything.  Write and love.”

The anthem, Simple Gifts from God,  was how I felt about the movie theater, the church, this act of truly doing nothing.  It is in these places that the fix for the line that is not working comes, or the right word to finish that unsettled poem, or the peace to ease my unsettled heart.

It really is simple.  Get paper and pen and make words.   It is simple to buy a map and highlight the route you need to follow.  It is simple to fill out an application and then find gratitude in whatever comes your way.  It is simple because I am free to do what I want.

Like to love someone and to know I matter and make others  feel they matter.  Because we are there, together doing nothing, saying things in everyday language that becomes sacred because it is said with love.

On my way home, I stopped for groceries and bought a used paperback book for my trip.   I went home and un-Lisa’d the iPad (thankfully a less time-consuming task).  I printed my manuscript for me to edit and revise on my trip.  I downloaded an audio book to my old iPod and I finished a job application.

I made time for yoga.   I was a few minutes late.  As I lay down on my mat a put my legs up against the wall, inverted my body and the racing of my mind, my yoga teacher asked “How does it feel to surrender to simply being here?”  Simple.  It is simple to show up and reverse the idea of always doing.  It is simple to not fix what isn’t broken.  It is simple to accept that things take time and that if I do nothing, life will unfold.

I stopped by the post office to send the iPad back.  Thankfully they have a self-service machine to simplify this process and to allow me to do this on a Sunday.

I packed my journal and planned to buy a map when I get to my destination.  I look forward to the long drive of doing nothing except growing my faith that I will arrive where I need to be safely and ready to love.

Jumping someone else’s poem?

Ever have that poem that just comes to you in a first draft, almost complete?  I could credit this rare, very rare, experience to the creative rush from the Antioch creative writing residency or, more likely, to poetic delusion.   I was so proud of this poem.

Though really, it is flash prose, the topic of the workshop I attended this morning.  I loved the workshop and enjoyed tricking my brain into writing poetry without criticism because we were writing ‘flash prose;’ it is not my genre, so I was off the hook if it sucked.  I played along and wrote my one sentence story.  In fact, I wrote three.  Then I chose one and expanded it into flash prose.  I utilized the tools we just studied of repetition, of focusing on the specificity of action over character (that is, no names).   I used short, at times truncated and fragmented sentences.  I read it aloud and was satisfied with the poetic sounds, the rhythms, the story that was told through negation.   The responses were few:  “confusing” and “intriguing.”  I could work with that.

A few hours later, over dinner and mojitos with a fellow poet, I recounted the workshop, all I learned, and boasted about my poem.  I read it to her from the trunk of my car, where I had left the journal between class and dinner, and we were proud.   We joked how ironic it would be if this, not the poems I’ve been working on for years, were to be published first.  Oh the frustrating joy I’d have to endure.

And now home, I thought I would type up my little gem, polish its rough edges before I let it sit a week and then, maybe, actually see, on a whim or a dare, if I could get it published.  Yet, as I read the poem, I realized it is not my story at all.   It is the story of someone very dear to me.  It is a story that this person trusted me to tell.  He is not a poet or a writer who seeks to have his story told to the world of obscure journal readers, to any world.  Except for mine and his, as small and tenuous as that world may be.  He told it to me, which is what the poem is about.  This story that he told me.  He is not oppressed and in need of a voice or of me to tell his story.  I through I was writing about what I want this story to mean and make it my poem.  It is a well wrought poem, but, I could never show him this poem and claim I care for him.  It would be a betrayal.  I could change the name of a city, I could say he told me about bananas rather than apples, but he would still know and I would still know that this poem, while dear to my poet-ego-heart, would be a betrayal of trust that is even more rare than a good first draft of a poem.

Writers, how do you tell the stories entrusted to you and do you ever bury them away unsure if you have the right to reveal what was entrusted to you?    I have never encountered this before, though I write about my parents, my family history, my former lovers, but this, when I looked at it away from the rush of creative pride, when I imagined the poem in its gloriously ironic publication being read by others, maybe even the person whose story it is, I felt a bit ashamed, guilty.   Therefore, this poem will remain where it started, in a place where trust is safe, in my journal.

The Joyful Place of Grief

Today my yoga teacher talked about being in mother mode as she delivered bolsters and blocks and blankets to students already on their mats.  “My mom is always offering to serve me.  ‘Let me do your laundry.  I need to wash a load anyway.'”   As I remembered doing laundry for my  mother, too ill to do mine for me, I felt grief come out from behind its curtain: the sadness that is beyond sadness.    I sensed her, could smell her house and feel the drag on the accordion door in front of the washer.  It felt like I stopped in to visit after too long of an absence.   It felt good to hold that sadness, to remember.   I then celebrated with deep breaths she could never take and with the movement of the body she manifested for me.

Surrendering to the Birthday Muse

Today I listened to Caroline Myss’s “The Power to Create” while hiking through Runyon Canyon.  I was amused by the disconnect of what she was saying with the surrounding social environment of this popular LA trail.   The soul will always be stronger than the body, she said, as I continued my intentionally slow hike (it is my birthday and I just didn’t want anything to be rushed or more difficult than needed) among the hard bodies of Hollywood fleeting around me.  She also speaks about narcissism, the kind of narcissism where we have the courage to work on ourselves, to see our own calling and follow it regardless of what others say.

Alice Walker has this type of narcissism and I love that she was interviewed this morning, the morning of my birthday,  on Democracy NOW, for her new book about how to find the courage to speak about the unspeakable.

Sometimes the unspeakable is more common, the inability to say what we want or need. Sometimes our friends and family speak for us:

Have a healthy adventure.
Have a creative year.
Thanks for being brave.
Find bliss.

Cards and birthday wishes carry power to reinforce our requests to the universe, like prayers and chants raised to what ever powers our heart and soul.

As I head into my final semester of my MFA, I know the questions of narcissism and speaking the unspeakable are implicit in my work as a writer.   I know that taking a leave of absence to work on my writing was somewhat selfish and illogical from the outside view.  For me, it really was not an option.  However, now that I am doing it, I at times wonder where I expect it to lead.   A book?  A teaching position?  While those would be great, I know there is something more at work in this year, something more than the poems and the words on the page.    Myss reminds us that as soon as we send out a prayer for help or guidance, answers come immediately.   Finally, I have the time and silence to listen.