Did Someone Call My Name?

Are you on your way to fulfilling your new year resolutions, or, like me, have you already on version 3.0?

I started off the year resolved to quit my job, impatient a replacement to allow me to move from teaching middle school to being a high school librarian has not been found.  I made grand plans to become self-employed, maybe move out of Los Angeles and become . . . unemployed and broke?

I was stuck and did not know how to become unstuck.  But, despite my requests, God clearly was not talking to me, was playing games of bait and switch.

I made an appointment to meet with my Pastor, because, I told myself, I wanted to get to know my new pastor and to discuss how I could serve the church.

I didn’t realize God was the one calling to meet with me about why I was so angry with him.

My pastor shared with me two things:  the discouragement he faced in the beginning of his journey to follow his calling to be a minister and the joy he found in reading the letters my students wrote for Operation Gratitude.   He advised me to save mementoes of joy, not only mine, but of joy I inspire in others, such as these letters.  “You made that happen,” he reminded me.  Yes, but it was just one moment, one day.  What about my calling? I left with gratitude, if not an answer.

A few days later, Patty told me she was working on Sunday’s sermon using 1 Samuel 3, a passage about Samuel mistaking God calling him for Eli calling him, and thought of my frustrations.  Samuel eventually invites God to reveal himself and listens to God’s message for him.  So, I asked God to speak to me, so he did.  First, as August Rodin, God reminded me, “Patience is also a form of action.”  Next, in the guise of Dan Millman, God advised me, “The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.”  Finally, he spoke to me in the letters of reference I requested for the job I really want: a college creative writing instructor.   “You have a calling and the talent to meet it,” God comforted.

Resolution Version 5.0:  remember the original plan, listen, and wait in joy.

originally published in The Good News, February 2012, by First United Methodist Church North Hollywood



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.

Enrolling in the School of Fish

I’ve been in a state of writing-paralysis, frozen by the headlights of the quickly approaching manuscript deadline, graduation, and returning to full-time high school teaching.   No matter that I wake up every morning thankful for the day of writing ahead, for the challenging and astute comments of my mentor, and for the luxury of being able to pursue a dream, I end up stuck in finding solutions to fix poems I once thought were done.   They are not done, these poems that carry the weight of the need/desire/expectation to be published, to win fellowships, to be given scholarships, to become a book so that I can do more of what I love so much I can’t do it:  write.   Much like my own body that has taken on weight in this process, there is too much attached to my poems for them to have the freedom of movement.  So each morning I turn on the computer and vow today will be the day I fix it all.

I don’t and so I go to yoga.   Perhaps to avoid writing,  I started trading work hours for unlimited yoga classes, so after class, working at the front desk, I picked up a magazine during some down time.  The article I read focused on how healers heal themselves.  Odd, since I am not really a healer, but I figured I would pick up a few tips from the pros.   The writer focused on the distinction between fixing and healing — between seeing something as broken or inferior versus being in need of transformation.

My poems don’t need fixing, they need healing and transformation.   Still, my brain tightens, resists, doubs her ability to heal these poems (and maybe me).

Moreover, also working on synthesizing disease and healing into my poems, I wonder how this process of moving from being broken, in need to fixing, being in need of healing and transformation might be embodied in a poem.  What would that look like?  Is it possible to do this in a poem that is complete?   Or is this concept only useful in the act of revision.

In the yoga class I took that day, my teacher, who had just come back from a trip snorkeling, asked us to visual a fish in changing currents, to see how the fish does not resist the changes, but pauses, adjusts, and then uses the current to move to where the fish needs or wants to be.

In writing I am both the fish and the ocean as are my poems.   Like a fish, we must be still and let this current of the other carry us to the place where snorkelers will listen to their breath as they admire our ability to stay in the flow.

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.