Monthly Archives: February 2015

Be Free Where You Are by Thich Nhat Hanh

I’m supposed to be gearing up for a spiritual year according to sundry esoteric readings and such. I entertain these mostly for fun, but when the idea reappeared to me in multiple venues, I thought, okay, I’m listening. I’m not particularly excited by the prospect of a spiritual year, but recognize that it’s a part of being. And, there’s no time like the present.

So, the other day on a friend’s table, I saw a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Be Free Where You Are, which is a little pocket-sized book based on a lecture he have to a group of prisoners a few decades ago. “Take it,” she said. So, I slipped it into my purse and read it the other night. It is a very quick read. I read half of it, then decided to read the rest of it, and then read the Q&A after that—all in one sitting. I chose to read and reread a few key sections  slowly to try to really absorb his potential meanings.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s been on my radar after a respected mentor mentioned that his work had valid philosophical and scholarly potential. After reading this short book, I can’t say that I agree. Of course, it’s way too soon to make a definitive statement either way. But, he spoke about things like being in your heart and being positive, and while I can make a lot of assumptions about what that might mean, I’m not sure that means much. Or, maybe it means everything. The book is full of these kinds of assertions, and I can only hope that his longer works offer more depth.

Thich Nhat Hanh said that understanding is crucial for forgiveness.

He said to think about each bite of food and where it came from with gratitude.

He said to meditate always, while walking and washing dishes. While inhaling and exhaling. He encourages his audience to be present. Describing this, he wrote, “Here I am.” I read it a few times:  “Here I am.” I walked over to my full-length bedroom mirror and tore away the tens of sticky notes upon which I had scribbled affirmations in permanent marker, affirmations that I had written months earlier as they occurred to me. I threw the tiny stack of words into the recycling, got out a new sticky note and wrote, “Here I am.” I placed it alone on the mirror. Here I am.

I thought about an eye-gazing meditation I did recently that was either good or meaningless, and I thought, “Here I am. Here I am.”

shelter from the storm

red skies over Utah

red skies over Utah

I go back and forth on whether or not a relationship is right for me. If I look at my adult life, I’ve gone back and forth between being single and coupled in practice too. So, assuming I’m doing what serves me, maybe I need a combination of both worlds.

That said, today is one of those days when I wish I was coupled. You see, I “put myself out there.” Professionally and creatively, I expose myself, I write, I share, I create, I publish, and that opens me up to failure, criticism, and rejection. I’m used to it. It’s par for the course. In many ways, I view failure as an important part of the process—a sign that I am pushing up against my potential.

However, sometimes rejection and pushback is hard to take. Sometimes it hurts my feelings, sometimes it feels bad, and in those moments, I crave a soft place to land, to come home to someone who is close, understands the project, and what’s at stake. I crave to be with someone who is invested, someone who can comfort and offer suggestions on how I might view things differently.

In so many ways, I can see how writers, artists, musicians—people who expose themselves to failure and criticism—would benefit tremendously from an intimate support person, someone to remind us that we are not alone in what sometimes seems like a sea of crushing criticism. I benefit from having close people who can reiterate the story that I’ve been telling myself for years—to get up and try again. If I can, I must. 

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

An autographed copy of Miranda July’s The First Bad Man arrived in a cardboard box propped against my front door. I did not order it. I was coming back from yoga. It was any old day, and my mind very slowly bended around the idea that someone had bought something for me. I brought it inside and carefully opened it. Inside was a loving note from Z and the book. I immediately read the first few paragraphs, smiled to myself, and set it aside for later.

I’ve been reading a lot lately and savored this one, reading it slowly over the course of a few weeks. There are so many lines in the first few chapters that made me laugh, or made me reach for a pencil to draw a thin gray line under a phrase or beside a passage. Miranda July is an artist who makes me feel not alone in this world. It is absolutely novel how she can capture all the strange little quips and quirks that brains do.

July also writes about really disgusting, gross-out, putrid sorts of things, and the sheer quantity of that mid-way through The First Bad Man started to get me down. The suffocation the main character creates for herself, her home, her kitchen, her frying pan, her throat condition, the containers of urine, the breast punching—it all got to be too much, and I didn’t want to spend any more time in the book. But, of course, I did and in the last few chapters, I started underlining things again, and smiling as I read, and once again, felt that I was not alone in the world.

When I read a particularly delightful passage, I found myself turning to the title page and running my finger over her indecipherable magic marker signature. Who was this woman? Is she like me? Or, is she commenting on what it’s like to be me?

When I finished the book, I googled her. She’s married to a handsome man! Maybe I will marry a handsome man too, I thought. She just had a child. Maybe I will have a child too, but later, when I am her age. Will I worry about bringing a child into “our Lover’s Story”? Will there be a “Story”? In those moments of reading and googling, and “liking” her on Facebook, and watching the video she had just posted, I thought, yes, my life will look very much like hers. And, perhaps more deluded than the main character in The First Bad Man, I thought, but for me there will be no Clee, no Phillip, no Kubelko Bondy, no bad person or thing, and so I have obviously learned nothing, but will keep the book on my shelf and will go back and read parts of it again.

Forever by Judy Blume

I recently saw Forever by Judy Blume on a list of great books by women for women. I haven’t read young adult literature since…probably since I was a teenager. I was immediately struck by how bad the writing was. The book is a study in telling instead of showing. After deciding early on that it was not worth a close read, I just skipped ahead, read all of the sexy parts, and called it a day.

image from goodreads.com

image from goodreads.com

However, after a few days of reflection, I’ve come to realize that it probably is an important book. Sure, I found most of the writing off-putting, but it was probably pretty good/typical/appropriate/accessible for young adult fiction. Evidently, it’s one of the first books that’s about young people entering into their first sexual relationships. Blume portrays a very white, middle class, private school kind of normal. So, that was limiting, but still useful. It depicts young people being very straightforward with each other. All of the experiences are very consensual and thoughtful. If someone has a feeling or doesn’t want to do something, that’s okay. They talk about it. Blume is modeling a relationship, though perhaps overly simplified, is straightforward and consensual, and sadly, that’s really rare. So, after reading the thing, I’d agree that this is an important book for all women, especially young women, and the people who want to sleep with them.

Meru directed by Jimmy Chin, et al

This year at Sundance, I had the opportunity to see Meru, a documentary film about Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk’s summit of Mount Meru, or the “Shark Fin” in the Himalayas. I was a little worried that I might spend most of my time averting my gaze from the vertigo-inducing shots of men hanging by a rope over 20,000 foot drops. While there were plenty of those shots, there are also a lot of beautiful scenes that did not invoke a need to cover my eyes. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and unforgiving throughout.

image from Meru trailer

image from Meru trailer

At about the mid-point, viewers get a lot of backstory on these three climbers. Each of them overcomes absolutely unbelievable obstacles. (Well, maybe not so unbelievable given that they are elite climbers.) I went in worried that this would be one of these films when men (yes, men) do these insane things that make no sense and risk their lives and everyone’s lives, and for what? But I enjoyed and admired these men throughout the film.

They each brought such unique personalities to the screen. Conrad is the hardened old-timer with tons of experience. He’s got a remarkable record for safety, but he’s got a thin exterior might be pushing too hard at this point in his career. There is evidence that Jimmy is aggressive and unstoppable in his pursuit of success, but he’s so quiet and understated about it. Renan has a natural, physical ability, but he’s got a spooked look in his eyes—maybe it’s the fear of being a newcomer or maybe he’s haunted by what’s to come.

Watching the film, I was proud to be in the same species as these guys. It makes me think about the things we’re driven to do. The things we obsess over until we absolutely must do them. Some of us know what we have to do, and it usually means logging countless hours alone with one’s self. This is why, though I recognize my need for relationships, I trust solitude. Important things happen there, and etching out that time and being willing to spend that time alone is key. For some people, that great thing is having a child.

During this film, though it is very masculine, I was reminded of doula work. Like the men climbing Meru, women in labor are inexplicably driven, but they reach their breaking point, they’re brought to the brink, and then beyond to the place where their skin starts to break—just like the climbers. They continue on as the animal body takes over and the higher intelligence and the spirituality are all forced to work together. All three are required, which is one of the lessons, I think. I always say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or it weakens you badly.” However, in this film, what doesn’t kill them actually does make them stronger. Cliché as it may sound, the film reminded me of our greatness as human beings. I feel newly inspired to pursue the things I must do in this life, for more quiet focus to better understand what those things are, and a deeper commitment to the solitude they require.