Category Archives: enlightenment

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich is an absolutely fantastic novel. And that’s coming from someone who’s had a hard time reading fiction for several years now. I’ve been the most critical reader, scouring the first 10, 15, 20 pages for a piece of dialogue to fall flat, for text that tries too hard, or for a lie. Normally, I’ll find a reason to set the book aside within the first few pages. Often in the first paragraph. (I hope my own readers are more generous.) I’ll admit that the first 50 pages of this book were slow for me, but I love Idaho, and I found myself wanting to spend more time in the state and, therefore, more time with the book. Every line, every description, every detail served a purpose. Nothing was wasted. There were endless revelations about the human spirit.

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reading Idaho in Idaho

My struggled with fiction has had to do with plots lines that are too predictable (or intentionally unpredictable for no good reason), common tropes are overused, and characters are flat. As a result, if I do read fiction, it tends to be stuff with no discernible plot line. Idaho has a plot line. Very much so. But it is as artful as the text.

If you grew up in the Inland Northwest, if there are old pictures of you as a child standing in the back of a old Ford, a photo taken when you are covered in tamarack dust, stuck to you from the can of Coke you drank, while you are waiting while your parents stacked firewood into the back of the pickup, and smell of honeysuckle and chainsaw oil thick in the air, and then if you went to school in the Palouse, and spent summers high up in the Idaho mountains, a little worried about getting lost among the old Forest Service road, but thankful from the break of intellectual work, while you marked and hauled old logs to the truck to burn through the winter in a fireplace that would melt and permanently scar the skin on your forearm, and if you take every opportunity, every summer and spring break, to drive back to those empty Blue Mountains, and if you knew the boredom and insight of an isolated childhood in the rural Northwest, and if you think you’ve actually met Emily Ruskovich, been introduced in passing by a friend, an acquaintance, in Moscow, Idaho, while you were practicing yoga across the state line, or at the farmer’s market, or in the little shop, where you ate a coffee and bagel after having ridden your bike eight miles along the Chipman Trail. Perhaps she was a student, or maybe you two were alone in a used bookstore and shared a knowing glance, seeing that you are the same, both with freckles, red hair, and dark eyes, but you think you are different, but you are not so different, and you should read this beautiful, beautiful book that she has written.

Transit by Rachel Cusk

I continue to enjoy Rachel Cusk’s work–a constant good amid chaos. I read Outline a few years ago and The Last Supper just this winter. Transit makes sense of The Last Supper.  Her observations on the human condition are unique and accurate. Her characters are honest, and sometimes they tell the truth.

image from amazon.com

Here are some lines I liked:

  • “[S]he was too obviously based on a human type to be, herself, human” (3).
  • “It was an interesting thought, that stability might be seen as the product of risk; it was perhaps when people tried to keep things the same that the process of decline began” (27).
  • “[S]omeone who cared about him once wrote that it was impossible not to reject him, that the friend himself has rejected him, that something about him just made people do it” (138).
  • “Fate, he said, is only truth in its natural state” (256).
  • “I felt something change far beneath me, moving deep beneath the surface of things, like plates of the earth blindly moving in their black traces” (260).

I’ve felt these subtle moments, sometimes after years, and it’s such a relief.

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović

Walk Through Walls is Marina Abramović’s extraordinary story. I mean, of course it’s extraordinary–it warranted a book. And it did. Abramović gives the account of her tumultuous and abusive (my word, not hers) upbringing, replete with political upheaval and familial strife–inexcusable even given the PTSD and OCD that pervades the family dynamic.

Image result for Abramović walk through walls

image from amazon.com

I continue to be interested in reading about powerful women, women who live lives that are very different than the ones they grew up in, women who were able to imagine and create a way for themselves with the degree of freedom and autonomy that their art requires.

Recently, in an interview, I heard Patti Smith say that the artists path is a spiritual path, that pursuing it and making art is a spiritual experience. In that the making of art puts me in a meditative state, which is a spiritual experience, I agree.

Abramović writes honestly, even self critically, about the spiritual and emotional experiences of her life, and the relationships in which she engaged, and even contributed analysis on her painful patterns and what they might suggest. It was all very honest and real and shed some light into my own painful patterns and what can be done about them (hint: probably not a lot).

So many of the artists I’ve been reading about have traveled extensively and have sought esoteric (at least to a Westerners view) spiritual rituals for self growth and healing, engaging in shamanic treatments in Brazil, learning telepathy from Aboriginals in Australia, and completing months-long meditations in India.

Lately, I’ve wanted to have more meaningful interactions in my work. Abramović’s work empowers me to do so. Her art is really weird, and many might view it as sensationalistic, existing only for the sake of shock and awe, but in reading the book, I was quickly and easily persuaded that performance art is very much art. It’s complex and provocative and does all of the important things that more traditional art does.

For as much as her most intimate relationships brought her pain and betrayal, Abramović heals these wounds for herself and others (her audience and her students), time and time again. Perhaps I can find ways to do more of the same in the work that I do. At least I can try.

After reading the book and being inspired by her story, I felt more emboldened to live my life in a way that was more fully authentic to who I am. So currently I am working hard to change a few things about my life, bringing it more into accord with my essential self, trying to set things up in ways that are more conducive to my well being, and wearing these big sunglasses that fully protect my eyes on the top bottom and the sides. (I wore them yesterday while browsing a plant nursery, and it felt great, and zeros effs were given.)

I thought I marked more passages (I know it did!), but in the end, this is all I could find:

“Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do” (182).

“If animals live a long time together, they start loving each other. But people start hating each other” (290).

reflect, learn, grow

I’ve had the strangest, most vivid insights to memories for the past week or so. I take my down time very seriously, but my normal breaks and long weekends have been thwarted by events, activities, business. Despite the lack of breaks, my psyche has very much wanted to reflect, learn, and grow, and so I’ve found myself doing that between long car rides, and grading, and presentations, and deadlines.

I remember spring of 2012. I remember the color of the grass, the park, the feeling of the sun on my skin. I remember feeling completely balanced and warm and hopeful about the future. I remember walking. I have a picture of myself in a tie dyed t-shirt, very little make up, rounder cheeks, and I look so fully and completely myself.

I remember summer of 2015. I’d finally started to turn a corner, thanks to the companionship of my mom’s long stay that spring. I began to drive. I drove to the Oregon coast for my cousin’s wedding. I then made a solo road trip up the Oregon coast, to Seattle, for a really good visit with friends, then over Snoqualmie Pass, which I hadn’t traversed in years, through south eastern Washington, driving without navigation, getting lost, listening to this old Reba CD that’d been gifted to me by some circuitous means, and feeling fully and completely myself.

I am on the precipice of change. I’ve felt it coming for months, and the momentum has been building, the pace has become staggering, but, oddly, here at the edge, I still don’t know what the change will be, or what it will look like. For the past month, I’ve been plagued by nonspecific anxiety. However, in the past week, much of the anxiety has faded away and been replaced with these memories of better, stronger times. It’s as though, with change on the horizon, I am reminded of my best self, perhaps so that I can do a better job of creating it more consistently moving forward.

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purple camas flower in Oregon

A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn

I can’t remember where exactly, but Goldie Hawn’s book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud was recommended to me while I was reading some respectable piece of literature, and so I ordered it and set it aside for a month or so. I finally got the chance to read it over spring break, and it was surprisingly delightful–thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to “co-author” Wendy Holden.

Lotus Grows In The Mud

image from powells.com

Hawn has led a fascinating life, and her book really tries to get at some of the wisdom she’s gained in this life. And, you know what? Some of that wisdom was pretty darn inspiring and insightful.

Here’s what impressed me–Hawn follows her purpose, even when it is not obvious, even when she has doubt, even when others criticize her and roadblocks threaten her faith.

When I think about my purpose in life, I often have doubt and uncertainty. However, the predominant narrative one hears about one’s path is that it is easy and clear. But, that hasn’t been the case for me. I was an English major because I liked reading, but that seemed incidental. Now, I’ve made an entire career out this. I love practicing yoga because it is good for me, but a lot of times I phone it in, or have to talk myself into going, and sometimes I don’t go at all. I’m never the most flexible, most enlightened, or coolest person in the class. Still, I trained to teach yoga, and I’ve been teaching it since 2008. Most days when I enter into that classroom to teach, it feels really, really *right*. Same goes for the garden, for writing, for my friendships, for My Love.

So, I loved the message of her book. She was brave. She did hard things. It made me feel like I could be brave. I could do hard things–all while making a living and having Kurt Russell unexpectedly waltz in and save me in the final hour and then stay for the remainder of my decades. Yeah, I’ll have what she’s having.

In perfect timing, just as I finish this book, I see that Hawn is teaming up with Amy Schumer in a new film called Snatched. It looks lovely and hilarious, and I can’t wait to see it. I love seeing mother/daughter duos (that’s in the book too).

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

I needed to read something artistic, and so I finally read Bluets by Maggie Nelson. I read it quickly. (It did not need to be read slowly.) It seemed like I’d read this book before. It reminded me of Coeur de Lion by Ariana Reines, but not as beautiful as that in terms of the sentence. It was beautiful, though, and smart–one of the best books I’ve read in the genre. I had little patience for the sexual aspects of the book. That’s me though. Lately, those inclusions seem cheap. I used to “get it.” Adding the sexual gave writing that perfect blend of raw and mystery. Anymore I only want to think about birds and botany.

Bluets - Maggie Nelson

image from wavepoetry.com

 

Lines I liked:

“My Thought has though itself through and reached a Pure Idea. What the rest of me has suffered during the at long agony, is in describable” (Mallarmé 2-3).

“Now I like to remember the question alone, as it reminds me that my mind is essentially a sieve, that I am mortal” (62).

“…the blue of the sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it” (62).

“For some, the emptiness itself is God; for others, the space must stay empty” (86).

“…ask not what has been real and what has been false, but what has been bitter, and what has been sweet” (86).

“As a rule we find pleasure much less pleasurable, pain much more more painful that we expected” (87).

“She is too busy asking, in this changed form, what makes a livable life, and how she can live it” (88).

“Imagine someone saying, “Our fundamental situation is joyful.” Now imagine believing it…Or forget belief: imagine feeling, even if for a moment, that it were true” (89).

“When I was alive, I aimed to be a student not of longing, but of light” (95).

Words/concepts that inspired further study:

  • the male satin bowerbird
  • International Klein Blue
  • samsara
  • the jacaranda tree
  • the Tuareg
  • The Oblivion Seekers

2016: the year in review

My 2016 “best nine” according to IG.

2016 was a whirlwind year. I loved. I worried. My heart shattered. I got sick. I figured some things out. I remembered “authentic self” stuff that has helped me re-engage with my values and interests. And so I got better at being me. I worried some more. I got better. I loved.

Now, as with most December 31sts, I feel quieter, more restful, more peaceful than celebratory, or loud, or exciting. These are long, cold days. As a species I think we’re supposed to be lying low, eating root vegetables, and conserving energy to get through winter. Still, in a little while, I’ll probably pull on my giant fuzzy snow boots and be with the smiling, happy people.

In 2015 I traveled. I felt blocked creatively, and so to occupy myself, I tried to say yes to all of the people I loved, and even liked, and ended up making a few long road trips and even made a solo detour on a trip to visit my best friend and ended up seeing more of the Oregon coast than I’d ever seen before and felt small next to the tsunami warnings and did wheel pose in the warm sand with my mom, whom I love so much.

I felt like my urgent travel mode was coming to an end in 2016, but I still ended up traveling a lot. I flew to Louisiana. In February, I road tripped back to Utah through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado (in the snow!). Then I flew to Houston for a conference that ended up being a good bonding experience with my colleagues, even though I was also really emotionally raw during that trip. I made a quick trip home for my nephew’s birthday (a date I rarely get to make because of my work schedule). Later in the month, I attended another conference in Atlanta. The conference was great, but the trip felt a little solitary. When school finished up, I took off to the high mountains of Idaho, and then made my annual trip to Oregon, came back to Idaho, and then I did another quick trip to Utah.

Before school started, I road tripped to Phoenix by way of the Grand Canyon (a first for me!), Flagstaff and Sedona. In Phoenix I ate some of the best pizza of my life, drove on to the Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson, where I had last been 15 years earlier on my way to a school trip to Mexico. That trip, and the saguaros, left an indelible mark on my psyche, and my return to them did not disappoint. After having my face melted off by a lovely little jazz quartet, I went on to Las Vegas, where I ate at the Peppermill because it’s iconic, and I had recently seen Jerry Seinfeld interview George Wallace there for his show.

After school started, I did a quick long weekend in Seattle to visit the loveliest of people, where I felt the humid, highly oxygenated air wash over me, and after that I went back to Las Vegas for a nice little conference that also felt quite solitary, and after that I went to San Diego for another conference, but this time I also got to walk along the warm California beach and see some of the city and just detoured (quite) a bit in general.

So, there was a lot of travel, and I was grateful for the good company I was able to keep, and I felt highly motivated at times, editing, grading, book reviewing, and proposing all manor of scholarly work. I also rested. I ate tomatoes and zucchini that I grew myself. I knitted, and I read, and I put seeds out for the birds. There’s more of course, but for now, this is probably all I need to say about 2016.

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

I read this book almost entirely while lying in bed, while falling in love. Joy Harjo’s a fixture in poetry and literature. Before now, I’d only ever read a poem or two here and there, but I’d never really gotten into her work…that is until I read her memoir, Crazy Brave. It was one of those books that I started reading in a bookstore, and then read a chapter or two from the library, and then finally bought my own damn copy and finished it at home…while lying in bed. I love this book.

image from amazon.com

Harjo is mostly known for her poetry. I don’t enjoy reading a lot of poetry, and so that’s why I haven’t been very familiar with her work. After reading and loving Crazy Brave, I read She Had Some Horses, which is also beautiful, and I love it, and it’s poetry. It’s a collection I see myself returning to.

As for Crazy Brave, what I love about the book is how she captures a creative, feminine life experience that I (mostly) really relate to. It’s soulful. It captures pain, and specifically women’s pain, in a profound way. It shows us another way. It does so in poetic prose–she’s a poet after all.

This is from the back cover of She Had Some Horses, but I think it pertains to all Harjo’s work: “If you want to remember what you never listened to & what you didn’t know you knew, or wanted to know, open this sound & forget to fear. A woman is appearing in the horizon light.” ~ Meridel Le Sueur.

And then I saw her picture and remembered that maybe I met her. Or maybe I heard her read once. She is familiar to me. Her name. Her face. Her work. And yet I only really found her work now, when of course I needed it most.

I was captured throughout the entire book, but  by the end, I was a little lost: WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?! I wondered about the title: crazy brave. Now I think I can say that the larger message was, for me personally, a message to women to be brave, an admonition that it will be crazy, and you will be crazy, and you will be brave, and that is life.

Part of this is about surrendering to the flow of the river, instead of fighting against it, using the strength of the current to pursue yourself, but also acknowledge or accept that the river will be violent, and it will wound you deeply, and it might kill you, and it might lull you to sleep, and part of this we can control, and part of it we cannot control, and this is the wisdom we gain from being in the river. I am reminded of the time I went underwater in the Colorado River, the immense crushing noise turned warm and quiet and then I emerged. Part of this book is about acknowledging fear, working around it, using it, but not being controlled by it. I left the book thinking I should do what I must do before the river does it for me, even as the river does it for me.

Some of the words I loved:

“Yet everyone wanted the same thing: land, peace, a place to make a home, cook, fall in love, make children and music” (19).

“Because music is a language that live sin the spiritual realms, we can hear it, we can notate it and create it, but we cannot hold it in our hands” (19).

“In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music. Our human tendency is to fill these holes with distractions like shopping and fast romance, or with drugs and alcohol” (23).

“Water people can easily get lost. And they may not comprehend that they are lost. They succumb easily to the spirits of alcohol and drugs. They will always search for a vision that cannot be found on earth” (25).

“They continue to live as if the story never happened” (43).

“Our  heartbeats are numbered. We have only so many allotted. When we use them up, we die (52).

“All of these plant medicines, like whiskey, tequila, and tobacco, are potent healers. There’s a reason they’re called spirits. You must use them very carefully. They open you up. If you abuse them, they can tear holes in your protective, spiritual covering” (77).

“I noticed a marked change in the quality of light when we made it to New Mexico” (83).

“Each scar was evidence that we wanted to live” (90).

“I told Lupita I wanted to paint, to be an artist. She told me that what she wanted was someone to love her” (102).

“I was given the option of being sterilized” (121).

“I believe that if you do not answer the noise and urgency of your gifts, they will turn on you” (135).

“We were in that amazed state of awe at finding each other in all the millions and billions of people in the world” (143).

“Her intent made a fine unwavering line that connected my heart to hers” (146).

on flo mo and inspiration

A few weeks ago, I saw Florence + the Machine live at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley. Months earlier, I was saying “yes” to everything, and consequently got myself entangled in weekend plans for months on end. This show was one of the things I agreed to.

the harp from Florence + the Machine

the harp from the Florence + the Machine performance

Despite the fact that my experience was probably entirely cliche, I have to admit that I was very moved by Florence Welch’s show. I love seeing live music–performance in general. But this was probably the best show I’d ever seen, and it was in large part because of Welch’s generosity (the drummer’s cool too). 

The first most striking thing about the show was that her movements (for over two hours) were effortless, but profoundly beautiful. I read somewhere that she was diagnosed with dyspraxia as a child, but now her every movement is stunning.

She wears her hair long and wavy and messy. Her all-white costume was beautiful from a structural perspective, but not typically sexy. Her face is stark and sometimes harsh and absolutely stunning. She wears very little make up. She does nothing to soften her appearance or make herself more conventionally palatable.

In doing so, she is completely extraordinary and unusual, and none of us could take our eyes off of her for the entire two hours of the show. I can’t think of any other woman, at her level of fame, that allows her face to be raw and so vulnerable in public.

We left saying she deserves to be worshiped. We left saying we saw a panty line. We left saying I”ll bet she doesn’t shave. No, she’s too busy making art to do any one uncomfortable thing that serves only the viewing pleasure of others. No doubt she pleases herself, and in doing so, she is absolutely pleasing to others.

I left wanting to spend more time creating for the sole purpose of my own viewing pleasure. I left wanting to type the words that are bubbling out of me. I left wanting to bang on the piano in rhythm. I left wanting to let there be love. I left reminded of my own unique taste, reminded that it’s all I have–whether I am loved for it or not.

brains

For most of my life I’ve felt relatively happy and well-adjusted—this despite a few run of the mill traumas and dysfunctions. Some of my beloved friends and close relatives, some with genius IQs and crazy good artistic abilities, have not always faired so well mentally. They struggle with addiction and various mental illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, a bit too much paranoia, et al. They are all wonderful and funny and great to be around and to talk to, except when they are not. They have brains they all contend with daily. I love them. They are wonderful people. The best people. Though, being around them, I’ve often wondered how I got so lucky to feel pretty good most of the time. Well, here’s the answer: I don’t.

This is a surprise to me because it’s a fairly recent discovery.  I’ve had a few dark periods in my adult life, but they were situational and could be measured in months. I was always able to improve with simple things like exercise and time. What I’m realizing, though, is that my sanity may have been a direct result of keeping my brain very very very busy. Basically, I’ve noticed that if I’m not keeping busy by practicing yoga, falling in love, playing the piano, or earning a PhD, my brain gets bored and tries to take itself to crazy town.

When I completed my PhD, I thought I was done with school forever. Now, I’m not so sure. After ten years of school, I wanted to develop other aspects of myself besides just my intellect. These days I have to practice piano, I practice yoga, I make art, and I volunteer with work that (sometimes) seems meaningful for my mental health. (Though several times in the past year I’ve been tempted to stop the volunteer thing.) Meaninglessness in everything is one of the tricks my brain plays on me, and so finding meaning in life is crucial to my happiness. Basically, I have to work at keeping this brain of mine happy. I love my brain, but I’m learning I have to give it what it needs or else it will punish me.

my (new to me) piano

my (new to me) piano