Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: writing

Solstice Dream

“. . . the Cancer Solstice pulls us within to explore the deepest desires of our heart, while also calling us to express our feelings and visions in our wider community, finding appropriate forms and mediums through which to communicate our message.”Gray Crawford, astrologer

I was going back to school, my alma mater, Knox College. But I was going into a graduate level program in some kind of health field, something that would lead to a professional career that would build on the healing work I’ve done as a massage therapist for the last twenty years.

I met another student with whom I would be working frequently. She was young, just out of undergraduate study, and she was enthusiastic and energetic and made friends with me immediately. “So, what number would you call me?” she asked. I didn’t understand. She explained to me that it had always been her fond wish that someone would give her a numerical nickname. “So what number am I?”

How on earth could I give somebody a number? Numbers are so impersonal. “Well, what’s your favorite number?” I asked, but she was gone, leaving me puzzled and amused at the idea that somebody would actually want to be known as a number.

Looking over the curriculum, I read that some students in this program still had their Hematology textbooks, which would come in handy. Hematology? I know nothing about that. I knew many of the students in this program had come from the nursing field, but I hadn’t thought it was a requirement. I must be in way over my head. Maybe I should drop the whole thing now, before it went any farther.

But, the school had accepted me to the program. They knew my history, and clearly believed I could succeed. If they believed in me, why shouldn’t I? It would certainly be a big challenge, but I could tackle it, with determination and my natural ability to learn. I could get through this education, and graduate, and go into a serious professional job, with responsibilities and a salary, more money than I’d ever made. I could support my family.

And it would be a full time job, and I would not have time to write anymore. I would never write again. The pain was visceral, wrenching my gut, the realization that I would never be a writer again. How could I possibly have chosen this? How could I live with this choice?

Journal 2

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50 years: forties

This’ll bring us up to the present. First decade, second decade, twenties, thirties.

41. Kiran was about seventeen or eighteen months old when my Mom died. “Baba” was grandma since Rowan started to talk, and we saw Kevin’s mom frequently, so my mom became Baba Leona. A few weeks before she passed, Kiran started calling her Bona.

There was a period when Caryn Robson came over for a couple hours every week to watch the girls so I could write. I didn’t get much writing done, but knowing she would be coming every week was a lifeline. Often we would spend much of the time chatting, or I would be just getting around to putting lunch on the table when she arrived. After Mom’s funeral, the next time Caryn came over, we ended up sitting on the floor of my bedroom, Caryn behind me, releasing trigger points in my shoulders. When I started crying, she wrapped her arms around me and held me. Kiran was nearby, solemnly watching.

The next day, or maybe the day after, she said to me, “Bona died.”

“Yes. Bona died.”

“I saw Bona.”

“We saw Bona at the funeral home.”

“Bona was hugging you.”

“When was she hugging me?”

“Miss Caryn was here.”

“I was sitting on the floor and Miss Caryn was hugging me.”

“Yes. Bona was hugging you.”

“Bona was hugging me when Miss Caryn was hugging me?”

“Yes.”

“You saw Bona?”

“Yes.”

I had many more questions, but we seemed to have reached the limit of her ability to verbalize. She stopped talking then, satisfied that I’d gotten the main point, that after mom died, Kiran saw her with me, holding me in my grief.

Kiran doesn’t remember it anymore.

42. I wasn’t sure I wanted to send the kids to school, and preschool seemed like basically an ad for school. Rowan was very attached to me anyway, but because she was born in early November, she was almost four by the time the school year started. Still, I hesitated. My mother-in-law was on the preschool board, so I felt a certain amount of pressure to send her. I resisted. If she went to preschool, it would be that much harder to say no to school later. She would think of homeschooling as a deprivation.

One day Rowan was driving me crazy. Whatever I said, she ignored. Whatever I wanted her to do, she did the opposite. It went on all day, and really it had been building for a week. Clearly I had no control over this child whatsoever. Finally I’d had enough, and the words just came out of my mouth: “That’s it! You’re going to preschool. We’ll see if someone else can do any better with you than I can.” Sending a child to preschool because she was beyond my control seemed like the weakest possible reason, but I really was at my wit’s end. I couldn’t think of any other way to deal with her.

Her behavior changed immediately. Rowan started preschool a couple weeks later. She loved every minute of it, and was even disappointed when she found out it was only two mornings per week. Later I looked back and realized that it was precisely what she’d needed: to assert her individuality, to take the next step in separating from me. The words that popped out of my mouth were exactly the right ones.

43. I don’t remember what we were thinking when we planned this trip, but Mark Ferguson was getting married in Chicago, and I wanted to see my sister in upstate New York, and Niagara Falls was between the two places. When I saw it as a child, I was impressed, but as an adult, it was profoundly moving. We took an elevator deep into the earth, then walked a long tunnel to a boardwalk so we could walk right up to the edge of the falls. A little stream broke over a rock and fell onto the platform. That tiny stream was immensely powerful. This place where the water would devour the earth, were most of it not diverted before it even gets to the falls. And yet, this little bit of the remainder packed easily enough power to knock a person down. I planted my disposable sandals on the wet wood and held out my arms to open myself to the full force of the water. It was a ritual bath. It was a baptism. For days I was stunned, wondering that anyone could leave that place not knowing it is a sacred node of water energy.

As we returned to the surface, five-year-old Rowan said, “That’s the wettest I’ve ever been in my life!”

IMG_000744. I was working on the novel that would become Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. I was well into it with maybe 40,000 words. That doesn’t sound like very much now, but it was a huge struggle at the time. One day I was sitting in front of the computer, not feeling too inspired, when the phone rang. I got up to answer it, and when I came back, Toulouse was sitting on the keyboard, and the screen was blank.

Yes, the file was empty. The cat had deleted my entire novel.

Yes, I had a back-up copy. I only lost a few sentences.

45. Trying to learn and use Photoshop had always been an exercise in pulling out my own hair. I asked Kevin to help me design a cover for my book, but he bogged the project down with alternative ideas that would make the whole design much more complicated, but, in my opinion, wouldn’t improve it significantly. I decided to bite the bullet and learn Photoshop. Whenever I had a question, I googled it, a strategy Kevin often espoused. Each step took forever, but somehow I managed to create a workable design. It was an amazing achievement for me.

Later, when I tried to make a cover for another book, I found I could neither remember nor figure out how to do what I’d done before. It was as if it had never happened.

46. After a couple years of occasional puttering, I got my studio not entirely complete, but into a condition in which I could work in it. Steve Thompson did a lot of work. Without his input, I  couldn’t have gotten it done. I chose a gaudy, sunshiny yellow for the walls. Steve thought that color was totally wrong, and tried to talk me into something softer, but I ignored him. It’s a room where I’ve had days of sitting at the desk for hours, writing, revising, publishing, promoting. I go in as early as I can get there in the morning, and if I let myself, I can get lost in the work.

Costa Rica Journal47. Our trip to Costa Rica straddled my birthday. It was my second time there. The first I wished I’d journaled more; so this time I made time during the trip to write down as much as I could remember, most days. After we got home, I started blogging our experiences in this magical place, and intended to write at least one post for every day we were there. I did several, before the project faltered. But still, I think the Costa Rica Diary blog posts are some of my best writing here on Veronica’s Garden.

48. Shortly after the new year began, before the end of my term as a 48-year-old, I made these goals/resolutions for the year:
Have a working dishwasher.
Girls have their own rooms.
Publish 2 more short stories.
Have a solid draft of Witchcraft novel by year end, ready to seek an agent or self-publish.
Find my birth dad, George Mah.
Manage my health effectively for lasting wellness. (Yoga 4x/week)
Massage Kevin regularly, minimum of 12 times through the year.
Clear/organize house.
Make progress on back debt.

I published four stories, so I exceeded that goal. I’m averaging yoga twice/week these days, and seeing benefits from it. Massaged Kevin three times. As for the others, I failed every last one.

49. What I did instead of working on those goals was spend most of the year struggling with bureaucracies. The Kansas Dept. of Revenue was claiming we owed back Transient Guest Taxes from the motel we’d closed two years prior, while our health insurance premiums grew to unmanageable magnitude. Talking on the phone, navigating institutional websites, hunting through files for papers, these became my unpaid part-time job. Astrologer Kaypacha, aka Tom Lescher, said repeatedly in his weekly forecasts that 2016 would be a year of purification. Apparently, for me, purification means doing the tedious business of managing finances.

Sometimes it occurs to me, normal people do all these things all the time. I don’t know how they do it. And people who work forty hours/week, when do they do these things? Living as a normal adult continues to be my biggest struggle, my most persistent failure.

50. On my birthday, I had a wonderful massage from Lana at Southwind Health Collective in Lawrence. A few minutes into the session, she said, “I’m getting that there’s something that you’re really, really worried about. Is that right?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “I’m also getting the message that it’s gonna be all right.”

***

So there we go. It may be as hard for you to believe as it is for me, but I have lived fifty years. I have the memories to prove it.

Read At Own Risk

I’ve been reading the Divergent series this past week. I’m a binge reader. I dive in and don’t want to stop until it’s over. You wouldn’t get off a roller coaster in the middle of a loop, sit down to lunch, and come back later, would you? About halfway through, I thought, is this book written by an evangelical Christian? And at the end, I saw that Roth’s first acknowledgement is to God. So be it. I thought Divergent was okay, kind of stupid, not as compelling as Hunger Games, but more of a love story than I’d expected, and I kind of liked that aspect. I guess I’m getting more romantic as I get older.

Because my two daughters are also reading this series now, we happened to have all three of them out at the same time, from two different libraries. So I went straight into Insurgent, and right away I was caught up. Tobias loves Tris even when she tells him what he doesn’t want to hear, makes mistakes, and breaks promises. He admires and nurtures her strength. When they work together, they’re a great team.

Whenever I find myself in the middle of a love story, I get in over my head. I can’t stop thinking about it. I feel all the feelings as if it’s my own story unfolding, my own love at stake. I worry for the safety of the lovers, and suffer their separations.

Maybe what makes the greatness of a love story is the way it inspires the reader to love. I found myself musing on how much I love my husband, and everyone, and being alive. I’m grateful that we don’t have to risk our lives protecting one another, that every day we have the opportunity to see and touch each other and live our love as we choose. This is what a great love story does: it awakens love in the reader, to manifest into your own life.

By the end of Insurgent, I was thinking, great love story, but the stupid parts of the plot might be about to be replaced by something even stupider. But still, their love was strong enough to survive. It was the kind of love that lasts a lifetime, not just through the devastation of war but also through the changes that take place in people as they go through their lives.

Now, if you intend to read Allegiant but haven’t, stop here. I’ll give you some cat pictures before the spoiler, just in case your eye accidentally strays down.

Okay. Here’s where it gets heavy. I read Allegiant in under three days. Finished it yesterday while the kids were in swimming lessons. And I was really angry at the end. I didn’t even cry, I was just angry. Why on earth did it have to end that way? There’s no reason at all. It could have been different. Who has an NDE and goes on and dies anyway? Why is that end better, or necessary, or more beautiful than staying alive? They had begun to build a foundation for a great love; they’d come so far, but it was just beginning. Is love through adulthood so unattractive it’s better to eliminate the possibility? It’s tempting to suggest some authors enjoy the sadistic power of crushing their readers’ hearts. But I don’t really think that’s the case here. And I’m trying hard not to make snarky comments about certain religions and the fetishization of sacrifice.  But really. Really.

I was out of sorts all day. I was depressed. Everything seemed pointless. I wondered if I should adjust my meds again. I tried to distract myself, get back into the real world with some facebook, but it was more full than usual with anguish over more people being shot. Just how far away are we from the violent, hopeless dystopias we read about in popular fiction? After a while I realized I was grieving. The love of Tris and Tobias had somehow become attached to something in me, and if their love couldn’t live, something in me was threatened. How did I let this happen? I guess it’s one of the risks of living and loving, and keeping your heart open, even to imaginary characters in a book.

And this, too, is what a great love story can do to you.

Read at own risk.

Kevin and Rachel

Chiron Return

Let’s get this out in the open: I rush to publish earlier than is probably advisable. Last week I published a poem that I edited twice in the next two days, then revised it so substantially that it should probably get another post altogether.

If I come across as half-assed, and valuing my work beyond its worth, I’m okay with that. That’s what blogging’s all about, right? Take it or leave it.

But it appears some people actually do like my poetry. For you, enjoy.

 

Chiron Return

Did Chiron get fed up with the body
he’d been issued, that stubbornly refused
to heal? Did the master healer hope,
month after month, to find an efficacious
blend of herbs to stanch the bleeding,
or did he know this injury
would be the downfall of a demigod?
Did he struggle to comprehend
the incongruity of a wounded immortal?

Was he annoyed to hear humans claim
as identity afflictions that ought to have
healed decades ago? “I hate to cough because
sixty years ago I had pertussis.”

Did he see the forty-nine-year-old woman
with the heavy bleeding, the torpid thyroid,
incontinent bladder, presbyopia, insomnia,
and toothache—close his eyes, feel the throbbing
of his own nagging wound, and think,
this is what it’s like to be mortal?

Palermo house

Flight of Unknown Birds

For Lent I gave up writing, and being a writer, and talking and writing about writing. A friend asked why, and I told her I couldn’t tell her until Easter. Truth was, I wasn’t entirely sure myself. But it turns out I’m not that good at keeping a Lenten vow, so here’s my answer.

The Flight of Unknown Birds

Coming over the ridge in the winter-golden hills
light angling toward the endless horizon
as it only does in late winter in Kansas.
How is it I have come to love this place
so deep in my viscera, rooted in me
in a place before words. Bald eagle lifting
into flight. Blood splattered on the road.

I should hit the brakes, grab my camera,
shoot, but I’ve done that before at this very spot,
more than once. No photo ever satisfies.
Only this moment itself can express
this moment. All beauty is unspeakable;
truth, inexpressible. In the back seat
my daughter bends her head to a book,
oblivious.

I have tried to quit writing for the spite of it.
Even walking away from certain failure,
I know I’ll come back. The light in winter,
the flight of unknown birds: all existence
is poetry. There can be no being apart from it.
I’ll write long after I’m dead, until my bones
disintegrate into the earth.

Winter Prairie 3

Costa Rica Diary: Hanging Bridges in the Matrix of Life

The Monteverde area has many more ecotourism parks and reserves than it did twelve years ago. Andrea at La Colina Lodge recommended Selvatura Park for a zip line tour, but they have much more to do there than that. We took a walk in the bridges hanging in the cloud forest before our zip line adventure. It might sound pedestrian (no pun intended), but I’d rank it among my favorites of all the wonderful activities we did in Costa Rica.

It’s an understatement to say that it’s wet in the cloud forest. It’s not like the ethereal fog we have infrequently in Kansas. It’s like the air is hypersaturated with moisture. You get thoroughly wet just being in it. We couldn’t quite decide if it was sprinkling or not, and half of us put up the hoods on our rain jackets, half did not. Though there were other people around, we let them walk past us, and lingered in the quiet. We saw a slate-throated redstart and emerald toucanets, and other birds that I wasn’t able to identify.

Epiphytes grow everywhere. Wherever a seed or spore can land, it can grow. Trunks of trees are covered in shades of green, from so many kinds of plants that they would defy counting. The hanging bridges connect the steep sides of the mountains, so we walked among the clouds, wisps of which swirled silently among the trees. Looking down, I’d see a fern with leaves longer than my arms; when I’d crossed the bridge and come down the slope a bit, I could see that huge fern was growing from a crook in a tree, twenty feet off the ground. With so much water, who needs soil to grow in?

In my beloved tallgrass prairie, soil is the source from which springs everything that lives. There are insects and animals in the grass, and in the sky, and in the rivers and ponds; but the grass that anchors it all comes from the soil. It’s a thin but incredibly rich source of nutrients and moisture and the microorganisms that make other life forms possible. Old gardeners will tell you that the key to gardening is to feed the soil. Poets and scientists speak of soil in reverent tones. Soil is the matrix of life.

Monteverde cloud forest is so saturated with water everywhere, that the entire ecosystem itself is that matrix, from the soil up through the underbrush, and on up, two hundred feet into the tops of the trees. Many of the forest’s creatures rarely or never even touch the earth. If the prairie’s soil is a two-dimensional plane, the cloud forest is life exploding into three dimensions.

Amidst this fecundity, my Costa Rica story began to conceive itself. My character would have to journey from San Jose to the cloud forest. (There would be similarities to Maeve’s journey to the prairie, don’t you think?) I told Kevin about this as we walked, and he suggested mixing in some study of botanical medicines. Yes, I thought, she would be sick, seeking healing that couldn’t be found in civilization. What kind of illness? What sickness can only cloud forest heal? Forests are the lungs of the earth, so it would be a lung ailment, one which becomes more prevalent as the forests are inexorably razed. Somehow that led to the question of to what extent plot is necessary. Some authors (myself not included) excel at plot; I find myself moved more by other elements, as a reader and writer. Some books I’ve loved didn’t have much plot. We thought of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as an example of a story with not a lot of plot, but a journey.

If I were to make my story a heroic journey, then the heroine would have eventually to go back to her home, to bring newly acquired wisdom to share with her people. What form would that take? What wisdom will she find, and how will she share it?

I’d thought, I can’t write about this place without being here for a while, living in Costa Rica for months, learning the language and studying the culture. I’ll put this story on the back burner. But once I start talking about a story with Kevin, it takes on a life of its own. The story has no regard for my timelines and preferences. The story does not care that I don’t belong here, that I have deep roots and commitments elsewhere, that my eyes haven’t yet learned how to see this place. The story wills itself to being through me, its vessel. The story has magical power I cannot constrain, especially in this fertile matrix of life.

Practical Conscious Dreaming

Someone asked on Twitter what writers do for inspiration, and I mentioned that I had recently dreamt an idea for a novel. “Lucky duck!” she replied, which slightly surprised me. Lucky to have dreams? Like saying someone’s lucky for having two eyes. Well, yes, I am, but most of us do, and you probably do, too.

I wasn’t consciously looking for inspiration that day (or night, rather), but if I had been, dreamwork might well be a method I would turn to. I wrote previously about how I’ve cultivated my dreaming over the years. If you feel a lack in your dreaming, I’d encourage you to try it. You might be surprised what you can discover in dreams.

If you do remember dreams, here’s an exercise you can try tonight. Deep winter is a good time for dreaming, though you can do it any time of year. Prepare yourself to sleep in your usual ways —put on pajamas, brush your teeth, whatever you always do before going to bed. I’m getting sleepy just thinking about it. Take your journal to bed with you. Clear your mind of extranea (that sounds like a real word, don’t you think?). Keep only the question you want to ask. Write it in your journal, as clearly and specifically as you can. Then set the journal near enough to reach when you wake up. Turn out the light and let the question float around in your mind as you fall asleep. As soon as you wake, write everything you can remember.

Sometimes when I do this practice, I get amazing insight into my question. Once, Kirstie Alley appeared and gave me some sound advice. Other times I don’t find anything I can make sense of regarding the question or any dreams I might have had. Sometimes I have a strong feeling that a dream is meaningful, but I can’t find a way to relate the dream to the question I asked. In those cases I suspect that the question wasn’t really right to lead me to a useful answer.

Whatever happens, I love dreaming and dreamwork. If I can’t apply a dream to a particular problem, it could well be fertile material for some other project, such as a poem or a story. I hope later this month to release a collection of surrealist short stories based on a series of dreams I had years ago, when I first started writing fiction.

What do you dream? How do you inspire yourself to dream? How are you using your dreams in your waking life?

Jane Eyre, and the Lengthy, Passionate, Descriptive Sentence

While I was writing Post Rock Limestone Caryatids, I often thought of Jane Eyre. I’d read Charlotte Bronte’s classic while I was in college, many years ago, in Robin Behn‘s Women’s Literature class at Knox College. I remembered enjoying Jane Eyre in spite of the nineteenth-century language and morality. I loved the descriptions of nature, and the passionate romance. I flat out didn’t get why she couldn’t be with Mr. Rochester while he was still married, even as I wondered about the fact that he kept a crazy wife locked up in the attic.

Post Rock has been out for over a year now, and recently I picked up Jane Eyre and read it again. I had many thoughts about the difference between reading this book as a 19-year-old versus a 47-year old; but for today let’s just talk about long, descriptive sentences. Early on I noticed that those sentences were pretty much as I remembered them; I’d copied that style more than I’d even realized. It’s very different from the standard modern clipped prose, stripped of as much description as possible. It may well be that I loved the book not in spite of the nineteenth-century language, but because of it.

I discovered, too, that a great pleasure, an enjoyment which the horizon only bounded, lay all outside the high and spike-guarded walls of our garden: this pleasure consisted in prospect of noble summits girdling a great hill-hollow, rich in verdure and shadow: in a bright beck, full of dark stones and sparkling eddies. How different had this scene looked when I viewed it laid out beneath the iron sky of winter, stiffened in frost, shrouded with snow!–when mists as chill as death wandered to the impulse of east winds along those purple peaks, and rolled down “ing” and holm till they blended with the frozen fog of the beck! That beck itself was then a torrent, turbid and curbless: it tore asunder the wood, and sent a raving sound through the air, often thickened with wild rain or whirling sleet; and for the forest in its banks, that showed only ranks of skeletons.

Just for fun, let’s contrast that to a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, published in 2006.

They left the cart in a gully covered with the tarp and made their way up the slope through the dark poles of the standing trees to where he’d seen a running ledge of rock and they sat under the rock overhang and watched the gray sheets of rain blow across the valley. It was very cold. They sat huddled together wrapped each in a blanket over their coats and after a while the rain stopped and there was just the dripping in the woods.

Oh look, both the passages I just chose begin with sentences of 53 words. Nonetheless, you can easily see how different they are. It’s the difference between comparing a dormant tree to a skeleton, versus a pole. It’s the difference between being moved by intense passion, versus being beyond feeling any emotion whatsoever, the soul huddling under a blanket. Bronte lovingly describes a living landscape that sparkles, shrouds, wanders, and tears asunder; McCarthy writes a bleak, dead, wasteland, which simply exists.

Since it’s my blog, I can be so audacious as to take a passage from my own book for further comparison.

There were grass-covered hills in all directions, as far as she could see, not like CGI vermilion grass, but a whole palette of beiges and rusty reds, with only hints of yellowy green at the roots, as if it were hiding. Sable-black and deeply evergreen trees huddled in lines between the hills, but up high, there was nothing to break the horizon, the sky meeting the gentle slopes of the hills, coming all the way down to the human-littered valley behind her, laying over the land like a giant, dark, cloud-heavy dome. It appeared solid and impenetrable, and Maeve noted with irony that she felt almost claustrophobic, or was it the opposite, wasn’t she feeling a faint impulse to curl up and hide in the tall grass?

I didn’t quite make it to 53; the longest sentence is 51 words. It is long, still. But the Flint Hills roll on, layer after layer, and it takes a long sentence to speak them. I’m not Charlotte Bronte, it’s clear; but I do intend to keep writing and getting better, and I will write sentences as long or as short, as descriptive and adjective-laden, as passionate and emotionally intense as my subjects require.

What do you think?

 

On the Need to Write

Croquet, anyone?

Croquet, anyone?

Years ago I dated a man who wrote five to eight poems every day. He felt an intense need to write, and was sure that if he didn’t, he would suffer a nervous breakdown. I don’t doubt that he used writing to maintain his mental balance, such as it was. He used to say that those who did not have this driving need to write weren’t true writers, an idea which may have been borrowed from Bukowski or Kerouac or some other misogynist.

Yes, that’s what I said. I think it’s a misogynist idea. Because if “true writers” are only the ones who compulsively write all the time, every day, then what shall we suppose about those women who throughout history sacrificed their writing to care for children, or elderly parents, or alcoholic writer husbands? That they just didn’t really have it in them? They weren’t really meant to write? They only imagined they had something to say, some gift for words? Oh, and how easy it is to write off one’s own talent, when no one else believes in it. Maybe people with anorexia nervosa aren’t really meant to eat.

For years every astrologer, energy healer, and intuitive I ran into told me that I needed to be doing creative work. I brushed off this advice. Massage therapy is creative, isn’t it? I had ideas sometimes, but whenever I started a creative project, it stalled out early on. Eventually I quit starting them, knowing I wouldn’t complete them, not wanting to waste the time and energy it took to care about something I knew would fail.

Then Rowan was born. With the birth, I experienced an incredible rush of creative energy, something I’d never felt before. It was terrifically painful, because I had a new baby who needed to nurse and cuddle frequently. I couldn’t get more than 30 minutes to myself at a time, hardly long enough to hunt down some materials or set up a work space. I was terrified that this huge wave of creativity would pass, and I’d have done nothing with it. In desperation I started setting my baby in her little rocking chair near the patio doors, where I could see and hear her, while I went into the backyard and picked up sticks that had been trimmed off the hedge. I wove them into geometric shapes and hung them on the fence. Kevin was openly baffled as to why I was doing this. But to me it was the closest I could come to making art with no money, no materials, and no time. I took pride that some of my stick weavings stayed together, even without fasteners of any kind. But, eventually, they all disintegrated, and there is today no trace of them, no sign that I made them; barely even my own memories remain.

And that’s okay, because eventually I started writing. I don’t even remember at this moment what possessed me to think that I could finally finish a book. But I managed to maintain the determination to finish it, to carve from my daily life the hundreds of hours it took to piece together a whole novel. In the process I began to understand what those astrologers and energy healers and intuitives had been trying to tell me those years previous, that it is a need within me to open myself to the flow of creative energy. It supports my mental and physical health. It makes other things possible. It is part of the reason that I, the individual Rachel, am here right now. It is part of what I have to give to the world, how the world is different for my having been here. It is not arrogant for me to say these things, it’s just the truth.

It is also true that I am entirely capable of ignoring this need. I self-published my novel just after the new year, and here it is August 31, and I haven’t written a word of the next one yet, though I know what it’s going to be. I haven’t even blogged in weeks. I don’t know why. I’ve had ideas, but nothing compels me. I start to write anyway, but everything seems boring. I decide to set up a weekly schedule with writing time built in, then other things seem more important, like cleaning motel rooms, or doing laundry. I know that sounds stupid, but it’s how the thought train goes through my head. It’s kind of like waiting, but for what, I don’t know. Then I think I should work on a big project that’s been neglected for a long time, but maybe I only have an hour before I have to go pick up the kids from school, so I go clean the kitchen instead. But the kitchen never gets clean.

Don’t I need to write? Yes, I do. I really do. But you’d never know it from my behavior.

 

 

Hamster Wheels

my kitchen

This is my kitchen. It is not worse than usual. I usually keep it hidden from public view. I haven’t invited someone into my home since last October, and it was ill-advised and won’t happen again. Why show you my kitchen? Why play so coy, when I could show you my dirty underwear instead?

My brain’s been running on hamster wheels all day, sometimes three at once. I do clean, it just never gets better. In recent weeks I’ve been working on this a lot, materially as well as mentally. I find a lot of resistance to the expectations of others, that I should be some ideal kind of person, keep a magazine-spread house, do the things those people do. Meanwhile I feel overwhelmed by the crap and I don’t even want to write, I need some space and some clarity and some quiet nothingness, which doesn’t happen in a room that looks like this.

I just read Marianne Williamson‘s Return to Love, about A Course In Miracles. It is a wonderful reminder to me that when I feel anything that is not joy, I am to pray for a change in perception, to miraculously know myself to be one with the Divine, whose dearest wish for me is perfect happiness. The shift I’ve been getting is that there is no one outside of myself who is holding expectations for me. I can’t even remember a time when someone expressed any thought about my lack of order. (Well, okay, it was my sister, and it happened last October, but sisters always have expectations for one another and we all ignore them, right?) What I’ve been rebelling against is nothing more than my own self-judgement.

I’m using all my new age hocus pocusey tools to change my thoughts from I can’t live up to your expectations and You expect too much it’s too hard I can’t do it I quit to I accept and love myself as I am or I access every imaginable resource for the fulfillment of my Divine purposes or both.

I was feeling pretty good about my perception-shifting this week, until I was reminded for the second time of the negative reviews posted about our motel on tripadvisor. Go ahead, look at them, then come back and look at the kitchen some more, but I’m not giving you the link. Our motel rooms are actually quite clean, in sharp contrast to the house, but when business and home and marriage are all tangled up together, well, everything’s tangled up together. My first thought was to ignore the reviews, like, for example, writers are supposed to do. It’s part of life. Just let it be.

But Kevin pointed out that there is a place on the site for responses, and thought we should take advantage of it. He’s right. It’s an opportunity to turn the situation around and demonstrate our professionalism and caring. So I had to think about what I wanted to say to those reviews, and the more I thought, the more annoyed I was. Clearly, at least in some of the complaints listed, the customer’s expectations were unrealistic. (Seriously, can you get someone to fix your cable TV service on a weekend? Do they do that in cities? We have one person who drives all over the state, and he gets here when he gets here.) Which brings us to that e-word. It turns out that some people do, in fact, hold expectations for me and my behavior, and those expectations are not within my ability to fulfill. Which means I have to start all over with my thought management. I don’t even know where to go from here.

Why can’t I just be a writer? Then I wouldn’t be obligated to respond to criticism, I’d be obligated to ignore it. I could be so much happier that way. I could just put out my best, and everyone could take it or leave it. I wouldn’t even have to refund their money if they complained. But I am so over my head with debts and commitments and bookkeeping, I’m stuck on this hamster wheel for the foreseeable future. There was a while when I dreamed of writing my way out, but I knew all along that was a fantasy.

I’d like your thoughts on one last question. When you check into a lodging, when do you expect to be asked to pay?

 

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