a while back, my publisher mentioned that I never hold back my criticism of well-established authors. I blanched a bit, then acknowledged the veracity of that statement.
in my defense, however, I stated “it’s only when I feel something they’ve put out there doesn’t live up to the incredible work I’ve fallen in love with, that doesn’t resonate with me in the same way as other works I’ve loved.”
I’m not critical of the authors themselves–these are not personal attacks; I am simply vocal in my assessment of work that doesn’t touch me as other things they’ve written have done. I could behave differently; I could gush and just say “I love everything so-and-so’s ever written,” but it often isn’t the truth. my critiques are very personal: they are only about me and my reaction to the work. and this is, I’m certain, where I myself am going to have to work on developing my own self-protective shell. not everyone likes what I write, and not everyone will like what I put out there. some people may like one piece and not another, and some people will dislike everything I write. as such, I–like every artist–need to build and buttress my own shell.
it is healthy–and the only way to be genuine in this world–to speak your truth about experience with art, be it written or composed or visual. our visceral reactions are unique; they are responses from deep within, formed by a mysterious interplay of nature, temperament, nurture, life experience–soulful stuff. we are drawn to the inexplicable at times, and the more we heed this call, the more authentic (and fulfilled) we are. certain designs, rhythms, and patterns please a majority of us, but it serves no one when a person pretends what doesn’t please him or her actually does.
like what you like. love what you love. admit when you don’t. and when you perceive a naked emperor, speak your truth.
My heart has broken so often it is covered with tape and bits of glue, it’s misshapen, and at times it limps along behind me, barely keeping pace. After a break it never returns to the way it had been; after each fracture the pieces slowly find their way back to each other and then seem to affix in random ways, the result a lumpy thing that experiences life in an unfamiliar way, whose desires are a bit different than before. It feels familiar to me, yet strangely foreign.
I thought, I believed, I dreamed, I desired. I created an expectation—which Buddha knew to be the cause of all suffering—then my fragile heart crashed against a rocky shoreline and shattered.
I suppose the first step toward healing is the awareness that one’s heart has shifted and changed—from this day forward it is on a slightly different path. The break cracks it open: each fissure exposes edges and allows access to its depth, to parts perhaps unknown. Sometimes these newly exposed parts shriek with the pain of light, sometimes they weep at their nakedness.
As my heart lies in disrepair, I feel each separate piece, and I wait for wisdom, I wait for those previously undiscovered fragments to speak.
I ride my bicycle. I inhale autumn’s fragrances—loam, decomposition, burning wood—it is a season of acceptance, of loss, of what was solid becoming ash. A promise of rebirth lies beneath, but my heart cannot feel, cannot yet believe. I catch the wide brown eyes of a doe, slender among denuded oaks, and a minuscule sliver of my heart quivers. I pedal harder, hoping to exhaust the scattered segments into collapsing back together. Instead, the individual pieces burn, my chest alight. I feel small flames throughout.
I take on long-forgotten tasks, I organize, I nest. Again, a flicker of heat, a reconsidering, as I restack favorite books, smooth the duvet, re-stain the parched, neglected, cedar fence.
I reconsider what I want. Yes, at its core, this remains the same. Two pieces come together, edges fusing in a burn that spreads throughout the entirety of my rib cage. Wisdom, strength, space, adventure, endless possibilities. Purple walls in my office, philosophical discussions, canoeing, a hike in the snow, exploration of canyons and gorges, hearts, minds. Labyrinths, enigmas, the enduring question, why. More pieces slip into place, some as before, some in new locations. Heat.
I forgive myself for the tears, the drama, the pity. I tell myself nothing good comes easily. I take a moment to shop online at my favorite outdoor-gear retailer; imagining, but not purchasing. A few more pieces slip into place. I write a short to-do list: Pull old files to shred. Fill a give-away box. Be me.
My heart is not as it was yesterday, yet it glows. It’s calling in those last stragglers. It’s lumpy and misshapen, and it promises to be there for me, as long as I vow to listen, always, and work to give my reassembled, curious, tenacious, intractable heart exactly what it wants.
this coming august 25th I’ll be the featured author at the Literacy Action Center’s annual fundraiser hosted by local Utah artist Pilar Pobil.
I visited her home and gardens last month to introduce myself and spend some time becoming familiar with the setting for the event, which is her gracious home and gardens in the avenues area of salt lake city. Pilar, born and schooled in Spain, chose utah for her home decades ago, and has become one of our communities beloved treasures.
in the presence of a visual artist, I am humbled. my palette consists of only black and white, and is essentially limited to 26 characters. I visualize color, my mind swept with vibrant hues, subtle shades, earthy depths and translucent, tinted waves . . . but on the paper, on the screen, I am limited to recognized configurations of those 26 letters.
however, when I read, I reverse the process I use to write, and words leap into color, shape, form, an explosion of visual creativity inside my mind. the pure pleasure of this process is incredible, almost inexplicable ~ because I can read, my mind is filled with images of people and places, with vistas, with kitchens and barns and great halls and roads, with rivers and mountainsides and a lookout tower in glacier national park, with creatures and mythical beasts, lovers and gnomes, secret gardens and libraries filled with walls of books and hidden passages to foreign lands.
I, too, am a visual artist.
when one learns to read, one is immediately and permanently a visual artist, a painter, a photographer, a designer of scenes and costumes, landscapes and people. an entire world opens, the mind is set afire, and nothing is ever the same.
please join me august 25th at the home of Pilar Pobil, 403 east 8th avenue, in salt lake city.
for more information: Literacy Action Center 801.265.9081
of all the horses, it is a paint that corrals my eye, my heart.
he stands alone, on a patch of grass twenty yards from his nearest bandmate. his stance is perpendicular to the herd, the eye that faces the others wide and deeply aware. muscles bunch under smooth hide as he shifts from one foreleg to the other. there is just enough of a breeze to dance his mane against his neck, his forelock across the far eye.
what pulls me to him I can only ponder. I many not know the truth for hours, or during my lifetime. is it his outsider role, or his patience? perhaps his inner wisdom. or maybe he is a rebel. a denounced stallion. one who wielded power in an earlier life. I supply a backstory, I infuse him with traits I wish for myself. if he is my mirror, I could be a sinner, a has-been, a separatist, a pacifist, a former pugilist, an underdog, the unloved.
one hundred fifty or so other horses drink from the watering hole, tug at grass, nuzzle flanks and shoulders, instigate or respond to what may or may not be playful attacks. I’m curious, I absorb the experience, but I remain fully committed to my paint and know that as I settle in bed this evening it is he who will visit, he who will remain in my mind’s eye, he who will become the backbone of a story that begins to weave its way from head to heart, from heart to head.
[barb richardson, a writer friend of mine, is aunt to jim schnepel, who is the president of the Wild Horses of America foundation (catch that acronym), and jim was kind enough to invite me out to see the Onaqui herd. the photo here was taken by jim.]
in conversation last week, a friend bemoaned the fact that he was recognized in the community as an exceptional physician and educator. he felt narrowed, constricted, by this validation from society.
I, in turn, bemoaned the fact that I was likely seen as more scattered: business school graduate and retailer, small business owner, writer, social worker a dozen years ago and now again, mom of three college students. at this stage in my life, I told him, I wanted to be a master of something, not simply someone who was quite good at a number of things, who had spent time here and there, done this and that.
my friend was envious of what I saw as a shortcoming. he wanted to be known as someone with more depth and variety in his experiences, gifts, and desires.
I wanted to be queen of something.
and then I remembered my skate skiing boots.
last winter I took up skate skiing. this same friend gave me a pair of his old skis, and I bought new bindings, poles, and boots. I took lessons. I eventually learned to stay upright (most of the time), to ski up and down gentle hills, even to glide gracefully for moments at a time. after just a few sessions, I looked at my shiny new boots with an extraordinary sense of pride and validation. I had learned to alpine ski as a child, and didn’t completely stop until shortly after having my second child. then came a dearth of ski days–almost 20 years of them–up until last winter. those skate skiing lessons helped me reclaim a long lost aspect of myself. I could once again consider myself a skier.
those boots are a symbol of just how complex and varied a person I am. which, as I reconsidered our laments, is exactly how my friend wished the world would see him.
few of us wish to be pigeon-holed, forced into narrow descriptors of our capacities. I don’t truly want to be labeled and categorized, yet I am pulled into that desire by society’s tendency to focus on what one does instead of who one is.
my friend is multi-faceted, curious, engaged with life, a thinker, a philosopher, a fisherman, cyclist, skier, runner. who happens to practice and teach medicine.
and I, well, I am multi-faceted too, a queen of many small things, a person who is validated by reminders of how richly diverse her life is. who may not have yet reached mastery of anything, but is a life-long apprentice of many things she loves. and those ski boots remind me, each time I see them, of potentials and possibilities and the fact that I am not yet done creating myself.
“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.” ~neil gaiman
yesterday I spent a few hours in Dolly’s Bookstore in park city, utah. Dolly’s first opened in the early 1970’s, and is one of those exceptional environments that evokes a smile as you walk in the door. books (of course), cards, candles, doo-dads and whatchits, large chalk signs on walls with hand-written quotes about reading . . . everything cleverly displayed and scented, occasionally, with a waft of bubbling sugar from the candy factory next door. mmm. the store is warm and filled with visual delights, behind which lie story after story, whole worlds just awaiting discovery.
although the atmosphere was pure delight, it was people who made my experience so fabulous. those who walked in the door focused on purchasing a specific book (a steven pinker, a photo book of the area, the latest and greatest chapter book for a 10-year-old), to those who needed an airplane-read, to those searching for a present for the pickiest person they know, to those just wandering through while they finished eating their caramel apple–truffle–outsized marshmallow square.
shoppers in ski coats and warm boots offered opinions on conservation, wolves, and their favorite new novel. they asked where to find good coffee. they smiled, held hands, discussed with spouses/children/sisters which calendar to purchase (“outlander” was a hot choice) or which of three books they should buy for their mom. they told me how to spell names (a-m-e-e and lynn-with-an-e) as I signed books for them. their boots tracked melting snow across the hardwood floors and the booksellers just smiled. shoppers had their books wrapped for christmas. (the snowflake paper or the red?) people in carhartts and arcteryx and designer boots, people in puffy down jackets and sweats. people with shiny faces, red noses, sniffles from being in the same space as the bookstore cat. visitors, and locals. and the booksellers themselves: gracious, knowledgeable, helpful, tolerant, always willing to share a bit of themselves with each request for help.
beautiful people, all.
I agree with neil gaiman. it’s a sad town that doesn’t have a bookstore.