the emperor’s new clothes

the emperor’s new clothes

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.

how to reassemble a broken heart

how to reassemble a broken heart

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.

speaking of what’s on my bookshelf . . .

most books I read never make it to my bookshelf.

only books I love make it to my bookshelf.

it’s partially a financial decision (I read so many books a month I’d have to sacrifice eating or something equally painful to pay for them all), partially a space decision (I’d have to begin building furniture out of books), and most importantly, a decision made because I wish to be surrounded only by things I love.  I mostly buy books only after I’ve read them (borrowing from the library or from friends), making the decision to purchase because I want to treasure them, own them, have them around me, let them speak to me from the shelves, remind me of them as I pass by and glance at the bookcase.

not many of the books I read fall into this category.  many I appreciate, many I learn from.  many I find interesting or gripping, but the ones that capture my heart and soul are few and far between.  which is not a terrible thing.  I don’t need to fall in love with every book I read:  some I need for pure escapism; some I need for advice, validation, education.  the most glorious of all are those from which I expect little, that grow wings and blossom with each turn of a page, and become more than I dared hope for.  surprises. gifts.  unexpected pleasures found.

a while back I was trying to find books on my shelf that might interest my 15-year-old stepson who has not yet learned to love books.  (I fear I gave him nothing at all that piqued his interest, but I tried.)  what I loved, though, during this process, was to run my eyes along the titles, letting images and memories, scenes, stories, characters flit through my mind, oh yes, I loved christopher, oh, and that time he told the story of the bears, and oh, the congo, how terrifying the fighting was . . . tales and pieces and names came flowing in and out as I moved from shelf to shelf.

woe is he who doesn’t read.  whose imagination and memories aren’t filled with richly remembered stories and moments.  television and movies can’t give the same gift as words on pages to which we must add our own imaginative wanderings.

I love my books on my bookshelves.  they tell the story of me, from years of education and introspection and growth to those of joy, escapism, curiosity.  I am my bookshelf, wide and varied and deep and filled with a thousand stories and dreams and realities.

in stating all of this, I do not mean to slight the rest of the books I read and return, for they, too, have had a hand in my becoming who I am.  but unless a book–or a beloved author’s book–resonates deeply with some part of me, it’s unlikely that I will bring it home to rest with all the others who have slowly and certainly become a part of who I am.

begging forgiveness

I need to apologize to everyone who knows me.  apologize, and ask forgiveness.

I live in this world with everyone else, but my version of the world is also populated with every character and story I’ve ever written (or thought about writing), and it is a very full place.  these people and situations live with me, I think about them, these people travel with me and have existences within my own.  they’re seductive; they call to me, plant seeds, send me messages about how they’d like to appear in the next thing I write about them, remind me of what I could do differently, sometimes tell me jokes.

thus, I seem to have less need for movies, television, and communication with other humans:  too much is already going on inside my head and I don’t need more noise.  I like silence, I contemplate, I let things marinate and germinate and grow . . . too much outer stimulation sends me mentally reeling in discomfort.

I’m not quite a recluse, but I am not as socially active as many.  I love my friends and family–they mean the world to me–but I rarely “do lunch” or meet for coffee or even gather for parties, dinner, or sunday brunches.  the wonderful–truly amazing–thing is that most people who know me forgive me this.  but they need to know that I am aware of the gifts they give me by letting me be me.

without quiet time, without hours of solitary silence, I become antsy, irritable, anxious.  cycling helps, but as the winter creeps closer and the air turns cold and darker, my outdoor, solitary cycling hours are lessened.  indoor cycling is a group experience, full of conversation and music, not nearly as soothing to my soul.

thus I beg forgiveness from all I know and love:  I am the quirky person I am, I live with more people inside than seems possible, and the greatest gift all of you solid, human people give to me is the gift of space.  I love you for it.

merci et je’taime, toujours.