Thursday, May 29, 2014

a spirit of decay

My whole life I have been fascinated with decay and isolation. From an early age, I have always been sensitive to and drawn toward things and people that appear lost, forgotten or marginalized. I was the kid who would fish out and take home the lop-sided, smashed stuffed animal from the bottom of the back shelf. Things and places that are old, dilapidated or overgrown have always appealed to me more than their shiny and new counterparts. These things carry stories, history and a certain kind of art that come through the tatters and rust.

As I've grown, so has my taste in the old and broken. From teddy bears with crumpled fur and missing eyes I graduated to used books, old suitcases, graveyards and secondhand clothing. Steadily from there it has progressed and, now, in my thirties, I feel this overwhelming pull towards abandoned buildings. My waking moments are becoming consumed with the idea of capturing the tales of these places through words and photographs. On nearly every drive, no matter how mundane my destination, I stumble across what I am beginning to think of as "bleeding architecture": buildings that are so lonesome and empty they look as if they could weep.

Part of me believes that my intense fascination with these places stems from my own deep sense of loss as I grow older. As I age, I feel like I not only lose people and places who have had meaningful impacts on my life, but I also lose some of the childlike wonder that helps to fuel my creative spirit. As the day-to-day needs of adulthood all but choke out the more creative places in my mind and heart, it feels as if every day I lose a bit more: a bit more time, a bit more freedom, a bit more inspiration, and a bit more hope. It is as if the outside world, this incessant need to grow up and be something, be successful, pushes in at me from the outside. Its weight is crushing and smothering and I find myself too often choking on the have-tos and the musts, without room to breathe in the beauty and mystery of the world around me.

I don't feel as if I am unique in these feelings at all. In fact, the more I open my heart to the world I see around me, the more I notice the same crushed spirit in not only the structures and places around me but also the people. Sad, expressionless eyes greet me in the grocery store or in the teller line at the bank. I see despair and hopelessness regularly both at work and in my neighborhood. Sometimes it seems as if the entirety of the world at once gave up dreaming and stopped trying to notice the beautiful because its mere presence has become an all-too-painful reminder of ways in which each of us has failed to the ideals we once had as children.

I find myself drawn to these places and people clinging to that razor's edge between hope and despair. More than anything I want to communicate with them and capture their stories before the light in them fades entirely and they wither back into nothingness. I want to illuminate that moment where there once was possibility before it fades to black.

I believe my job as a writer and artist is to shine light on these bits of darkness. Doing so, I think, helps us remember what it feels like to be alive and dream. Being faced with the grim and gritty images of decay and loneliness need not be cause for depression and angst. It should instead be a siren song encouraging us to stop shutting down and stop shrinking back from life, even among its more painful and wretched of moments. It is in these exact moments when we are vulnerable that we can really FEEL with the authenticity and wonder of a child. Possibility is reborn and creativity comes to life.

Open your eyes to the beauty that lies in decay.

Monday, April 14, 2014

We're All Gonna Die: The Permanence of Impermanence

“Eventually, everything goes away.” - Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
As I look out the window at the purple-grey clouds rushing by and listen to the pounding rain on the roof, I can't help but recall that yesterday it was nearly 80 degrees and blissfully sunny, a picture-perfect day. Now, with spring storms announcing their arrival in thunderclaps and snow looming in the forecast, what we enjoyed over this weekend seems part of the much more distant past than it actually is. After our rude, rough winter, I long to be outdoors, barefoot in the grass, but it seems, as usual, that the universe has other plans. Now matter how much I long for it, summer will come in its own time and, just as quickly give way to autumn.

As irritating and unpredictable as the weather here in northeast Ohio can be, watching its ebb and flow is a koan of sorts to me, a perfect reminder of the futility of longing for or grasping after anything other than what is here now. When all I can think of are flip flops, sometimes I am gifted with puddles. It isn't the puddles themselves that disappoint me; it's the notion that I didn't get what I expected or desired, that there are things about this life that are utterly beyond my control.

There's a lot about life we wish we could control. More than a few of  us spend a good portion of our early years in adulthood trying to gather the right tools in the form of education and experience. We strive to get the right job, wear the right clothes, weigh the right amount, marry the right person.... It's almost as if we are following a formula and, just as long as all of our "ducks are in a row" and as long as we "play the right cards", we should enjoy some measure of success. Some of us will cling so fervently to this goal that we'll do anything in our power to make it happen. We might do things we aren't proud of and often beat ourselves up for what we perceive as less-than-stellar progress towards this ever-elusive end game. We become blind, caught up in the day-to-day struggle to make this all happen that really living seems to fall away. We obsess over what we can fix and improve while we strive after and long for success. We might even catch that success for a while but then, often suddenly and without warning, it's gone.  Regardless of how hard we worked, how much we saved or how bad we wanted it, things go away. Shit just happens. People die. Lovers leave. Money disappears. And no matter how hard we try, things will never be the same. And that's just how life is.

When I take time to sit and watch the weather, it sometimes pisses me off how much it changes and how the nice days never seem to coincide with my days off. Then I'm reminded by the shifting clouds that almost all of my frustration and anger comes from clinging to an expectation that things will be as I'd like them to be or that they won't eventually change. I've discovered that you can grasp at anything- everything- with clutching hands, but, just like sand, the things that you wish to stay the same will forever slip through your fingers. If you keep expecting to have control, you will be continually disappointed. Nothing is ever certain in life. There are no guarantees save for change and death, and we're all gonna die.

The reality is that the only thing that's permanent is impermanence. Everything must grow, change, and pass away. Although it kind of sounds horribly depressing to think that all you have worked for might end up being for naught, there's a great sense of hope and possibility from waking up to the fact that, as Kansas put it, "nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky". Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh explains so completely how important change and impermanence really are to bring about positive things:
"Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible. Life itself is possible. If a grain of corn is not impermanent, it can never be transformed into a stalk of corn. If the stalk were not impermanent, it could never provide us with the ear of corn we eat. If your daughter is not impermanent, she cannot grow up to become a woman. Then your grandchildren would never manifest."
Because everything goes away, it's important that we stop rushing, that we take the time to experience life and be grateful for it, just as it is in THIS moment, no matter how that fits with our expectations of how things should be or should look. When we open ourselves to what's going on RIGHT NOW and realize that things will, quite literally, never be the same again as they are IN THIS MOMENT, we live just a bit more alive. We feel a little more deeply. Things taste sweeter. We are more appreciative for how amazing and wonderful and incredible life really is. We are more fully US.
"Somehow, in the process of trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the sacredness of life. We tend to forget that we are part of the natural scheme of things." – Pema Chodron
Waking up to impermanence also helps me appreciate other people too, for, after all, we are all made of the same stardust. Being human, we all share the same hope and longing, and we all get frustrated when things fall apart and don't meet our expectations. We all bleed the same, laugh the same and cry the same. We are all connected.
Everything's gonna change. Of that you can be sure. What matters most is that we each wake up and realize that, although we can't control the change or stop it from happening, we CAN control how we experience it. So embrace change. Enjoy it. After all, we're all gonna die. So let's all say fuck it and start stomping in life's puddles even if we are still wearing flip flops. Let's really live and, as Thoreau put it, "suck the marrow out of life."

Monday, March 31, 2014

Friends with Words

I am pretty sure I was born to write. There is deep seeded need within me that I have felt since I was in grade school to create a universe with my words, to bend reality, to tell stories and to share my experiences with the world. It's as if I am compelled to contribute to creating reality, to telling it like it really is. I don't feel complete unless I am putting something of myself out there into the world, raw and open.

I've always been a pretty shy person too, so the written word gives me a way to express myself that is at once safe and bold. Writing allows me to try on any persona I want, be whomever I please for a lifetime or an instant. Words offer me shelter and solace, a place where I can try things out and still hold them at arms length without much commitment. Writing gives me a chance to explore new ideas without becoming them and without fear of ridicule when someone inevitably disagrees with my thoughts. It is at once my superhero cape and my curtain to hide behind, my solace and my sword.

All my life, my turns of phrase have been something I have taken for granted and manipulated. What started as a pursuit of pure and childlike wonder turned into a bit of a shallow shell of what it once was. It lost its luster and mystery and became a means to an end. I wrote because I was told I was good at it. I wrote because it was my one way to be special, to prove my worth or to get attention. I wrote some things solely for monetary gain, things that were lifeless and uninteresting and without much heart. I wrote to share the boring, day to day tasks of my life under the guise of them being "adventures". And all of this sucked the substance out of my words. It cheapened the experience of creating somehow.

Reflecting now on my writing life, really, my whole life, as I enter the second half of my thirties, I've discovered something. This entire time I have been writing and living from a state of quiet desperation. All my words, all my actions up to this point have really been an attempt to connect with others, ANYONE, who would see me as I really am without judgement. I wanted (and still want) community, particularly with people who dream and feel deeply, who bleed art and poetry and understand the journey IS the destination. Up to this point, my writing has always been my last ditch effort at being myself in a world where everyone makes judgments based on first glances and outward appearances, a medium subjective enough that when someone read it I could gauge whether they were a seeker and artist like myself or not. I used this expression as an easy way to let any rejection bead up like water on feathers and roll off my back, using the subjectivity in the medium as a buffer to my soul being crushed and giving me an opportunity to squelch tears and muster up my best punk rock I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude.

But life's rejections and judgments don't just slide off our backs, as much as we'd like them to. For me, they turned me in on myself. It was subtle at first, but I am starting to see now how, over the years, my longing for community, my need to be liked and be part of group has caused me to assimilate every negative judgement I ever heard or felt and turn it inward, until I reached a point where, under it all, I stopped feeling like nothing I could ever do would be good enough, that who I really am was wrong and that my body, my heart and mind could not be trusted to be accurate or worth much of anything. A part of me died and, with it, my art. Now I find myself struggling for things to say that I feel are worth saying and not knowing how to express or even experience the most profound of feelings. I've closed myself off almost completely to everything outside myself although I know how interconnected all of life really is and it is killing me slowly.

I've always admired the bold creatives, those raw, unfettered souls whose courage comes through in their words: Bukowski, Thoreau, Kerouac, Vonnegut and others. I still look up to their contemporaries and try to surround myself, even if only virtually, with writers whose openness feeds both my heart and my craft. While I work on my own inner bullshit and learn balance letting go of my constant need for approval with creating for myself a community of like-minded friends, I'm finding that my writing, the one last bit of myself I had steeled against what I saw as a cruel and unloving world, is the place I need to begin. It's a good place for introspection, practice and a way to share with anyone out there who is really wanting to listen or feeling caught in a similar place themselves.

The trick here, for me, is in not imposing rigid rules on myself for how I am "supposed to" be doing this, this taking back of my life and who I am. Learning to look for others to guidance but at the same time trusting AND DOING what rings true to me is a delicate dance and a fucking hard one at that. My unfolding is going to be a long process I think, as I keep trying to balance what feels true with pushing myself beyond what I have come to know and what has become comfortable. The most important part is that I show up.

So I will start here, where I am, until that becomes somewhere else.
I'll just start writing and keep writing my way into wholeness until I just AM and that will be enough.

Monday, March 24, 2014

my life as a negative feedback loop

I won't insult the intelligence of anyone reading by pretending it hasn't been a ridiculously long time since I have added words to these virtual pages. Life had gotten away from me. I finally found a job I whole-heartedly threw myself into, as is normal for me, in an effort to not only impress my new employer enough that they decided to give me more hours and full time status, but also, I think to prove a number of different things to myself. After my period of unemployment, and in part because of it, I came to what was a pretty low point for me in my life. Finding a job, even a part time one I had absolutely no experience in, felt like an opportunity to assert my economic worth again. So I went at it. Balls to the wall, like I usually do. Like new love, it was blissful and exciting and I was vulnerable and life blossomed with possibilities again all at once. I tried so much it was exhausting and much of the creativity I had fostered over those few months when I had excessive amounts of time on my hands went away like dust in the wind. Uncared for, it slowly slipped through my fingers until writing became a mechanical act and wasn't about truth, beauty or creating anymore. It was something else that meandered its way onto my to-do list. Then it quickly wandered back off as I lost two regular freelancing gigs I that had sustained my family after the loss of my regular job. Suddenly I felt all of my creativity slip through my fingers like sand. I had nothing left to say. My will to write had left.

Fast forward a few months and my husband had another back surgery, leaving him unable to work or help around the house much for a period of about 3 months. Suddenly life became so hectic and overwhelming I could barely breathe and each day was more about necessity and survival than pleasure or love. About that time I realized I had lost all that I thought of as myself. I was living in such a way that I wasn't at all proud of where I had ended up and saw no real future for myself at all. I was drowning in a sea of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds that cut me off from my ability to truly feel anything deeply, so I quit taking them. I started spending more time learning to cook wholesome vegetarian food, food I felt good about, and making time to nourish my body and mind with semi-regular hikes and a yoga practice. Also about that time, my digestive system started to readjust and reassert itself about what it wanted from me in ways I had never before experienced. I have spend the greater part of the last year trying to learn to pay attention to my body and how it reacts based on the inputs I give it. It's been an eye opening, humbling and expensive journey to this place where I can finally eat some things without immediately feeling like I am going to vomit. A small success but hard won and much appreciated for certain.

Since I have spent so much time over the past year and a half focused on recognizing things that do not work, it seems that has become the theme of my life at this juncture. I'm finding myself perpetually bored yet overworked, surrounded by people but longing for connection, and busting my ass yet more in debt than ever. And there seems to be no end in sight. Once I reach a place where it seems like thing s are going well, this negative feedback loop reasserts itself and I find myself in the thick of it again, caught up with fear and anxiety over how I am going to pull everything off without losing my sanity. The best part is that I am writing again for the moment, thankfully, for an amazing website called Rebelle Society and, although it is not a paying gig, it is a great outlet for re-exploring my creativity and learning to be vulnerable at the same time. I am also going semi-strong on my home yoga practice, though I really wish I had the time and financial means to practice with other people. I've also been dreaming of participating in a meditation group or retreat somewhere, but am shy and nervous about going on my own. I long for that sense of community that comes from time shared with people who hold common beliefs, something I haven't really felt often for quite some time.

As for busting out of the negative feedback loop that is my life, through my yoga practice, writing and spiritual searching, I hope to be a little more at peace each day with the way things are, even when they suck. For now, I am working on practicing mindfulness as I bake bread for my family and wash the dishes and cultivate hopefulness as I plan starting seeds for our next adventure of pallet gardening this summer.

Who knew that what I'd be growing here on this SemiFarm would be myself?

Friday, November 1, 2013

we have determined that your whole system sucks

"Now, more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress.  If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature. If [one hundred years from now] the next centennial does not find us a great nation... it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces." - from James A Garfield's centennial address to Congress in 1876.

time to throw all those fuckers out.