Our boat had just been yanked one-hundred-eighty degrees, spun on her keel in the opposite direction, and was now screaming northward up the Bay, back the way we had come. In the blackness, we could see nothing – not land, not a buoy, not another boat or – ominously – any ships.

“Why did you tack?” I yelled, to be heard above the storm.

“I didn’t,” my husband answered. “I’m just going with the wind.”

He knew that resistance was not only futile; it would be dangerous and stupid in the face of such omnipotent, unseen forces. His unquestioning compliance was the right response in a situation like that: a sudden thunderstorm sweeping over us in the dead of night. Continue reading

Healing the spirit



“If you think you’re in trouble in this everyday, physical world, first get out of trouble in the spiritual world.”
~ Malidoma Somé

This message stays with me after a weekend retreat in the woods. At some level, everyone knows this: physical healing must be accompanied by spiritual healing. Our own Judeo-Christian traditions say much the same thing.

Having jettisoned the spiritual for being unverifiable with the tools of science, we are left only with physical healing. And so the logical progression through modern medicine to outpatient oncology mills, like the one where my mother spent her last couple of months getting radiation treatments to her brain. This trickle-down from the cutting-edge science at NIH labs and teaching hospitals to suburban strip malls has become the only apparent health-care delivery option for millions of sick people. And it works for just enough of them that all the rest must give it a go. They are simply unaware that it’s only half – or less – of the equation. Continue reading

My villain, myself


Storytelling is a uniquely human activity. One of the fun things about stories is the archetypes, that congress of characters who pop up in folk and fairy tales, as well as film and fiction. There’s the trickster (coyote in Native American tales or Rumplestiltskin), the villain, the wise elder, the hero, and the wicked stepmother, among others.

I’m taking a writing class taught Gregg Wilhelm of the Baltimore City Lit Project and recently we got into a conversation about villains. Like all other characters, the best villains are three-dimensional. We should be able to get inside their skin, as abhorrent as they are. Some villains draw you in, even against your will, like a good shadow figure will. Think Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” or the ego-crazed traders in “Margin Call.” Continue reading

Beneath the crust


A spring storm battered Baltimore for two days in April 2014. After a record-setting winter of Arctic cold and snowstorms that broke water mains and opened potholes, the second day of rain fell in a deluge, flooding roads and softening the ground beneath the crust of asphalt and concrete. In one neighborhood block, the parking lane began to sag, cars listing to starboard against the curb. A small crowd gathered in the rain to document the event on smart phones and trade complaints.

“I’ve been trying for three years to get it done right.”

“We’ve got hundreds of pictures of this. They’ve been out here ten times and all they do is try and fill it in.”

And then, as they watched, everything exited the scene: street trees just leafing out, wrought iron light poles, cars, paving, fence, and stone retaining wall slid twenty feet to the railroad tracks below. Cries of alarm and outrage erupted on the video as a plume of dust rose and subsided. Continue reading

Releasing environmental hope


Driving away from a coffee meeting a couple of years ago, I was suddenly flooded with longing to go back and shake sense into the young woman architect I had just met. Her question to me, a local advocate of sustainability, was innocent enough: “How can I plug into this movement more effectively?” In a burst of empathic knowing, I was this woman, twenty years earlier, talented and hopeful and full of ambition and possibility.

I thought it was the work in her graduate portfolio, her obvious delight in ideas that had pushed me over the edge. The tangibility of hand and eye and imagination, of drawings and models, sculpture and paintings employed to make artifacts of meaning and beauty. Art for art’s sake.

She could spend a happy lifetime doing work like that and instead was about to leave it all behind by stepping into the fast-moving water of environmental hope. Continue reading

The lazy indulgence of dystopia

2000_7.9_Whitsunday sunset_crop

Stories create worlds. And not just in the way we think, to escape into mindless entertainment. The power of our imaginations and collective beliefs literally creates the world we inhabit, today and every day.

Which is why I have such reservations about dystopian fiction. I can’t offer a fully researched, scholarly critique of the genre – I haven’t even read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Nor am I one of the legions of fans of Hugh Howey’s “Silo” series, or any other of his multiple best-selling stories. (Given his readership, I may be the lone holdout.). It’s fun to quote from his blurbs, though, such as this one for “Wool”: Continue reading

Rediscovering the gift


“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” ~ Albert Einstein

As an off the scale intuitive on the Meyers-Briggs chart, I can relate to this. I frequently act on feelings or ideas that draw me out ahead of my ability to explain them to others. In practicing and teaching architecture, I learned that it’s a good discipline to be able to toggle between the two.

Intuition is a wellspring of creativity. When designing a building, I would sometimes get into a trance-like state and just let the ideas keep coming. Continue reading

Dancing with disappointment and resistance


A mentor once asked me, if you aren’t disappointing other people, who are you disappointing? It was one of those ah-ha moments when I came face to face (not for the first time) with my lifelong habit of “being good.” I’m so wired for it that it takes an effort to be honest with myself. Which is why writing in my journal brings such relief – it’s a no B.S. zone.

Recently I was asked what advice I would share with my 21-year-old self. She needed plenty of advice! One bit is: don’t be afraid to disappoint others. You’re going to anyway, so you might as well get used to it, rather than trying to avoid it. The freedom I felt from this advice tells me I’ve rarely followed it myself. The upside of having a son moving into his teens is that I’m getting a lot of practice, because I seem to disappoint him several times a day. Continue reading

Growth, surprises and remodeling

Toby-plant_smThis is a drawing my son made in third grade. He has a cameo later in this piece.

Frank Lloyd Wright said the architect’s best tools are the eraser in the drafting room and the sledgehammer in the field. The process of designing and creating something from scratch is a source of endless fascination to me. No matter the medium, there’s a long tradition of craft – the rules, structures, guidelines, and accepted practices to get someone from an idea to a finished product. This applies to everything: cooking, making pottery, and writing included. In every medium, there are always the outliers who push the boundaries and take it to a whole new level. The best of these have a deep knowledge of the rules, though; they aren’t breaking them out of ignorance, but by choice. Continue reading

Flowing through fear to freedom


I’m noticing that there’s a feeling of freedom and expansiveness that comes with the choice to say yes to something big, glorious, and challenging. That exhilaration seems to be in direct proportion to the amount of fear that a calling engenders. The greater the fear, if I do say yes to it, the greater the opening into freedom.

My relationship to fear has historically been to avoid it at all costs. Yet by trying to stay safe and avoid scary situations, I wasn’t really living. Not that I have to seek danger in order to feel alive, but when I do have these longings and ignore them or go about it in a partial way that still feels safe (try to have my cake and eat it too), that’s a form of refusal.

As Joseph Campbell teaches us, refusal is the stage of the hero’s journey that comes right after receiving the call to adventure. Continue reading