Despite its obvious downsides, 2016 had some good moments, too. I made a list of them on New Year’s Day and was surprised to note so many highlights. The exercise filled me with gratitude and appreciation for great friendships, abundant love, a healthy family, robust community, interesting work, modest successes, and many material comforts. It was a good frame of mind to receive the words that will guide me in 2017.
This year, a friend helped me to consult Tarot cards. I am new to this method; it offers a view that is simultaneously retrospective, introspective and speculative. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side. Each card is a picture story, and together they form a linked story that twists and turns, confirming what is known and revealing what is hidden. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side.
I enjoy the mix of intuition and rationality involved in reading the cards and interpreting them. As part of a skeptical culture that dismisses the language of symbols, a suspension of disbelief is necessary. And the payoff for such trust is insight, surprise, and a fair bit of having one’s complacency shaken up. Continue reading
We have all learned the hard way that email and social media can be tone deaf. It’s difficult to parse sincerity from irony and cynicism. I was reminded recently that this may happen in other forms of writing as well. In notes on a scene in which my characters make ironic reference to Ayn Rand’s John Galt, a friend questioned their sincerity. The scene plays overly pious and even deluded if these characters truly take John Galt as gospel. Ewwww. (How on earth did Rand get away with Galt’s 90-plus-page rant-slash-speech? I mean, really.)
In architecture school, we had a yearly Friday night showing of “The Fountainhead,” during which we hooted and threw popcorn at Howard Roark. What an egotistical windbag. Telling the difference between irony and sincerity is so much easier in person. Or is it? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the spectrum between these two, and what mindset I bring to life’s difficulties. My teenage son keeps telling me I’m hopelessly naïve, which is his way of saying sincerity is uncool. Deeply uncool. Continue reading
The last week has played out for some of us as the classic stages of grief. Denial shows up as the change.org petition to get Electors to vote for Hillary instead of Donald, or more ambitiously to do away with the baffling, arcane Electoral College altogether. There’s plenty of anger, too, with blame to make it extra spicy. Luvvie Ajayi lays the whole mess squarely at the feet of white women. Others blame the DNC, the FBI, Breitbart,Wikileaks, the ignorance of certain voters, the gullibility of others, Hillary Clinton herself for running. So much blame, so little time.
Is it bargaining or acceptance that many charitable organizations and nonprofit news sites have seen record donations in the last few days? (Or opportunism that they’ve sent out so many appeal emails?) What category does the Million Women March come under?
After the first shock wave hit, I sunk to the depression stage. From down here, the horizon of acceptance isn’t yet visible. I do see people trying on the reality that this is what we have to live with, so we may as well make the best of it. I’ve entertained that thought, even going so far as imagining that this might somehow, mysteriously, be for the highest good. Who can say how this will all play out? (Sadly, my imagination isn’t up to this challenge.) Continue reading
My novel’s heroine was going to be a time traveler from fifty years in the future. I liked the idea of a Cassandra figure, someone who lived in the everyday hell of an unstable climate gifted to her generation by ours. She arrives in New York City in December of 2009, just in time for the Copenhagen climate summit. I had fun with implanted nanotechnology merging powerful databases and communications with her organic brain. And with what she would think of the quaint, primitive technologies we have now. (Actual cell phones! Power cords! ATMs!) Or the things we take for granted that they no longer have in 2059, like sushi, cars, coastlines and forests.
In 2013, I dispensed with the future-world scenario when I realized that we don’t need someone from the future to tell us what climate change does to the planet. We are living it already. My first draft from 2011 has plenty of rookie writing mistakes, but it also has this letter that my heroine writes on her second day in 2009. Despite all the changes this novel has been through, it still forms the DNA of my story. Enjoy this letter from the future written in the past. Continue reading
Fear of embarrassment isn’t the only reason for armoring up, hiding, ignoring or denying love. I just noticed today how much I arrange my life to avoid the pain of loss. It started early on, as habits often do. When I had my first high-school boyfriend, I was just certain he was going to come to his senses and dump me. Which he eventually did. At the time, I took it as a warning to be more careful with my heart next time. As if.
The other evening, my husband and I were out enjoying our forested backyard. He remarked (as he has before) on the grandeur of the tulip poplar that stands right in the center. There are also two huge beeches off to the side and a couple of oaks further back. But this poplar, this giant column of craggy bark, is a presence. I almost asked him whether he has told the tree how much he loves it. But he just had, by telling me. Right after that, I pictured it toppling over in a huge windstorm, perhaps crushing our house. Continue reading
The Dalai Lama was at the White House last week. It was their fourth meeting, held in private with no video cameras or reporters present. This rankled the officials in China, who see the Dalai Lama as “a dangerous separatist.” Obama considers him a friend, and I imagine a trusted advisor and fellow leader. Given the timing of the visit, the Dalai Lama offered his condolences for the many victims of the Orlando shooting.
Last year, the Dalai Lama celebrated his 80th birthday. There is a big photograph of him off to one side of the yoga studio where I practice. He’s laughing and pointing, like he just made a joke or is putting someone at ease. Looking at it yesterday, it struck me that he has been the spiritual leader of Tibet for my entire life. Even when I had no idea who he was. Continue reading
I was driving last Wednesday night during a sudden violent thunderstorm, first on the highway and then on city streets unable to handle the epic volumes of water flow. It was a terrifying, white-knuckle experience, especially as I had someone else’s child in my backseat. I was thankful for the traffic, so I could gauge the depths of the fast-running streams that crossed every intersection. Give me a snowstorm any day.
That intimidation feels familiar. It’s been with me all week, as I continue to work on my novel. I keep thinking I’m not up to it and finding other things to occupy my time. I’ve never been afraid of hard work—especially when I’m on a roll. This project is calling me to let go, to let the writing take me where it will. And yet I’m afraid I can’t pull this off. That all these years of work will have been for naught. It seems the more I learn about craft, the bar gets higher and the finish line farther away. Continue reading
Why don’t we go to the American Visionary Art Museum more often? It’s so full of energy and inspiration. The artist biographies alone contain worlds: stories of modest lives, of strange and average families, of being marginalized or anonymous or defying odds. And the art! Inspiration, desperation, madness, direct divine download, obsessive detail, love, beauty and hope. The human condition and human potential laid bare—and then bedazzled with mirror fragments, ceramics, jewels, beads, day-glo paint, and silver balloons. The whole messy reality of life as an embodied human.
AVAM is a funhouse of play and whimsy and joy-in-the-face-of . . . . I used to naively believe that such playfulness and inspired creativity was the reserve of a select few Chosen, and that they get to shine more brightly and be more loved than the rest of us. Of course, such artists experience the other extremes of despair, darkness, and depression more acutely too. There is no free lunch. Continue reading
I’m shocked that in this day and age you’re actually advising people to send their kids outside. Continue reading
Yielding is not well regarded these days. To give in to the will of another, to allow oneself to be led in an unknown direction, to withdraw from conflict—these are all seen as signs of weakness in a culture obsessed with leadership and action. This is at odds with the messages I keep getting to slow down and be still. To, as this turtle recently showed me, pull into my shell and wait until it’s time to continue.
I am a student of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese “Book of Changes.” As an outside source of wisdom, it teaches me to trust my own intuition and be more present to the many lessons I can learn just by showing up more authentically in my life. I use it not so much as an oracle, but as a reminder to stay open to situations as they arise. Continue reading