Saturday, May 31, 2008

How Do You Write About Your Own Life? On Writing Memoir...

"As I write, there rises something in my head that

queer and very pleasant sense of something which

I want to write; my own point of view..."

~ A Writer's Diary, Virginia Woolf ~
Edited and with an introduction
by Leonard Woolf

"Memoirists wish to tell their mind, not their story."

~ Patricia Hampl ~

My first hydrangea to bloom,
just turning blue...

This piece has been rolling around in my mind for days. I knew exactly what I wanted to express, but I didn't know the best way to say what I meant to say. Like waiting for an answer to come up from the bottom of one of those "8 Balls" we had as kids, where you would ask a question and a very mysterious answer, "Yes, No, Maybe..." would float up through the murky depths. At first you could see nothing, and then you could see something but it wasn't clear, and finally you could read the word. Your breath was held in anticipation while waiting, getting ever more and more excited as the word rose and rose and rose. And then the answer. It didn't matter to your tender young heart if you didn't get the answer you had hoped for, it was the mystery, the magic of it all. That's what writing, for me, is like.

Then I come to the book I am currently writing, The Road To Dragonfly Cottage. It will cover one decade of my life, not anything that came before, for this period, itself, is the period of the greatest transformation of my life, the decade when I went into the womb again and am coming out a completely different person. I don't care if it takes 2 years to write, or five years, because one must come fully into one's new self and have time to ruminate upon the life lived, and everything that came together to create the outcome.

What people don't realize is that Dragonfly Cottage is not just an actual place, the place where I live with my animals and plants and garden and books and fiber and so much more. Dragonfly Cottage is a state of mind, a way of being, more aptly put, a way of being true to myself. I am 54 years old. It has been a long time coming...

So how to isolate a decade? And one really can't help but have shadows, fleeting moments of the past creeping in around the corners at times, as that helps fully flesh out the human being as she was at the beginning of the journey. And yet I hope for those moments in the book to be transparent, something you feel but can't quite touch. Something you walk through, understanding something better, without understanding really, almost, a sense of déjà vu. A feeling of familiarity, yet not quite knowing the details of my life that I would rather keep private. It is a writer's dance, telling a story without letting you see the holes in it.

For example, the first couple of decades of my life were full of dark shadows, but I don't care to discuss them in the book, and yet they left me marked and helped create who I am today, and I don't even want to go into that. Diagnoses, medications, doctors, they have no place in this book.

Too, I am not the kind of writer that could ever write a tell-all book. I am very open about my own life, but I zealously guard those that I love. You will rarely ever hear anything about my children but the most fleeting things, you will never hear about the one I love. I tell no secrets that belong to anyone else, and wherein those people, those secrets, those circumstances not only affect me, but are often part of me, if they are not fully mine, you won't be reading about them. But, somewhere, somehow, you will feel what you need to feel about it all. You see, I am a Metaphorist. For many long years my business cards had my name, and the singular word, Metaphorist, under it, and my studio number. That was it. And I was not being facetious. I was letting people know that I would clearly write the truth, but if my writing sometimes verged on allegory, if I anthropomorphise, I am not making light of the situation, and often, you have to look underneath or around the corners to reach the answers you are seeking, but they are the hidden treasure that I myself am looking for, and you are with me, along for the ride, when you read my writing. Sometimes we both discover the truth together.

The only good memoir, in my mind, and in the mind of one of my special heart-teachers, a friend, and comrade the last few years of her life, May Sarton, was to be as transparent as possible when writing memoir. To write as truthfully as you dare while still laying the words out on a clear pool of water so the reader might both read the words and dive through into their own life. A good read, one hopes, and a journey into the reader's very own life. The circumstances are rarely the same, but the heart of the situation is often similar. Sometimes, as writers, we light the path for a reader so that he or she might find her own way. At other times we are on a singular journey to find out the truth about our own lives which we don't really know until they come straight out of our fingers onto the words of the page.

And as it all comes together, for me, writing about the elements of my own life -- the animals, the garden, the seedlings on my kitchen windowsill, the crystals and stones around me, wool being spun into yarn as I sit meditatively letting my mind rest, well, they will follow along into the book too. The simple joys of life are at the heart and soul of my writing, and when push comes to shove, I am simply a woman finding her own Walden in her own little cottage and her own back yard. It is actually a lovely way to be, to think, to live, to write. And yet...

And yet, Patricia Hampl, (Click on her name to go to her site and read about all of her books, interviews, and more...) one of our finest memoirists today, her books, Virgin Time, A Romantic Education, and more, are so stunning they take your breath away, and, too, the quote at the top of this page is perhaps one of the most apt descriptions of what writing memoir is to me than anything I have ever read. "Memoirists wish to tell their mind, not their story."

And this is the exact truth. At least it is for me. My non-fiction has always been a journey around the interior of my own mind, and the facts, the true things in my real life, are what anchor me, ground the writing, create interest for the reader, and some of the rest is taken in almost subliminally. Sometimes, I think years later about something in a book and I finally get it, or it was sitting there waiting for the right time for remembrance to wake me up to the present moment, and help me there. I read, mind my own business, and let a book have it's way with me. It is why I read and reread my most loved books, and after awhile, if I am depressed or down it's like slipping into an old flannel nightgown and fuzzy slippers. It is comfortable, comforting, it feels good. And new layers of the book, deeper levels of understanding, open up all the time.

I can even see the great leaps of growth I've made from when I read the book maybe 15 or 20 or more years ago, and you can see the many times I've read it, underlinings and notes in the margins in many colors, but, the marvelous thing is that I find myself thinking, "Why did I underline that, and why didn't I underline this?" And the truth is that in earlier readings I was in a different space, getting what I needed from the book at that time, and the fact that I find something so stunningly on for me in a current rereading, when I really look at it, shows me that the earlier underlinings were written by a younger woman, raising babies, struggling, wanting to be the best mother and writer and feeling, often, that I didn't do the best that I could for either, but happy at what I was able to accomplish at the time. Now, I am single, my children grown, I am a woman in midlife, a woman in transition, and whole sections of a long loved book hit me between the eyes, catch me where I am right now. I think that that is marvelous.

So, I can tell you that the wonderful planter below was given to me by my middle daughter, the most delightful birthday present ever, when I turned 54 on April 30. She went to an arts and crafts fair at my little 4 year old grandson's alternative pre-school that is just an amazing school, something between Montessori and Waldorf. Anyway, there were some young teen girls that had made these magical planters and Rachel said she nearly fainted when she saw that this one actually had a little wooden sign in it that said, "Dragonfly Cottage." (Not to mention a woman alone in her garden.) It is truly one of the most magical things I have ever received, and as a couple of the things have passed I have filled the planter with nasturtium seeds and will add a little of this and that along the way to keep it going. I am simply in love with it.

Or I could tell you funny stories about the puglings. The below two pictures I took just two nights ago and the quality of the pictures is kind of hinky because it was pitch dark save one tiny light on my writing desk, so I had to do a shot in the dark with a flash, and Coco, the pudgy, pokey little puggie, had gathered a number of stuffed toys around her bed, and was settling in for the night. You have to understand that this is a very reserved, near 12 year old pug, who does not play with toys, and when I saw her carrying them over to her bed I was dumbstruck.

In the second picture, which I took maybe 20 minutes later, my darling little Sampson had gone off for a drink of water and was coming back in to curl up under my writing table when he stopped and looked askance at Coco, who is not actually a very playful dog, with stuffed toys all around her bed. Sam actually looks like he is giving her the raspberries, and I had to try to take a picture. The flash caught the photos but they turned out kind of ghostly, and yet marvelous.

And so you see, I can write about my life here, the enchanting planter, the funny pugs, the grey parrot who is almost always on my shoulder, a book I'm reading, a yarn I'm spinning, or about an early morning walk in the garden, but what I'm really doing is taking you, gently, by the hand, into the life of a woman artist living alone, a woman who, having survived a painful, frightening childhood, grew up to live a secluded life where she created a magical world of her own to survive, and further, it no more feels sad or hard or lonely, because, you see, part of the metamorphosis that I spoke about at the beginning has to do with the fact that at 54, I am happy, most days, content, almost always, I love my life and wouldn't have it any other way. If my life looks odd and a little peculiar to the outside world, it works for me, I am not hurting anyone, and from my own little cottage I work hard every single day to try to spread peace, love, compassion, and gentleness to the world around me using the pen that I was born with, gripping it as if for dear life as I entered what would be an uncertain, frightening, and lonely world. Now, today, I use my pen to celebrate. And every single thing that brought me to this moment doesn't need to be named, the only thing that matters is that I have survived, I am here, I am loving life more everyday, I am loving someone more everyday and while that particular story is one that a reader might find somewhat amazing and certainly interesting, it is one I shall never write. I will open my heart and let my own life flood out across the page. I will forever shield those that I love, protecting them like a tigress protecting her young. That is the kind of writer, and woman, that I am.

Finally, something extraordinary has happened to me in this last week. You see, I have been at war with myself for the last few years, and it has kept me from moving forward with my writing. I have a book in me, the book that I am writing, that, as I said, could take 2-5 years to write. I am perfectly relaxed about that. But I have many volumes of my life writings, many old blogs, and more that I think deserve a wider audience, but which I'd like to publish through or another POD (Print-on-Demand) publisher. I have had 3 small presses in my life. The last one, The Contemplative Way: Slowing Down In A Modern World, had a good subscriber basis and 15 women that wrote for me, and we all loved it. It was published by my then Blue Hibiscus Press and was a 100 page quarterly, and like so many other 'zines and small magazines, it was an artistic success and a financial failure. The costs ate me alive and finally, sadly, I quit. But I just ache to do that sort of thing. It would be a series of little books, put together by hand, collagey with quotes, books, flowers, pugs, and the little green tree from just outside my window.

Collections of my writings, perhaps little sketches, doodles and drawings, in other words, these little books would be my heart palpitating on the page. I will write/make them and sell them here on my blog while my bigger book moves along at it's own pace. I am working on it and allowing it to breathe deeply and walk slowly. I am in no rush. I am deeply content knowing that it will become what it will become in it's own good time, and I work on it every day. I had thought that I had to choose between the two, and I so love both. Publishing small 'zines and writing big books. There is so much more time and space in the world than we ever knew, and my heart is so much bigger and wider and wilder than anyone could begin to imagine.

I have been trying to be too many things. I have been trying to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons, but I have awakened to the joyous reality that we are not the limited beings we think we are, and I am nearly bursting with ideas, carrying about armloads of books, kissing dog noses and parrot beaks, cleaning out the beta bowls and communing deeply with Vincent (my deep golden beta, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen), and my darling Yeats, whose pearly body and huge, stunning blue fins take my breath away, and Yeats and I recite, "He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven," by William Butler Yeats, his namesake, and sometimes they both just listen when I feel broken hearted and confused. People don't half realize how amazing these fish are.

And so now I think I will take a walk out into the garden, and perhaps do some deadheading and nip off some deadwood. The roses have had their first glorious, abundant bloomtime and are now growing fast into that wild summer place. I will cut them back, pruning them carefully, even as I must prune my own words on the page to make the living word more vibrant and alive, and in pruning and deadheading, in fall, just a few short months away, there will be another festival of roses. We are all so blessed, and we need go no further than the inside of our own four walls, or the perimeter of our own property. Of course we never really own the earth, but she blesses us and takes care of us in abundant and invisible ways. I shall now walk out of my front door and experience the magic, and then I shall bring it back to the page. That's how a writer writes. That's how I write anyway...

Beautiful Bountiful Blessings to one and all...


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Hope Is The Thing With Feathers... ~ Emily Dickinson ~ ... and, Sometimes It's The Little Things...

"Hope is the thing with feathers --
that perches in the soul --
And sings the tune without the words --
And never stops -- at all --

And sweetest -- in the Gale -- is heard --
And sore must be the storm --
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm --

I've heard it in the chillest land --
And on the strangest Sea --
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb -- of me."

~ Emily Dickinson ~

The infamous Henry...

Pretty well everyone knows Henry. I hand-raised him from a naked little baby, barely covered in down feathers, into a young man, and he is now nearly 10 years old. He is my constant companion, and while people know that I live with a lot of animals, he is my main man. He poops on me off and on all day (... the reason I have a ton of cotton caftans I wear around the house. One keeps a paper towel handy and a clean something-or-other at the ready when they live with 6 parrots.) He has been photographed with me for several magazines, and today, this very day, is the reason I cannot upload any new pictures from my camera.

This morning while I was making the morning latté he hopped over to my desk and chewed right through the ethernet cable on the back of my Apple iMac. Thank the Lord for my laptop or I'd be up a creek and the paddle somewhere on top of the Himalayas where dozens of birds of all sorts, I'm quite certain, carry off ethernet cables for sport.

This is one wily bird. He has NOT gotten over the big white girl that moved in, (Blossom, the Greater Sulfur Crested cockatoo, a rescue.) and feels his honor has been besmirched and some marauder and unworthy bird came along without asking (him) and is taking up entirely too much time (... not to mention space!) Truth be told, Blossom is the sweetest bird and shy and even timid and Henry who does not realize that the size differential is something akin to an elephant and a peanut, and he's the peanut, took to going after her and frightening her to death so I had to move the cages around (it's a merry-go-round of cages here) so that he ended up too close to my desk again. Sigh. I think I'm going to have to buy ethernet cables in case lots. But then again, that little grey man with the burgundy tail who has a penchant for latté foam, many kisses, biting my body parts and making them bleed, and loving me with all of his little heart, has given me more hope for my life and for the whole world in general than anyone else on this earth ever has. Hope is indeed the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.

Dear Emily...
Emily Dickinson is not only one of my favorite poets -- the book of her complete poems sits dog-earred by my side -- but she, too, was a woman living alone, writing, and she loved birds, as you will read in many of her poems. She didn't live with 6 parrots, to my knowledge, but I believe she would have loved them. And Henry especially. He plays a fierce act, but he is shy and sweet and part of the fabric of my life, and my heart (except when he's chewing through the ethernet cables). He talks a blue streak, sings, and uses words I wouldn't dare repeat in polite company. Not that we get much polite company here. Ahem.

It is after 3 a.m. in coastal North Carolina, and everyone is asleep but Sam and I. My little pug will not leave me and wants to go to bed. He came around and looked up at me piteously just moments ago, and I told him, "Hang on Sam, I won't be much longer..." I think I heard him mutter, "Yea, right, like I believe that!" as he went back around and took his rightful place on my feet. All of the other birds are asleep, Moe just got up off the couch and is lying on the floor near me, Coco, the chubby little girl pug is asleep on her bed with the stuffed giraffe and the blue, well, I guess you'd call him a dachsund, or so he must have been at one point before Moe tore out his squeaker and a good bit of the stuffing, but all of the dogs love that toy. I have more toys in this house than I did when I was raising three children. The birds big cages look like Disneyland, and there is a huge basket full of squeaky toys of every size, shape, and color imaginable. Every now and then I sneak a few in the wash when no one is looking. You've got to be so careful about these things...

Parrots are funny creatures to live with. Most all of them give me kisses good morning and good night, they all know my routines and take a nap with me when I do (they are, yes, in their cages, but they actually go to sleep and don't make a peep, nor do the dogs, when I sleep, but are in a circle all around me in the room. I think it's marvelous and certainly very comforting, and once I'm settled and Sam is settled on one of my body parts, we drift off to sleep and wake up to another day. Henry rides around on my shoulder and sings, "Everybody gets CLEAN WATER, the babies do get CLEAN WATER," when I'm getting the birds all of their food and water, and as we go cage to cage he speaks to each bird by name. Grey parrots are truly amazing. And mischievous. He likes to wait until one of the dogs lies down by his cage and then he sticks his tail out and -- PLOP -- goes to the potty right on one of them. Poor Moe gets the worst of it. Tsk, tsk.

And so here I sit in the weesmas (wee small hours), Sam snoring on my toe, and I think of all of the little things in life that bring me such joy, truly, it's the little things in life that DO bring me the most joy I have ever had.

Tonight I did a marathon cleaning in the kitchen, all the dishes done, counters wiped, and all of the trash in the house carried out. The birds went to bed with clean food and water because they are always awake first and eat but remain amazingly quiet until the rest of the household stirs. I am so full of tenderness at the thought of each and every animal in this little cottage (and no, the one at the top of the page is not mine, simply the kind of cottage I dream about...), and tonight again I was sketching, drawing plans for the cottage we will all move into some day where we will have more room and a better organized space with a big fenced yard for the dogs, a big sunroom for the parrots, a greenhouse and a garden, a place where we will take in many rescue pugs who are elderly and in need of love.

It is nearly 4 a.m. as I close here but I did want to mention dear little Tia. She is one of the rescue pugs at MAPR (Mid-Atlantic Pug Rescue) and if she's not on the main page click on the pug shown there (they rotate, but are all on one page, listed alphabetically, the ones up for adoption). If you can't adopt, you can be an angel, and send a donation. Tonight I sent one in for little Tia. I swear, she will break your heart. She came in with so many problems she ended up with many people wanting to help her, she ended up on t.v., and her valiant little spirit is absolutely unbelievable, as are the rescue-workers and volunteers who help support MAPR, which goes all the way down the East Coast, from Maryland to Tennessee and all around the areas in between. They are my true heroes, and my three rescue pugs came from them.

My life is dedicated to the little ones, and outside, it is the tiny flowers that make me dewy-eyed. The picture that I took and wanted to use for this entry was a "volunteer." A little purple petunia, all by itself, along the side of the sidewalk where nothing will grow and I've no idea where this came from, but that kind of thing is proof to me that miracles DO exist, and they are around us all the time. As soon as I get another ethernet cable that SOMEBODY OR OTHER bit through, I will add the little petunias in here. Truly magical they are.

And so now I think Sam has had quite enough, and before I've slept 4 hours I'll be up getting dogs out, so I bid you all a sweet good night, and will take the puglet attached to my body with me to bed.



A little addendum posted on May 29...
The petunias that came as "volunteers"
where nothing else would grow. They
appeared as if from nowhere!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

One Woman's Journey To Find The "Earthly Paradise" ...

"She has been called a pantheist -- and pagan, sensuous, Dionysiac; and this is not untrue, but it is an oversimplification. Actually, her view of human life was austere, unsentimental, even harsh. She was not a wooly optimist, ever.

"But she also knew -- perhaps 'trusted' -- that to be born sentient and watchful is a daily miracle: that the paradis terrestre, the earthly paradise around us, is as wondrous an index of heaven as any we shall ever know; and that to abide here, even as an exile, for seven or eight decades, is a blessing -- because it is a chance to watch, to 'look for a long time at what pleases you,' and to find 'un mot meilleur, et meilleur que meilleur, a better and better word,' with which to secure it for others."

~ Earthly Paradise: An Autobiography of Colette ~
Drawn from her lifetime writings, edited
and with a forward by Robert Phelps, 1966

Wisteria time at Dragonfly Cottage...

Yes, it is Colette again. I have been reading many of her books as I have been writing my own, because my old, worn books of hers are like old friends, someone to talk to on the journey. And while I don't pretend to have her genius, we do have similar hearts and world views. We treasure a tiny precious flower, a good glass of wine, a nice piece of cheese, dogs, birds, wild nature all around us. We seek the earthly paradise because, for me, for I can only speak for me, it makes me more present in this world. And unlike Thoreau who had the luxury of going off into the woods for contemplation, we women, and most men, today, don't have that advantage. And I, for one, barely leave my cottage, and yet being present to all sentient beings, from a blade of grass to a dandelion I pick for a tiny vase on my kitchen windowsill; or stroke a dog's fur, or kiss a parrot's beak; feel bliss over the feel of soft cotton against my skin,; the cold chill of the milk in my mug; the green, legless lizard skittering under the fence, looking very like a snake; a prayer; a smooth glassy feeling piece of glimmering rose quartz in my hand -- the love stone -- these, too, are all precious. And for both Colette and I, the words to express what we see is ever on my mind, as it was hers.

With no other writer have a felt this familiarity -- though I have loved and studied many -- that I could talk to her as if she were my sister, that I could walk in her skin. Of course our lives have been different but many parts similar as well, and to be at the writing desk has been tantamount to both of us.

One of the great wonders of my life, when I left a 25 year marriage -- my husband had always liked to do the grocery shopping, as he said I brought home the best olive oil, artichokes, avocados, thinly sliced, freshly roasted turkey, crusty bread and a nice piece of brie, but never remembered anything practical -- was to actually go to the store and buy just what I wanted. I literally spent 2 hours in the grocery store that first time alone, going up and down the aisles like a little girl in a whole new wonderland. I had fallen down the rabbit hole. Who cares if I forgot the toilet paper, I saw, felt, touched, experienced such wonders there, like holding a cantaloupe for several seconds to take in the lovely aroma of the fleshy, firm, near peach colored meat within, and the skin so thin that you can smell just how ripe it is. You can feel it's firmness, it's weight, and there is a deep satisfaction that you know you have picked the perfect one as you put it in your cart. A single trip to the grocery store can be a moment, many moments, of ecstasy.

I went to the grocery store today. I have my carefully prepared list, and try to stick to it, but sometimes I stray. The one thing I do, however, is to go very slowly up and down the aisles and look at the foodstuffs. It's not the generic American food that grabs me. It's the French cheeses, the Australian wines, the canned artichoke hearts, black olives, fresh parmesan cheese. I bought my meager needs but I could still, for a time, revel in the International section, the fresh baked crusty breads (I breathed them in... I buy it when it's on sale, most especially the olive oil/rosemary bread, a crusty round loaf with soft, oh so soft, bread inside. You spread some room temperature, soft brie on that bread, pour a half glass of merlot, and you know, all the way down to your toes, that heaven exists, most likely in many forms, but it is right here on this earth as well. Look all around you. Try for one moment, each day, to let everything negative fall away, breathe, deeply, and then pick out at least ten things that thrill you to your toes, or make you smile, or fill you will glee, or make you shudder with a kind of happiness you never feel anywhere else. It's perfectly sane to jump over the moon, and we should, at least now and again.

We live in this earthly paradise, and every single day we rush past so much that is beautiful. Just this evening, after I carried in the groceries, I did some pruning in the garden. We've had a fair amount of rain lately followed by seriously sunny warm days. Glorious days. And the plants celebrated by having amazing growth spurts, like teenagers running amuck, but the smaller plants were buried under sprawling roses, fast growing buddleia, and more. I cut and pruned and trimmed and cleaned up and looked with pride at the neat garden, my hands bleeding from the rose thorns, but I was glowing from the joy of seeing both of my hydrangeas blooming for the first time and turning BLUE! I have so loved blue hydrangeas all of my life. And all of a sudden I could see the brilliant white yarrow and the 'Primley Blue' Malva, soon to shoot up flowering blooms, emerging from the overgrowth around it. I felt so happy I would have done a cartwheel if I could! This little life of mine is precious beyond compare. I take nothing for granted. Each day is a gift.

I deadheaded roses, pulled weeds, and kept remembering that if it was miffy, I would let it go, and the garden would be all the better for it. Elizabeth Lawrence would be so proud. Each day, all summer, and well into fall, I will be cutting back, pruning, weeding, cleaning up and celebrating the garden I have made with my own hands. Miracles are, indeed, right in our very own hands.

I become silent now, and a tear runs down my cheek. I am remembering an oft-read and read aloud passage to my students when I ask them to write about their mother. My mother is dying, slowly, in fact miraculously slowly, having been diagnosed with cancer over 3 1/2 years ago and still, thankfully, here with us. She is so courageous. And yet she has blood and platelet transfusions nearly every week, each is about an 8 hour process over 2 consecutive days. She calls me from her cell phone while she is lying there and we talk. It is such a tender, tenuous time. I don't want her to die but I don't want her to suffer. She is blind now, her days are hard, she has lost so much, has so little energy, and we have had so many problems in our lives. But now, now... oh, only as she is coming into her final times, no matter how long that might be, I cry over such little things, lost time, misunderstandings, of two women who loved one another and fell away from one another over and over again. Now I want to make up for lost time, but I am not blind to the fact that there are hurdles we will never be able to cross. And yet, when so many things are stripped away, you treasure the things that you have, you revel in them, it is never too late. Don't let it be too late. Even if you try and don't succeed in the way you wished you could have, try.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said on a weekend retreat that when we feel anger at our mother or our father, we should meditate on them as a five year old child. They were innocent fragile children once too. We forget that. We think of them as our parents, grown-ups, who perhaps said and did things that hurt us, but as we were once tender innocent children, so were they, and life took us all down different roads. If nothing else, remember that tender innocent child that lives deep inside your mother, your father, your lover, your friend. Try to reach that little one, and allow all the tenderness that you have inside of you make your heart swell. Be willing to be the first one to step out onto the swinging bridge over a river high in the air. There are no promises. Let there be no regrets.

And so before I close I want to share with you a beautiful passage that Colette wrote about her mother Sido. Sido loved Colette dearly, they had a very close bond, and she loved any opportunity to visit her, to be with her, but this passage I am about to share with you, dear reader, was written after Colette's husband had asked Colette's mother to come for a visit...


You ask me to come and spend a week with you, which means I would be near my daughter, whom I adore. You who live with her know how rarely I see her, how much her presence delights me, and I'm touched that you should ask me to come and see her. All the same I'm not going to accept your kind invitation, for the time being at any rate. The reason is that my pink cactus is probably going to flower. It's a very rare plant I've been given, and I'm told that in our climate it flowers only once every four years. Now, I am already a very old woman, and if I went away when my pink cactus is about to flower, I am certain I shouldn't see it flower again.

So I beg of you, sir, to accept my sincere thanks and my regrets, together with my kind regards."

"This note, signed 'Sidonie Colette, n
ée Landoy,' was written by my mother to one of my husbands, the second. A year later she died, at the age of seventy-seven.

"Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing it's strength, a desire its power, or a pain the keen edge of its bite, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: 'I am the daughter of the woman who wrote that letter -- that letter and so many more that I have kept. This one tells me in ten lines that at the age of seventy-six she was planning journeys and undertaking them, but that waiting for the possible bursting into bloom of a tropical flower held everything up and silenced even her heart, made for love. I am the daughter of a woman who, in a mean, close-fisted, confined little place, opened her village home to stray cats, tramps, and pregnant servant girls. I am the daughter of a woman who, many a time, when she was in despair at not having enough money for others, ran through the wind-whipped snow to cry from door to door, at the houses of the rich, that a child had just been born in a poverty-stricken home to parents whose feeble, empty hands had no swaddling clothes for it. Let me not forget that I am the daughter of a woman who bent her head, trembling, between the blades of a cactus, her wrinkled face full of ecstasy over the promise of a flower, a woman who herself never ceased to flower, untiringly, during three quarters of a century."

~ Colette, Earthly Paradise ~

I am the daughter of a woman who, over the last 3 1/2 years, has gotten up every single morning and said, "Everyday's a good day!" even has her body has weakened, needing daily Procrit shots for a white blood cell count that refuses to rise, and now, nearly weekly, needs blood transfusions, and cannot see, the drugs took her sight even as it fought her cancer, and yet for her "Every day is a good day," and she goes to church and has her hair done, and spends time with friends and family and I believe her truly indomitable spirit, at near 82, has kept her alive when doctors thought she would be gone long ago. She has given me gifts that I know I will not fully understand or take in for years after she is gone. That's the way life works. Things seep in, little by little, as we can take them in, and we grow in understanding as we grow in the world, and to grow into an old woman who treasures the opening of a single flower on a cactus, or lived tired, sightless, and in pain, and yet for whom every day has been a good day, is a legacy I only hope that I can leave for my own children.

Let me never forget to live each day as fully as possible, unafraid of what the world thinks of me while I live my odd, happy little life, surrounded by animals, plants inside and gardens outside, stacks of books tumbling over everywhere, knitting things for my family and grocery shopping, every week, to discover what wonders might be found on this trip out.

I have found my earthly paradise, and yet I find more and more of it everyday. Each day is showered with glory, even if my tears, some days, water the garden, still it grows. Let me not let the gloom of the world cast a shadow on the God-given days I still have, for as Fra Giovanni wrote many centuries back, "The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take Joy!" I am taking joy. My license plate says, "Take Joy." I am proclaiming it to the world, I send a bit of it to each of you.

Take peace, take love, take joy, and remember that everyday's a good day. You just have to make it so...



Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Soul In Its Solitariness... Strange Monsters... Colette ... Old Books...

"Daphne, one of the great mysteries, is the soul in its solitariness. She would rather be with animals than with humans, as any of us might sometimes feel, especially when we have been the victim of human atrocity or stupidity. As a teacher I often thought of the resistance of my students to learning not as a personality problem, but as the necessary unwillingness of the Daphne soul to submit too much to our humanitarian insistence on enculturation."

~ Thomas Moore ~
ORIGINAL SELF: Living With Paradox and Originality

What is it about a woman alone that so unnerves people? I mean truly alone. She is the scary witch on the hill behind creaking Victorian gates; the odd woman on the street pushing her grocery cart full of all of her worldly belongings; perhaps the woman in the tower. Why do we seem so strange, we Daphne-Women, simply because we live alone and in our solitude create our lives, with our animals, our familiars, our work and our gardens, music and the tending of the hearth, knitting, weaving, crochet, the cooking, the kissing of silken noses with a wary parrot on our shoulder.

It is not about my childhood, which I have already written enough about, it is not about the middle years of marriage and family, it is coming home to myself, to the woman with the dog, safe with a book, hidden in her room, living a life confusing to others. I was once punished as a young girl because I wouldn't go to a football dance with all the other girls. Finally, when I threw up hysterically my mother let me be. I cried into my dog's fur, and then settled in with a book, my little journal and pen, under a shadowy light on my nightstand, and was finally at peace. I was a recalcitrant student, although not so much as to do enough damage to get into trouble, but nothing on this earth can push me into the outside world that those around me would have me seek. As an adult I have been a committed autodidact, reading constantly, studying on my own, carrying boxes of books out of the library, sitting alone for hours writing. This is my way of being in the world. I am content with this life.

Or perhaps the problem is what May Sarton expressed so well in her poem, "Sisters, O My Sisters..."

"We who are writing women and strange monsters
still search our hearts for the difficult answers."

I am a writing woman and there are those who might think me a strange monster, but I think most of all I am a woman at midlife trying to figure out what life means now and where I go from here. I have been writing a lot about solitude. As a journal writing teacher for 30 years what I know is that with journals there are several things that happen. There are the daily details; there are the momentary obsessions; there are the seasonal changes (and surely, midlife is a season); and there are certain specific issues that appear as leitmotifs all throughout our life and our writing. I was an only child for 20 years, a wife and mother for nearly 30, and I have been a woman alone for nearly ten. There is the possibility of a life with someone I have known for 6 1/2 years, but it is as uncertain and odd as the rest of my life, which is why the shoe fits. No other shoe would fit so well. And if not her, I will live with my bevy of animal companions, write, garden and create secret magic in hidden places. We all do that, but very few admit to it. How many hidden places are there in your life?

I just walked in to the kitchen and kind of chuckled. I was thinking that any reader of this blog might begin to wonder if I will ever write about anything besides solitude, the woman alone, animals everywhere, and the garden in all it's glory. Well, I can't say that I will and I can't say that I won't because I just don't know. This is where I am now. This is the part I'm trying to figure out. I think learning about oneself and one's life path is like parking a car. Oh God help me if I have to parallel park. You go in at one angle and that doesn't work. You try at another and go up on the curb. You barely miss hitting the car in front or behind the spot you're trying to get into or both. Finally, you ease in, and collapse on the steering wheel is sheer disbelief. You sit for a few minutes to catch your breath before you can manage to get out of the car, and then you head in the direction of your next challenge.

When you are in a major transition in your life it is just like parallel parking. You have to keep writing about it from many different angles to get at the answer, to discover the truth. The reader might be nodding off just about now, but I think I'm getting somewhere!

It is past midnight. I am still going strong. I am not much of a drinker but I have next to me a glass of cold water, a half glass of merlot, and I am eating Twizzlers. It's an odd combination I know, but it's what writing monsters have past midnight. Eating Twizzlers, sipping Merlot, and reading Colette.

This book, Earthly Paradise, from her collected writings, is a big fat hardcover and you should see the mess I've made of it. Highlighted, underlined, notes in the margins, post-it notes in every color of the rainbow sticking out here, there, and everywhere. Colette died the year I was born. I was born in April of 1954 and she died in August. I have always felt a special connection to her. This book is my prose bible and the spine has been glued, re-glued and then some. It was published in 1966 and has the thick sturdy pages one can really sink their teeth into. Books today are just plain sad.

Where are the old beautiful books? When I go into an antiquarian bookshop I will buy a book on anything at all if it has vellum pages that were cut, gold leafed, and a multi-colored image stamped into the leather cover, worn soft from age. Usually poems, if I'm lucky Keats or Shelly, but often some long forgotten poet, and the book goes surprising cheaply. I once coveted a tiny, complete Bible that had very thin paper, the softest red leather cover I had ever felt, a golden cord wrapped around it, and it was in a glass display case at the register. I really didn't care about reading the Bible (frankly it was so little I would have gone blind) but that book, oh, I just wanted to touch and hold and feel and smell that book, rub the butter-soft leather against my cheek, and oh, to hold something so old and beautiful is worth more than all the gold and diamonds in the world. I am a hopeless romantic with a passion for old books...

My, I've gone astray and no it's not the merlot, I've barely had any.

I have to be very careful with this book of Colette's writings because it is full to the brim with pressed pansies from my garden, now translucent with age, and precious, oh so precious, because they were from the garden I lived in while raising my children when I made a quarter acre garden in the shape of a body of a woman. The chest area, the breasts, were a heart shape made of 60 roses, each rose circled with pansies. 33 flats of pansies, and yes I dug every hole, planted every rose, every pansy, and the rest of the large garden which I tended lovingly and sat outside in to dream and write, little realizing what I'd made, this woman shaped garden, and I went at it with such a vengeance my right/shovel foot was badly hurt and a year later required the surgery that would leave me walking cattywompus forever. The year after that I left the garden in the shape of a woman for a real woman. Life is full of clues but for the most part we are too blind to see them.

Just now, with little Sampson, my velcro pug is in his usual place, asleep on my feet (if I move slightly he scooches over to put his head on my foot again...). I was reading Colette writing about her little French bulldog. She loved her and toward the end of her life the bulldog was her constant companion until she died. This passage brings me full circle to Daphne, alone, with her animals, (...although Colette of course was married to Maurice Goudeket who was her dear companion until she died.) and though Colette was married at the end of her life to a dear man, she had led quite a life, been with men and woman, loved the country most of all and loved her silence and solitude so that she might write daily under the light of her blue lantern. In this passage about her bulldog, she writes...

"...Such is the normal rate of a bulldog bitch's heart. How many times will this one survive her emotions? A little French bulldog, as I am beginning to know, wears itself out in ten years. Even then, it requires special treatment. My long silences, my immobility while writing protect her from herself, from her passionate curiosity from her fear, present at every instant of the day, of feeling herself an orphan, and from her morbid need to listen to and remember human words..."

"...The hearts of animals are always there, palpitating, swelling, and breaking in our shadow."

Perhaps this is why I love animals so. For their tenderness, their vulnerability, all the while fiercely protective of we, their owners. An animal lying belly up beside you is showing the ultimate trust, and if you are like me, you get used to a pug sleeping on your hip as you are on your side. He fits perfectly and it's quite comfortable. Loves pours forth from my being like a waterfall. Animals enculturate far better than I. For me, a soft teddy bear of a boy snuggled next to me and a big black dog on the floor by my side make me feel like I have a life full of riches, with all the other animals asleep around us as well. I whisper, "Thank you God," and I smile. A small boy starts to snore and another day is done.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Sleepy Pugs, Glorious Gardens, The Hidden Door To Dragonfly Cottage, and A Silent Monday Morning...

"My garden is all overblown with roses,
My spirit is all overblown with rhyme..."

~ Vita Sackville-West ~

Sneak quietly up to the front door of
Dragonfly Cottage. You will be bombarded
by 2 pugs and one big black dog. Sam is very
slow to get up in the morning and is
under the covers, pretending to be asleep,
but I am making your latte and a warm
scone. Good Morning to you...

The mornings are my favorite time of the day. They are very busy, what with getting the dogs out and in and feeding twelve animals, but it is a mindful routine, like raking a Zen garden. When I sit down with coffee to write the sounds of the birds and the dogs slipping back into their morning nap comfort me. My crystals and stones sparkle under my desk light and my fingers move fast and fly across the keys. When the espresso was brewing I had a silent communion with a chickadee just outside of my kitchen windows. She sat there for quite awhile and we made eye contact for several seconds before she flew off. There are far more flashy wild birds that visit here, but I love my little chickadees...

"Do not dare make me get out of this bed until
my latte is made and The New York Times has
arrived. And I'll have Eggs Benedict for break-
fast, but those other little hooligans can get by
with dogfood. I'm going back to sleep now, wake
me when it's ready..." Sampson, spoiled rotten,
just as he is supposed to be!

The grace and groundedness of living with nature all around me, steadying me on this terra firma, and the comfort of my animal companions, keep my mind, once very nearly always tossing and ill at ease, as calm as a pond on a still day. Clear, translucent, I can see past myself and through my own life to the world around me. I expand with each moment. I become more than myself. I feel a oneness with it all. I toss a pebble in the pond and watch the concentric circles fan out all around me. This is what it means to attain bliss. If momentary, still, it can float one through many days ahead...


While the espresso is brewing I go quickly outside
to snap some pictures of this morning's garden. The
first thing I want to capture, a favorite little area,
is what I call the "Half Moon Garden," for that is
it's shape, and you can see the overall area and a
few closeups of my favorite flowers...


This half moon shaped garden continues
on up to the front door of the cottage and
all the perennials are full and green and
will soon begin their bloom season through
summer. The above picture is a little hazy,
so here are a few pictures to clarify. Also, the
undergrowth not yet up will be a
of old time perennials, like cottage
creeping thymes, a buddleia, several

roses and much more that you will see
the summer progresses...

A closeup of 'Madame Isaac Periere,' with a huge blossom
of the clematis, 'Nelly Moser,' simply breath-taking and
magical, twining up all through the rose that can grow to
6' tall and there are countless blooms of the clematis in
the bud, which will open, as if in a ripple effect, all the
way up the rose...

Closeup of clematis 'Nelly Moser.'

Lovely sky blue Oxypetalum 'Heaven Born,' with R. 'Eden'
in the background...

Closeup of 'New Dawn', a stunning and very sweet rose...

I slip into my book, between it's pages as they gain momentum, and something inside of me starts to roll with the rhythm of a book becoming. At first there are notes, quotes, and flashing thoughts, words on a page, disjointed sentences and paragraphs toppling over one another, but then some inner impetus propels the book along and the little engine that could starts it's ascent up the hill. I am no longer writing the book, the book is writing itself and carrying me along with it. I stand on the back of the caboose and watch the words fly by. The wind on my face is exhilarating. I've a long, long way to go, but once you hit your stride and know where you are headed, you can trust the book and put the map away.

The front garden just coming into full glory. Many roses
are blooming, many perennials just getting started, the
abundance of all kinds of perennial hibiscus in all manner
of beautiful colors are just coming up, and so much more.
Mid summer you will see no bare ground, just a glory of
flowers on this tiny plot of land...

The stroll through the morning garden puts everything in perspective. There are still dewdrops on the leaves. At fifty-four I feel a radiance I had heretofore not expected to experience. The great surprise in midlife is that it is like the summer garden in full bloom, not the waning I had expected when I was younger. And the garden, in it's growing toward it's full glory, makes me breathless with anticipation.

The ground was very hard and barren here when I moved in here. The first years while there was a lot of planting, the job was more to work the soil, digging and digging and amending it with everything imaginable. Adding live worms, putting out scores of ladybugs and watching them go round and about the leaves, putting praying mantis cocoons all around the garden. Now, the ground is more friable and the plants come up more easily. The lilies and iris, my beloved hibiscus, the glorious roses and perennials and annuals in abundance. People stop and stare. I give them flowers. I realize the garden is a metaphor for my life now. The ecstasy of the arm full of roses and the first delphinium this morning made me giddy, and their presence gave out a lovely energy while I wrote. The garden, the book, my life ... I am in love with the world.

I planted two hydrangea bushes, tiny bitty baby plants,
nearly 4 years ago. This is the very first year they are
putting out flowers and it shall be a wonder to see them.
I have an old stoneware coffeepot I put all the grounds
in from my morning latte, and cover the grounds with
very hot water as it fills. Finally, I have a wonderful
"tea" or coffee as it were, to feed the roses and acid
loving plants like the blue hydrangeas. These should
be blue, but if the soil is too alkaline they will be pink.
I'm hoping for blue. Even in a tiny place you can make
compost and recycle this and that from your leftover
foodstuffs -- eggshells and more -- and add compost
to your garden. Come back often and watch the
hydrangeas grow!

The thing that both a garden and midlife teach you is patience. Now, having created many gardens in my life, I know that each day is a gift, even when it is freshly planted soil and nothing is blooming. I have learned that love is not what I expected, and it is exactly perfect. It is worth waiting for. I feel no rush. I once wrote a book in 6 weeks. Now, if this book takes five years to write it will be worth it. Life is big, this book is the one I was meant to write, and could only be written from a point of full maturation, and true love comes when you know you are willing to wait, no matter what, not rushing in at the bliss stage, but loving most to have a companion, and be in it for the long haul. You can't realize that when you are young, you haven't had the time, the experiences, the scars, the glories, the lows, and the highs that take you over the moon, but return you to the ground, to solid ground, that you might hold hands and walk slowly through life with your soul mate, not expecting every day to be a fourth of July fireworks display. Those are exquisite times, but the everydayness of life is what I seek. I have found the hidden door to my heart. It is behind these four walls. And there is so much love, with parrots and soft pug noses, with a big black dog always at my side, with the true meaning of life revealing so much to me every day as people near to me are ill and dying, and yet every day the sun comes up and I have a whole new chance to make the world, my life, my love, an even deeper experience. My love is like a rose. I may be scratched, I may bleed, but the beauty of the rose itself triumphs over all. My life is a garden. I live in Eden.

With just a second to spare before running in to froth
the milk for my latte, I snapped a lovely picture of this
old Southern rose, 'Caldwell Pink,' growing next to the
Pampas Grass. I planted nearly 60 roses here. When I
move, in the next year or two, to a bigger cottage with
more land, I will be planting roses for the rest of my

Roses amongst pampas grass is a beautiful metaphor for life itself. The roses are full and soft and mellow, the edges of the pampas not only tear at the skin but cause an uncomfortable reaction that can last for days. But still one comes back to the roses. At fifty four I have accepted them both. I don't expect a perfect life. I don't expect my life not to be tempered by time and hardships, but I trust in grace, I trust in beauty, I trust in God/Goddess/Buddha/Everything That Is Divine And Holy. I trust in Me. It has taken me 54 years to come home to myself. Now I am ready for a wider world.

I wish you love. I wish you beauty, most of all that you look in the mirror and see the beauty inside yourself. You are beautiful. I can see you from here. Even the warm, vibrating pug on my feet affirms it. Joy, sorrow, glory, grace, it is all here. I am humbled. And it is sublime.


In order to see the birds it is necessary to become part of the
silence. One has to sit still like a mystic and wait. One soon
learns that fussing, instead of achieving things, merely
prevents things from happening."

~ Robert Lynd, Irish Essayist ~

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Natural Rhythm Of Life, or, How Slow Can You Go?

" is troubling how many people expect applause, recognition, when they have not even begun to learn an art or a craft. Instant success is the order of the day; 'I want it now!' I wonder whether this is not part of our corruption by machines. Machines do things very quickly and outside the natural rhythm of life, and we are indignant if a car doesn't start at the first try. So the few things that we still do, such as cooking ... knitting, gardening, anything at all that cannot be hurried, have a very particular value."

May Sarton
~ Journal Of A Solitude, 1973 ~

Take time to smell the flowers...

This quote really hit a chord in me. I remember the years of living in the country with three children who were homeschooled, and hanging laundry out on the line, stretching the clothes or sheets as smooth as I possibly could before pushing the wooden clothes pins in place to keep them on the line, and watching the sheets blow in the breeze. Ah, there was nothing like going to bed at night in fresh, sun-dried sheets.

The dog played merrily about us, there were always barn cats, deer came through our meadow (... and skunks and possums and there were bats hanging from the rafters on the porch which I felt charming!) and one day, in a valiant effort, we all five ran with buckets of water filled with tadpoles (...the frogs had had a Field Day!) as there was a running stream from so much rain right in front of our house, but it was beginning to dry up. My husband, the three kids, and I filled buckets or whatever we could find, scooping them up and heading for the stream at the back of our property. We got as many as we possibly could and they happily swam about in the stream. How many made it we shall never know, but we tried as hard as we could. I wonder, today, how many people rush madly to save tadpoles and are enchanted by the bats on the front porch?

In those days I wrote for newspapers and magazines and had a small press of my own and everything was written on the old typewriter, first written long hand on paper. Now, everything I write is directly on this computer or my laptop, save notes in journals for the books, clippings, sketches, and so on. I still love writing by hand, but I remember the days I was getting an article ready to send off and found ONE typo in the middle of the page. I had to retype the whole page. That's what we did then, and it would be sometime -- on my 40th birthday in fact -- before I actually got my first computer. It makes writing a lot easier but I feel kind of melancholy thinking of dip pens and old fashioned typewriters. Those were magical days...

The thing is, we can't backspace life in the way we could the keys on the old typewriter. There is not even a backspace key on the computer. We must hit "delete" and as we delete it seems we delete more and more precious things from the past. But all is not lost.

One of the most important things for me was finding Buddhism in my twenties (And many practice the Buddhist philosophies while being strongly dedicated to other faiths.). I would be a student of Buddhism all my life but didn't quite take it in deeply in my 20's, but today it helps me steady myself in a world that moves so fast it makes me feel dizzy. People are always asking me if I get lonely here. Of course loneliness is the human condition. In a marriage with three kids I would sometimes feel myself a little lonely, but that kind of loneliness came more from being cut off from myself. Today, I live with 12 animals. Their needs are immediate and they are my companions all day long. As I write this Henry, my grey parrot, is on my shoulder preening my face. Blossom, the Greater Sulfur Crested cockatoo, is about 2 feet from me talking, and saying, "Hey Big Bird," and "Cockadoodle dooooooo." Do I get lonely? Yes, a minute or two here or there, but then the dogs need to go out, and I have to finish that sentence, that row of knitting, check on the roses, feed the dogs. Yes, I am human, I get lonely, but, truly, not often. I used to get a kick out of those t-shirts that said, "Plays well alone." I think I always have.

In this world that I have created it is as if time slowed down and everything moves at a slower pace. Yesterday as I was doing the dishes at the kitchen sink, just outside the window a rosy finch was drinking from the little vintage sky blue enamel bucket, dotted with white. It hangs on a shepherd's hook, along with a feeder, and up around the whole area masses of purple 'Jackmanii' clematis are blooming madly as they climb delicately through the 'Zepherine Drouhin' old fashioned rose. It took my breath away. I was afraid to move lest I frighten the tiny little bird, but off he finally flew, and back I went to my chores.

One of my favorite things is to be in the kitchen, at the sink, in the dark of night, because the light over the sink draws all manner of moths and night creatures to my windows. I will stand enchanted, in that time out of time place, to watch the teeny tiny green peepers, the little frogs whose suction cup feet can walk him right up the side of the cottage and allow him to stare at me through the window. I stay there mesmerized, looking at his huge eyes, his breath moving in and out of his chest, and wondered how lucky I must have been to catch a glimpse of such an amazing creature. So many hear the song of the tree frogs, the humming of the crickets, the owls singing out their lonely sounds in the night and block it out as nuisance. I feel at one with the Universe seeing the stars like broken glass lying on dark velvet as far at the sky can see, or gazing up at a full moon until I get so dizzy I think I might fall over backwards.

I am like the little child you take on a walk and it takes forever to go a short distance because I have to pick up every stone and tiny wildflowers and look at everything in wonder. Oil swirling in rainbows on puddles in the street. Waterbugs skimming the surface of the pond, and most especially the dragonfly who came straight into my house, and sat on me for an hour during one of my darkest moments. The dragonfly has been my totem animal for many years. They lead one out of the darkness and into the light. At that very moment I had deeply suicidal thoughts, felt hopeless, and I opened the back door and in he came, the biggest, most beautiful golden dragonfly I had ever seen. I took many pictures but he never left my body. When he was ready to leave he flew back over to the door and I let him out. I was a changed person. I haven't seriously considered suicide again.

He saved my life. He changed the course of my life. And this was a long time after I'd named my cottage and my website and business Dragonfly Cottage. When I changed my name, legally, after my divorce in 2005 to take the name Maitri as my first name, I took Libellule as my last name. The whole story of my first name I've written about here before and there's a page about it on my website, Dragonfly Cottage, but Libellule is dragonfly in French. I am of French heritage on one side and my biological grandmother's maiden name was Papillon, which is butterfly in French. Always fascinated by birds and now living with six parrots, I tell people I come from a long line of wing-ed beings. I did not choose my name lightly. First and last name were a deeply spiritual choice, and felt like the taking of the veil. I would live my quiet life, mostly in silence, caring for the animals, writing, and spinning yarn on a spindle like the days of old.

For just a second I flashed on a phrase that I've often felt to be true, "I belong in another time. I am out of step with the world here." And then I stopped short. It hit me, all of a sudden, that if those of us who are out of step with this world today, this world that goes too fast, where we have been corrupted, as Sarton wrote above, by machines, where so many people are angry and rushing and out of sync with the natural rhythms of the world, I'd say that those of us who are cooking, gardening, knitting and more just might be saving the world. It has been a great joy to me to see such a major renaissance of knitting, weaving, spinning, crochet and many other artforms that our grandmothers and great-grands and on back did. With every stitch we knit, we are knitting together a broken world. With every breath I take when I am spinning fiber into yarn, I breathe a meditative breath, and each in-breath and out-breath are prayers for a more sane, centered, peaceful, quiet world.

I may be an odd creature, out of sync with the world, but when the golden dragonfly came to visit he told me to keep on with my life, to hold fast to my dreams, to follow my heart, my intuition, and they wouldn't steer me wrong. And so they have not. And those that cluck their tongues and shake their heads, well, I feel sad for them. If they'd only walk slow, pick up a stone, pick a few wildflowers to put in a vase in their living room to gaze upon, they would be all the better for it.

We live in a far different time than the transcendentalists did. It's hard to be Thoreau today, but it is not impossible to create a little oasis where you live, and I think we have the responsibility to do just that. I came up with a motto for my life some years back, I even had it printed on postcards and I cherish the saying. I wrote, "How Slow Can You Go?" and on the postcard is a snail. I adore snails. Just watching them you find your heart slowing down and your breath easing. I created a meditation practice to follow the snail (You can read about it in the sidebar down the right, and there's a whole page on it on the Dragonfly Cottage website.)

It's time that I end here. The parrots want to go to bed, the dogs have just been out and are trying to find their sleeping places, and I've got a kitchen to clean up and a run out to the grocery store for more dog food for the morning. But there's no rush and it will all get done and tonight I will begin working on a freeform shawl, a shawl made of a mixture of knitting and crochet, cozy, with whimsical designs. This kind of piece is slow going, and what's the rush? Winter is a long way off and when it comes I shall be sitting right here, wrapped in the shawl, all the little ones tucked in woolen socks on my cold feet, and I will let the dark and the quiet fall upon me like a cloak of grace. There is so much to be thankful for in this world. There is so much to be grateful for, so much that is beautiful.

How slow can you go? Think on that awhile, and you can begin to make small changes. You will be all the better for it in your own life, and the world will be changing right along with you.

With love and gratitude for your presence in my life...



Saturday, May 3, 2008

Every Night I Go To Bed Laughing!

"There seems no doubt that hearty laughter stimulates practically all the larger organs, and by making them do their work better through the increase of circulations that follow the vibratory massage that accompanies it, heightens resistive vitality against disease."

James L. Walsh, Laughter and Health ~

Sam is giving you the raspberries!

I was thinking after reading that quote above that I must be the healthiest woman in the universe. I mean with 6 parrots, one dog, and 3 pugs (they're not the same, as I've said before) plus the 2 beta fish, who, if truth be told, are absolutely hysterical, I spend a great deal of the time here laughing at somebody or other! But it's when I go to bed at night that I always really laugh, and it's all due to Sampson.

I have mentioned previously that Sam is my velcro-pug, and anything more than a quarter of an inch from my body is too far. As I have taken to sleeping downstairs on the couch (it's a nice, overstuffed, 7 foot long couch given to me along with the oversized chair and ottoman, barely used, by dear friends when I moved in here 6 years ago with not much of anything. They are very comfy!) since hurting my ankle so badly (the bedroom is upstairs) Sam and I sleep on the couch. Here's the routine.

First of all, if I stay at my desk too late working, like, say, 2.a.m., he will come out from under my desk where he has been lying on my feet and sit and stare at me, right next to me, sobbing pug-like, the most pitiful sound you've ever heard. He looks up at me with those gigantic soulful eyes, and if I'm not finished working (I often write very late at night.) I will say to him, "Not yet Sammy. Mama is not finished working." He knows exactly what I mean but he's not happy about it. He shrugs, goes back under my desk, and lies on my feet.

Sam, lying on my feet under my desk, thinking, "Why can't I get
her to go to bed at some decent time. She knows I can't go to bed
without her... Sigh..."

When I am finally ready to go to bed, I needn't say a thing. I turn the computer off, turn the light out, take off my glasses, and he runs around looking at me, all jostling about with joy because he knows we are going to bed. He follows me to the bathroom where I brush my teeth and take care of other -- ahem -- business, and then follows me back to the couch. He hops up on the couch, and, while it doesn't seem to bother him that he needs to snorfle about and go round and round and go belly up and nose down and round and round and round before he can get settled, it irks him no end that he gets jostled about by me getting situated!

This is something you have to see to understand how cute it is because it's the oddest thing I've ever seen, I've had dogs of all breeds all of my life because they've pretty well all been rescues, and I have never seen any dog do what pugs do. They straddle the arm of a chair or couch, if it's wide and comfy, and go to sleep. I don't have a picture of Sampson on the couch because I'm already "in bed" when he hops up there, but he will hop up and stretch out until I am still. Here's a picture of him on the arm of the chair...

I think this "pug pose" is about the cutest thing I've ever seen!

Sometimes I try to get him to help me with my fiber work, but last
time we tried we both fell asleep in piles of shredded sari silk for
the yarn I was handspinning...

Anyway, he straddles the arm of the couch and looks at me in dismay. And don't think I don't know what he's thinking either. He's thinking, "Man, it takes her forever to snorfle about and flip flop and go round and round and round..." We know each other well. Once, I am settled in, however, he hops down in his special spot, the crook of my knees, and starts his round of snorfling, circling, digging, grunting, and I start laughing as quietly as I can because I don't want to get him worked up, and we're in the living room where the other dogs and birds are all longsince asleep, but by the time he kind of collapses in sheer exhaustion, we both begin to go to sleep, his little head on my ankles most likely, and it's only when I wake up that I realize he has moved up on my hip and thigh, balancing, I suppose, against the back of the couch.

When Pug Rescue told me that this little dog would stick to me like glue, I didn't know they meant literally, but he is one of the greatest joys of my life as are all of my other feathered, furred and finned family. As a woman who has been in therapy most of her life and suffered severe depression all her life, and while I know the meds I'm on do help, I credit my animals for keeping me happy and sane and joyful most of all. If you ask me, when a therapist takes on a new client who is depressed the first thing they should ask them is, "Forget your past, do you have any animal companions?" If the patient says no, he or she should be hustled off to the nearest Humane Society or rescue and get a dog or cat whom they will surely fall in love with on sight. These animals, especially the dogs, are the only unconditional love we will most likely every know (I speak for dogs because I am allergic to cats, but they are wonderful too!).

In closing, I'd like to leave you with another quote that I really love...

"Laughter is cosmic joy juice ... we pretend we are separate from one another. But the contagion of laughter reminds us we are one.

Annette, Goodheart, New Realities ~

My little pack of joy juice munchkins without whom I would laugh
a whole lot less...