Sunday, March 27, 2011

I'm Trying To Find My Inner Snail ~ and~ On Keeping "Knockabout Notebooks..."

Fellow Travelers,

I have lost my inner snail and I'm on a search to find him...

I made the above graphic a couple of years ago for another blog. "How Slow Can You Go?" has long been a mantra of mine with the snail my symbol for slowing down for a very long time. My mind can get reeling and running 50 miles ahead of me if I don't so I have been taking the last couple of days to try to get a grip on why I have been going hither and yon, doing 20 things at once, spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere. I started this blog entry yesterday and I didn't got exactly nowhere. I knew what I wanted to write so I typed in the title and that's as far as I got. I sat down and kissed a pug. And then a gigantic greenwing parrot came strutting across the room, having come down off of his cage, walked across the living room floor, climbed up the cover thrown over my legs onto the recliner and said, "HELLO!" I closed the computer and kissed a big beak and we played for awhile. That big macaw plays like a puppy! And then he settled down on my leg as he is wont to do and went to sleep, and Sam, my velcro pug, was snuggled into me snoring away, and I somehow just drifted off in my mind. 

I have been doing a good bit of beating myself up for taking on a new project that I know I'm supposed to do, and pushing myself really hard trying to get it together, having started the website and a new blog to go with it, until I have been bleary eyed and teary and ready to toss it all because it was taking too much time away from my book and I thought, "Yegods, here I go again, starting so many things I'll never finish anything!" But then...

Then I stopped and thought, "Where in the world am I going anyway? There's no time table here. I need to find my inner snail and just ride along on his shell for awhile..." And so today I found him and I've been riding on his shell. It's been lovely. I did not work on the computer all day but started getting ready for spring planting. I am planting 4 roses with 2 clematis with each rose -- all climbers -- to go up the scrolly pillars on the front and sides of the cottage front porch. And then there will be four hanging baskets, and herbs and flowers to plant in some planters under the hanging baskets, and I got spring fever and felt joyful!

Sometimes you have to let the computer cool down so you can warm up. 

And something else. Having been a journal teacher for thirty years, the last five of those online, and having filled over 300 journals and then some, in the last few years I completely got out of the habit of journaling. Blogging has been part of it I think, but blogging doesn't really take the place of a journal. And then one day I just kind of dragged my toe along in the sand and thought, "I don't really have to keep a JOURNAL if I don't want to, I can just get a big old notebook and lug it around and put whatever I want in it." And so I have, and I've filled a whole big notebook in a month. And I bought a bunch of different kinds of colored pens and I'm having so much fun.

I prefer plain sketchbooks and I've taken quite a liking to Ultra Fine Point Sharpies. Got the big package cheap with lots of colors at Sams. (Not the pug, the store that is somehow tied up with Wal-mart which I never go into.). Always been a fan of the big box of prismacolor pencils (Great prices on eBay.) Great packages of Flair markers in lots of colors (I doodled with Flairs when I was in gradeschool and now I'm in my 50's. I love that they're still around!). Got a package of highlighters in lots of colors. All ramped up and ready to go. 

I've been getting these pens and things in bits and pieces over the last several weeks. I tote the big old notebook around with me and yes, the permanent markers bleed through the paper and that's kind of the point. Because then I only write on one side of the page and the side that has the "bled-through" bits I cover up with collagey sorts of things, quotes, funny little cut-outs from this and that. I'm not talking great works of art here. I'm just talking about doodling around and having fun.

Don't be intimidated by the word "Journal" or "Diary." Just get any old notebook (those cardboard covered composition notebooks are great and cheap) and you can collage all over them and you don't need to try to do Collage with a capital "C." It's all the rage I know, and I love it, but we can get intimidated if we think we have to create Great Art. We just have to cut and paste and doodle and write a little of this and that as the spirit moves us.

Every now and then I meander out of the house to a small nearby cafe. I get a latte and ice water and lots of little paper napkins because I'm just bound to spill something or my fountain pen will leak, and then I open my book bag and get out the half dozen books I'm reading all at once and I spread colored markers and pencils all over the table and open up my big notebook. I read a little of this and a little of that and I jot down quotes and all of a sudden I find myself actually "journaling" a little bit and it kind of tickles me because I said I didn't have to and it happened anyway, and somebody or other at a table next to me will say that it's fascinating to watch me (I'm in my own little world with my latte and books and pens and notebook and forget there are other people around...) because I keep dropping one colored pen and picking up another and on and on. I do this because I am kind of color coding my work so I can go back and find things easier. And then I kind of doodle. And then I relax. And then I find that I am actually breathing again, and that I have found my inner snail and he and I are just kind of slip-sliding slowly along quite happily.

The thing is that in this "Knockabout Notebook." There are no Big Ideas about what it's supposed to be. I just doodly doo along and it's become such great fun I am back to what I always used to do which is carry it everywhere with me (different spots around the house, accompanied by pugs, parrots and whatnots) and plop down and just write. And color. And doodle. And write something funny down that Garrison Keillor said on Prairie Home Companion. And there are little holes in the sides of the pages sometimes where Big Bird Flounder decided he might like to take a bite. And maybe a bent corner where Sam the pug stepped up on top of the notebook on my lap desk to see what I was doing and bent a corner. 

I have notebooks with lots of character (because there are always lots of characters around my notebooks.)...

I have also been listening to a lot of books from while I do fiber art and when I'm too jumbled up in my mind to do anything very useful, I have my notebook and bunch of colored pens and I write down things that occur to me when I listen. Book ideas creep up on you when you're not looking. That's why I always keep my fiber art by my writing spots and vice versa. When my brain gets all screwed up in knots I stop writing and pick up my fiber art and go out of my head and into my hands and let my brain unwind. I don't think I could write without my fiber art.

So in the process of not trying to keep a journal I seem to be keeping some kind or another of a crazy kind of one, and in deep conversation with my inner snail I realized that I can work on my book as my main focus because that makes me feel happy and more secure, and I can work on my other projects around the edges which makes me feel productive, and I can color which keeps my inner child happy...

And I can plant roses and herbs and annuals for color and dilly dally outside with the dogs and play with the big parrot who climbs into my lap, and let him sit on the pages with his big tail sticking out and resting on Sam's head who doesn't notice because he's too busy snoring, and we can all just kick back and relax about the whole thing because I've made a vow to be less serious and have more fun along the way. And when I do I'm more productive. Imagine that. Just like the way books creep up on you when you're not looking. So the lesson is slow down, don't try so hard, and if you feel like writing anything just do it in any old kind of notebook, journal, sketchbook or whatever any way you want to. 

A funny aside... Years ago I was teaching a group of people at a college. Color-wild even then I had lots of different fountain pens with all different colored inks and I was writing in all different colors and encouraged my students to do that, kind of step out of the box and break open their old ways of doing things and see how it affected their writing. One poor soul came up to me after class, bewildered, and said, "I've tried and tried and I hate writing in color. Is it okay if I just write in black?" And I was shocked. And I felt terrible. And I said, "Of course!" And that's when I learned that it's okay to share your ideas but don't be so zealous that your students (or anyone else around you) feels like they have to do it your way, or any one way. Write in color. Write in black. Write with finger paints. Or a plain old pencil. Or not at all. You'll write if you want to when you want to. Maybe you just want to chew bubblegum and watch ladybugs. And it's all okay. 

We need to stop being so hard on ourselves. We try too hard. And then we beat ourselves up. We're not in a race, we're just living our lives. 

I hope I remember that. I'm going to write it down in my notebook right now so I don't forget (...and scribble a little while I'm at it!)...

Be good to yourself. Find your inner snail. See how slow you can go. I think you'll feel better all around, at least I have. And am. And will. Finally!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Never Give In ~ Or ~ By George! I DID it!!! ~And ~ Follow All Of Your Funny Little Dreams Even If No One Else Understands Them!

"Never give in, never give in, never give in."
~ Winston Church ~

Well Gee Willy Wonka. Who'da thought? Not anyone who knows me, that's for sure. Today I have begun actually spinning on a spinning wheel. That might not SOUND like such a big deal since I have been spinning and selling my art yarns for years, but I have always been a hand spindle spinner and have rather a huge collection of spindles at that and love them, but I have LONGED to spin on a wheel. I just never could get it. It was like higher math to me while with a spindle in my hand I felt like I had been BORN spinning and have spun hundreds of skeins of yarns, but, I have still longed to spin on a wheel (... and with the equivalent of about a dozen 18-wheelers full of fiber if'n I didn't ding/dang/dong get goin' on a wheel I would never get all this fiber spun in three lifetimes on a spindle...).

The thing is I have purchased three wheels. I bartered the first one, a perfectly gorgeous, brand new, Kromski "Symphony," for fiber. It nearly gave me a nervous breakdown and I crept happily back to my spindles but that gorgeous wheel's new owner did dandy on her from the get-go. But Gertrude, above, was always my dream wheel, an Ashford "Country Spinner" and this is an older one because you can no longer get one with a single treadle which is what I really wanted. I bought her used in 2005 and could never get going on her. The next year I bought a vintage wheel not made since the 70's,  and had no better luck with her. She's not a looker but a fine little wheel. Her name is Matilda...

Since I spin thick art yarns I needed a wheel with a large orifice (the opening where the fiber feeds through onto the bobbin) and when I started looking a few years back there were precious few wheels with large orifices that the then newly on the scene art yarns could easily produce. Now you can find a number of wheels for this purpose and that's grand, but I'm an old fashioned sort of girl and I like old, vintagey, used things. The energy of a spinner gone by who spent many happy hours spinning away on her beloved wheel, which is now in my living room. I've got a real mess over there, just opposite me, where the wheel has been set up with a good spinning chair, a huge container of fibers on one side for spinning and a giant basket with handspun yarns on the other with my huge fiber art piece that I'm working on on the other. I got so excited about getting going I just wanted to get this entry up but within the week I shall get several more pictures of both fiber art and wheel-a-spinning in a new entry. And it won't take so long for the next entry to get up because all of a sudden something conked me over the head and I am, well I blush to say this, kind of giddy-happy!!!

Embarrassing, I know. I will be 57 on the 30th of next month but yes I still do get giddy-happy and I even think the pugs get kind of snorty-giggly right along with me. Happiness is contagious. Why you should hear big Flounder Bird, my greenwing macaw. When I start laughing he starts cackling with glee sounding more like Vincent Price than V.P. did in his day. That bird is scary-adorable.

I don't know what happened to me, I really don't, but Gertrude has been calling to me. I mean seriously creeping into my consciousness and doing a number on me. I've almost gone out to the shed to get her 100 times, but today I charged straight on out there, carried her in, got the polish and rag and cleaned her up until she gleamed, sat down with what I admit was a nervous grimace and tried. And failed. And tried. And no-go. And I kept gritting my teeth harder and getting more determined. And then I laughed. And then I relaxed. And then I thought, "Oh, what the hey! It's bound to happen sooner or later." And DANG, as soon as I relaxed it happened sooner! 

Now, I've not ANY illusions that I'm spinning great yarn on her yet, but I'M SPINNING ON HER AND WE ARE BOTH ALL WHOOZY AND WHEEZING AND GIGGLING AND CLUNKING ALONG. And I will be spending many hours a day I can tell you and we shall be, if wobbly at first, spinnin' away, "to infinity and beyond!". Buzz Lightyear would be so proud! He he he. I feel silly I'm so giddy, but Gertrude and I are going to conquer the world, or at least our own little corner of it. 

The moral of the lesson, as Winston Churchill said, is to "Never give in, never give in, never give in." It may take years but one day a bee gets in your bonnet and you don't even allow yourself to imagine it WON'T happen. It's taken me nearly 7 years to get to this point so don't feel bad if it takes you a while, whether it's spinning or running a marathon, or flying a plane, it really doesn't matter. It's never been about the wheel. I made up all kinds of excuses like the fact that I'd bought her used and something "must have been wrong with her." Well there wasn't diddly squat wrong with her. Me, that's a whole 'nother matter. Timing is everything, and it's never in our own imagined time frame. That's the thing. We think we can conquer time. Well, that idea can be set out with tomorrow's trash. Just get up every day and keep on keeping on living the best life you can and when the time is right -- and not a moment before -- the "impossible" says, "IT'S TIME!!!" and you're off to the races. 

I would like to address something else here. It's embarrassing too, but so full of lessons and truths that I'd like to share that I think I must, especially since I've gotten over the hump so to speak (which has only taken, oh, say, 12 years or so...).

I have been a professional writer for more than 30 years. Taught creative journal writing classes for thirty, five online, before there were the plethora of books that there are out now on journal-keeping. It's a wonderful thing and should be shared and multiplied and added to and just be the creative explosion that it has become and I am thrilled about that, but after having been scarily prolific to most people for 4 1/2 decades, when my 30 year marriage ended something happened to me. It was the beginning of my going into deep seclusion, a place in which I've found comfort and respite, and really the place I prefer to live and be and do my work, but then, ahem, the work part, well, it has dragged along hither and yon and not done so well. Fits and starts and sales and publishing things here and there but I used to be a writing machine and in most of the last decade the vast part of my writing has been on blogs. 

Now, here's the thing and it's something I want to say LOUD AND CLEAR not just to others but to myself, so I can hear it and remember it and feel the flood of gratitude I now do to this marvelous art form and the community of friends I've made here. Here goes....

You see everyone who knew me as a decades long prolific writer who wrote for magazines, newspapers, was published in anthologies, and had three small presses, (...this was under my previous name, and I'd like to leave it there. I changed my name legally in 2005 after my divorce was final and it was a rebirth for me. All that I was helped lead me into who I am and am becoming, but it is the work I have been doing in the last 12 years, the new woman that I am, that is the direction I both want to take and be remembered by if my work is remembered at all. That matters to me.) and more, have worried about me. If I heard from one more person that "doing all that blogging is keeping you from doing your REAL writing" I think I'd throw a cantaloupe at their head. Or bash one on mine. And I didn't realize until just this week, with certainty, that though I always BELIEVED (or wanted to) that they were wrong, now I KNOW they were wrong. 

Blogging did not "take my real writing away from me." No, blogging kept me writing when I might not have otherwise during the most difficult decade+ of my life. Blogging has probably SAVED my life in more ways than I will understand or see for sometime, and I am committed to this blog and to all of the wonderful people who visit and the dear friends that I have made in the blogging community for the rest of my days. YOU, dear friends, have been a life raft in a sea that I thought I might drown in, never to be seen again. The kind men and women and their wonderful blogs and wondrous creativity and even more incredible huge open hearts have meant more to me than almost anything ever has, and I thank you all, humbly, from the bottom of my heart.

I AM Maitri Libellule, legally, spiritually, and every other way imaginable. Maitri has to do the work now. There is no such thing as resting on past laurels. They had their day. I'm proud of my accomplishments and certainly much of what I did, like having had 3 different small presses, and writing for so long, are the foundation of what my work is today, but we can take all of that and funnel it into a new reality and that is exactly what I am doing. And I am spinning, and I am blogging, and I am writing a book that is a compilation of everything I love, writing and art all in one, and this too has held me back for EONS. I kept feeling that I had to -- and most of my friends were encouraging the same thing -- write a "traditional" format book and try to have it published through one of my past agents or find another. This never felt right for me and it has kept me frozen. I'd start but always get to the place where the ice was too thin and I was afraid I'd fall in and I'd slip-slide back to shore and another ill-fated, lately started book would fall through the crack in the thin ice. AND I THINK THAT THIS IS WONDERFUL!!! 

Wonderful because it is a Testament to everything that I have come to believe, and that is that if we are continually fighting our way upstream against what we really long in our hearts to do we will never make it. To thine own Self be true. I may end up being the woman in the flamingo hat with all the pugs and parrots that scares the hoo-haa out of the neighbors who think I'm nuts all the while I'm just sitting here doing my work as happy as a clam, but by gosh and by golly I'ma gonna do it all the way I want to do it. The way I BELIEVE I am MEANT to do it, and I have no doubt that I will succeed. I don't know what that success will look like, but if it keeps my life moving forward in a positive and loving way, keeps me productive and able to feed the zoo here, fills me with a sense of purpose and allows me to achieve my deepest, most important goal, the goal that is seated in the prayer that I wrote for myself decades ago and say every day of my life, "God, help me to be a channel for your peace, love, light, hope and joy." then I will have achieved something that I can be proud of. 

I may never, as most of us don't, ever really see or know what I have accomplished and plenty of people around me will never truly understand, even if they love me and want what's best for me, but finally I have to live my life the way I see fit, and try to do the best for myself and others, and it all finally came together when I sat myself down in front of Gertrude today, foot to treadle, fiber being guided gently and a bit sheepishly through my hands, and then --- oh red hot heavenly days, I DID IT -- and it wasn't just spinning I was doing, it was finding myself. She was always there waiting, but I couldn't believe in her. Today I do. Two parts of myself are coming together as one and I can hardly believe it. 

In the end, none of it is really my business. In the Zen sense spinning will do spinning and writing will do writing and I will breathe and bow and feed my animals, chop wood and carry water, and continue on. I have no way to see the future and it doesn't matter. Today I know I'm on my way. Today I'm writing the book I want to write the way I want to write it and I am SPINNING amongst pugs and parrots, mountains of books and fiber, music and air and light and the first flowers of spring and a marvelous cup of tea right here beside me. I am blessed beyond measure, I am humbled and grateful, and now my job is just to live my life, do my work and yes, keep blogging. Blogging had a big part in getting me here. Blogging is not a waste of time, no, blogging is a CELEBRATION. 

Today I feel so much JOY! Hot dang diggity dog, it's about time.

With more love than I can possibly say, and big warm hugs going out in every direction...

P.S. Just put a folder full of nearly 80 photos of a sampling of my fiber work up from 2010-11 on Facebook. You can visit the album here if you'd like to have a look-see!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Small Things With Great Love ~ and ~ The Dandelion...

"My life led me into solitude, and solitude led me into my real life..."

I wrote the above phrase in my notebook and closed my eyes and tried to really see, in the stillness around me, the woman I have become and am becoming. In the last year my life has begun to coalesce, and, like a crazy quilt, all of the odd bits are being sewn together into a life few understand but that fits me perfectly. And I love my life, all the colors and textures, and I think it's beautiful, and I am moving past any worry or concern that others find my life odd or confusing. I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way.

Someone asked me the other night, "What do you do all day?" She did not mean it negatively, she was asking what others have asked and many have wondered -- How did a woman once married with three children, involved in the community, teaching writing for 30 years to hundreds of students, come to withdraw from the world, to a life of silence and solitude? -- and what do I do all day? I know what I do but it's hard to describe my life to others. I have been pondering about just this these last days.

And then I read the well known quote by Mother Teresa, "We do not great things, we do small things with great love." It was then that I came to a kind of clarity about my life that even I hadn't had before. I do small things with great love. That is the best explanation that I can give to anyone who asks, the basic truth underneath all of the facts. 

And then, with a start, I sat up and said, "I am a dandelion!" There is nothing majestic about a dandelion, it is a small brilliant yellow flower that most people consider a weed and try to eradicate, but I have loved dandelions since I was little, and I've made bouquets of them to put in small vases as long as I can remember because I am in love with these little flowers. Radiant as the sun and sure to bring a smile to the face of a small child, and even a big one like me. Every year I have a love affair with dandelions...

And as I mused on these little flowers, and thought of their myriad uses, from the roots to the leaves these medicinal, edible plants give us so much, and yet often go unnoticed and crushed underfoot, but even that doesn't kill the humble dandelion, no, somehow it musters up the strength to stand up again, and then come the glory days. Who among us hasn't, with glee, held a dandelion gone to seed aloft to blow all of the tiny head of seedlings hither and yon on the wind to land in a thousand directions and sprout who knows where? And that one dandelion will create millions of others on into infinity as the cycles of seasons move forward long past our time on this earth, and isn't that the answer to everything I have been looking for?

One needn't be a field of dandelions to create great change and make a tremendous impact on the world. Each of us is like a single dandelion with infinite possibilities to plant our "seeds," our dreams, our ideas, our love, our work, our lives, and watch them grow into all that they will become. Even as one woman living on a small plot of land tucked into a forest leading down to a creek, surrounded by animals inside and out, and in the silence and solitude I have found, have drawn to me to create the cushion that I need to both create space between the world and my open soul, my tender heart, as well as allow, in meditation and prayer, the seedlings of my work to appear, even here I can be as the dandelion able to do my work and cast my seeds upon the wind. It isn't necessary for me to list the litany of things that fill my life and days, no, what has become more important to me has been to understand, to come to this metaphor, and in holding this idea that the dandelion who though only a small, humble flower, is more fecund than most other plants on the earth. I have felt a great peace come over me as I think about this . So too can we, as each individual human being, be in our own little corner of the world, however we choose to live and be, full and ripe and able to spread potent possibilities abundant.

All of a sudden I bask in the glow that a single dandelion casts and sunshine flows into my house and through the windows of my soul. My quiet little life is enough, and I am filled with joy, with gratitude, with a kind of bliss thinking of this life that I am creating, these small things that I tend with great love, the elderly dogs around me, the large parrot who needs me, the ravens I have begun to watch with great excitement as they join the multitudes of other birds that I feed outside, along with a host of Carolina blue birds this year that have delighted me no end. It hasn't been until this year that I have seen them and there are a lot of them.

Look for the dandelions around you. Hold them tenderly. Cherish them, for you, too, are a dandelion.