Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Famous Southern Garden Writer and a Wild Beat Generation Poet Taught Me Everything I Need To Know About Life & Writing...

Meconopsis betonicifolia, otherwise known as
the Himalayan Blue Poppy...

Dear Friends,

Deep in both the garden and the book I am writing I have come across a couple of things today that are perhaps a rather odd combination but make perfect sense to me. One comes from a famous gardener and another from a Beat Generation writer, and both apply to life as well as art and the garden and just living day to day life. I shall start with Meconopsis betonicifolia, the ever elusive Himalayan Blue Poppy...

Every gardener has a flower that they want badly to grow, but which will not grow well in their climate (zone). Also, blue is the rarest and most precious colored flower in the garden and almost without fail some of the most beautiful blue flowers will only grow in cooler climates than the southern coast of North Carolina where I live when it can be 100+ degrees with a heat index much higher for months during our very long summer. People die in this heat here every year. It is no joke. And, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, I spent years trying to grow that blue poppy even though every garden book and magazine told me that it simply wasn't going to happen here. But I trudged on to no avail for several years and then I had the great good fortune to find the books of Elizabeth Lawrence, considered the garden maven of the south. She has passed on now but her books are classics and will live on into the future. I have them all and cherish them and have learned from her one of the most important lessons about gardening and life that I have ever learned. "If it's miffy, let it go."

Elizabeth wrote that one sentence in one of her books and it turned my whole world on it's ear and I've never been the same since. It has changed my whole life, not just as a gardener but as a woman living day to day in a world that has always been hard for me to understand, a world where I never quite fit, a world in fact where I felt I had failed miserably, that is, until I found Elizabeth Lawrence.

Elizabeth's contention was that people spend so much time and money on things that are NOT going to grow here in the south (true for you as well no matter where you live) that they can run themselves crazy and quit gardening altogether in despair, when in fact there are hundreds, thousands, who knows how many, wonderful plants that we can grow here and create lush, beautiful, amazing gardens. Don't look down on some of the simplest, commonest flowers. En masse they will simply take your breath away. The day that I read that sentence I became a different and better gardener, but more than that, I became a different and far stronger woman. That was twenty years ago and I credit Elizabeth Lawrence's simple little sentence in perhaps saving my life and bringing more light and happiness into it that I ever dreamed possible.

What is miffy? Miffy are those things that simply are not going to grow/happen and which we keep trying and trying to grow/manifest in our lives when they simply weren't meant to be. We are not in the right climate, in the garden and in our lives. Miffy are the things that don't fit, that don't work, and why we cling to them like a limpet on a rock I will never know, but we do. Letting go we can feel like we are free-falling through time and space, but by gosh and by golly we will find with shock and amazement that as soon as we let go of that which didn't work, was never going to work, we finally have the time and the space and the eyes to see whole new possibilities for our lives. It kind of falls in line with that old saw that the definition of crazy is when you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. I can just hear Elizabeth, in my mind, saying, "Pish tosh, let go and let's get on with it!" And so I have. And I found the most glorious flower, a perennial hibiscus here, that came back for me year after year even after I dug it up and kept it on in a big pot because I had to move and couldn't bear to part with it. Sadly, after a few years the pot just wasn't enough and I hadn't a real garden at that point to plant it in the ground. I felt great grief when "Miss Blue" died. I'd had her for more than a decade, but someday I shall have her again. Her proper name is Hibiscus Syriacus, 'Bluebird." And she looks so much like the Himalayan Blue Poppy it's almost startling. Here's my Miss Blue when she was still alive in a pot on my tiny patio in a little cottagey old townhouse I lived in for several years...

(They are actually bluer than in this photograph.)

And the thing is that in letting go of the poppy and turning to the hibiscus an amazing thing happened at what would turn out to be one of the most difficult times of my life. I had ordered the plant, and before it even came I was stricken with one of the worst cases of Bell's Palsy that any of 3 medical doctors, and the chiropractor/acupuncturists who treated me had ever seen. That was 1995 and I am still paralyzed, though much better than at the outset when I felt like The Phantom Of The Opera. I lost all confidence in myself and to add to all of that it seems that I also had some kind of rare syndrome that creates terrible pain for months. I spent the summer of 1995 with my face packed in ice off and on all day, mostly in bed. But...

In less than 2 weeks after the Bell's had struck it's mighty blow, the little plant arrived. I went out and planted her in a place I could see outside my bedroom window. Still a very small plant within a few short weeks she put out a handful of the most amazing, huge, sky blue flowers I had ever seen. I was awestruck and filled with joy. I named her Miss Blue, and she not only saw me through the entire summer but she spawned a small press I named, "The Blue Hibiscus Press," and all summer long while I was recovering and she was growing and putting out more blooms than I ever dreamed possible, I designed and began writing what would become the first issue of a 100 page quarterly publication that went on for several years. It was called. "The Contemplative Way ~ Slowing Down In A Modern World." It was prescient in that after that summer I turned inward and became reclusive, rarely leaving the house again, and to this day, but not in a bad way, it was the turning from the outer world to the world within, the beginning of my soul work. If beauty was not skin deep I seemed to be the manifestation of that, lopsided, cattywompus and too shy to be photographed ever since. You never see me in any photograph with a big smile. You'd have to tilt your head sideways trying to see me properly!

Today I have a great sense of humor about it and realize that that experience was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it changed my life so deeply in so many ways that one radical change after the next happened until here I am today happy, at peace, doing my work, tending my garden, with pugs and parrots for company, and thanking God every day with great joy for every single thing in my life past, present, and future. Elizabeth Lawrence and Miss Blue saved my life, changed my life, set me on the course that I will travel for the rest of my days, and nearly twenty years later I am finally beginning to bloom like those early blossoms Miss Blue put forth, and it is so delightful sometimes I just outright squeal with joy, and don't care a hoot if it is a tad unseemly for a near 58 year old lopsided and cattywompus woman!

So remember, however it might pertain to something in your life, if it's miffy, let it go, and get on with it. I promise, you'll be glad you did.

Next comes the list of lessons that were never meant to see the light of day and are now legendary. In 1958 the somewhat infamous Beat generation writer, Jack Kerouac, well known for the counterculture combination of jazz and writing and a whole lot more, and author of "On The Road," and many other books still in the Beat cannon today, wrote a personal letter to a good friend, Don Allen. In it he had composed, in his jazz improv beat style, a "List of Essentials For Modern Prose." You must, in a way, suspend everything you know about spelling, punctuation and grammar, don't think too hard, and just let his words seep into your pores. It may be some years before some of it will make sense to you, some of it never will, but it has utterly saved me on more than one occasion in my writing and my life and, as in finding Lawrence, I have never been the same since. I trust that at least one (or more) things on this list will be exactly what you needed to hear, if you are indeed here reading this, and so I share with you this list that has stood me in great stead for decades as a writer, and which I have leaned into many times in life to see me through a hard time, to regain my sense of self, and move forward once more. And so, the list...

Belief & Technique For Modern Prose
by Jack Kerouac

List of Essentials

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy    
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening    
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house    
  4. Be in love with yr life    
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form    
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind    
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow    
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind    
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual    
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is    
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest    
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you  
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition    
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time    
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog    
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye    
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself    
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea    
  19. Accept loss forever    
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life    
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind    
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better    
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning    
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge    
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it    
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form    
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness    
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better    
  29. You're a Genius all the time    
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
I could say more, but there is no need. What I can tell you is that if you let go what's miffy, and follow as many of those prose essentials as you can, you will be a better gardener, a better writer, and a happier, more relaxed, joyful person than you might ever, otherwise, have been. It has been so for me, and so I pass it along to you, in hopes that you may find some answers that you seek, understand yourself and the world around you a little bit better, and clear the road of all of the clutter before you so you can find your way to your dreams. It is possible. I'm doing it, and if I can you can and so can anybody else.
Godspeed, and Hallelujah!

Monday, March 19, 2012

You Have To Use The Talents You've Been Given, The Ones That Call To You Like A Siren In The Sea, No Matter What Anyone Else Thinks!

(Click the above collage to see full size...)

Dear Ones,

Some of you will recognize the collage above. It's one that I did a few months back in conjunction with a website I was creating that I realized was going to be too big and over the top for me, but the collages became a soul expression I have continued in private, a new form of journaling for me, and after having taught creative journal-keeping for 30 years, the artist in me has taken over. I now keep a journal that is a combination of writing and art, which I have been called to do from my deepest self for some time, and it has produced and influenced tremendous changes in my life. Let me explain...

As a woman who will be 58 the end of next month, I was raised and began writing at a time when the book trade was the conventional one of all books being in paper, hardback or paperback, and no other format, and if you were to be successful at all you slogged away and got hundreds of rejection letters from publishers and kept on keeping on until you gave up. "Vantage Presses" were the ones where you had your book "published" if you were desparate enough to see your name in print which simply meant that they printed your bound books for which you paid a tidy sum and then you were on your own. Most of these sat in boxes finally shoved to the back of a closet save those given to family and friends and anyone else who would take one. Today, it is a whole new world. 

Today we have e-Books, audiobooks, and Self-Publishing via reputable "Print-On-Demand" presses wherein you create the book, send it to the press in PDF format, and choose the type of book you want it to be, and they have the printing mechanism prepared so that they only print books as they are ordered,  you get a monthly check and some publicity and from there you can grow. Quite a number of writers have then been picked up by larger presses, but the thing is that it has opened up a whole new world for people who have a unique style and want to get their books in print their way and release them to the world just as they were envisioned in their soul. This has changed the whole world of publishing for me and it has taken me some time to put together the pieces of the puzzle as to why it's taken me so long, after decades of very productive writing and publishing, to get going with just exactly what I want to write now. 

I love blogging and will continue to do so once or twice a week, maybe more, maybe less. I love this blog and the dear readers whom I have been blessed to meet, or who have come to visit, but there is no money involved and frankly, finally, one needs to eat, feed the pugs and the parrots, and buy some flower seeds! And, having a non-traditional nature on the whole, I have wanted badly to do what my soul has been calling me to do, to create books that were a combination of writing and art rather than go the traditional way. The other side of me has put up a good fight saying to me, "You will never sell those ridiculous books, write in a traditional format, find an agent, a publisher, and do what you're supposed to do if your work will have any validity at all." The latter thought has kept me, after being extremely prolific all of my life, even while at home raising and homeschooling three children and writing, having small presses, and home businesses, all at the same time and publishing as well, frozen solid and depressed because there was so much inside of me that longed to express itself in the new dream of books that combined writing and art, while the other side was screaming in my ear, "No, no, no!" and so I hid under a pile of pugs with parrot feathers drifting down on us all and wrote nothing at all, except the blog, which I love, but one has to have a stream of income to survive and a blog is not going to be it. A blog can be part of the whole, as this one will be, but finally I have to marshal my resources and do what my heart is singing arias, like a siren in the sea, calling me to do what I long to do.

Last night I had a session with a woman whose advice and counsel has come to mean a great deal to me and she affirmed for me, without my even asking her, that I should be writing books that were a combination of writing and art. Well I was, as my best darling Canadian friend would say, Gobsmacked! How could she have known. It was the great big resounding YES!!! from the Universe that shook the whole cottage bouncing the pugs and parrots about while I did a silly jig that would have embarrassed all of them! Yes! And all of a sudden the floodgates have opened, there is an enormous stream of creativity flowing like a river through me and out into sketchbooks, and I have brought The Magic Table out of storage to work on. I will have to get a photo of it up soon but I bought it after the separation from my long marriage and, needing to get most everything for the tiny cottage I lived in, I relied on what I love best -- old, used, vintage and even retro things. Even when I moved in here, a far newer (1970) and more spacious abode, everything I bought for my new beloved cottage came from thrift shops, resale shops, antique/consignment shops (When I say "antiques" I refer to what is often called "Grandmother's Antiques" which means its old and in sweet condition but no where near a pricey antique, just a down-home lovely little something or other with history. I love that.), hence, in 1999 came The Magic Table, and it truly is magic to me.

This little table is circa 1930 or so, it isn't large but at one time had a leaf that could be put in the middle that is missing. Curvy edges to the table, flat shelves that pull out on each end, and legs so shapely they would make you blush! Best of all it was painted a beautiful sky blue, and better yet it is a bit battered and that paint has worn away in places or been knicked up. It has seen hard times and better days, the latter, I'd like to think, with me. It has held a tiny, Charlie Brown size Christmas tree hung with hundreds of twinkly blue lights my first Christmas alone. There was no place for the tree but on the table. I have written there, done fiberwork, painted, had vintage quilt-tops spread over it and pinned to the wall just above it, and now it is here to bring me joy while I create the book I've dreamed of for so long. The table and I have both been around a long time and have bumps and scars and bruises, but we are blissfully happy together and joyful partners in creativity. And it will create exactly the set up I need.

My main "desk" is a very old, hand-hewn farmer's table, very long and extremely heavy, that came out of a barn. I love it dearly. It faces out the windows of my studio that face the deck. I sit here and watch the birds at the feeders, listen to the numerous windchimes that tinkle or resound deeply as the breeze sways their chimes and wafts in the open studio windows. It is one of my happiest places in the world. As my desk chair is large and on wheels I can pull The Magic Blue Table close enough so that I can roll back and forth between the two to do all of the types of work I need to do, which includes jars of whimsical crochet hooks, looms, baskets of yarn, fiber to be spun, and large baskets and over-sized Mary Poppins-like carpet bags full of numerous fibers and fiber elements to be hand-spun on spindles. These are the things that fill my days along with the four pugs, four parrots, and my delightful, whimsical Magic Ship Garden. This is Dragonfly Cottage

And so the tales from Dragonfly Cottage, with the animals, the garden, nature, art and all the rest will be part of the back-drop of the deeper writings inside of me that are calling to be expressed, and the art and the writing balance one another, as writing and fiber art always has, and I finally know that I can move forward with my work. There will be no more false starts. This was the biggest Ah-ha! moment of my lifetime and I nearly wept with joy to realize that I could do what my soul has been calling me to do and make my life my life's work. It is a time of bliss and joy and more happiness than I have felt in eons. Thank you God! and everything I hold holy in this universe. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And it seems I have a whole host of holy deities and delightful imps around me to spur me on, keep me company, and help propel me forward if my spirits ever flag, but I doubt that they will, for the most part, because when you are doing what you really love, the joy in that alone rides you through most of the days. The other bits I will spend under a pile of pugs with a good book!

And so I invite you to my world, as it will come within the year in the book already pouring out of me, and in the meantime I will see you here every week and share the delights of life and the whole process of this work that I am doing, and I so encourage you to listen to your heart, really deeply, and find a way to follow your dreams in whatever way you can even if only in bits here and there where you can fit them in to start. They will take you places you never imagined. 

And so Farewell for now sweet friends, and...

Welcome To Dragonfly Cottage

Blessings, Love, Hugs, Pugs and More,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wee Tiny Penny & Why I Have Trouble Getting The Blog Updated... She LIVES On Me!!!

She is very tiny, blind, and has other issues from terrible neglect and abuse, and she is my tiny angel. An update here is coming VERY soon! We just wanted to say hi!

Blessings and Love,

Maitri and Penny

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sotto Voce ~ A Single Soft Voice Can Change The World...

Sotto Voce: Singing or speaking in very soft tones...

Beloved Friends...

I have been going through a cocoon time since the death in our family, and going deep into prayer, study, meditation, reading, and soul-searching, and what I want to share with you today is this...

It comes to me that there are so very many dear people all around the world who want to help, want to make a difference, want to live compassionate lives of service even if it means taking a wonderful meal to an elderly person, or helping a child, or working in a soup kitchen, or traveling to the other side of the world to work with an organization that is working toward helping the poor and survivors of devastation, poverty, and and illness beyond what we can imagine. We mainly think only of the latter larger things, or if it comes to donating to a cause if we can only give $1 or $5 we think it won't make a difference knowing that there are some that give thousands. Write your check for any amount that you can afford, and if it's $1.00 say, "I send this with all the love in my heart." I can tell you that the benefits of that dollar, sent with love, multiply one hundred times over, simply because you gave it from a pure heart.

I can tell you that working with non-profits for decades now that those dollars and nickles and pennies add up to such large sums they can feed a village. And we needn't feel that the things that we can do are too small to matter. Take that meal to an elderly person, visit a nursing home and adopt an elderly soul who has no visitors, or work with the humane society or a rescue organization to take puppies or kittens once a week to visit these dear ones who feel so lost and alone. It can make more of an impact than you will ever realize. If you have a friend that has just had a baby, offer to clean her house and cook a meal for her. Having had three children I can tell you this means more than you can imagine. Offer to babysit so that the mother can get some rest or precious time to herself. There are so many things that you can do, countless things. If you can't think what you might do, start a journal. Like the wonderful book, "The Giving Tree," write down every single thing that you have to give, every talent, every skill, and think of the things you love, or are able to do. Put them all together and you will immediately see and understand the ways that you might help. Keep on with that journal. It will be a precious treasure. Remember to write, afterwards, about how you felt, the joy it gave you, how it gives your life more meaning to give something of yourself. It doesn't take money and very little time but it can be life-changing for both the recipient of this kind act as well as yourself.

Sotto Voce

As I grow in in age --58 on April 30 -- I learn to speak softer and softer, and what I have to say I say more simply so that it may ease into one's consciousness almost imperceptibly. Were the days that I wrote so headily in metaphor, writing poetic prose, and I revelled in it, and some of it was very good, but, the older one gets the more one realizes that it doesn't take a crowd of people, or millions around the world to make a difference. We need, more than ever, for people to take up the gauntlet and commit to at least one act of compassionate service every single week. And your one lone voice, soft and perhaps unseen, will change the tides of gentleness and kindness the world over.

If you don't already know this, let me let you in on a little technique that almost always works, with a child, with an audience, with the people around you, at the office, anywhere where the tension is high, people are shouting and chaos is causing each person to spin off their axis. Even a small child will get this. When they are screaming at the top of their lungs, don't scream back. Sit quietly, take a deep breath and let your body relax, look with soft gentle eyes into theirs with a slight smile on your face, and then lower your voice almost to a whisper. Whoever is before you in that instant will, finally, wind down and almost strain to hear you. Speaking softly will bring a situation into control far more readily than screaming back.

We are one person, with a soft voice, a tender countenance, and we can change the world. If I am only one, then I shall use all that I have inside of me to do whatever it is that I can do. And I will tell you that I love you, and you won't believe it, but I mean it. Picture this...

I am standing in front of a crowd of people. They are rowdy and shifting around in their seats, and not paying attention. Do I make a loud sound, call out over the speakers for them to be quiet, then tell them to "Sit Down!" No, that is never really effective and sets a tone for the time you are sharing that isn't loving or positive. I will stand at the microphone silently, and wait. Soon I will say, very softly into the microphone, "Hello.." after a moment or two people start to settle down, and then I say, again softly, "I love you."

Now this either makes people acutely uncomfortable or fills them with disdain and disbelief. The word is both bandied around so much it has lost it's meaning, or people think "I love you" has only romantic connotations and to say it to them is rather embarrassing and out of line, or just plain void of meaning, so I go on...

Let me share with you what I mean. I am one person up here and you are perhaps thousands and no, I do not know you personally, but I know that we are all connected, every single one of us here, every one around the world. I love you because you are my brothers and sisters on this planet, we share the same earth beneath our feet, breathe the same air, perhaps the same neighborhood or office or family or circle of friends, and even the strangers on the street, the checkout lady at the grocery store, or a frightened little dog or cat just waiting to be loved, and held, and given a home, we are connected to every living thing on this planet, and to feel love, and offer a small kindness, anything at all, to a single person, comes from love. This act of love is offered, or given, with no expectation, with no need for recognition, in fact it may be done anonymously. With each act of such kindness our hearts open a little wider. If we are to save this planet and everyone on it, human, plant, animal, mineral, down to the minutest being tinier than our eyes can see, we can start with a simple small kindness. You are perhaps shaking your head in disbelief, but I know this is true. The energy of loving-kindness is powerful and miracles occur. You don't have to believe it, you simply have to do your one small act, whatever it is, each week.

Now, as I am still standing up here before you, I am going to ask you to do something that might strike terror in your heart. I can say this because I have gone to lectures or conferences or even church services where we are actually asked to DO something. We don't want to get out of our seat. We don't want to DO anything (Being a shy person the worst, for me, is if the speaker does something dreadful like ask us to dance about or do something physical. I want to become a bug under my chair!). But I am going to ask you this as a simple exercise and you don't have to believe it or understand it or even want to do it, it will only take a minute or two, and I can guarantee you you will be changed. Maybe not something you realize and feel right away, but I can guarantee you that it will stay with you, and create perhaps even the most infinitesimal movement inside of you, something so small that you won't even realize it. But once you start, the ball starts rolling, and it might take a year, or 5, but make this a practice, even a game among friends at a get together asking that they try with all sincerity and then it can be dropped and no one need to dwell on it or mention it the rest of the evening. Please stand up...

Now, in this crowd you may have come with someone you know or there may be strangers on either side. It matters not. In the way that I spoke of above, a gentle, innocent, compassionate moment, turn to the person to your right, look them straight in the eyes, rest your hand softly on their shoulder, and, looking in their eyes, say, very simply, "I love you." No embarrassment or hemming or hawing around, as simple as that. I love you. Don't hug them, don't try to hold their hand or touch any other part of their body. That can feel invasive and too personal. A hand touching the shoulder so very softly that it almost can't be felt, a genuine, gentle look in the eyes, and with the softest voice possible say, "I love you." Let it sink in for just a few seconds, nod with a soft smile, and then turn to the person to the left of you and do the same thing. You need not say anything else to this person, in fact it's better that you don't, so that the simple act of a selfless statement of love for our fellow man/womankind is felt with no strings attached, wanting nothing in return, simply because they are standing in the same place and space as you are, and they wish you well. If you are here with me, at the very least, you wish those around you well. You needn't have a personal relationship with them, you will likely never see them again unless they are family or a friend, but even if you do know them, if you do this very sincerely, from the heart, and do not dwell on it but simply take your seat again, moving slowing and silently and feeling the awe and the reverence around you, you will begin to understand universal love. Take this in deeply, let it seep out of you into the world in any way you can. We are thousands, we may become millions, we can change the world with one simple moment, a light touch, gentle eyes, and the words "I love you."

And so you sit back in your seat and I share with you the journeys I have taken and the work that I hope to do in the world, what I have discovered, and, being a pilgrim, a seeker, a teacher, and one who has dedicated my life to compassionate service, I will speak gently and from the heart, and I want, more than anything, for you to realize that you are never alone, and yes, you are always loved. And you see, someone doesn't have to say it directly to you, you can feel it many ways on countless days, but it truly is a more loving and powerful gesture to give than to receive. And so if you feel lost and lonely, ask yourself what you might do for someone else, and do it. 

And so as you leave here today carry this in your heart. If you never see the person again with whom you have engaged remember the resonance of the moment, and, as you walk through the world, feeling the tenderness within, do acts of love and kindness wherever you can. It can be as simple as picking up something someone dropped, handing it to them with a smile, and walking on. Too many of us never start because we feel that we are just one person and can't make a difference. We can, we do, we will. Now, and always. 

And so I bend into the microphone one last time, and, speaking just above a whisper, with you now almost on the edge of your set so that you can hear me, I will tell you, with all my heart -- and now you will understand -- that I love you, and that when I say that it is not empty and meaningless. I mean it from my heart. It matters. 

I love you dear friends. I will meet with you again soon.