Employment! Breaking News

Hello!  Today I’m departing from the usual opining and philosophizing to give you an update on my life!

After not getting a much-desired permanent faculty position at the community college where I have been teaching for the past four years (which shall remain nameless), I decided that rather than go back to cobbling together a semi-living from multiple low-paying, time-sucking adjunct gigs, I would go on the non-teaching job market this summer. I wanted to find a job in which I could grow, in which I could be creative, in which I could make a positive contribution to the world, and in which I could use and develop some of the skills and interests that my previous job wasn’t tapping into as much as I would have liked.

And now, lo and behold, I have been offered and I have gleefully accepted a job at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating just north of Boulder, CO. Wow! I am super excited! These folks have been doing amazing work in the field of people’s relationships with food, which has been a passion of mine for years, as well. The owners of the company write books, train coaches, produce conferences, and do all sorts of activities to provide information and education to the public about the ways we interact with food, both as individuals and as a culture.  I am of the belief (ok I guess I’m not totally departing from the usual opining …) that this is one of the most important areas of inquiry in the U.S. today, and that it touches every aspect of our lives — our energy bodies, our personal lives, our politics, our environment, our growth and evolution. I am very psyched to support this endeavor AND to learn more about it!

What I will be doing is working in the communications end of things — administrative support, student services, and editing, to start out. And I think it is going to be really fun. The tasks are things I like to do, and the workplace seems to be a perfect combination of my favorite qualities — fast-paced, driven, and committed, yet laid-back and positive in attitude.

When I started the job-dreaming-process back in the spring, a friend in my spiritual community suggested I check out the book Wishcraft by Barbara Sher, which is available for free online. She said that it had really helped her to get clear on what qualities she wanted from her next job, and had turned up some surprising hidden desires, too. The name of the book appealed to me — it sounded magical, like the way I wanted to manifest my next job, not through a bunch of hard struggle and slogging through mires, but through joy and magnetism and play. So I downloaded it and started working with the exercises. And indeed, although I had already come up with a sort of short list of qualities I wanted in my career, the book helped me to turn up the mossy stones in my brain and see what wriggling little dreams were squirming around in there. One thing I realized was that it had been hard for me to have clear and specific dreams for my life as a child. I had developed a great strength in finding something that I liked about almost any situation I found myself in, but had a very difficult time picking one thing that I wanted. A lot of my “job dreams” were not so much DREAMS as “well, if I do this then I should be ok” types of conclusions. But when I devoted some time and thought to clarifying what I wanted out of professional life, I realized that writing really IS central to what I love doing. (That wasn’t a surprise so much as an “oh, well, I guess I’d better take it seriously then” moment.) And it also surfaced that I would find it very enriching and soul-supportive to work in an explicitly spiritual environment. Not just one that espoused values that were compatible with my spirituality and ministry (as was the case at the college where I taught), but one that specifically addressed the spiritual side of human existence. The spiritual framework doesn’t matter that much to me — I am a universalist and I believe that all sincere paths are true, and I can get with the Baptist game as much as the Buddhist — but to work somewhere that would acknowledge the soul’s needs just felt like, you know, too good to be true.

But the thing about getting really, really clear about wishes is that the Universe hears. And, at least in my experience, when I’m able to bring my heart’s desires to a sharp focus, and own up to really wanting them, and also let go of the outcome and trust to Divine wisdom for the highest good of all, that is when miraculous connections really do happen. I found out about this position through another member of my spiritual community, with whom I was casually chatting about my life’s hopes and dreams. She said, “Hey, I just heard about a position just LIKE that,” and forwarded me the announcement. That’s synchronicity at work. And so here I am, three weeks later, about to start (tomorrow) what I could honestly say is a dream job, at least for this stage of my life.

With all this excitement comes, of course, a little nervousness. I want to do a good job. And I’m also aware of how different it’s going to be. Just the schedule change — from the all-over-the-place academic lifestyle to the consistent daily nine to five — is going to completely rewire my brain. And I’m excited about that too. There’s nothing like a big lifestyle shakeup to open the door to even more previously un-thought-of yet awesome possibilities. Above all, it feels like a quantum leap in self-value and listening to my own heart. So — wish me well, because I’m off to the Great Unknown!

From my back porch

From my back porch

You Can’t Go Back, but You Can Go Again

A few weeks ago I had the chance to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: go back to Yellowstone National Park.

I worked there for one summer after my sophomore year. In hotel housekeeping, which wasn’t that bad.  I actually liked it.  And I also really liked the trip out there on the Greyhound, even though it was supposed to take 24 hours but ended up taking 48. It had to have been some kind of archetypal transition period for me. It all happened during the middle of a much longer period of depression, which stretched back through the college year before and forward across the next year, when I studied abroad. I had a very hard time making friends and generally functioning in a normal social way among people … and had just put myself among only strangers, very far from home, in a place where it was still cold and snowy and full of bears in mid-May, on purpose.

I don’t remember being unhappy, though I was lonely a good bit and may have been homesick  because of my fear of all the strangers.  Somehow I got through, found people willing to hang out with me and drive me places — maybe due to my roommates and all of my early contacts being missionaries, or at the very least active in the Bible studies that my roommates led.  That was cool with me! I remember it being a summer of spiritual searching even before these people entered my life. I appreciated the Bible studies and the discussions about God and morality. I was reading about God — the book God: A Biography, which appealed to my not-yet-quite-admitting-I’m-an-English-major mind with its exploration of who God would be as a person, based on his character traits as revealed by the stories about him in the Bible. I also read a short and unassuming book on reincarnation which drastically reshaped my beliefs (or call them superstitions) about what happens after death and between lives. It was called Life Before Life, and my mom had mailed it to me because it had so rocked her world after she picked it up at Goodwill for, probably, a quarter! (I mention that only because for some reason it seems that a new, mass market paperback edition of that book now goes for $439.11 on Amazon!  :-O )

I was very into build-your-own-religion in those years, even as I was trying on Christianity, particularly Catholicism, one more time. I still made up my own nature rituals. And when I revisited Yellowstone this summer, the presence of nature in its immense power and beauty struck me immediately and deeply. Strong memories came back of how I fell ridiculously in love with the aspen trees and how amazed I had been at the cold, crystal clear waters of the lakes. Especially Yellowstone Lake. Oh man … Now I have always been a fool for bodies of water, and lakes are some of my favorites. And the hugeness and the clarity of this one just blew me away. I remembered on this trip how the lake had been frozen when I first arrived in Grant Village (where I lived, which was on the shore) and how I had heard it when it cracked. I could feel the Holy Spirit’s presence almost tangibly, and I felt the life energy in the molecules of water, and all around me.

Captivated

 

clouds and lake

I would go to the West Thumb Geyser Basin — or sometimes just the shore where I was, by the restaurant and everything — and watch the silvery water. Sometimes I was the night maid, and I got to watch her at night. Can you tell I was in love?

Going back, maybe because I have since read all of those Clan of the Cave Bear books, it struck me how sacred and mysterious this place must have been to the people who lived in that area before the Europeans … the landscape of the geyser basins, the steam rising among the pine trees, the deep pools. I thought that the hot springs must have been seen as beings with their own life forces — I wished for more time to stay and get to know them again. I fantasized about sitting quietly there and tuning in to whatever the energies were, whatever whispers might be in the air.

blue pool

 

deep

 

basin view

Sitting quietly or spending a long time anywhere weren’t to be had on this trip, it seemed. Instead, we encountered an amazing abundance of wildlife! Badgers on the trail, snakes, an elderly fox carrying a dead marmot (!), the requisite herds of elk and bison, and an incredible NINE bears! We watched a coyote being steered away from the grazing herds by a few matter-of-fact pronghorns. All of these run-ins, glimpses, and outright ogle-fests were simply spellbinding.

Still, I think my favorite hour of all was the one I spent at the lake. And if I didn’t get to linger on the misty, mysterious, mystical lakeshore or wander among the pines, I now have an escape fantasy that will last me at least the next fifteen years. But hopefully it won’t be that long before I return next time.

And here are some more pictures that are just cool.  :-)

floating tree

 

deep pool 2

 

heart geyser 1

Talkin’ ‘Bout Capitalism

Now and then, at the end of the day, my partner and I sometimes end up talking about capitalism — what it is, what it does, what it encourages, what it does and/or does not allow.  We observe that it seems to foster creativity and innovation, but we wonder whether it’s part of its nature to then squash any truly status-quo-challenging pursuits.  We don’t know whether or not it contains within itself the capacity for facing and solving the problems it has caused. These are sincere questions.

capitalism

Not long after one of these late-night conversations, I randomly came across this lecture by Paul Mason, recipient of the Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize, published in the New Statesman on June 12, and it attracted my interest. Keynes, Mason says, believed that capitalism (barring unforeseen circumstances) would have to end up providing for the well-being of all. But Mason disagrees, or rather points out that the circumstances that followed Keynes’ prediction were indeed unforeseen, and as a result of these circumstances, most recently the rise of information technology, capitalism has evolved into a system that can’t support itself indefinitely. (In my words, I would say that the system is unsustainable).

Mason describes the economic impact of a situation “where large amounts of information are produced and exchanged at negligible real prices, if not for free.”  He argues,

Consider the social implications: if the cost of information goods tends towards zero, and the ability to standardise and virtualise the manufacture of real things also rapidly reduces their cost, the real price of labour will also fall because a) supply exceeds demand and b) the input costs fall.

That is what I think underpins the surprise outcome of the neoliberal revolution: the impoverishment of the developed-world working class. It looks like the outcome of class struggle and defeat, but it may also be the product of a one-time technology event.

Mason goes on to point out specific ways in which the phenomenon of the concentration of wealth constrains people’s movement, speech, choice, and wellness.  The examples he gives, like the protester being kicked by the official, resonate with his analysis; really, they are just a very few of the many possible events, public and private, that could be cited.

Yet Mason also notes that the new information technology and culture have led to a flourishing of “non-managed, peer-produced, non-market activity based around information” — all the content and all the software that people are creating and giving away for free.  “Non-market activity”!  Those are good words, to me.  Activity that exists outside of the market?  Really?  It can exist?  What an important site of production.  Mason thinks that it has the potential, if not the destiny, to unravel capitalism itself.

What most stood out to me in this lecture, however, might have been nothing more than a quirk of phraseology.  Toward the end of the essay, he writes:

If we avoid this dire outcome, it will because the forces for good, for understanding and knowledge and restraint are also being strengthened by technology. I think we should imagine new technology creating the world of abundance Keynes longed for, but it is likely to be decoupled from the question of pure GDP growth and compound interest.

It won’t happen by 2030. It will not be the transition Marxists imagined, led by the state suppressing market forces, but a transition based on the controlled dissolution of market forces by abundant information and a delinking of work from income. I call this – following economists as diverse as Peter Drucker and David Harvey – post-capitalism. In making it happen, the main issue is not economics but power, and it revolves around who can envisage and create the better life.

It’s this language of imagination that compels me.  “Creating the world of abundance … decoupled from the question of …” What he’s calling for, or maybe just observing the need for, is a paradigm shift.  Can we imagine a world of abundance?  One that’s based on something other than the working models of the current economic system?  Can we imagine that?  I think we NEED to devote a lot of our attention to imagining that, and imagining the tools that we would need to get there.

I love the last line of this passage.  It points to the idea that power, as it is currently aligned, stands in the way of any type of paradigm change.  It states that “the better life,” hopefully the sustainable life, is something that needs to be envisaged, visualized, envisioned (or held as a vision), and created, emerging from our creativity, imagined and brought into being.  My interpretation: that the practice of envisioning a better world, of a different order entirely, must be nurtured and spread, until so many people are doing it that it begins to have power of its own.

Post-capitalism.

Mason ends the lecture by claiming that “the true Keynesian thing to do is to imagine a humanist future based on abundance and freedom, and explore what tools we have that might make it come about. There is no better time to imagine it.”

Social change needs imagination right now.  Ok, it needs a lot of things.  And one of those things is imagination.  From school to business to personal relationships.  From science and technology to human services to politics.  Everybody has imagination.  It is a truly vast, undertapped resource (here in America in the present day).

If imagination were truly valued in America, would we stand for companies buying out promising innovators with planet-saving solutions simply to shut them down? Or companies like Monsanto buying the research firms that test their products for safety?

Would we cut every imagination-developing class from our public schools?

Why does anyone wonder why we haven’t yet imagined, on a mass scale, a sustainable society?

And who does the status quo serve?

It is said that every system does exactly what it is designed to do.

What is our system doing?

Is that really the best we can imagine?

Less Is More!

lessismore

This is my mantra for the year.

During winter break, when I was consumed by the desire to change my life, the urge to paint this in enormous flowing red letters across my living room wall was so strong I actually checked in my lease to see if I could do it. (Alas, no. One of the very few arguments in favor of buying a house someday is that I would be able to paint the shit out of it.)

A couple of weeks ago, the engine of my partner’s car melted in a bizarre accident, leaving us sharing mine. It’s been going surprisingly well. When we lived in the mountains, I always grieved that there were no commuter buses (anymore — the metal and plastic shelter only remained, getting more and more decrepit as each winter did its worst). But since moving down the hill, I’ve been pretty much all talk about how “I’m going to” ride the bus and bike places, like I used to do in Minnesota. I have all these happy memories of the flat ol’ Twin Cities where I could bike for miles and miles, and the awesome public transportation that was my only form of motorized transit (since I didn’t learn to drive until I moved away from there, and many unknown people can be thankful for THAT) … Well, now I’m actually doing it. Using shared conveyances or my own muscles to get around. Of course, it helps that it’s spring (almost) and I just want to be outside all the time!

So: one of the things I have less of in my life is fossil fuels. And that‘s a very happy thing for me.

But most of the things I have allowed to fall away are food-related. I’ve been working with the practice of mindful eating. Geneen Roth’s work, especially the book Women, Food, and God, influenced me a lot in this regard — or not influenced me so much as turned my brain upside down and knocked it out cold on the mat for a good two minutes. In part I’m addressing my habits of using food as filler, not sustenance … eating for reasons other than hunger (a complicated topic that can perhaps be more fully explored in its own post sometime). In part I’m paying attention to what goes in to my body, from the understanding that the energy contained in the food (and, as Michael Pollan puts it, “nutritionally worthless foodlike substances”) becomes the energy in and around my cells. That includes my skin cells, my fat cells, and even my brain cells.

Indeed, this is why I became a vegetarian several years ago: in massage school, when I studied and practiced forms of energy work such as reiki and pranic healing, I became increasingly, unavoidably conscious of the fact that when I ate, let’s just say, most of the meat produced in the United States, I was eating the energy of suffering, and that was becoming part of not only my own energy field, but my very body, my very cells. To put it concisely, it started to feel gross.

This year, then, I have felt intensely drawn to further refine my diet, both of food and of other goods, if not to eliminate, at least to reduce my consumption of things produced from energies of suffering, of torture, of harm to the planet or to people. As with meat, once I started asking myself, my body, and/or my intuition what I wanted to put into that system, the answers were startlingly rapid and clear. Many things — things I had previously LOVED, things I said I would never give up until the Apocalypse rendered industrial production impractical — I simply ceased to want.

So here are some things I now have less of floating around in my bloodstream:

  • Sugar
  • Aspartame (gone! shocking!)
  • Refined grains
  • Processed food
  • Pesticides
  • Growth hormones
  • Fertilizers
  • Chemicals in general
  • Excess in general
  • Gasoline fumes

Some of these things I just sense are not the healthiest for me, at this moment. And others of them I deeply believe are detrimental to humanity, to the planet — they are unsustainable. (More to come on this, too.)

And some other things I have cut back on, since embracing the mantra:

  • Homework for my students
  • Arguing
  • Anxiety
  • Trips
  • Days when I work from the time I get out of bed to the time I go to bed

But you know, as great a mantra as Less Is More has been for me in making major health-life changes, I don’t want less of everything. No, there are some things for which MORE is more! And in the spaces created by the things I’ve let go of, hopefully MORE of these things will flow in:

  • Love
  • Relaxation
  • Art
  • Music
  • Kindness
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Energy
  • Fresh air
  • Walks
  • Humor
  • Feelings of abundance
  • Generosity
  • Date nights
  • Comics
  • Restful sleep
  • Support
  • Freedom
  • Reliable employment
  • Creativity
  • Fun!

And, of course, as you’ve no doubt noticed, more blogging! I’ll probably always be a fan of the longform, though maybe someday I’ll get it that less words can also be more. ;-) Some things never change … But you know, whenever I say that, secretly inside I also say “uh-oh,” because let’s just say I’ve been wrong before.

Sherlock Holmes and the Book Club of the Departed

Series 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock went off the website last weekend, but not before I’d watched all three episodes twice. I’m hooked on this show. It combines all my favorite elements: brilliant, angsty young Englishmen in enviable coats; very funny banter; irresolvable sexual tension; dramatic rhythm guitars; and a very realistic and impressive method of incorporating text message conversations into the narrative. (Weirdo that I am, that last thing may be what sealed it for me.)

As a matter of fact, I’ve never been a huge fan of mysteries, either in literature or on TV. It’s just not a genre that I can really get into, and I couldn’t even tell you why. My partner loves mystery shows, especially old ones, and now and then I sit down and watch one with him. They’re great: campy, intriguing — sometimes they even make pithy social commentary, but after an episode or two I just get bored. So something about Sherlock‘s killer combination wins me over IN SPITE OF my anti-mystery bias. I like it so much it feels like a guilty pleasure. (But really, the true guilty pleasure is my computer wallpaper featuring the lead actor’s face and the quote, “Why can’t people just THINK?” Let me tell you, we commiserate about this quite frequently.)

Lit nerd that I am, I finally couldn’t resist picking up the books. I read A Study In Scarlet aloud to Sam during a road trip a couple of weeks ago (the trip was just long enough to finish the book! Yay!). (Also, yes, I’ve sucked him into the whole Sherlock thing. He thinks I’m a little silly, but he also thinks Moriarty is hot.) We had great fun with the first book (even the Mormon interlude — Brits writing about American expansion — fascinating! to me, anyway) and thought we’d go on to the rest. So I emailed my mom to ask if there might be any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books lingering around the house.

See, before this ever started, way before there was Sherlock-the-show (ok, the recurring miniseries), my family has had Sherlock baggage. Well, maybe baggage isn’t the right word. Sherlock was always a presence. My grandfather, who made an appearance in my last post, incidentally, was in love with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I don’t think it would be quite true to say that the Sherlock Holmes books were the ONLY books he ever read — he read the Bible, and some other classics, mainly Victorian from what I can gather — but he read and reread the Sherlock books over and over and over.

He hadn’t gone to college but he believed in education, was impressed by degrees and what he saw as general smartness. (My mom had that, and he was impressed by it, but they never had an easy relationship.) He wanted what was best for his small family but was often way off on what that was; he was an old school Italian-American patriarch, though, absolute ruler of his little parcel, and his word was final.

Words, words, words … He was a lectury kind of guy. He liked to, you know, hold forth. (I can’t say I didn’t get some of that from him!)  His discourses on such topics as the reason Italians eat squid at Christmas or how everybody pronounces a particular word wrong, showing their grammatical sloppiness and thus poor chances to advance in life, were generally repeated many times — like PBS shows, I suppose, there was always an encore performance. He would get an idea in his mind and insist on it — factually accurate or not. He had his own way of reasoning.

This could be why he resonated with Sherlock. He liked that the detective had so developed his capacity of deduction. It made sense to my grandfather (whom we called Nono, or sometimes No-no — improperly-spelled Italian, but perfect in symbolism) and I think maybe it gave him confidence in his own self-education, his own lifelong striving to improve his own mind. In a way he surely saw himself as a fellow traveler with Holmes. Both, in their own ways, crabby men who looked down on the majority of people around them, both idiosyncratic in the things that gave them joy — both lovers of the life of the mind, both trying to figure things out.

Then, after my grandfather passed away in 2006, those members of my family who believe that our loved ones and guides can communicate with us from the other side — my mom, my partner and I — got some more insight into Nono’s journey and personality while he was in the “living” plane.  My mom has had the most contact with him; she’s come to understand that he lashed out in anger and clamped down control over his family so much because he didn’t know any other way of dealing with the burdens of his life.  She says he’s actually very sorry, now that he can see things more clearly, for all of the hurt he caused.   For me, too, the impression I’ve received of his transformation through death is one of unburdening.  I felt him as an exuberant kid, running around and shouting “whee!!!” in the joy of letting go of materiality.  So maybe it was also the sheer adventure of the stories that spoke to him, to the boy reading a dime novel who lived inside of him.

When I asked my mom if she still had any of Nono’s books, she said it was funny I should ask that, but she was unsurprised.  She had herself suddenly gotten into the Sherlock Holmes series soon after my grandfather died, and read them all online at Readsherlock.com.  Then about two years ago, she said, my brother had become obsessed with the Sherlock books and wanted to know if she had any of Nono’s books.  As it happened, my grandmother had given them to Goodwill, so she bought a used deluxe annotated edition and sent it to him.  I said I’d had the funny feeling that when I read A Study in Scarlet, he was reading over my shoulder.  I guess maybe he still loves it and still enjoys reading it again and again!

And to add another layer of intrigue to the story, it so happens that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a strong and vocal advocate of the spiritualist movement  in the early twentieth century.  That’s the one that created spiritual communities based around the idea that they could explicitly communicate with the dead.  These communities were apparently the target of police harassment, which Conan Doyle protested, according to Andrew Lycett in this great article written from a curious skeptic’s viewpoint.  So I can just imagine, playfully, if there is some place where souls of the formerly living can greet each other — my grandfather, upon dying, quickly seeking out his revered favorite author.  From this association he might become exceptionally good at making contact with those on the embodied side who might be actively looking for his signals.  Hey, it’s a thought!!!

At any rate, I approach reading the books as a way of learning more about him, and a chance to wonder what about his personality drew him so strongly to these stories.  It’s my way of continuing our relationship.  My mom tells me that my grandfather really wants to help us in any way he can.  I know that he loved me very much, and I feel that there’s a lot I can learn from him still.  I feel closer to him as I enter Conan Doyle’s fictional world and roam turn of the century London with my attention on the mysterious.  It’s a damn entertaining journey, and I welcome his company.

My mom ended up finding this used book online and sending it to me.  I heart recycled books.  She said it's the same edition she had bought for her father.  The original illustrations are amazing.  I love it!!!  Thanks, Mom!!!

My mom ended up finding this used book online and sending it to me. I heart recycled books. She said it’s the same edition she had bought for her father. The original illustrations are amazing. I love it!!! Thanks, Mom!!!

Right Brain Friday

This semester, I’m finally availing myself of my tuition benefit and taking a class at the community college where I teach.  I’m taking Drawing 101.  I’m taking this class because I want to write a graphic-novel-style memoir (what I would call “panel-form,” because you know how I feel about the term “graphic novel” being used to describe all kinds of things that aren’t fiction), and although I have a lot of ideas and even a sort of beginning of an outline, I was not feeling like my drawing skills were up to snuff.  So even though I have a million other things going on (like reapplying for my job, which ends after this year, and teaching my own five classes), I decided to plunge in and become a student again.  And man, is it messing with my brain — in the best possible way!

I am actually learning how to draw.  But taking this class is giving me so many other benefits that I would never have dreamed of.  One of the biggest is that it’s putting me back in beginner’s mind.  I really entered this class knowing nothing about actual drawing techniques; I had blundered my way through a few cartoons that came out reasonably ok after hours of frustrated sketching, erasing, and redoing.  Occasionally I would intuit my way to a particular shape or curved line that suggested what I wanted to convey, but I knew I was never going to get through a major project in this way (at least not in anything less than twenty years, by which time graphic novels and their nonfiction genre counterparts will probably be obsolete and everyone will be on to a new way of making literature that I will also not know how to do).  The point is, even though I had produced the odd successful drawing in the recent past, when I showed up on the first day of this class my ego thudded up against the truth that I know nothing about how this is done.

For the first two sessions, I felt almost paralyzed!  The anxiety I felt about doing something that I had no idea how to do, and then having to submit the results to critique by the whole class, just stopped me from getting going at all.  The first time I had to actually draw something — in this case, a sculpture of a head — I worked for a couple of hours (the studio part of the class is actually a six-hour Friday night session, from 3:15 to 9:15 pm) and then got what I called “stuck.”  It wasn’t that I didn’t have the energy to keep going, as I explained to the instructor (who had said he wanted us to gradually build up our stamina for longer and longer drawing sessions); it was that I felt that I had reached the end of my ability to make it any better.

So I took a break.  I wandered around the room, went up to my office and had a snack, then went back down to the basement, where the art department is.  I picked up my eraser and erased a bunch of stuff and started doing it over.  And when I put the new lines on the paper, they looked a little bit more like the thing I was trying to recreate.  Not exactly like it, but more like it.  And when, half an hour or so later, the instructor called it a night, I could have kept on going for at least another hour, erasing and redrawing and erasing and redrawing and erasing and … you know.

What did this feel like?  It felt like Wow!!!  I could practically feel the neurons in the right side of my brain waking up and stretching, and waving to each other across the gaps of disuse.  It felt like sparklers in the middle of a deep, warm, humid, Midwestern summer night.  Something clicked together with something else and the result was a release of energy.  I felt like going for a run; I felt like solving a problem; I felt like laughing out loud.  Yeah!!!

The recommended textbook for this class is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  In this book, the author makes the argument that the unrelenting stripping away of all arts programs from American public schools is not just a loss for those who are interested in, or who have “natural talent” for, those subjects; nor is it simply a setback to the general humanities approach to a well-rounded education.  The lack of arts instruction, she asserts, constitutes a truly tragic deficiency for ALL students, because nothing remains in the curriculum (besides what insistent individual teachers sneak in, against the will of test-score-driven policymakers and administrators) to develop and train the right brain, which is the source of creative thinking.  And it is creative thinking, right brain thinking, that is utterly fundamental to the putting of science, technology, and mathematics to use to actually explore the world, solve stubborn problems, and innovate new designs for the future.  I can’t put it strongly enough: I am all for STEM; STEM is awesome; science and math are both fun and vitally important.  BUT IN THE REAL WORLD, SCIENCE, MATH, AND ENGINEERING ARE CREATIVE FIELDS.  

Art is not a luxury.  Art is what makes science GO.

(steps down from soapbox)

Anyway.  Today I attended a five-hour professional development session on using the web-based digital movie program wevideo in the composition classroom.  In the workshop, I recorded a poem I had written; I selected photos (some I had taken and some stock images) that expressed the essence of the poem; I combined the text and the images with sound and visual effects.  (Even though I still think of it as a draft, I’ll let you see it: here.)  As soon as the workshop was done, I raced across campus and downstairs for drawing class.  I knew that today we’d be doing something new again, something that scared me: adding imagined elements into a real scene.

Now, when I had heard what the topic would be at the end of last week’s class, it was as though every imaginative idea was erased from my brain.  My mind became as a blank whiteboard.  All week long I thought about today’s class with trepidation, like, “What the H. am I going to draw from my imagination?????”  Even though I had signed up for this class because there were so many ideas in my imagination that I wanted to learn to bring out onto the page, when actually asked to consider this possibility, I became as the proverbial deer, you know where.  By this morning I had come up with something cute-ish, something I could do if I couldn’t think of anything better, but it wasn’t anything that came close to expressing my real passion, the passion that brought me to the class in the first place.

But after the five hours of video editing (in that class, I worked feverishly through the lunch break to capture as many of my ideas as I could, and again could have kept going long after the ending time — hence my comment above about it being an unfinished draft), when I went and stood in front of the easel, I actually saw something in the cavernous empty room that I was drawing — something that came from my heart.  And when, a few hours (not enough) later, the instructor called us all in, and I pleaded for five more minutes, I had produced the first thing that I actually liked so far this semester (this is week five).  And after the critique session, after we were all kicked out of the art room, I came up to my office and kept working on the drawing, filling in just a few more details from my memory, and a few others from my imagination.

And then I turned to my computer and wrote a blog post for the first time in months.  Because if on the first day, those long-hibernating neurons felt like sparklers when they woke up, today it feels like the freaking Fourth of July in the right hemisphere of my brain.  I guess the more I use it, the more there is to use.  And I feel like a million bucks.  And I can’t describe it any better than that.

face

room

Of the Dead and the Living

Yesterday some of my students came to class in costume.  With a few of them, I wasn’t quite sure if they were dressing up as somebody or something else, or if they were wearing an extreme version of their own true style — if those sunglasses, that muscle shirt, that fringe was what they would be wearing every day if it was socially allowed.  It made me think, I wear my costume every day.  Tonight I get to put on my real self’s clothes.  

I drove up to Fort Collins with a few friends (now that I live in the city, I can carpool!!  Much excitement!!) to attend a Samhain celebration that included both ritual and Dances of Universal Peace.  Oh, it was lovely.  The facilitator asked all attendees to wear black.  Although we were all invited to invite in loved ones who had crossed over, and this aspect of the holy day is the one that was most explicitly talked about, when I saw all those sisters and brothers dancing in unison in all-black sacred attire around a black-cloth-draped altar that really looked a lot like a cauldron, I felt most strongly connected to the starstream of my anonymous spiritual ancestors — pagans of ancient Ireland and Rome, blood-related to me or not — who have ever celebrated this, or anything like this.

Throughout the evening I kept imagining what it was doing outside — the wind blowing leaves, clicking along the concrete sidewalks and down the roads; the energy zapping back and forth across the sky.  As an adolescent I called this season between October and the New Year “the gathering together of power.”  I could feel it, though I didn’t know what it was or what to do with it.  I wouldn’t say I know those things now, but maybe I’ve developed a closer relationship with the mystery since then.  It’s sweet.  And wild.

Here’s a poem from the faculty reading I was part of this week.  I wasn’t sure what it would be like, reading without the usual academic costume.  It felt lighter than I expected.

“On the Cusp”

On the cusp, the world changing so quickly
or seeming to change around me, and I with it
know I am changing –
I am running both backward and forward –
 
Caught up in the spinning she tells me,
Abandon everything you have tried before.
Carefully reading the signs with eyes growing accustomed to new light,
She says, Those fables suited earlier times
when humans needed myth to shroud and disguise the Truth
so what they feared could sneak like a beautiful thief
into their hearts, to steal away their fear itself
and leave the jewels of faith behind.
Now we are grown, or part-grown anyway, enough to let go of the precious lies of childhood.
We must gird ourselves, be scientists, be brave,
take the laws of the Universe into our own hands now
and wield them without sentimentality to carve our way through to Love.
 
My soul, yearning for freedom, terrified of missing the chance to be
released from its captivity behind my questioning, worrying, analyzing mind,
like a soldier, rises at this reveille and scrambles to attention
gamely to follow the new orders –
but even as it leaps headfirst into the new day
there falls from the blankets the relic of the beloved saint
scent of the temple incense still clinging
much folded, much handled, and tearing at the edges,
but tightly grasped in sleep:
the letter from Home – the promise of reunion.
 
Though our memories of that time retreat more rapidly than Avalon,
and the great Teachers’ voices dim with distance
still I pick up the fragments they drop as they speed away.
In the palm of my hand the pentacle still glows with inner fire.
The crescent in the night sky still cups wisdom secrets
that may be poured out in crystal drops to the thirsty.
In poems, in spells, in gospels, beneath the tapestry of words
that decorate and hide, the Truth still whispers into the ear of the seeker.
 
Not every herald carries the Queen’s message.
For every true word that is spoken aloud,
songs beyond number are murmured by spirits
that fade from our senses and blend almost into silence.
Those ancient roads have not ceased to exist
but only made themselves hard to find.
Don’t be fooled: the signpost is not the road.
We will all arrive at the same place in the end
but some will see more beauty along the way.
 Milky Way Over Forest
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