Friday, December 14, 2012

after newtown

First the shock. Then the alternating waves of rage and grief. Then the grief rises and rises and rises, shaking and howling, until it breaks open into something else. It becomes something calm and immovable. It becomes resolve. It becomes something more enduring than rage and grief. It becomes resolve. There are words to say, everyone is saying them, and they're correct, and ferocious. Gun control, non-negotiable. But that is only the smallest corner of the resolve I'm talking about. Call, write, demand, yes. But you're not done. You're not done there. You're not even close. We are not separate from what happened. It did not happen "over there" to "someone else". The pain that lives in each of us unresolved is all of our pain. You have to find your pain, you have to examine it, you have to loosen it, and you will have to find a way to set it free. You can't wait. I'm speaking to myself as well. There is no more waiting to wake up. There is no more waiting. Find what is broken in you and do not stop until you have become whole. I don't know how long it will take, and it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how daunting it is. And you can't start tomorrow, because there is no such thing. Today. Today you resolve. It's not out there. It's not someone else. It's not political. We need laws, yes. Yes. Demand them, get them. And that is the tip, the very tippest tip of the iceberg. We're not done there, we're not done. Hug your children, cry, call, demand. But then start your real work. Come alive. Wake up. Set yourself free from all the accumulated poison in your system from being alive in this confused world.

From the NY Times, referring to the possibly bogus but useful set of words attributed to Gandhi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world":

The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

Here, Gandhi is telling us that personal and social transformation go hand in hand, but there is no suggestion in his words that personal transformation is enough. In fact, for Gandhi, the struggle to bring about a better world involved not only stringent self-denial and rigorous adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence; it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can’t change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence.

I remember one of my old acting teachers, Robin Lynn Smith, talking about  the inside-out versus outside-in methods of acting -- interior life first, and then exterior expression/manifestation, or vice versa -- and she said, "It doesn't matter which one you use as long you make the whole trip."

And that's what I'm saying. Make the whole trip. Demand change outside, band together, and also demand change within. Don't let your grief and anger flare up and die down. Follow them all the way until you quietly know that this world is yours, and nothing short of our full, balls-out commitment to waking up will help.
The assignment isn't all grim destruction, either, although you'll have to suck some (a lot) of that up. Yes, you have to let go of old illusions, fears, pain, and concepts. There's a bright side to this very serious work that you, you reading this right now, you can't and mustn't avoid. You have to/get to/have to learn to understand what joy is, where it comes from, and how to distinguish it from mere pleasure. And you have to learn how to find it and/or generate it. You have to learn how to generate it even if there's no reason for its presence. And you have to generate more and more and more and more of it, and peel off all the needless suffering -- which is most of the suffering. Peel off the extraneous mental suffering. There's enough to work with without the suffering we generate ourselves. We have to stop generating our own. And then get familiar with the feeling of genuine joy and freedom, and cultivate it ruthlessly.

I see so much "we're helpless, it's hopeless" and it makes me want to grab every last person by the shoulders and shake them furiously until their heads fall off. You are NOT helpless. It is NOT hopeless. Stop repeating that toxic, soul-killing, planet-harming lie. We're connected to each other. It's not a metaphor. What takes place within one of us affects all of us. If you genuinely don't like feeling helpless, then rejoice. You're not. Get to work.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

can an old blog learn new tricks?

Dear Gallivanting Monkey,

It's nearly seven years that you and I have been together. I don't think this is a breakup letter - it's more a State of the Union address, or couples therapy (except only I can talk - sorry!) - but you and I both know that things haven't been the same. So here we are. You're important to me, and I want to see if we can be saved. But I think it's important that all options are on the table, including destruction. We have to at least face down the possibility.

I want to offer you a glass of wine or something to ease your nerves, but that's the kind of thing you'd do, by which I mean that's in line with your persona. You've taken on a persona, even though I think it's dangerous for me to try and describe it. A little too bright in places, wide open and trusting, emotional. Very conscious of the impression you were making. Funny enough sometimes that you became self-conscious about saying anything again, because you didn't want to let people down by reverting back to something unfunny or dull or sentimental or sad. Always conscious of what might let people down, or turn them off. Too tethered to whatever you imagined your audience's expectations were. You've always been truthful, but in a carefully proscribed way that left room for lies of omission. There were topics that became appropriate for you, and topics that remained forbidden, and that hardened into this too-narrow persona, which is something like a lie.

The one thing that is good about you/us is that we've always been a little all-over-the-place. That's going to help us now, I think. Though we've edited parts of ourselves out, we haven't always demanded one tone. We never decided that we were a humor blog, or a mommy blog, or any kind of topical blog. We gave ourselves some room to move with "personal blog". Blogs like this don't tend to take over the world, especially when their authors can't be bothered to try and take over the world, particularly since they feel like encyclopedia salesmen the minute they think about crafting their content to take over the world.

I did almost destroy you, though. (I almost destroyed my memoir, too, but then I decided it was okay if everything I've written so far is nothing more than a bunch of styrofoam packing peanuts for a different book.) The idea seemed so liberating. We've had fun at The Gallivanting Monkey, but what does it matter? Nobody needs it -- let's kill it! Delete blog. I have to tell you, it gives me a pleasant kind of vertigo to contemplate it. I know there are a few people who still read this thing whenever I climb out of my coffin to scrawl something, but they're not legion. And then if I start a new blog, I can do whatever I want with it. Nobody would know and love it, which would be sad, but nobody would know and love it and want it to stay the same, which would be freeing.

This is all because I'm changing, blog. For the last few years, and especially in the last couple of years, I've been changing at an accelerated pace. The work I'm doing in the world is different, and getting different-er by the minute. My old ways of relating to people, a lot of them fear-based, are dropping away. I don't want to feel obligated to wear an old face just so I'll look familiar to the people around me. My old face kind of makes me sad. A people-pleasing, non-boat-rocking, self-effacing face. 

But then I think about what my writing mentors Jack and Bob say to their compatriots. Don't throw yourself away. The thing you wrote took you more than the time it took to write it. It took your whole life, the living of it, that which provided you with the words in the first place.

I still don't know how to post now. But at least I've explained why I'm so quiet. And maybe I'll have the nerve to come on here and open up some of the forbidden topics. I think that maybe ought to be the only way I come on here. But let's not create pressure like that. Now that I've got my subtext up top, maybe we can try some new things, and maybe I can still do some of the old things, and maybe it'll feel okay.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

that didn't happen

For all of you sneaky bastards who subscribe to an RSS feed and think that what you may have just seen was the actual Oscar Dress review post, forget it. You accidentally caught the post in its underwear. Please forget what you think you may have seen.

Now I've hypnotized you to forget what? Forget what?

Also, now you've quit smoking.

Friday, January 20, 2012

paper anniversary

It’s one year now since I decided to write a book. (It’s also my seventh wedding anniversary tomorrow, but there’s no need to do a State of the Union there. We’re slicing through the years with good momentum.)

How’m I doing? Well...ho. I’m still in it. I’m trudging forward. My momentum isn’t anything like steady, but words are accruing. The snowfall’s erratic, but what’s falling is sticking. That doesn’t mean that all or any or most of these words I’ve written will appear in the final text. (Final text! What a hilariously far-off term. Feels funny to even use it.) It just means that my understanding of this book is slowly taking shape.

Snowfall is maybe the wrong metaphor. Pregnancy is better. Because the accretion I’m talking about isn’t static. The substance doesn’t remain the same as it increases. The life force in the thing is growing along with its size.

Oh, I like this pregnancy metaphor. Yes, ma’am! You know why?

First trimester. Oooosh. That’s where I am, easy, and I’m still pretty early in it. The morning sickness. The occasional disbelief that I’m growing a book. The thrill and revulsion of facing the material. The amoebic nature of the thing itself, how it doesn’t look anything like a book in the ultrasounds. It’s not cute yet. And it’s still vulnerable: vulnerable to doubt, to inertia (the cells need to keep dividing and multiplying at a rate conducive to life), to the toxic chemicals in straight-up fear.

And this thing is a memoir, which is wicked radioactive. It’s a family memoir, too, and a spiritual memoir. So that’s easy. I bet it’s tough enough to write a “My Year in Tuscany Learning to Make Pasta” memoir. This is all teeth and murk and neurosis and slipperiness and heat.

I’ve written 102 pages of material to date, single-spaced. 57,000 words and change. I’m nowhere near structure. (Oh, structure. Someday, it’s you and me. That’s the second trimester. The golden trimester, where material becomes a draft.) (I think.) I’m writing for understanding right now. I’m writing to find out what the hell I’m trying to say. I’m writing to unearth the spine of the story. I don’t even know if I’m doing that yet. I’m just vomiting up material until my stomach’s empty.

Not empty yet. Not even close. And I resist sitting down to write the way you resist emesis, because while it feels great to have it over with, it feels like hell when you admit it’s going to happen. (Once I’m actually writing, I’m fine. It’s the moment before when my stomach lurches.)

I daydream about structure, though. I do. I try on various futures with this book. We’ll frame it like this! Oh, that’s beautiful! I pretend that I understand the story I’m telling already and I woolgather, arranging this piece here and that piece there and it comes together so neatly. And I admire it for a while, and then I remember....oh. That’s fake. I can’t build that. None of those pieces really exist, and they may never exist in anything like those forms. Damn.

Stop trying to pull the fetus out and cuddle it. It’s not helpful.

I’ll tell you what I do have going for me, and that’s midwives. Midhusbands? Bob Ray and Jack Remick, that’s who. These guys host a writing group at a bakery here in Seattle every Tuesday and Friday, and they’ve done it for twenty years. You just show up and write, and if you’re lucky (and I’ve been lucky), Jack and Bob will give you feedback. Head this way. Think about this. Try this. Beware of that. They’ve each published many books, and taught writing for years. A friend of mine pointed me in their direction when she asked how my book was going and I gagged in her lap. (As it turned out, Jack had met my parents through mutual friends -- even had lunch at their house! the house where I grew up! -- and is familiar with some of the people and places that show up in the story. I tuck that kind of synchronicity into my pocket like a talisman.) These guys are wonderful. Funny and wise and experienced and incredibly generous. And they both genuinely seem to care about what I’m doing here.

Now I feel like I’m not going to have to give birth in a taxicab, you know? There are people standing by who know what they’re doing, and want to see that baby come out alive.

And so that’s my report. I know this has been a record absence, friends. Between parenting and wife-ing and starting in on a new line of work and stabbing away at this book, the old Monkey’s had to lay fallow a while. I want to promise that I’ll be back soon, but I’d rather promise to finish a book for you. But I think I can safely say I’ll be back before then, because that’s a long way off.