Monday, March 28, 2011
The Husband is the story teller in our family. It is what he does - he teaches screenwriting at the university - and he enjoys studying it. Ask Cowgirl and she will tell you, you need a "bad guy" in the story to make it interesting. Hers are usually monsters, zombies, or those worst kind of antagonists - those beings who do not follow rules or observe nice behavior. "Not Listening Binker" is a reoccurring character.
Me, I am the teller anecdotes. In social settings, I perform a form of stand-up comedy which is drawn entirely from my own mishaps and adventures. I am also the navel gazer of the family. But secretly, I have always longed to write and tell stories.
Stories have been on my mind ever since I re-read Clarissa Pinkola Estes Women Who Run with the Wolves. I love the idea of recovering old stories and connecting them to our lives, discovering new meaning in both. I love to write, but I do not consider myself a writer. I said that a few weeks ago and then toppled head first into a love affair with writing in Natasha's course Oh, The Stories You Will Tell.
And now I hold in my hot little hands the latest gift from story catcher/teller Jen Lee: Finding Your Voice: a voice and story course. I've read the introduction and already my fingers are cramped from writing page upon page in response to her questions and prompts. She tells the story of her journey and this insight got me really thinking: "I realized recovering my voice wasn't going to be a journey that was limited to the page... Recovering my voice has been a whole-body affair for me. " She then suggests we examine "What aspect of your voices eludes you?"
Reflecting upon this question, I realized my dreams hold important clues for me. For years I used to have a dream where I was incredibly angry at this particular person in my life. He would do or say something that would have me so incensed and I would be trying desperately to give voice to my fury but my throat would be choked off. I could not get the words out of my mouth. I had the force of screams stifled within me and I would wake up with my throat sore and tight from the constriction.
I know, this is pretty common for a dream but it was only a slight exaggeration of my reality. I could not give voice to my feelings. I could not stand up for myself. I was not allowed to express anger. Or rather, my anger was insignificant in relationship to the feelings of others.
In comparison to the times my voice felt restricted, I am surprised to realize the times when my voice is powerful and clear. It is when I sing. More specifically, when I chant Sanskrit chants. The first time I ever chanted I was on a weekend retreat by myself at a small yoga ashram in the mountains. There were very few guests and just a few more residents participating in the evening kirtan. The only Sanskrit words I had ever heard were the names for yoga poses or asanas. Even though I stumbled through the words and struggled with singing the correct notes, I was hooked after that first night. I bought a cassette tape from the gift shop and I've been chanting ever since.
The first songs I sang to Cowgirl were chants. She knew Om Namah Shivaya long before she ever sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Even when I don't know exactly what I am singing, I find my voice draws upon some hidden reserve of strength deep within me. I know that I am chanting my devotion to Love and any restrictions or concerns about sounding or seeming foolish or inappropriate or unworthy dissolve under the force of that love. My breath and my voice melt away any blockages and the power of my heart drives the song. I experience myself worthy and whole when I am chanting.
Cowgirl loves to sing. She will sing the most nonsensical songs often comically out of tune and she sings with a gusto and zest that I admire. I remember being a child and singing with that kind of abandon and unselfconsciousness. I have yet to pinpoint the moment when I lost that innocence; I hope to preserve it as long as I can for Cowgirl.
Recently she became aware of the fact that her eyes are different than mine. Attempting to explain the epicanthic fold, she needed to examine her own eyes in the mirror to verify the difference. And then she wailed "My eyes are ugly!" Of course, I understand that right now she would find distasteful any difference between herself and me, but to have her believe her eyes are ugly is heartbreaking. I talked about how I had disliked having red hair and freckles, how I hated standing out and seeming different when I was her age but how our differences are often what make us unique and beautiful. It didn't matter; she hated her eyes and wanted them to be like mine.
The next day I asked her about a friend of ours who is Korean American. I asked if she thought our friend was beautiful. And she said "oh yes, she is beautiful inside and out!" (We talk about how it is who we are on the inside that makes us beautiful and how that light illuminates our outer beauty.) I then asked "What do you have in common?" She shyly answered "Our eyes."
I know, so what does this have to do with singing? Well, I'm fuzzy on the details here, but I just know that if we don't believe ourselves to be worthy or acceptable, if we discount who we are - our inner and outer selves - then our voices will be stunted if not silenced. We doubt our right to speak. And worse than that, our ability to sing which is really a way of sharing our hearts. And I am purposely not going into the race issue here except to say Cowgirl is very proud to be from China and I want to make sure she is also proud to be Chinese American.
Okay, so I promise I am winding this all up and will add a ribbon and a bow albeit a little sloppily. Yesterday I took Cowgirl to see Dan Zanes in concert. (An event worthy of its own story!) As the band made their way on stage, she pointed to one musician and asked "Mom, can I be her?" This is her habit: when we go to the zoo, she will point to an animal and say "That one there is me ... and the big one over there, that one is you." (I am always the big, slow moving one of any species.) When we read books, she will tell me which characters she wants to be. So determining which band member is whom is pretty common. What was unusual is Cowgirl usually wants to be one of the men. This time she picked a woman. And the woman - Elena Moon Park - is Asian American. The band started up and Elena picked up her trumpet and started playing this joyful tune. I said "Wow, she plays trumpet! Isn't that cool?" Cowgirl, clearly in awe, replied "And she's beautiful."
After the show we got to meet all the performers. Cowgirl made a beeline to Elena who is definitely beautiful on the inside and out. Clearly tongue tied, Cowgirl managed to squeak out "You are beautiful" to a very gracious Elena. Seeing Elena's ukulele slung over her back, Cowgirl has declared she wants to play the ukulele. (So do I! I am adding it to my list of 100 things for the year ... so if you know about purchasing ukuleles, let me know!) I am thrilled she has this positive role model with whom she can identify.
Okay, almost finished here ...but a postscript: so after the show I discovered on Dan Zane's website that Elena is trying to raise money to make an cd of family folk music from east Asia. Inspired to explore her own heritage, she is discovering the power of music to strengthen identity and connection to ourselves and our history. She is appealing to fans and peers to help fund her project and you can learn more about it here and in this video:
As Dan Zanes says, when we know about our heritage we can tell our stories. And through that process we come to know each other better; we come to understand each others hearts and when we communicate at that level, there is great potential to heal and grow.
I hope this is the beginning of a long story. I hope I can tell it properly. I hope that Cowgirl and I play our ukuleles and sing it at the top of our lungs. I hope you will consider sharing the link to Elena's Kickstarter page or even become a supporter and make this musical dream a reality.
And ending on a sweet note - after our girls day out, complete with singing and dancing we had to HAD TO end it with some ice cream before heading home for a spa night in the big tub with bubbles and toys and a few new songs.
What do you love to sing? How do you express the sweetness of your own heart? Do you share or hide your voice? Just remember: a joy warrior always has a song on her lips ...
... and of course, a little ice cream.
Friday, March 25, 2011
So one painting of 49 under my belt and already I am wondering what have I gotten myself into? Right away, I'm discovering the small scale format is challenging ... I had hoped for a looser, more intuitive approach towards these paintings but the size feels restrictive. Of course, I could go larger ... but being the stubborn Scorpio that I am, I am electing to see this as an opportunity to challenge myself and see what creative solutions I can come up within the limitations of the size.
So the theme of these pieces is a reflection upon the guides and guardians operating within my life. For the second piece, I had to honor the spirit of Rabbit that has been so persistently speaking to me in recent weeks. In addition to finding tufts of rabbit fur (which means, Hawk, my main spirit totem, has been staying nourished), I was walking to my office on campus when right by the footpath was a huge hunk of a rabbit pelt. Not a tuft - a chunk! Okay, okay I get the message!
Rabbit has been helping me to understand creative inspiration is something that will never run out; I do not need to fear scarcity or lack. My creativity has natural cycles and there will be times when I am overwhelmed by ideas and momentarily frozen with indecision - what do I act upon? But with Hawk as its partner, Rabbit has shown me I to focus upon one idea does not diminish the population. New ideas will be born again ... and again.
The third painting honors the Hindu goddess Saraswati. There are many reasons she is a significant force within my life: as the goddess of the arts, learning and knowledge she is an obvious choice for me. She prizes creative action such as painting, music, dance and writing above material possessions. She also represents right knowledge or the understanding of spiritual truths as the highest form of learning.
Saraswati is also important to me because she is part of the spiritual name that was given to me. As a sign of my commitment to the path of Yoga, I requested a Sanskrit name from my spiritual mentor. She consulted with another dear friend and guru sister (we all are part of the lineage of Swami Kripalu) and they gave me the name Sri Vidyarani Ma. Vidyarani means "queen of knowledge" but again, knowledge here means "right" understanding or spiritual truths. Ma is mother ... I was not a mother yet, but they both believed I would be always be a mother to my students (and they both believed one day I would be come a mother to my own child - they knew before I did!)
My practice of yoga has provided me with a strong foundation for a nurturing and developing a creative practice. And now the two paths have merged to become one. As I work with fearless painting and cultivating connection with intuition, I am finding it is no different than meditating or asana practice where I peel away the layers of what I am not - fears, doubts, conditioned thinking or beliefs - to experience the truth of who I am. Both practices involve a letting go of a false sense of me being in charge and embracing surrender to something greater. Surrendering to life, really, and acknowledging my connection and participation within the flow of Life versus separation.
I chose a more recent force in my life for the fourth card. I have been working with the Oracle of the Dragonfae cards by Lucy Cavendish and a card that manifests frequently for myself and Cowgirl is The Blue Lady.
The message at the bottom of the oracle card is "Nothing is impossible." It is this advice that speaks to me:
There is no safety in diminishing who you truly are. Be yourself. Follow the dream and listen to your own clear, calm inner voice. Be guided to do the impossible ... now. (Oracle of the Dragonfae)
To me, this figure represents staying true to oneself and ones vision. Believing in myself and knowing the only dreams worth living are the ones that spring from my own heart. It is better to be myself imperfectly, than to excel at a version of myself that has been sanitized, commercialized, or in any way edited for mass consumption. The Blue Lady represents what I have been working towards - quieting the outside voices and tuning into the wisdom found within my own heart.
She could do what others could not, because she trusted that still small voice and allowed the impossible a loving space in which to take hold, grow strong roots and burst into flower. (Oracle of the Dragonfae)
I hope this project does not become my impossible blue rose that I try to grow; I have a small list of ideas for future pieces but I am purposely not planning it all out and hoping to allow my guides to present themselves to me over the course of the coming months. Four paintings down, 45 to go!
Monday, March 21, 2011
All in a day ...
An emotional ping pong game ...
She keeps me on the defensive ...
Things being neither good, nor bad but just what they are ...
Relaxing under the shady calm of creativity ...
But ready to flee danger in a moment's notice ...
The extremes are exhausting ...
But the moments of peace - like catching a glimpse of the full moon breaking through the clouds - are sublime ...
She empties and fills me on a daily basis and I wouldn't have it any other way.
This crazy, emotion and color filled life of mine scurries along ...
Encountering one glorious surprise after another ...
And we all come to end the day having earned our rest.
(Inspiring me immensely this day are these words which capture what I have struggled to say about myself, my journey, my practice and my art ... Soraya, you've nailed it! And in the process, you've stunned me into silence and that is a rare thing!)
Friday, March 18, 2011
Excuse me ... you'll have to speak up, I have trouble hearing over all the voices in my head ... Have we met before? Because you look familiar and I am terrible with names ... but somehow I became the collective memory of my family, the keeper of all secrets, the street sweeper puttering along at the end of the parade, tidying up the messes ...
I am Alice's White Rabbit perpetually late and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in my wake ... I am a snake obsessively shedding my skin - devotion or compulsive behavior? I don't know which ... I am prairie fields vast and still, infinite in subtle tones of gold and brown; I am prairie fields whipped wide [i meant to write wild, but there it is] by the sudden storms that inevitably pop up when conditions become extreme ...
I am dangerous when threatened and the one who often threatens myself is me ... I thrash and I crash ... I've been broken but I believe ... my knees are bloodied by prayer ... I cry when I laugh ... I slobber when I cry ...
I journey in deep, touch my vulnerable self and try my best to love her ... I am curiosity and the cat, but hopefully I have 8 lives to go ... I am love all sloppy and extreme, a puppy that cannot help itself ... I am whomever I choose to be in this moment and funny, I still choose me.
So, tell me something about you ...
(This was an exercise for the amazing course I am currently in - The Stories You'll Tell. I have been repeatedly shocked by the words and images tumbling out from my imagination. Each exercise I wonder how will I dredge up something original but the prompts, the guidance, and the feedback from Natasha have unleashed a torrent of ideas. And I am enjoying the simplicity of a writing practice: just me, a cup of tea, my favorite medium point blue ball point pen - una penna italiana molto bella - and the page.)
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I had one of those days when i thought my head was going to explode ...
nothing for it but to breathe, try to find my center, look for my center yet again ...
and then play ...
I guess if I was stranded on a desert island, Photo Shop would keep me amused for quite some time ...
(Where is the gray hair correction brush on the tool bar menu?)
Monday, March 14, 2011
I could blame my fuzzy and foggy head on any number of things:
* the 2 am wake-up call - Cowgirl yelling "Mommy, I have a bloody nose!" and me stumbling out of bed, aware in the murkiness that I am also bloated and cramping and would soon have to attend to That;
*the 2 hour nap (more like a collapse) taken before dinner to recover from previous night's activities which included making my way down to the basement, trying not to wake the dog, as I searched for the only jar of vaseline which I had been using in an art journal project and now needed for Cowgirl's nose;
*the pancakes I ate for dinner because, well, we both napped until 6:30 pm;
* 2 days of being solo caregiver to Cowgirl who had strep throat ... yes, for the second time ...
... and the dog who does not have strep, but did throw up, probably the result of eating rabbit poo and disgusting in all respects (and so I had to adjust his medications);
But the obvious explanation is all of the above being ladled upon a heart weary from the stories and images of pain and despair coming from Japan. It does feel like the Mother has had enough of the global disrespect and is letting us know who really is in charge of things. The level of destruction and the depth of suffering taking place is of a scope beyond anything my brain or my emotions can take in.
I dragged myself to work this morning and it was hard to summon up much enthusiasm on yet another cold, gray day. And then I checked my email and saw this face:
Our boy. Pan Xiong. The boy we are now sponsoring through Half the Sky Foundation for one year. And when I say we, I mean all of us - everyone who supported our Painting with a Purpose campaign last summer by donating, entering to win one of the paintings Cowgirl and I created for the art marathon and by leaving words of support and encouragement. (Yes, there have been a few mishaps but finally we got confirmation of our sponsorship which is the result of raising $900 through this blog.)
Look at that face! He about 2 1/2 years old (born August 29, 2008) and lives in Baotou in Inner Mongolian Autonomous region. He is in Half the Sky's Infant Nurture Program and it is unclear what is going on with his legs or feet. This is a translation of a report by his caregiver:
When I play games with PanXiong face to face, if he is happy he will pout his mouth and ask me to kiss him. If I kiss him, he will smile at me happily and lean his head on my arms while swinging his arms.
His legs are very agile. When he lies on his back on the mat, he can use his feet to kick on the mat while stretching his head. When he moves to the baby gym, he will use his feet to touch the toys to play. When he sits on the mat, he can use his feet to turn the pages of the books. He can put the big toes of his feet into the holes of the rattle and swing it left and right.
Seeing the obvious joy and happiness on his face, I feel Hope rising within me. It felt odd to think about celebration today, much less feeling any inspiration, but little Pan Xiong's face is a reminder that for those of us who can, we have a responsibility to celebrate the gifts of today, whatever they may be. I will not squander the flashes of joy, the moments of comfort and love that life does hold out in any given moment for right now, perhaps we are the ones keeping the flame of hope alive and burning in this seemingly darker world.
Tonight, while reading Cowgirl her bedtime stories, I crawled into bed with her for warmth and comfort. I gave her an extra sandwich cookie and joined her for a sweet treat this afternoon. We both ate the filling and then dunked the cookies into our glasses of milk. Small matters, I know. But that is how we find our way out of the darkness ... one cuddle, one shared treat, one smile at a time.
This is what inspires me right now. This is what I am choosing to celebrate. We can still choose Joy, paint rainbows and find ways to create a sunnier tomorrow.
Perhaps all we need is a rubber bouncy horse?
Friday, March 11, 2011
My inspiration yesterday: Sometimes it takes getting lost to discover there is a more scenic route I'd rather be traveling.
Anyone reading this blog probably already knows that the mind of a creative being is often as chaotic as their workspace. Strike that. More chaotic.
So I have this reoccurring dream in which I am supposed to be leaving for a trip but I cannot pack my suitcase. I am stuffing things into it, trying to jam it shut and either it won't close, or it repeatedly pops open as I travel to the airport and I am scrambling to grab things and get them back inside.
My mind has felt that way for the past couple of weeks. Coming up with my Garden Plan has really helped me to tame the wild monkeys inside my head. I realized that I have been rushing headlong into my life without pausing to take stock, re-evaluate and ... that dreaded word ... plan things out. I did that last year and now I am remembering all the amazing things that manifested as a result of my setting up some goals and systems to keep me accountable and checking back in.
But it is like writing an outline for a paper. How many of us did not want to believe our teachers when they stressed the importance of first outlining - mapping out our ideas - before writing? I know I resisted until I actually tried it (or my version of it - colored index cards I could shuffle and re-arrange and doodle on) and wow! It really works! Totally takes the stress out of things ... all my ideas are there and I just need to build the paper!
Mind blowing stuff when I was an academic.
Now I am appreciating the wisdom of taking time out to organize, arrange and pack my mind for easier access. In addition to my garden plan (which is more like a brochure ... when completed it will be an accordion-like folding guide) I am making a strategic plan box (cut down and decorated cereal box). It still needs a snappy title. I discovered this great guide by Lisa Sonora Beam and am following her ideas. I've created cardboard dividers for each of my categories: creativity, relationships, courage (putting myself out there; my spin on business), abundance (in a narrow sense, finances; but also about giving and receiving), home, health/self care, and spirituality. On each divider I've glued a card for journaling. Lisa has a list of insightful prompts such as What does it mean for me (in the coming year)? and What would achievement of this goal look like? On the back of the divider card is an envelope for additional writing, letters, lists, images, etc.
The whole process began with me writing out my answers to these questions Lisa poses:
What do I want/hope to achieve in the coming year? What do I value most? What do I want to be different one year from now?
Thinking about these questions, I was inspired by the writing of Chris Guillebeau who was recently on the Right-Brainers in Business summit. If you want to shake things up not just a bit, but a lot, then read his Brief Guide to World Domination. Two things jumped out at me after listening to Chris talk and then reading his work. The first is his decision to live a remarkable life.
Got that? Remarkable. It is a choice we can make. It is a variation on what Connie shared in Deep which is by embracing myself, honoring my individuality, painting as me and not thinking about being anything other than who I am in that moment, I can choose extraordinary over mediocre.
The other statement of Chris's that brought my monkey mind to a stop is this: You don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to.
I'm grabbing a cup of tea while you ponder all that.
Ready? Okay, going on ... Chris poses what he rightly calls The Two Most Important Questions in the Universe:
What do you really want to get out of life? What can you offer the world that no one else can?
Another variation - another mind stopper if you will - Is this the life I want for myself? (from a fantastic podcast by Marisa Haedike.)
It may be a cop out, but part of my answer to question number one is: I want to be living a remarkable life. I want to be passionately engaged with my life and my world; I want to create a space of love and beauty for my family and friends. I want to choose extraordinary in every action and know I was awake and alive for it all.
In the coming year, I want to Shine - my voice, my presence, my confidence, my gifts, and my commitment to my practice and my path. I want empower others through my work or by teaching or by my example to seek their own light; to experience and realize their own innate creative, extraordinary, remarkable selves. I want to empower others to know there is always a choice ... the choice of love and joy. What I have to offer is my enthusiasm and my passion.
A little over 18 years ago, I broke my neck. The gift of that accident was the awareness that I no longer wanted to be passive about my life. I wanted to be actively engaged in living it and not, as Mary Oliver writes "end up simply having visited this world." (from When Death Comes - it is required reading for any Joy Warrior.) As I see it, choosing to live a remarkable life isn't so much about what I do, as it is about attitude with which I make those choices and how I choose to engage with them.
Phew! Still with me? This momma of a brain suitcase is mighty full! But all the questions, the journal prompts, the vision boards, mind maps and mind dumps have helped me to clarify things immensely. Or maybe it is hawk's medicine - to fly high and see the landscape, the details, from a broader perspective. I still have a lot more to think about but the structure is now in place.
In the midst of all this collaging madness, I hit upon a project in alignment with my goals: 49 paintings before I turn 49. (Inspired somewhat by 1008 Painting Project by Lisa Sonora Beam.) Small scale pieces, 4 1/4 by 5 1/2 inches on gessoed postcards, the theme I want to explore is my guardians, guides and helpers in my life. Since I have 33 weeks to complete the project, I decided to begin this undertaking honoring the Hindu deity, Ganesha, who is the remover of obstacles, the one who teaches us to dance lightly around the heaviness of the world and who bestows blessings of physical and mental powers, peace and prosperity, upon all who honor him.
At the beginning of any new undertaking, Ganesha is called upon to guarantee success. I will probably journal on the back of each painting, but I am still working out the details for myself. I think I am calling it 49 before 49.
I think I have vacuum packed my brain for the day. I am so appreciative of this space, the feedback, the comments and the support I receive on a daily basis. Perhaps you are shaking your head at my madness, or perhaps you are realizing as a fellow Joy Warrior, life is too short and too precious to not choose remarkable as the measure for your actions. "The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese ..." what is your response going to be?
My inspiration for today: being me is a full time job. Love the work, could use more pay.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
(a little end of winter madness ...)
dear lis - i wonder where you are? i sit waiting, eager for your touch, your gaze ... i long to purr and hum sweet nothings into your ear and show you my magic moves ... i miss our walks together, our afternoons spent seeking sunshine and shadows, our playful games of viewfinder hide and seek ... could it be you have replaced me? tired of me? please tell me the love has not faded but is merely awaiting a new bloom ... i await your return - faithful always, your coco
Mia cara Coco -
Oh my darling! It pains me to think you would ever doubt my love, my affections! The lack is not with you, but within me and my weak spirit and dulled imagination. The eternal parade of gray and cold days has damped my enthusiasm to take pictures, to seek out splendors in a world that has seemed unspectacular lately. This is my fault, my laziness. But absence has made my heart not only grow fonder, but has strengthen my commitment to you. I ache for new adventures and I promise you today we will be together. I could no more abandon you than I could cut my eyes and my heart out and still live. Your sensitivity and attention to detail complete me like no other.
I am true to you, dearest. I promise I will not neglect you so ever again.
What I never want to take for granted - gray afternoons filled with games (Jungle Jive - a game where you have to perform various actions holding a balance sensitive egg that is "sleeping" unless tilted)
And always, the go-to activity for any Joy Warrior, painting play
Lately it seems all my abstractions turn into variations of a Madonna and Child ...
whereas Cowgirls paintings revolve around cars, trains, planes or in this case, a sail boat
Admittedly, I am biased, but I always prefer the freedom of her work to mine!
Dearest Coco -
I hope you now know that I can never be far from you ...
Is there a passion you would like to rekindle today? As a Joy Warrior, you cannot deny your duty to reignite it.