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Cosmology

In the beginning,
it was as with
a child.
She was,
but did not know that she was.

And yet, she was all that there was
and had ever been.
And all that there was not
and would never be.

And in her being, she
creates all things,
building block on block.
Growing order.
Making each new thing
Separate and fitted perfectly.
Intricate, individual.
Elegant and ordered.

And in her being, she
pulls all things apart,
returns them to herself
To formlessness,
Chaotic, destructive, decaying.
Unintelligible, a patternless reunion
Consumed, obliterated,
Scattered on random winds.

Making and unmaking
Being and not knowing
All that is.
All that is not.

And we are her children.
Made of, pinched off from, flowed through.
We feed on her with twin teeth– love and fear
Separate from her, and from our siblings
We- we who believe that we are,
Can neither create nor merge

But we carry her.
We, in moments, timeless
This is why we are.

For although she is
(and is all that is and is not)
It is only through us,
In those moments
when we are and do not know that we are
That she knows she is.

We, her children, birth her into her own creation.
And she is, and knows she is.
And we are all that is, and all that is not.
And are gone again.

Duck, Berries, and the Swim

Once, a duck lived beside a small island in a stream. The island was one of many grassy mounds that rose from the clear water to support the life of a single berry bush. The duck floated in its shade and ate its berries.

One day, the duck stretched out her bill for a berry and could not find one. The bush had been plucked bare. The duck muttered and complained, stuck her head under her wing and went to sleep. Hunger woke her later and yet there were still no berries on her bush. She grew angry, and then afraid. For days she huddled against the cruel island bank, or swam its barren perimeter, hungry and afraid, powerless to affect the berry bush, hopeless without food.

As the sun rose one morning the duck raised weary eyes to the horizon. She knew that her situation was becoming dire. All her life she’d looked to this bush for sustenance and for over a week now she’d continued to do so despite finding none. The bush was dead and she knew that she must change or die. She looked wildly around, and her eye caught something berry-colored near the stream’s opposite shore. She had never notice the other islands before. Now she fixed her eyes upon it longingly. The island was far from her own, but clearly supported a full and fecund crop of fruit.

She had never swum so far, but hunger drove her and she plunged into the current as it swept past the only home she had ever known. Swimming across the stream was a very different kind of swimming, harder, more demanding, than her gentle island circling, but she never took her eyes off the berries of the distant island and struggled bravely on. Her legs, forced to paddle for longer than they ever had, ached as they pushed against the current. Keenly aware of her feathers and foot webbing for the first time, but surprised at her own strength, she felt, for a moment, buoyed by the water she beat back. Triumphant, finally, she reached the bank and rested in the shade of the luscious new berry bush. She dined upon its ripest fruit. Never had she sampled berries so sweet. Allowed to ripen so long, uneaten except by birds, the bounty overwhelmed her and she gave herself to the enveloping sleep of the physically exhausted.

For several days, the duck gloried not only in the wonderful fruit of her new island, but also in the power of her crossing. She had set her eyes upon these berries and bravely swum to reach them. She was proud and strong- a good, brave duck with powerful feet and streamline feathers. She could cross the stream. And so, when several days later the ripest and largest of the berries consumed, the duck became dissatisfied. The remaining berries were small and hard, and while she had eaten only such berries for most of her life, she was now a duck who could cross streams, and did not see why she should suffer green berries again. She scanned the river once more and saw another, unknown island ahead. It would have berries that could satisfy such a duck! And so again, with less sorrow and fear, the duck launched into the stream.

As she swam she once more knew fatigue, but this time she also knew she could conquer it. She had doubts, but knew herself to be brave. She once again felt the swell and flow of the river, knew herself a good swimmer and longed for fresh berries. Once again she crossed the river. Once again she dined on dark, full fruit although its sweetness was not surprising any more.

From bank to bank the duck swam, resting shorter and shorter times at every island. She became accustomed only to the freshest fruit, rejecting closer, smaller islands in favor of more dangerous crossings to larger bushes. She began to know that no bush would ever surprise her the way the first bush had. She began to fear that endless swimming in search of better berries would yield nothing but weary legs and torn foot webbings. As long as she swam from bush to bush she had berries to eat, but she no longer fully believed that reaching the next bush would satisfy her hunger. She began to long for the days of contented bobbing under one bush, resting in its shade, eating its berries. But even if she could content herself with unripe berries, the bush would eventually die and besides, she was a very good swimmer.

As she sat one day, wondering whether it was worthwhile to plunge again into the stream towards a distant berry bush, a bird landed for a few fresh berries from the upper branches of the bush and startled the duck.

“What perfect berries!” exclaimed the bird
“Yes, they’re nice, aren’t they?” the duck replied. “I swam here, all the way from that island back there to taste them. It was really a difficult swim,” she added after a moment because the bird did not seem impressed “I had doubts that I would make it”
“You must be a very good swimmer,” the bird said. “I can’t swim at all.”
“Well,” said the duck modestly “I’ve had to be. It’s not easy, but when I was young, my berry bush died. I had to learn to swim. Just to survive.”
“Wow” said the bird.
“I started,” and the duck gestured with her wing “all the way back there. Beyond that bend, you can’t even see my berry bush from here.”
“You must be very proud of how far you’ve swum.” said the bird. “Have you had a lot of wonderful berries?”

The duck, who’d really be enjoying the conversation so far, now felt that now the bird was missing the point. The berries had been what initiated the first swim, certainly. Fresher, better berries were the purpose for each successive swim of course, but they really weren’t the point. Because but she didn’t want to seem ungrateful she agreed “Oh yes, some wonderful berries, but let me tell you about one crossing I made. I’d seen some berries that looked particularly large and dark but they were almost directly across the river from me. I would have to swim the entire width against the current” and the duck began a lengthy description of the harrowing crossing which wound up with a particularly clever line about the irony of the berries, when she finally reached them, having fermented. She was sick for two days, badly delaying her next river crossing.

The bird listened raptly to the Most Perilous Crossing but missed the irony, which disappointed the duck. She did however comment on the strength and skill required by such a swim, and then, wishing the duck only the ripest berries and sweetest fruit flew away. The duck basked in bird’s admiration and looked forward to meeting other birds.

Chasing the perfect berry from one island to the next across the river had lost its appeal. She knew the chase for the pretense it was. There was no perfect berry, no berry bush in whose generous shade she could float content forever. Now only the admiration of birds determined her next destination. She spoke to one bird who was impressed with deep water crossings and swam the next day to an island in the center of the deepest channel, but the bird who perched there was interested in swift water navigation. The duck struck off over rapids accordingly. She was badly bruised, thinking, even as her body bounced off rocks, what a terrific story it would be.

She paddled wearily towards a bird-frequented island refining and practicing her tale, but by the time she reached the sheltering berry bush, the birds had taken to the air, and she nibbled berries, disconsolate.

She watched the birds swooping and reeling overhead with mingled admiration and resentment. She needed them. Needed them like she needed berries to eat, but now they would not alight and she could not fly up to them to tell her story on the wing. “I can no more make those birds land than I could make my berry bush bloom,” she thought. And she began to cry.

She almost smiled at the irony when a bird, drawn by the peculiar sound of a sobbing duck, landed to ask what was wrong. It occurred to her to blame her tears on her near-fatal whitewater trip thereby capturing the duck’s attention and segueing nicely into her anticipated story, but found all she could muster was the simple truth “I wish I could fly.”

Purchasing the right to tell her own stories with the time she spent pretending to listen to theirs, the duck had only half-heard bird stories but even so, their universal and complete love of flying came through. She had long marveled at the speed with which they followed the river’s path towards open water as she toiled from island to island, envied the effortlessness with which they covered miles of winding river whose mouth she knew she would never see.
“I could try and teach you,” offered the bird.
“No” said the duck “I’m not a flying animal. I have wings, but ducks are simply not meant to fly. I’ve tried a little, and I can do it over short distances, but it’s exhausting and I hate it.”
“I can’t imagine hating to fly,” said the bird. “It’s the most magical feeling, to soar, to catch a current of air and glide free with no effort. To dive, your wings tucked in hard against your body, every ounce of you concentrated, alert, hurtling towards earth to die or break, with tremendous force, against the gathered weight of your falling, and, at the last moment, pull level and coast again, riding the exhaustion. It’s so hard, so demanding, so beautifully exacting. You loose yourself in it completely. You’re pure and streamline and nothing is extraneous or wasted. It’s why you are a bird- to fly like that.”
“Well it’s not like that for me.” Said the duck morosely. “Swimming can be, a little, at times. It’s that same sort of effort, that hard work that requires everything you are.”
“Isn’t it glorious?” smiled the bird dreamily.
“It’s very hard work.”
“Ummm” replied the bird who was clearly, to the duck’s supreme annoyance clearly no longer paying attention but off dreaming about flying again.
“I’m a very good swimmer” began the duck, about to explain not only how far she’d swum, but also how difficult and dangerous it had been, but the bird had opened one eye and was looking critically at the duck.
“But it’s fun, right? I mean you love to swim, don’t you?” he asked.
“I love to reach new islands,” said the duck, realizing as she did so that it was not entirely true “and swimming is how I get there.”
“But sometimes you swim just for fun, right?”
“No. I don’t swim for fun.” Huffed the duck. Imagine such a waste of energy and time, paddling about without getting anywhere. Swim for fun indeed!
“You should really learn to fly.” The bird looked mournfully at the duck.
“I don’t want to learn to fly! I am a swimming bird. That’s what I do. I swim. I swim from island to island on a quest for the freshest, largest, ripest berries. I swim because I’m a very good swimmer.”
“You like swimming?”
“Yes. I like swimming.”
“And when you swim, do you think about the swimming or the berries?”
“Mostly the berries, unless the swim is very difficult and requires all my concentration. Then I think about the water currents and the wind and sometimes I almost forget about the island. I almost loose myself in the swimming.”
“Feels good, doesn’t it?”
“Yes”
“So what would happen if you headed off for that island over there,” the bird pointed a graceful wing several islands ahead and across the stream “and mostly thought about the river instead of the island?”

The duck confessed that she didn’t know what would happen and so she and the bird decided to find out. The duck glanced at the island and launched herself into the stream. She had some trouble at first. Her mind kept refocusing on the island, wondering about its berries. She found she couldn’t properly set course without reference to the island, but gradually, she was able to feel her strong feet pushing through the water, feel the stroke of the stream as it brushed her feathers. She felt the current itself under and around her, felt, for a moment, buoyed, held glorious, weightless, in perfect harmony with water and wind. She was swimming.

As she neared the destination island she realized she’d come off course. It was coming parallel with her and she turned hard across the current and paddled desperately towards it, the stream had carried- was carrying her right past her goal and she would not reach it. It would be lost to her forever. She would never know its fruit. Madly she swam, legs burning, thinking, feeling only the terror and ferocity of the swim against the stream.
“Let it go” called the bird from over head. But she barely heard.
“Look ahead!” he screeched to the flailing duck and vanished. The duck remembered a bend in the river whose dangers she’d neglected to remain on guard against in her frantic backswim. A fatal error, and she closed her eyes a moment before looking, knowing this was the stupid end for a foolish duck- swept over avoidable rapids because she had failed to look ahead. She gave up trying to reach the island, aligned herself to confront whatever the bend concealed, and crested the corner prepared.

The bird sat atop an overflowing berry bush on the greenest island the duck had ever seen. Trembling, she paddled up.
“I didn’t reach my island,” said the duck.
“This one is nicer,” said the bird. “Have a berry.”

The duck never forgot the big island behind the bend, but she never forgot to stay alert again either. She learned to choose her goal islands with care, but to trust the river too. She still loved to talk with birds, to tell her stories of swimming and hear theirs of flying, each of them following the river in their own way. Sometimes she set out for an island only to achieve it and find its fruit spoiled. Sometimes the river swept her right past a lovely bush whose fruit she’d truly longed to sample. Sometime the current died away to almost nothing and a simple crossing exhausted her. But always she knew that there would be enough berries to feed her, enough water to support her and even if she never reached the ocean, she knew that the swimming was good.

This Is A Test

I’m taking a test in a large classroom full of tables large enough to accommodate two chairs side by side for a co-writing assignment. I’ve been assigned a desk with an attractive blond who writes in pen on only the left hand pages of our shared notebook, dating each one sequentially. I know the cover of the comp book has been pre-printed “The Life of Skye,” and that the blond is Life and that I am Skye.

Life has a pen with a pencil eraser, and she’s rapidly filling up left-hand pages, leaving the right side of the book blank. She writes only facts.

I have a pencil with no eraser. I can’t change anything Life writes, although I can annotate even very early pages on the right-hand side, and in fact have done so extensively during the time I was in therapy.

But I can’t flip forward in my comp book- even to see how many pages are left.

I can, however, write notes on how I’d like our co-writing assignment to develop, because I’m not sure my partner has a plan at all. I can write an outline and prop it up in plain view, so that Life, if she’s not feeling particularly creative on her own, can just go ahead and write from my plan.

Of course, sometimes she won’t. Sometimes she’ll write things I really, really don’t want in my book. And I don’t have an eraser. I can write mitigating or marginalizing commentary on my side of the page, but she’s free to reach over and erase wide swaths leaving ugly, smeary, empty pages.

I can read back and scan for patterns and confer with other writers in the room. I can ask about patterns in their own writing and even ask those closest to me to check their notes for those places where they’ve written about me. I can establish new patterns in our story by simply writing the same thing each day going forward.

I can take good notes about the patterns that I see, (or that my fellow students point out in my narrative) and make sticky notes for myself on how to respond differently. Because while Life may write the same patterns over and over, I can change what I write in response, on my half of the notebook, and that can disrupt her enough that she has to focus a little on what’s she writing. I suspect she’s a bit of ditz sometimes.

I can chose to write something different and while she can erase what I write, she can’t write anything else for me. Only I can fill in the right-hand page.

One day, I’m going to run out of pages. I don’t expect that day to come soon, because I know that most comp books come with a little fewer than twice the number of pages I’ve already written, but I know it’s possible that I could turn the page on today and find no tomorrow.

Then it will be time to turn in my work. I will carry my book to the front of the class and the master will glance up from the desk and say;
“Is it finished then?”
“Yes”
“Any questions?”
“Well, yes, actually. Lots. But I guess they all really boil down to: what did it all mean?”
“It was a test. It’s meant to be taken.”
“I did”
“Well. There you are then.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s very simple, really. The meaning of the test was for you to take it. Why were you here- in this class room?”
“To take the test?”
“Right! And why did you take the test?”
“Different reasons at different times. At first, I was writing just because the book was open in front of me, and it seemed like the only thing to do. Later, it was to try and figure out what had already been written and learn the rules of it. Finally, it was to write a good test. To turn in something that you’d enjoy reading, that moved our class forward, that hangs together coherently, that was fun to write.”
“So, how’d you do?”
“I wasted some time arguing with my desk mate, trying futilly to make Life change her story, but that for the most part, I think I did pretty well. I’m mentioned in several other people’s workbooks and quite a few extraordinary characters appear in mine. I tried to boost the overall tenor of the class and to help my classmates out when I could.” And the master will hand me both the red pencil and the grade record sheet. And I’ll record my grade, turn in my booklet and that will be the end.

Something Else

Once there was a brave girl with beautiful long red hair who could run very fast and was very good at math. When the time came for her to join a school she went first to the School of Fast Runners. She showed them how quickly she could run. They were very impressed and accepted her at once. She was proud and worked hard on her running until the day came that they told her she must cut her hair. It interfered with her running and must be cut off they said. She refused but they were unbending and said she could not stay at The School For Fast Running if she would not cut her hair, and so she left.

As she was leaving one of the fast runners shouted at her “why don’t you go join the Beautiful Haired? They are all as stuck up about themselves as you are”

Well, she didn’t feel that she was stuck up , so for a long time she wouldn’t go to The House of the Beautiful Hair. But finally, she was so lonely without a place to belong that she went and knocked. The door was thrown open to her and she was welcomed by people who taught her to care for her hair properly and style it in many wonderful ways. She realized that people with hair like hers weren’t all stuck up (though some of them certainly were) and she stopped feeling like her hair was something to be embarrassed of, and indeed learned to love it and feel proud of it.

She was happy there until one of the teachers caught her with a math book. The teacher was very kind, but explained that books in general, but particularly math books, drained blood from the scalp and should be avoided as it would eventually damage the hair. The girl tried to stop, but she found herself irresistibly drawn to math.

She’d catch herself doing arithmetic in the shower or find formulas in her doodles. The more she tried to avoid numbers, the more she seemed to encounter them. She felt terribly guilty and sought advise from many of the teachers on how to best excise this destructive part of herself. Though everyone was very gentle and understanding, they could not help her. They didn’t ask her to leave but, ashamed and embarrassed she eventually snuck away one night alone.

Her hair was still beautiful and they would always have welcomed her for that, but she couldn’t stay. She wandered for a while until she came across girl who was walking along carrying math books. At first she looked away, embarrassed for the girl who didn’t seem to have the sense to hide the shameful books, but carried them about for all to see. Eventually though her curiosity got the better of her and she struck up a conversation. They had so much in common that the girl quickly forgot her own shame and reveled in the company of her new friend. They walked some distance before she even bothered to inquire where they were headed.

Her new friend, it turned out, was headed to Math School and invited the girl to come along. She was doubtful at first, she’d had such bad luck at the School for Fast Running and the Home for the Beautiful Hair that she was afraid to try again. But at last, because she liked her new friend so much, she decided to apply. The entrance test was very difficult and even though she was very good at math, it had been so long since she’d done it and since she’d not had any instruction, she did not pass the test. Her new friend said good-bye to her sadly and went inside.

For a while the girl was very sad indeed. She had never failed at anything before and couldn’t help feeling like it was her own fault. She was lonely without a school to belong to and she missed her new friend. She decided to get to work on getting into Math School. She hired a teacher who was willing to coach her and she worked very hard for a long time learning everything she’d missed in her time at the Hair and Running schools. She hardly noticed time passing because she was working so hard, but she was really happy during this time. She had a goal and a plan and even though she was alone and tired most of the time she felt really good.

Finally the day came to try the test again. This time she passed and was admitted to the Math School so proud to have won at something. She had never gotten to compete at Running or Hair school because, though everyone had said she was very promising first the hair and then the math had stopped her before she’d been there long enough to enter a completion. She was confident now that she’d be able to win at Math School.

It didn’t come as easily to her as the other things had though and she found she had to get up extra early to go running and wash her hair before classes began and she began to get very tired. Soon, in fact, she got so tired that she began to hurt herself running and had to quit brushing her hair before all the knots were out. She began to make stupid mistakes in math. This frightened her and she resolved to stop getting up so early to run. This helped but she quickly found she had to give up the hair care regime too in order to get enough rest.

She was miserable. She hated the way she looked and felt and she began to resent the math, even as she was getting better at it, but every day she woke up early enough to do her hair or run, her math suffered. She was tired all the time.

Because she was brave, she began to try and find a better way. She looked back over her life trying to find when she was happiest, and realized, to her surprise, that it had been while she was training to get into math school and yet she knew she couldn’t live her whole life in training. Training implies that there’s something you’re aiming for and while she could train for Science School perhaps, she knew that she wouldn’t fit in once she got there any more than she had at Math school.

Finally, she decided to start her own school. She found a little building on a crowded street and opened The School for Long Haired, Fast Running Math People. Once again, she was happy. She worked hard cleaning up the building and getting everything in order. She learned how to set up the books and arrange desks. She made up brochures for her school and took them around. She imagined the people who would come and be so grateful to have finally found a place that fit them well. And then one day everything was ready and she opened her doors for business and no one came. No one came the next day either. Or the next. On the day after that a young boy knocked. The girl ran to the door and opened it.
“Hi” she said excitedly. “I can see your hair is long and beautiful. Can you run and do math?”
“No” said the boy. “I can run and write really well though”
“Oh” she said, bitterly disappointed “I’m sorry.” And she closed the door.

In the days that followed, no one else knocked and she began to wonder if she’d done the wrong thing. She was lonely again. Perhaps she should have let the boy in. Perhaps she should open a School for People with Beautiful Hair who Run and do Something Else. But she knew that wasn’t right. She was very sad because she knew this really was the right school for her, but there was no one else there. She thought she would be lonely the rest of her life.

She began to take walks in the afternoon around the streets by her school. One day she passed a new school being opened. She watched it for a while fondly remembering the days she had worked setting up her own school. Several days later when she passed that way again, the sign had gone up. School for Short People who Dance and Read Books.

She sighed. She read books and liked to dance, but she was definitely on the tall side. She knocked all the same. The person who answered was confused to see a tall girl standing on the step, but she was polite all the same. She said she had had only one other person come by since she’d opened, a short dancer who sang. The short dancer who read and the long-haired runner who liked math talked for a long time. They had both opened schools, they both liked books- though different kinds, and they found they had a lot to talk about.

They became good friends and since no other short dancers who read or long-haired mathematicians who ran showed up at either door they both had a lot of time. After a while though, the girl began to feel bored. She remembered the busy days at Math School and wished to feel that involved in something again. Then she had a very strange thought in deed. Maybe she didn’t need to belong to a school at all- not even her own school. She went to visit her friend the short dancer who read and told her:“I’m going to leave my school. I will be a Tall Mathematician with Beautiful Hair who Runs Fast doing something else completely, a school of one, but I’d still like us to be friends because even though we belong to different schools because I like you very much.”
“OK” said her friend.”What will you do?”
“I don’t know” said the brave tall mathematician with beautiful hair who ran fast and had one good friend. “But that doesn’t matter. I know who I will be while I’m doing it.”

Trees

In your garden two very different trees grow not far apart. Limbless, leafless, each forks at the top into two branches. Upon those four branches balances a beautiful golden bowl in which your divine and liquid fire glimmers and winks. Your sun-bowl radiates joy and peace, glowing from the top of your interwoven trees. Your brightly burning bowl-light can encourage the fire balanced on treetops in my garden and in other gardens, and can even lighten the fearful forest’s long shadows.

Slender and lithe, the first of the two trees in any garden is the heart tree, fragile even at its most healthy. A successful planting responds with gentle swaying to breezes and tremors, a smooth rocking which transmits, through the bowl, a circular motion to the liquid sun. Through the movement of the heart tree the bowl-light is stirred and increases. The movement must be gentle though, for if shaken too hard, the bowl can unbalance and precious sunwater be sloshed out and lost.

How easily a heart tree is moved from generative stirring to dangerous shaking is determined, in large part, by the health and proximity of its sister tree. The mind tree is a hardwood and altogether different from the pliable tree it grows beside. While heart trees benefit from the early tending of roots and from balmy atmospheric conditions, mind trees respond to rigorous hands-on care. With its visible growth rings and thicker bark, the mind tree can be trained to support its companion’s more reactive branches.

When cruel, careless or blind things stumble against the tender heart tree and unsettle the liquid sun, a strong mind tree can counterbalance the movement so that little liquid spills. A well-tended mind tree can absorb or redirect a surprising amount of force.

Every gardener is different; every delicate interplay of trees and bowl and fire and wind is unique. Garden location plays a role- some are gustier, some more calm, and some have gotten stronger starts. Some gardeners are naturals, others never learn that anything they do to any tree makes their own trees more or less healthy. When trees starve or sicken they sag, the bowlflame dulls and shrinks below the bowl rim, its light lost to the gardener and to his trees and to every gardener and every bowl of light. Shadows from the forest may even reach into the bowl, but I personally do not believe they can ever put a bowl-light out.

Do not let every gusty breeze rock your golden bowl. Your water is too precious, too god-like to allow it to be lost to any minor thing. Allow into your garden only what feeds your trees and reflects your bowl-light. Invite in gardeners who recognize your liquid fire for what it really is: your puddle of the holy, the god of you in you, your soul and your spirit; your inner peace.

Trading Spaces

In theater, this would be tech week. We’d be spending hours together not sleeping much, convinced that this will be the time it doesn’t all come together opening night. But it’s already “in the can” and simply waiting patiently for the correct date and time to go on. And it got into its can completely without me. We shot over a hundred hours of tape between two houses. They’ll make 44 minutes of show out of that. Actually “they” is Jamie, and she already has. And I have no idea what it will be like. I trust her, but I feel so removed from the processes that shape our episode, that it doesn’t feel like “ours” to me.

But my house does. Laurie flew over the bar I’d worried we’d set too high, and our new room expresses who we are better than we could have. From tying the house more firmly to its site to choosing paint to match the red from my wedding dress, I know that Laurie made that room for me personally. That room made this show about us. Which is part of what made our experience with Hildi so frustrating. Our focus, working on Jill’s house, was Jill, and our desire to make something nice for her. I didn’t feel like Hildi ever understood or considered Jill the way we were understood and considered by Laurie, which put us in the awkward position of working against Hildi to advocate for Jill. It’s not a radical idea to think that a designer should reference the needs and tastes of the person who will inhabit their creations. We lobbied for that with Hildi, even not knowing moving the results could be till I saw Jill, Joy, Kelly, Amy and Laurie did in our house. It’s an incredible gift to feel understood- to see yourself reflected through the work of another.

And as weird as the thing with Hildi was, it ended up working out OK. Jill loves her room. After the taping, I tracked the idea of mosiacing the fireplace to having seen Hildi do it on an old Trading Spaces episode, so the room was certainly not without her creative contribution and Carter, without a designer to design for him, stepped into the creative void, researched Indian temples and drew his own. I was blown away by how invested he was. In fact, everyone who worked on the show- from the scouts who came to interview us as part of the selection process, to the producers who guided us through scenes, to the sound and camera guys to the production assistants, were all dynamic, professional, unusual people. I think it’ll feel weird to watch the show without them, they were so much of the experience of making it.

It’s strange. I never really forgot the camera was there, but as I got to know the guys behind it, I forgot what it represents- the hundred-times-the- number of people I’ve ever met in my life who will only know me through it as I was being for my friend behind the camera and the guy behind him whose job was to tell me everything I did was great- only maybe a little bit more. So I suspect I’ll end up watching not myself, but a caricature of myself: Me-as- TV-character gets angry, Me-as-TV-character goes up the ladder too fast and cries too easily. Still, I didn’t do the show to learn who I was as a TV character. I did it for the experience of making a TV show and doing the renovation work. For me, it was about getting a weekend to hang out with my husband and a chance to make something pretty for a friend. I did it to shaking stuff up, to introduce a little chaos into my fairly stable life. The night it was over, when we finally got to bed, I woke myself up laughing. Twice. I slept ten hours a night the next three nights.

The whole thing feels a little like being an astronaut might. We’re strapped into this expensive, giant, moving thing, with everyone acting as though we’re the center of it all, and yet all the movement is originating outside us. The direction is being set by someone else, the machinary is complex, the language is technical and the reasons behind what we’re asked to do are arcane or obscure. I never felt like I wasn’t being myself, but it was me in the middle of a lot of stuff I didn’t understand with several tons of highly volatile gas at my back. It’s all about you, but it’s really not about you. The attention feels weird because it doesn’t feel earned, and the coffee drinkers want to talk to you when you run out to Starbucks in the only fifteen minutes you have off set the whole weekend because you’re still wearing the smock and battery pack. I’m interesting to them because I’m on TV, not because I’ve actually done something worthy. So let me take you on a little tour of my rocket ship to spread the attention around:

The Greenwood School
where Egan and Isa met, and where Carter and Amy Winn worked their magic.

Jaya
where we got the beautiful teak table, wall carving and amazing lamp for Jill’s living room.

Mercury
Cool local Austin boutique which set us up with our amazing chairs, coral and lamps.

Molly
her two portraits of Skye were moved from the bedroom into the living room by Laurie to highlight their beauty. Molly does amazing custom soul portraits and spiritual art.

DogmaFree prayer candles
Skye’s handmade soywax prayer candles showed up in our house and in Jill’s.

Ecowise
Austin’s authentic earth-friendly everything store- source of our low VOC expresso brown ceiling paint.

Amma
Living Hindu saint, Jill’s spiritual teacher, and living room focal point

Make Poverty History
Source of Skye’s white bracelet, powerful organization doing critical work

Keep Austin Weird
Um, we’re doing our part

John Henry Mason
Local artist doing beautiful things with old oil drums

Robert & Shana Parkeharrison
Photographers whose work we added to the room on the bounce back.

Greg Delaney
Another Austin artist- maker of the cool pin Skye’s wearing

 

Just Enough

I left a job as creative director when I was pregnant with Egan. It was the right decision, and while I’ve missed aspects of work, Egan and I, and in fact Scott and Kaki have all really benefited from my being home. All the same, for the past two years, I’ve been trying to leverage some of my time home to prepare for work when Egan starts kindergarten. The first plan was to have the Magics busy enough to need me managing them with the additional time (and for the additional income) when Egan started school. By the time it became apparent that that scenario wasn’t going to play out, I had a contract on the books with a publicity plan that had me working on book promotion in September if not well before. Now that plan was shot too, and with my exciting trip behind me, I felt like a failure on the professional front with little exciting to look forward to, and while I was still going through the motions, I felt flat and pathetic inside.

I’m going to give you my version of the ideas put forth in the book, because as I ran threm through my own weird filters and paradigms, I found them interesting and useful. If you want an non Sky-ized version, it’s called Just Enough by Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson.

Their thesis is that we all need to four different kind of satisfactions- they call them happiness, achievement, significance and legacy. Specifically, that we need at least some of all four kinds on a fairly frequent basis, and that rather than concentrating exclusively on developing the sort of skills that make us successful in business and trying to bring those skills to bear in our recreation and interpersonal relationships, that what we need to do is recognize the sense of “just enough” fulfillment in each quadrant and move, daily or even hourly through these incommiserate satisfactions.

With apologies to my engineer friend who’s cautioned me off the lure of any two-by-two graphing of anything, I found it useful, because it’s allowed some light on what exactly I’ve been feeling like I’m missing. I have very little to show for the last 5 years in the public success arena that they’re calling “achievement” but that I think of as “glory” in the ancient Greek usage of the word meaning “recognition with praise” They talk about it as something done in competition with or against others, a sense of mastery, of being accomplished or good at something to the extent that you’re better than the average monkey doing it.  It’s where we get our public power, we win, we’re successful, we make money. And this was really useful for me because yes, I’ve accomplished things during this time. I’ve raised children, and kept the house clean, I’ve written quite a lot and started not one, but two business ventures. But none of these things have made much money, and while I know that’s not the only measure of success, none of them have succeeded in any competitive, public, recognition-earning way.

It was really useful to me to see myself as falling short in that one area, and understanding my less-than-complete happiness as being not unhappy, but simply missing satisfaction in this one area. Very liberating. I like being able to interrogate feelings of dissatisfaction against this metric, and in fact, I’ve made some additional early notes on what my ideal version of fulfillment would be in each quadrant and what implications I’ve noticed of not getting enough in each area. When I haven’t been working enough in the upper left quadrant- the transcendence area- for example, I feel hungry and needy, addictive, insatiable. As though I’m trying to fill up my Happiness quota with candy.   Failures in the Impact area, on the opposite diagonal have left me, at their worst, feeling stuck in a rut, useless, afraid of death, afraid of change, and not sure that I actually matter. I haven’t had much of this recently. Something about raising children makes you less likely to question your impact. I know I echo.

Mostly, though, I think I need to give some strong thought to creating real goals for the upper right area- warrior goals, goals about winning. And just writing that stirs up in me deeply ingrained twinges of “ladies don’t fight to win” and other resistances that I didn’t know I had to the ideas of competition and achievement. I think it will be good for me to take the risks involved in actually competing.  Yes, I can be happy even if I don’t achieve my goals in this area, but I think it will really stretch me to try, and I expect the trying itself will be educational and energizing. It’s also helped me shake a nagging sense of loserness. I’m not pathetic, I’m well accomplished in pleasure and service and legacy. In fact I’m very happy in those quadrants more days than not, so happiness is still very available to me, even right now. It’s just not a complete happiness yet.

I drew this up, it overlays their quadrants with one of Ken Wilber’s and one of Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s with a little of the Michael teachings sprinkled in for good measure.

geeky_chart

Marriage

A marriage is a homunculus, a weird little clay thing you make and breathe hope and love and plans into. Not a divine thing, like something born or germinated is, but still with the need to be fed and nurtured and sustained, because death is possible, even for that which is imbued not born.

Craft and shape, in passion, in leisure, with care and artistry, with inspiration, before your vows animate it, because if you must destroy what you make, even a beautiful, poignant thing that is not living claims you less.

And like a child, it will need you early most, but intensely, sporadically in years to come, and you will invest in it, support and sustain, until one day, it will carry you through, and this strange thing you created and protected is strong enough to return the service, will survive and bring the two of you across in its arms.

Grief

I am forever rewriting a statement of belief. If I ever get it finished enough- it’ll never be really complete- I’ll put it here. In it, I say I believe that joy, (not happiness and not pleasure) signal the correct path towards growth- that pain and chaos are always a signal that we are in the wrong place, attending to the wrong things, at war with what actually exists, etc. But I’m starting to wonder if that’s the case. Perhaps there is disintegration, alienation, and meaninglessness that simply is. And we feel its pain. And that’s all.

I’m uncertain though. I believe in the role of suffering to educate. I believe in the underworld as the painful chaos of creation, but I can see no growth coming out of Beslan. The children who sat out terror for hours to die away from their mothers alone aren’t going to increase integration or become more fully realized versions of themselves. Nor does everything that fails to kill me strengthen me. Some things just leave you scarred, damaged or broken.

I guess it comes down to one of my primary tenets: All Truth is a paradox. Pain exists for a purpose and pain exists for no reason at all. I am so used to reading pain as a call to action I marshal my litany of empowerment: from Frankle’s “last human freedom” to Gandhi’s “Satyagraha,” I have asserted my ability to pray, to visualize, to create, to integrate and individuate, to grow in response to pain. I have said I know the root causes of all pain and that they are powerlessness and meaninglessnes. And now. Now I wonder if some pain defies any creative growth. If, as we face the parents of Breslan, all we can do is take one more breath. And one more. This pain exists for no reason at all.

And what do you do in the face of reasonless, purposeless pain?
Do you do what you can?
Do you do nothing at all?
I lit a Grieve candle. It doesn’t seem like enough.
I keep searching the shadows, looking for meaning. I keep wondering “what is this trying to tell me? What is the message in the broken things, the beauty in the disordered elements?” and I think there is no meaning there. No warning, no clarion call. Nothing to avoid. No action to undertake. Sometimes suffering comes without the easy sidestep into anger, without the terrible dark goddess, the avenging angle, the protector of the innocent, the warrior for justice. Is she strong enough to only hold my hand?
Does she walk into the valley of the shadow of death, and just have a seat there?
Does she look at you and not blink? Can she hold your eye and love you in your agony?
Then so must I. Unblinking.

Polarity

But there’s a subtler dynamic in interpersonal, (particularly romantic or family) relationships that is similar to power hydraulics, but different in some ways. It’s a polarization effect, where people take on opposite ends of a role continuum. These are the “I’m the one who” polarities. I’m the one who runs the finances, I’m the one who has the feelings, I’m the one who does the house work, I’m the strong one, I’m the crazy one, I’m the responsible one. It’s so easy, but it’s so destructive because nobody is always strong or crazy or responsible, but you go there because it’s your role and your partner keeps you there and pretty soon, the only way you can see to get out of a role is to leave.

One of my best friends lost him marriage to this. He was older than she was and good with money. He balanced their checkbook at first and polarized into The Responsible One. She was forever running up the credit cards and he was always lecturing and worried. She finally left him because she thought it was the only way she could learn to be responsible. She felt like he’d never stop seeing her as impulsive and stupid. He felt like she’s always seem him as controlling and cheap. She wanted to manage money better but felt pushed into the spendthrift role. But she also liked pretty, expensive things. He wanted to be able to buy on impulse occasionally, but also liked feeling in charge and adult and responsible. They got so polarized that neither of them could stand the extremes, the charicatures they’d become but neither could move towards the center or allow the other one to.

My last relationship before Scott died on a polarity too. He was the crazy one. He had wild emotional swings, anger and jealously and it was my job to be the steady one. To hold him and reassure him, to protect him and heal him. I liked it because I felt important and the passion was intense. He liked it because it felt alive and real and he had some serious stuff he needed to heal and felt safe and loved enough to start working on it. But it polarized. And I could never have a bad day or a short fuse or pain, anger, grief or passion of my own. I always had to keep it together. And he, likewise, could never come into peace, calm, be intellectual or rational. At the end, he did crazy all the time and I did the Ice Queen. I’m a fairly intense and passionate person, left to my own devices, but our relationship had become so polarized that I felt nothing any longer. You find yourself saying, “This isn’t me” and wondering how you got there.

Early on, I would break up with a guy when I reached the full extension polarity and pick the next guy based on the pendulum pull back. If I’d been the smart one I’d pick a smart guy next time. If I’d been the naughty one, I’d pick a bad boy. Whatever my partner had polarized on, I’d go for the opposite pole. It didn’t take long to spot the pattern, and what I started to do was look for balance on the continuum that had broken up the last relationship. Ricki was the crazy one, so when I went looking for Scott, I wanted a man with whom I could hand the emotionality back and forth. We still do a pretty good job on that one, actually. Sometimes he’s the strong one, sometimes I’m weak. Sometimes he freaks out and I soothe. It’s nice.

We have other polarities though. I’m the neat freak and he’s the slob. Which is ironic, because I’m not, left on my own, that much of tidy type. Only he is less so and so we’ve polarized and now I’m the one who cleans and he doesn’t. At all. And yes, it makes me crazy. I’m the intellectual one and he won’t read anything I write, not even the erotica. And he was Ivy League when I started going out with him. But we’ve polarized. Now I’m the one that has ideas and he’s the one who makes things with his hands. A man’s man. Grrrrr. See me moon about.

Living with another person is a delicate balance of give and take, of compromise and accommodation, but I’m beginning to believe there are places where one should refuse to bend, refuse the push down the continuum, stand fast to the balance you have when you’re single and have to account for the full spectrum on your own. I’m trying to see what it is I get out of the polarities I inhabit, because I’m pretty sure it’s mutual thing that ends you up there.

The people I enjoy most are those who are able to maintain polarities within themselves, those who can be artistic and stable, smart and silly, kinky and responsible, daring and considerate. But it’s hard. And I think, when we fall in love, we’re all too happy to hand half a continuum off to our love. It binds us to them, is an intimate sharing, an act of love: “Here, you be smart and I’ll be silly.” Until we end up leaving him because he has no sense of humor and says you can never be serious about anything. And I’m not sure I know how to reclaim it. It sounds a lot like identity assassination when you ask your partner to be a more artistic type of person. And even it you’re not really wanting them to change who they are, you know they’ll resist if you start breaking the rules and acting all stable and business-like. That’s their role, after all. And maybe that’s the key, to begin reclaiming your competencies, edging into the middle space without asking him to leave. Could I have ever been the weak one with Ricki? Could I have had a meltdown and cried and not cared if he didn’t join me on the great role flip? If he had stayed in crazy himself and not picked up my place in stable, or would the teeter totter just have flipped over rather than snapping in the center as it did?