New Things

I’m working on collecting my writing (and written) life in a single place, so over the past few days, I’ve been dumping old bits and pieces of things — essays, early attempts at fiction, even a stray poem into blog pages.  I’m making some attempt to organize it here, but if you’re reading backwards in sequence, fair warning:  it’s going to get messy.

 

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

 

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.

Shopping For Me

Scott took Kaki shopping for a birthday present for me. Now, while I have no trouble at all shopping for myself, I hear I’m hard to shop for. I actually believe this because only my best friend has reliably been able to get me gifts I love. Well, Molly and those willing to do the gift certificate thing. I have eccentric tastes in clothing and no patience for useless stuff, so I can understand, at least on an intellectual level why it might be frustrating, so…  Kaki shops for Mommy (as relayed by Scott)

Scott: Where do you think we should go?  What kind of store?
Kaki: A bookstore
Scott: Do you know a book Mom wants?
Kaki: No, but I know she likes reading to me. We’re almost done with the one we’re reading, but we’ve got the next one picked out already.
So they go and wander around the bookstore for a little while before Kaki winds up in front of the blank books. She loves these things.  She has a collection that she draws in, writes in, or uses as props. I never use them. I write on legal pads when I use paper at all, which is seldom, and only when I’m really stuck, and I don’t try to unstick with kids around, so Scott suspects her gift shopping as been derailed by personal interest.
Scott: Do you think Mommy would like that?
Kaki: Well, she likes to write.
Scott: That’s true.
Kaki: And look, on the front, it says “thoughts”. Mom likes to think!
Scott: busts up laughing.

What does that mean, when your child thinks thinking is your hobby? I can just see her in class:
Teacher: What do your parents do?
Kaki: Well, my dad makes stuff in his shop. Mom thinks.
Maybe I should take up knitting.

9-11-2002

I’ve been thinking about how to mark the 9-11 anniversary. I want to take my lesson from the ordinary people in the towers and the planes. The last words in phone calls, simple endings: “I love you.” I’ve thought about who I’d call in my last minutes and resolved to write them now instead. Because death can be unexpected. Because it’s a good thing to hear and to say. Because it’s the only way I know to tell the dead I’m sorry.

Today, I’m going to wrangle the kids into the kitchen and make cookies. On Wednesday, we’ll take them to our fire station and say thank you. Thank you for going out in all sorts of weather, into all sorts of situations, for risking your lives, for training and working and waiting just to help.

We’ll talk while we cook about the rescue workers who ran towards the scene that everyone fled. We’ll talk about the way the world’s greatest evil is answerable only by constant small good. I’ll tell them that for every one person willing to fly a plane into a building, there are entire teams that rush into its wreckage to help. We will determinedly see the helpers amid the killers, the hundreds working to repair what a few destroyed.

And then we’ll take our little offering to the workers nearest us- to the emergency room nurses and the EMS. We’ll say “thank you” and we’ll go home. I can’t promise my children a peaceful or even a safe world, but I can offer them my personal truth that darkness does not extinguish light, but calls it into stark relief. I can tell them that we can be brave when we are not safe and strong when we seek peace. I can teach them that creation is the answer to destruction and that hope is our response to despair.

I can say “I love you” right now.
I can teach my children to do what they can even if it starts as small as a cookie.

Hoping For Happy

My mother never spoke in the first person singular. She never said “I”, always “we”. “We love you”, she would tell me as she tucked me in– even on nights when Dad was out of town. She belonged to a “we” that I was not a part of. It used to make me lonely. She would tell me “we don’t care what profession you choose, we just hope you’ll be happy.” Unhappy people were incomprehensible to my mom. They seemed ungrateful, or morally questionable. Happy was an obligation.

I never really wanted to be happy. Not that I wanted to be unhappy, though I often was, to my mother’s considerable alarm. Happy just wasn’t that important to me. What I wanted to be was alive.

I made the first in a series of career choices when I was seven and had failed miserably by the time I was seventeen. Since then, I have never really feared failure. After the spectacular flaming crash there is the Sisyphus walk; valid in its own right. In struggling, as in suffering, there is sensation and awareness, although all that you sense is the pain.

We are more sensitive to pain than to joy and distinguish more subtleties and variations of discomfort. We remember pain more specifically and in more detail. It is an animal survival mechanism. We remember with great clarity to help us avoid repeating the causes of our suffering. We are more intrigued by agony than by joy, likely to turn in disgust from public love-making and crane to catch a glimpse of car-wrecked lives.

Anguish, and terror, and loathing, lend themselves easily to prose. Love unrequited, and despair, and loss move readily into poetry. They say the universe hums with energy, that the tiniest segments tingle and vibrate, but what language do we have to express a sense of being in tune, on key and in the right tempo with that hum? The Pain and Sorrow Canon can not express the sense of a destiny created, not fulfilled, of being simply and purely alive, a conduit for the energy of the universe that amplifies an individual’s piece of it. What is the language of the peacefully joyous? Is it in bad taste to say that late last night, tired and pushing the edge of my physical endurance, but involved in work that I love, I paused for just a heartbeat, because suddenly my heart was full? I felt the hum, I breathed the energy, I was — in those seconds — alive. Why is it more acceptable to scream my fear and my suffering?

I do fear; and what I fear is numbing monotony, the daily drum that deadens the pulse and drowns out the universe. I fear mediocrity and routine. I’d rather be homeless than middle management. Except now I have a child, and yes, I’d wear the management loafers to keep her safe and warm, and maybe that’s where it starts. Maybe, to the intense aliveness of a child, we sacrifice our own sensations, we begin to turn away from the joy of others and voyeuristically compare their sufferings to our own. We begin to cling to “we” and hope for happy.

A Whispered Chorus

Perhaps, it is when we are children and we fall down and cry and are told: “Get up. That didn’t hurt ” that we begin to doubt our internal information. Perhaps, it is when our first love, the one on whom we have hung all our young hopes, breaks our heart saying: “you over-reacted” to his fling with a best friend that we begin to tell that little barometer inside us that it is inaccurate and even stupid. Perhaps, by the first time he hits you and then carefully, lovingly coaches you on how to truly understand that it was completely your fault, it has become too late to listen to your small inner gauge of what is, and what is not OK. The inner dialog is rewritten; and the last time he hit you, you would have been terrified if he had not.

The villains on the TV always cackle that finally their evil dominion will cover the earth, but you know that the real demons never thought that way. Hitler and Somoza and the Khmer Rouge have always believed that their work was beneficial and served the greater good. In the quiet mornings with coffee, did they hear an inner voice tell them otherwise? Did they pause? When they spoke their words filled with hate and dying, the people who listened found new voices for their souls and loved their leaders for providing them. Those leaders spoke, inspiring a loyalty that only soul recognition can, like the faith in the man who hurts you. He has taught your inner voice the words to his song. And the people love to sing.

Perhaps we doubt the strength of our internal voice. Perhaps the reason that we admire the Victor Frankels and Marting Luther Kings as much as we do is not because they merely survived, but because they remained – in the whisper within them – honest. Perhaps, when we hear words filled with fear and condemnation spoken about the poor, the homeless and the drug junkies, we pause with our coffee. What song has the pregnant mother smoking crack learned to sing? What sings the twelve year-old son’s voice when he shoots his playmate at school? What does my voice murmur if I allow the hate for these smothered voices to stifle my own? If I hate those with cut vocal cords for not singing my song? Whisper: “No”

Perhaps, if we raise our children to listen intuitively to the voices within themselves and respectfully to the voices within others, fewer mouths will be gagged. Perhaps, if we listen with compassion to the voice of the Senator who says “cut their funding” about those with silenced songs, we can hear the fear and uncomprehending breathing beneath his hate. And then, perhaps, to ourselves, to our children, and in a small, clear voice aloud, whisper: “No.”

Faith

I’m looking for truth, but finding only useful analogies. I have friends who are Christians, and friends who are witches. I love them all, and believe in none. Once, I was a Christian. We went to church and listened to preachers, but I found no home for my passion. Later, I was a pagan. We went to the woods and listened to spirits, but I found no expression for my mind. Now I am alone, isolated in a congregation of my uncertain fellows. Even atheism requires more faith than I can summon. Knowledge becomes it’s own god and wonder is diminished. Education speaks in terms of what we already know, and what we have yet to discover. Everything, it seems, is ultimately knowable, given adequate time and technology.

We already know more than I can understand. The comfortable, intuitive Newtonian universe is obsolete. Time forms the fourth dimension. “Beyond the universe” does not exist, and yet the universe has a discreet shape. Is faith an intellectual act? Can one simply decide to stop doubting and believe? Must you then also cease to question and learn? I long to believe. To feel, deep in my soul, the resonance of a truth, and feel some envy of those who do, even of those I do not respect, whose faith allows them to hate and to be blind. I admire faith. I loathe the blindness.

My spiritual handicap threatens the next generation. How can I answer truthfully? I believe there is a higher and benevolent power at work in the universe. But do I? I believe that people are basically good and that there are external standards of love and evil that transcend culturally defined mores. But are there? How can I desecrate the easy faith of a child, poison it with doubt? How can I lie?

I’ve taken elements of Christianity, shards of paganism, bits of ancient mythology, nubs of pop psychology and woven a blanket that I sometimes toy with protecting myself under. It works best when I need it least, when I am strong and happy in my own right. When I seek its shelter in times of pain and loneliness, it is inevitably threadbare, pathetic and sadly sterile. I rarely stay for long. I find myself at these times, driven from under my faith quilt by it glaring inadequacies, wandering into the wet of life, seeking people, and an eye to catch. Hoping to find in people what I cannot find in God, a sense of connection, of love sent out and received. A patchwork faith, a god of motley, a doubting trust and an honest lie are all I have to offer. You can have it all, my darling, for what it’s worth.