A Place at the Table

Infusing your writing with a kind of extraordinary perception, opening a window for your readers onto a new landscape, a new vision of the world and its wonders, comes from your willingness to acknowledge there is more going on in this life than that which can be quantified, explained, measured or dissected.

You can learn how to write a sentence and a paragraph. You can understand punctuation and all the proper structural conceits. You can write a story with a beginning, middle and end. But unless your writing draws on the unique essence of who you are, what you alone can bring to the piece, it will lack that spark that makes it sing.

What makes a piece of literature reveal itself to another is in large measure directly related to how much risk the writer is willing to take in revealing their own inner process.

So now we must approach our craft with boldness and fearless determination to strip back any veneer of pretense or false images. We must allow our own awe a bigger place at our table. We must allow fear a place, as well, and not just fear of wild beasts or fire or falling down a well. We must allow all of our deepest feelings a place, set our table well, and let the conversation begin.

It is only when we do this that we can apprehend the mystery of really good writing, and begin to open that door that has been so securely locked, bolted, and defended against any intruder, including ourselves.

We have all experienced writing that so lifts us, infuses us with light, that we become inspired, renewed, appreciative of what we never thought anyone could touch within our very soul. There is a magic that instantly connects us with the writer, her characters, her settings, that resonates, calls forth a new music that we never knew resided in us.

Great religious leaders have talked of epiphanies, of being struck by light along the way, of revelations and ecstasies when confronted by their understanding of what is holy. And whether we are religious or not, we experience the more of our world, our relationships, ourselves on a daily basis.

The exercise of inviting the extraordinary into our writing lives is our most important task. It goes beyond practice, it goes beyond scheduling, it must infuse as many of our waking and sleeping moments as we can give it. What we strive to bring to ourselves and our readers is an experience that goes beyond construct and mere curiosity. It is a heart-connection with our world, our relationships, and our writing, that we must have in order to evoke the reader’s response.

Can we define this “more than matter”? Should we try? In quantifying and qualifying its properties have we eviscerated it? Can we really pursue it, or does it simply arrive and present itself when we least expect it? Is it inspiration? Is it our muse?

Some might call it the apprehension of the numinous. And even if you are not religious, if you are a writer, you know there is more than the simple furnishings, or tangibles of life that we are pursuing. Is it deeper understanding? Meaning?

Put these questions in your mind over the next month. Read things that have evoked an extraordinary response in your deepest self. Sit with music that touches your heart.

When you are ready to put pen to paper, do it. Do it if it comes to you in the middle of the night or while you are in the middle of washing the dishes or the dog. Put tears on the page, anger, joy, fear, awe, love, resentment, cowardice, gratitude, boredom. If we are going to write, and write well, we must invite all of these, and their relatives, to our table to be part of the conversation. Let them speak, give them space and be patient while they exercise their new privilege.

 

FALL?

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I’m sitting at the Farmers Market enjoying a tamale and a latte. The air is warm, but not too warm. In fact it is beginning to feel a tiny bit like fall. There are a few yellow leaves on the liquidambar (or redgum) trees. Since those are usually the first to turn, it may be some time before there is evidence elsewhere. I don’t count the Halloween decorations already appearing at Michael’s.

I do count the planting of the corn maze near our local vegetable stand. That has to be done in August or there won’t be corn that’s tall enough by the time they want to start hayrides.

Summer weather lasts here in Southern California long into October, but we still notice subtle changes in evening and morning light. And no matter how warm the weather stays, we do get some spectacular leaf colors. Yes, truly, We do.

What I feel whenever the seasons change is a slight shift in my awareness. As we move from summer to fall there is a softening and a willingness to let go. There is an eagerness to experience the holidays, apart from the buying and selling. I look forward to family and friend gatherings.

Carving pumpkins brings us together for chili and cornbread, wine and hot cider, even if it is 90 degrees outside.

But what I notice this year is that there is an internal appreciation for change. I am not always comfortable with change, but this year I am greeting new possibilities with a more open spirit of adventure. I am letting the aspect of my internal camera’s eye broaden to include things that might have been outside the picture before.

Aging is a complicated process. I have vacillated back and forth between narrowing my activities and expanding them. That exercise in and of itself has proven to be useful. I can sort out what is possible, and that includes what I most enjoy as part of the sorting.

So if I feel like sitting and embroidering for awhile because my fingers long to create something, that is good. And if I feel like going out for a walk in the park and having lunch with a friend, that also feeds my soul and is good.

If  I want to spend time writing or just thinking about what I might write, that’s a good thing. If I want to iron all day and listen to jazz, that’s a good thing.

If I want to take on yoga instruction, which is a new and exciting thing for me right now, then that is a good thing. And if I want to spend time meditating, an old discipline that has been neglected, that is a good thing.

Too often, in retirement, I have thought of my life as diminishing rather than expanding. As I have taken on new projects, new vistas appear. New friends appear. Old relationships are revived. I find I have skills I haven’t used before.

This has never been clearer to me than right now as we are moving out of one season and into the next. Even though it is the beginning of the end of the year, it feels like a perfectly wonderful new beginning to me.

How can we move beyond misogyny?

Yes.

Being the Blog of Rebecca Kuder

IMG_0098 shrine for dead fish, arranged by children (July 2016)

Last Saturday on a road trip, I stopped for lunch at the Globe restaurant at Truck World in Hubbard, Ohio. As I filled my plate from the salad bar, I heard two men (and maybe a woman, it was hard to discern) conversing about the presidential candidates. Here is what I captured:

Man 1: Who’re you voting for?

Man 2: Oh, Trump, all the way. Everybody in this area is voting for Trump.

(Someone, then others, chiming in): (Benghazi, Benghazi, sick of these liars, etc.)

Man 1: About all Hillary’s got going for her is her looks.

(Someone, maybe a woman): She hasn’t even got THAT going for her, she’s getting older.

As I listened, nausea filled my bones, my gut. As I type the words now, I feel it again: fear, vulnerability (as a woman, traveling alone, and also myself “getting older”). Part of me…

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ENGAGED TO WRITING

Engaged to Writing

Of all the Merriam Webster’s definitions of “engage,” the one that most attracts me is the intransitive verb “to come together and interlock .” Sounds a little sexy, doesn’t it?

So many things out there in the world that I am longing to be engaged to, and with. One of them is writing. Too often I push it off into a corner to wait.

Waiting enrages writing. It becomes first irritated, sitting spikily in the corner of your mind, its edges becoming ever sharper, poking you for attention. If you don’t engage you are risking those points burning themselves to ash, and then you have consequences.

Consequences come around in the form of memory loss, or disrespect for perfectly wonderful ideas or inspirations. If you don’t deal with consequences when they arrive, you will risk losing the whole thing and missing an opportunity that may never come around again out of pure and unrelenting spite. You don’t want spite. At least I don’t. I don’t like spite.

Spite squirts a caustic poison on not only the idea you had, but on those new little seeds of ideas that are just starting. It’s like Round Up, but it doesn’t just work on the weeds. It can spread to every creative idea you are likely to have for some time. So let’s do what we can to prevent spite from ever entering into the process.

Your ideas like room to grow. It isn’t that they have to have full chapters or books written about them, but they love it when you actually get out a pencil or pen and write them down. They don’t mind scraps, or the back of grocery lists. Even a piece of torn paper bag is a good place for an idea to settle. First of all, the act of writing it gives it a place in your mind, a place of respect, if not a room of its own. When you do this, you can sometimes feel the idea shaping itself, owning its value, and perhaps beginning to grow. It may be only a weed that grows, but that’s not a bad thing. It can become a beautiful, even wondrous weed, and you may be the only one that ever appreciates the true wonder of it, but because it is yours alone it will be of great value and will reward you in unexpected ways.

Tending your writing garden is not very different from tending the one you have in your backyard, or on the patio, or in a pot on a windowsill. Light and air are required, and a little water. Attention is the most important thing, because in giving an idea your attention you will discover what the idea needs to grow. Don’t let your idea intimidate you with what you consider bad behavior or your lack of gardening skill. Like some plants ideas may go through phases of droop, yellowing along their edges. That’s really okay. Even if these ideas wither and die, they will provide nourishment for those that follow, like the necessary nutrients provided to the soil by spent leaves, grass, and yes, even rotting fruit.

Respect for the incredible growing medium of your creative self is the only thing you need.
There is magic in writing an idea, sketching a plan, committing any small spark of your unique and supremely qualified mind to something you can touch, or see. The alchemy of that process often results in gold, although you may be tempted to treat it as straw. I love straw; the smell, the color, the smooth crisp feel and the sharp dry cut edges. It is entirely itself. And it can provide nourishment and comfort, even though it is in a transitory state moving its slow and steady way to dust. 006

Engage your ideas. Ask them to marry you. Give them a shiny important ring, and shower them with acceptance, give them room to grow. You will not be disappointed, I promise you.

Now Hear This

Government business in government buildings grinds slow, inching along while endless conversations and copy machines murmur and people are restless in folding chairs, on dirty seats stained with coffee or soda or maybe even body fluids. Rehearsing what you will say, not paying much attention except to track your turn, you wait. If you want to be heard, you wait.

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There is a stolid, stuffy, pretense in the walls, and the floors with dusty corners and the finger-printed woodwork, trap stale, much-used air.Someone opens a pack of gum, someone uses hand cream or lipstick and for a brief moment there is a sweetness of mint, vanilla, or cherry. But only for a moment. Someone opens a restroom door and the sweetness is swallowed up by the public latrine.

The matters at hand are only of interest if you have a stake to a claim, or a defense to be made, or an ordinance you want enforced. If you need permission to break the rules, this is where you will have to wait your turn. If you want to prevent someone from breaking the rules then you must state your case, and before that, wait your turn. If you want to make a new law, change the course of history, this is where you wait. And so you wait.

Nothing runs on time. Your case was scheduled for ten a.m. and you will be lucky if it is heard before noon. You wait because you must. You wait because you believe your cause is just, your reasons sound, you want to be heard and found righteous.

And you have to breathe this air, this thin, gray, well-used air because, of course, no fresh air lives long with so many claims to be exhaled, expressed. “So much hot air!” you think as someone speaks. True, and when it is your turn, someone will think that about you or maybe even say it and for a moment there will be a white-hot spark in the thin, gray, well-used air. But it will not ignite. Not in this stolid space where hearings are held.

If you can listen well, and this is not an easy task, you will learn that very little hearing is going forward. Hearing is an organizing of other people’s words, expressions, demeanor, and hoping that all of the information they are trying to convey, or trying to hide is clear. Individual and collective sighs, grunts of frustration, thicken the air then dissipate and join the dust in the corners.

You want to buy some patience in order to endure this process, but there is no place where patience is sold, and especially not here in this government building. So you wait because you believe in your cause, in your right to be heard.

You long for an articulate speaker, there are so few! You hope, when it is your turn, you will shine for your ability to articulate. But you must sit on your folding chair, you must wait, and while you wait you can feel the shine tarnish on your speech, the words fall out of order. You hold on tighter, you reorder, you polish, you wait.

If you could tune to a different wave length in this stale, pale air, would you feel a sort of humming and kind of drum beat of the body politic? Would you recognize due process in this mundane and bureaucratic expression of democracy? Or would you only experience the frustration of waiting, your back aching and your cause almost forgotten as yet another hour ticks by, slides past, and finds you still there, still in that same worn and dirty chair?

Interesting how the air changes when you have had your turn to speak. Your breathing seems freer, and your shoulders lift a bit now that you have had your say. Even in this tired and worn-out space, you feel a kind of ceremonial blessing. Maybe from much use it feels like holy ground.

Participating in democracy, you think, is a great and sacred privilege.