Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nearly December

It is a gray November day in my corner of the world, cold but not frigid. Soon I need to drag my buttkus out and walk, but I'm enjoying taking a Saturday to do as I please. French press coffee, a novel, curled up in my still-feels-new study on a comfy chair with my spoiled rotten fluffball of a feline on my lap and quiet Celtic music on Itunes. Yay.

I finished readng the Ondaatje novel Divisadero this morning. It reminded me of some things. That fictional memories, to feel true, have to be about some small moment that surprises us and feel real, if inexplicable. Plot turns on big moments, but people are created in small ones on the page. I forget that, and remember it, and forget it again. My own natural voice is for the vivid small moments, my stories contructed around wafer-thin plots. I am picking apart the Ondaatje in my head, determining how he moved the story lines forward without having his plot obliterate the small lovely moments he renders.

It feels pretty fabulous to be thinking about plot. Whew.

It would have been nice to take the long weekend, but instead I worked yesterday and finished some things that I wanted to. Not as many as I would have liked. I'll likely do some work tonight, or possibly tomorrow. Here is the thing: there are not only too many priorities in my life (writing, working, household minutiae, working, dancing, weight loss....did I mention working?) but there are too many priorities within each category. The number of priorities I'm juggling in my job is becoming a source of almost-hilarity - or is that hysteria? But if I can nudge a few of them forward this weekend, maybe sometime soon I can hand a couple over to someone ELSE. Yay. Here is the other thing: if you are good at juggling priorities, it seems to me that someone is always willing to hand you a couple more. It's like watching a juggler with three balls in the air - don't you feel almost compelled to say, "can you add one more?!" There is something odd in that impulse, isn't there? Something like rubbernecking at an accident scene. And the truth is, only the juggler can say "nope, three's my limit."

Yes, I'm aware that I don't say "nope..." very often. So shoot me. Or give me a megaphone. :)

This year the holidays will be a season of reflection and celebration for many of us, with more of an emphasis on reflection than we often manage. That's my prediction, anyway. It seems to me that the world can't help but benefit from that. I was thinking this morning about the idea of writing as an act of hope, about the question of whether the work of writing stories is "important enough" to be a life calling. And then I read the Ondaatje, and remembered why I love books. He quotes Nietzsche. "We have art so that we shall not be destroyed by the truth." It is art's expression of hope, of shared experience, an empathetic connection across miles and ages and lives - that's the magic, for me. Anna, arguably the heroine of the novel, goes on to say that "A paragraph or an episode from another era will haunt us in the night, as the words of a stranger can."

I am not often haunted in the night. Some who know me best might say that I make myself too busy, drive myself too hard, so that I will not be. Meh. I simply think some are haunted, while others accept and move on; it is a behavior driven by some quirk of personality, or some unmapped fold in the brain that houses a cluster of neurons devoted to such work. So while Anna is haunted, I am merely endlessly fascinated by the intersection of life episodes, and what they mean. I'm fascinated by the tricks of fate that cause some people's lives to be more heavily burdened with loss and difficulty than others. Ye olde questions of fate versus free will versus divine intervention. To quote that other great artist, Bryan Adams (come on, I can't always be quoting novelists and big thinkers!), "some get the silver spoon, some get the heavy load." Indeed. I think the haunted souls often focus on the question of why this is true, while those who are more resilient perhaps focus more on now what? It's a continuum, not a category.

There are so many expressions of hope that go unnoticed, while we seize on the expressions of fear and bitterness that we feel "typify" our world. I'm trying hard to keep my eye on the quiet, small expressions of hope. The fact that on a cold dreary day in November, you can still find a few dozen people at the Food Bank, sorting donated goods onto shelves. The fact that resilience is still celebrated in our world. And, yes, the fact that novelists, essayists, poets and short story writers keep writing, and keep sending us their artful expression of the world, despite the obstacles between their conception and any hope of publication.

Be well, and of good cheer as we enter the madness of this season.

~ patti

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Beautiful Imperfection

It's a rainy day in Botown, and I spent a while this morning out on my covered deck with a cup of coffee and NO input....just listening to the rain patter on the metal.

This weekend my bellydance teacher hosted her annual festival called "Hafla" - this year is her 30th. My friend Maureen and I girled up and went to the dance showcase last night. It was scheduled to be 4 hours long, though we left after about 2.5. It was fun. The performers are anywhere from just-past-beginner to women who have danced and performed for years, and that mixture made it even more fun. There were different styles of bellydance, from the quieter traditional dancers who wear full length dresses adorned in sparkling embroidery and layers of veils, to very modern and athletic dancers who combined bellydance with moves that looked a lot like synchronized swimming. Bling everywhere, of course - sequins, coins, beads, jewelry, headpieces, feathers, amazing swirls of colors and metal and sound. It was fabulously raucous, and just what I needed.

I've had this conversation running through my head, on a slow repeat, for the last week or so. It was a talk I had with a friend, someone who is a bit stuck because he can't quite forgive someone in his life for a terrible thing that was done to him. He said "forgiving and forgetting is just a little too easy on her." And I said...well, I don't actually think that forgiving and forgetting is the critical step. It's accepting and moving on that we need to accomplish, letting go of the anger and the "iwishthathadn'thappened" so we can get to the next thing that will come into our lives, and be prepared to accept that gift.

So last night, while I was sitting at the Hafla, I was of course thinking about body image and the beauty of women's bodies, the celebration of fertility and life force that the dancers bring to the stage, knowingly and unconsciously. The movements of bellydance, the joyously high-energy shimmy, the deliberate undulations, the powerful hip snapping turns - they are about life, all the variations. It's part of why the movements feel right, and part of why the form is so addictive. Watching all these women on stage, their imperfections out there for the world to see, framed in fact by bling and shimmying hips and sinuous arm movements....well, a lot of those women have done the magic thing, accepted and moved on. Imperfect, but glorious.

And I found the moment that I need to describe to my friend, to tell him why it's important to accept and move on. It was a tall, elegant, dancer with perfect porcelain white skin and a shimmering costume in white, at least 40 years old, and her bio included this information "...I had let myself be convinced that I could not dance, though I always wanted to. Practicing bellydance showed me otherwise." This dancer, Deborah, had a dance that involved a sword balanced on her head while she shimmied, grapevined, turned, sunk slowly and gracefully to the floor and snaked upward again....and the absolute triumph on her face while that sword stayed on her head, swaying but sticking - that's the reason we accept and move on.

We can't simultaneously serve the past and reach for the future. There was some moment that Deborah stopped listening to the voice in her head saying "you can't dance" and started listening to a voice that said "swords are awesome..." Accepting doesn't mean agreeing, or forgiving - it means we've stopped letting the sting of whatever it is, the pain or hurt or self-doubt of it, shape our days. Put it away - the failure, the injustice, the mistake, the hurtful words we can't stop hearing - and accept that the thing happened or was said and move on. Let it go. We hold on to old hurts, and old tapes, and old...well, stuff. We let it define us, because it's a pain in the ass to question everything all the time, and it's sometimes scary to consider what changes we would need to make if we accepted AND moved on. We choose to be defined by it.

So let go of one of your old hurts, or mistakes, and move on. Imagine all possibilities, and choose one that sings to you. If it is too scary to do that for your whole life TODAY, then do it for today. Find joy in the choosing. Revel in your beautiful perfection of self and reach for something bigger.