Put On Your Red Shoes

My mantra for 2016.

If this post was a car, imag­ine that I start­ed it up, and while I left it to do its engine-warm­ing thing, some­one hijacked it and drove it clear out of town.  The hijack­er was Life … or real­ly, her nec­es­sary-evil broth­er, Mor­tal­i­ty.

Last week was rough, and not just for me.   The world lost two icons, David Bowie and Alan Rick­man, and I lost a dear friend.  Almost lost my dog, too–no joke–but Alis­tair Rock­et Dog is one very lucky pooch.

Every­thing that lives dies.  We all face it.  Par­ents, lovers, friends, chil­dren, strangers, pets.  The deserv­ing and unde­serv­ing.  The old and the young and those in between.  We who are left behind–and every­one has some­one who is left behind–struggle with survivor’s guilt, tan­gled in the dark­ness pour­ing through the gap­ing wound in our lives.  We com­bat the dark­ness with only star­dust and mem­o­ries.  Frag­ile, intan­gi­ble things.

But this is the truth I hold to: We all get one life, whether it’s brief as a flick­er­ing can­dle or as long as a cen­tu­ry.  We don’t get to know in advance what our allot­ment will be, but we all get a por­tion of feel­ing air in our lungs, and hear­ing the susurra­tion of blood through our veins.  Some­times life sucks.  But we get one, and if we’re lucky enough to make it to some sem­blance of adult­hood, we get a say in how ours goes.

We have choice.  Some­times it’s not much of one, but it is choice.  And this is the ques­tion of all our lives: What do you choose?

To quote part of my favorite poem, “The Sum­mer Day” by the sub­lime Mary Oliv­er:

 

Doesn’t every­thing die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and pre­cious life?

 

Read the full poem.  Go ahead.  I’ll be here.

I think of Bowie and Rick­man and my friend.  Their day-to-days were very dif­fer­ent, and yet all were full of cre­ativ­i­ty and courage.  Despite what­ev­er fears crowd­ed their minds, what­ev­er lim­i­ta­tions were placed on them by oth­ers, they stepped into who they were from minute-to-minute and year-to-year.  They did what they loved, and sur­round­ed them­selves with the peo­ple and work which gave them joy.  Then they shared that joy with the rest of the world.  What a fan­tas­tic lega­cy!

I hope that’s what we do–step into our joy, and share that joy with oth­ers.  We only get a brief time on this amaz­ing ball of rock in this splen­did galaxy, and there’s only one of each of us.  Whether you’re a butch­er or bak­er or can­dle­stick mak­er, you’re the only you that will ever be in the entire his­to­ry of the uni­verse.  Live your life as rich­ly as you can, with all the love and pain and won­der as you can hold.

I know it’s eas­i­er said than done.  I do, I know.  But when my life is over, I don’t want to sigh and regret and think, “I could have, but I was too afraid.”  I don’t want to have mere­ly exist­ed, trapped in the shell that fear wrought.

Fear lies.  It tells us we can’t.  It tells us we shouldn’t.  It feeds us rea­sons to not.

 

Fear is a liar

It real­ly tru­ly is.

 

We don’t have time to “not”.  Don’t let fear win.

Shine on, my love­ly, glo­ri­ous friends.  Be brave with your­self, be bold. Remem­ber that every­thing starts small.  Take one step, then take anoth­er.  Shine your unique, weird and won­der­ful light, and I’ll do my best to shine mine.  I hope togeth­er we light up the sky for what­ev­er time is giv­en us.

My small step is to write every day, regard­less of depres­sion or mood or sub­ject.  What’s your small step?  What will you do with your one wild and pre­cious life?

Put on your red shoes.  Let’s dance.

December Nostalgia

 

Shiny and Bright

Shiny and Bright

 

Decem­ber is a rough time of year.  In Seat­tle, the days are dark and the nights are long.  It’s damp.  It’s cold–not cut­ting like Mid­west- or Cana­da-cold, just brisk enough for me to com­plain about.  It’s a time when dig­ging enthu­si­asm and impe­tus out from the base­ment is a bru­tal propo­si­tion.  My cre­ativ­i­ty grumpi­ly crawls back into bed, telling me to fuck off until Feb­ru­ary.  Suf­fice it to say, we’re deep into my least favorite time of the year.

It’s the light I miss most.  A qua­ver of pan­ic squir­rels through me come August when the sun­shine shades away from bright gold, and casts the world in a crisp sil­ver light.  That’s how I know the sea­son has tru­ly changed, when the qual­i­ty of light alters.  I strug­gle to con­vince myself that the slow­ly ris­ing dark is not a sign of immi­nent doom, and it will all turn out fine.   It’s not that bad.  No big.

Eh.  My opti­mistic self is a liar.  It is that hard.  Every year.

With my deep and abid­ing antipa­thy for our night-filled months, I find it odd my most pow­er­ful feel­ings of nos­tal­gia are stirred by some­thing that only occurred in deep­est, dark­est Decem­bers.

My fam­i­ly cel­e­brat­ed Christ­mas when I was grow­ing up, and we were lucky enough to always have a tree.  This was a real tree, that gave off a piney, foresty scent for days after we brought it home.  Our lights were the big, fat, translu­cent ones of gold, green, red, and blue, that came out before safe­ty reg­u­la­tions and ener­gy con­ser­va­tion was the norm.  Some  flashed, some glowed steadi­ly, all burned hot and bright.  Tin­sel, paper chains and gold gar­land decked each bough, and the old glass orna­ments gleamed even in the day­light.  We didn’t mess around.

When I was small (and even not so small), I used to wrap up in my bathrobe and sneak back to the liv­ing room in the mid­dle of the night.  I remem­ber hug­ging the wall as I descend­ed the stairs–I’d read in a spy nov­el that the mid­dle of the treads were what squeaked–and extreme qui­et was called for, you see, or I’d wake up the dogs, who would then wake up my mom. My pre-teenaged brain was cer­tain that would be bad.  Nav­i­gat­ing the black-on-dim sil­hou­ettes in the liv­ing room, I’d find the switch to the Christ­mas tree lights.  Then, when they were shin­ing like sun­lit jew­els in the dark­ness, I’d curl under the tree, nestling amid what­ev­er presents were already there.  I’d look up through the boughs at the dance of col­ors and shapes.  I’d smell the resin, and feel the warmth of the bulbs, and gaze in sleepy bliss for what felt like a small for­ev­er.

And that was it.  It wasn’t antic­i­pa­tion of Christ­mas Day and its var­i­ous cel­e­bra­tions.  It was the sen­sa­tion of being cocooned in warmth and col­or, light and shad­ow.  That was the mag­ic.  That’s what I remem­ber.

So now, though I don’t cel­e­brate Christ­mas, per se, we still find a way to get a tree.  We haul out the flash­ing lights along with the mem­o­ries that come with thir­ty-years worth of orna­ments.  Every now and then this rit­u­al con­jures the child­hood mag­ic of won­der and com­fort, beau­ty and light in the dark­ness, dri­ving away the gloom beyond the windows–and in myself–just for a lit­tle while.

Or maybe it sim­ply proves that I’m more like my cats than I want to admit.  At least I don’t knock the orna­ments off the tree.

 

What is your bright­est mem­o­ry of Decem­bers past?

 

 

Do these 3 things to rebalance your mind

I have a the­o­ry.
The hol­i­days at end of the year are like the uni­verse wash­ing a cos­mic load of laun­dry.
Projects that stalled, ideas nev­er exe­cut­ed, sto­ries unfin­ished, high emo­tion encoun­ters.
Every­thing becomes an imme­di­ate pri­or­i­ty simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. You didn’t think you were going to have to deal with it, but here it is in your face, and it needs your atten­tion right now.
This is a good thing.
It’s the oppor­tu­ni­ty to resolve the year and start fresh in Jan­u­ary. All this dirty chaos laun­dry will fin­ish its wash­ing, but right now it may feel like you’re caught in the spin cycle.

How do you rebal­ance when the uni­verse is try­ing to spin you sense­less?

One: Qui­et your imme­di­ate space
Sit in your qui­et place.
If you don’t have a qui­et place, find one.
Your qui­et place should be some­place com­fort­able where no one will both­er you for 2–3 min­utes.
Close your office door. Sit in your car in the dri­ve­way. Step into the near­est clos­et.
Maybe your life is so crazy right now that the only place you can escape is the bath­room.
What­ev­er your qui­et place is, go there.

Two: Close your eyes and breathe
Close your eyes.
Now breathe.
Inhale through your nose to the count of six.
Exhale out your mouth to the count of six.
Do this ten times. Breath­ing is good.

Three: Open your eyes and look at a kit­ten pic­ture
Open your eyes.
Look at the kit­ten pic­ture below.
Say to your­self, out loud five times, “This kit­ten is okay, and so am I.”

IMG_0993

Leave your qui­et place. Go back into the world. Rinse and repeat as nec­es­sary.

Village People

 

 

Over The Town. Marc Chagall, 1918

Over the Town. Marc Cha­gall, 1918

 

It takes a vil­lage to raise a child.  We’ve all heard the proverb.  I think it takes a vil­lage to do almost any­thing, whether that vil­lage is defined by geog­ra­phy, pas­sion, blood­line, pro­fes­sion or adop­tion.  Our cre­ations always require the touch of oth­ers some­where along the line, whether it’s rais­ing a small human or putting a new sto­ry into the world.  Any­one who says dif­fer­ent­ly is sell­ing some­thing.

So why is it that one of our deep­est myths is that of Sin­gle-Per­son-Makes-Good?  What is it about that sto­ry which turns iso­la­tion into an anoint­ment, and the soli­tary fig­ure into some kind of demigod?

The indi­vid­ual as savior/fixer/developer/creator is a sto­ry old as time, but it’s one that is inher­ent­ly untrue.  Its roots can be found in enti­tle­ment and iso­la­tion­ism, and it’s a par­a­digm the U.S. has embraced whole­heart­ed­ly.  It’s the same “go it alone” machis­mo which birthed the myth of the Starv­ing Artist, the Lone Wolf, and the Man With No Name.

Some down­sides to the sto­ic iso­la­tion­ist sto­ry are that the Lone Wolf remains a bro­ken man–I’m look­ing at you, “Out­law Josey Wales”–unless he accepts the com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ing around him, the artist almost always dies of tuber­cu­lo­sis (or mad­ness), and the Man With No Name always leaves a trail of dead bod­ies in his wake.

As an artist, neigh­bor, and coun­try­man, I’m all for embrac­ing a more flex­i­ble mod­el, one that makes it accept­able to ask for help, to lean on and learn from those across the aisle, to acknowl­edge the con­tri­bu­tions oth­ers make to what we build, and to help them in return, as equals.  I want my coun­try to learn the gift of col­lab­o­ra­tion, not sim­ply dic­ta­tion.  My hope is that we–especially the suc­ceed­ing generations–ditch the tox­ic, fear­ful con­cept of “oth­er” and embrace being an open and equal mem­ber of our glob­al vil­lage.

Here at Ink in the Veins, we’re try­ing to be the change we want to see.  I’m unwill­ing to accept the strug­gling, lone­ly, tuber­cu­lar writer in the freez­ing gar­ret as my par­a­digm.  Our tribe–other pen mon­keys, gamers, artists, dream­ers, visionaries–stretches up the West Coast and extends around the world.  We embrace a glob­al fam­i­ly.  Sure, the act of putting words on paper is often soli­tary, but fre­quent­ly (and in Simone’s and my case, repeat­ed­ly) cre­ation is col­lab­o­ra­tion.  No artist exists in a vac­u­um.  I don’t think any cre­ative per­son does.

Our stories–the ones we tell and the ones we take in–are how we con­nect to our world.  They’re our bridges, our explo­ration, our way of open­ing the door and let­ting in some­thing new.  They’re our way of embrac­ing life’s dif­fer­ences.  They’re also our invi­ta­tions to you.

Ink in the Veins is our vil­lage.  We hope you’ll join us, sit by our camp­fire and share in the sto­ry­telling.  Our vil­lage is your vil­lage, our yurt your yurt.  Please share your thoughts.

Wel­come.

 

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