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.