Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What's in a Name

I shared Love's Freeway with a new friend last week by way of a thank you card I sent to her. I had chosen one which bore this image of a magnolia pod, a photograph I took last November in Norfolk (VA) Botanical Garden. I thought it would suit her, and sure enough, when we met up at an event a few days later, she let me know how much she enjoyed it.

"You are talented," she praised, and although I appreciated the compliment and let her know so, I didn't know quite what to do with it.

"Am I?" I said, and shrugged. Then I think I said something like "If you say so."

My stumbling was not rooted in modesty--false or otherwise--or in self effacement. I only knew that what she'd said didn't sound right somehow to me. She looked a little puzzled or jangled by my response: fair enough. An explanation was due, but I wasn't sure I could come up with one just then. I did try, but didn't get very far. We agreed to sort it out in a future conversation, as we were about to part ways for the evening.

The following day, I looked up "talent" in the dictionary. "A special natural ability or aptitude," read one of the definitions. "Yes, then," I thought, "I guess she's right." Apparently the word had collected other connotations for me over time. By that definition, to be talented is to be gifted--gifted with a capacity, versus trained or schooled or practiced to the point of skillfulness.

Clearly this didn't satisfy me, however, because I kept pondering the subject, in the background, over the subsequent days. "Is it that I am talented," I considered at some point, "or is it simply that I am open? Is there any difference between talent and openness?" I wondered.

I think there is not. If I have talent, I want to say it's because I have (re)learned to be open. I want to say that anyone of us has such "talent" available to us. I want to say that it's Love's talent, not my talent. I want to say that these images are very much not created by me so much as they are created through me.

Case in point: "Puff."

I was going through the ever- growing portfolio the other day, and my eyes rested upon this image in particular for its simple understated yet unmistakable beauty. This was a parenthetical shot. I had been walking toward the weeping pear trees, I think, when this little speck of early spring (mid-January: a very early spring indeed!) gave me pause. It was the kind of picture I take just to see if it will come out. Just to see if the camera will focus to such a small, close point. This cherry "puff," you see, was smaller than a green pea. It was the only open bud of any sort on all the trees in my view. So I snapped it. And this was the result. Something beautiful was captured, and so something--another thing--of beauty was made. Well I think it's beautiful, anyway. The lustre of each of the filaments, the vertical columns of light and dark, the puff almostly perfectly centered within the buff colored column: I couldn't have accomplished this if I'd tried.

That's the other thing: I didn't try. I don't try. I did not compose this shot. I want to say I don't compose any shot, but I hesitate. I wonder if it's true, if it's possible. I think it is true, and possible. How it is is this: it feels less like I use the camera, than it feels the camera uses me. Do I capture the image then, or does the image capture me?

My entire writing life has produced many complete works out of this same posture, a posture of surrender, I'll call it. It is an entirely willing posture--a willingness to be overtaken. I open, and something pure comes through.

I remember a personal essay I wrote years ago called Haircuts. It is one of the earliest, standout examples for me of "I couldn't have written this if I'd tried." I distinctly remember saying that of this piece of writing. The piece happened because I had a sore shoulder: I was distracted because it hurt. My writing partner had launched us with a completely unrelated (and at this point, irrelevent) topic but, thanks to my training, I followed the "distraction," the pain in my shoulder, which in no time flat turned centerpiece, became the point. That present-day discomfort led my mind surely and quickly back to the perils and terrors of childhood haircuts on the kitchen stool at the hands of my not-necessarily-sober-at-the-time father.

I listen, and I follow. That's what I know to do, and that's what I do best. What results is not my way, but Love's way--and happily so. As for the question of talent, I respectfully and humbly recall a Dharma talk at a nearby Zen Center a good fifteen years ago by the Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn. Someone in the room had asked (challenged?) him about his title. His response was characteristically terse:

"You make me Zen Master."

His point? He was what he was without the name. I'm recalling now that a similar exchange was had with Jesus. During the Sanhedrin Trial, he was asked by the high priests and elders, "Are you the Son of God?" His reply, "You say that I am," got him condemned for blasphemy and turned over to Pontius Pilate, accused of sedition.

Ah, naming. It certainly can cause some trouble, huh?

So as to the question of talent, it appears I have come full circle. Am I talented?

If you say so.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentines Unsent


The candle is lit. I take my hand from nowhere and place it on the warmth of you. I feel your pulse, but more. The world, the heart of life itself, beating there.

Do I say I love you? Do I say never before like this? Words, words: how do I say what I cannot say, what cannot be said? How do I press my skin against you such that you feel it, the so-much-more behind it?

She sings, the cantora, pulls much from me. Moves my feet round the Christmas tree--that glow, that glow! And you, nowhere near. Far. Snow after field after field of snow between here and there. But I reached, reached anyway. Long tendrils of something I want to call love, something I called love.


Snow sings. Do you hear it? I hear it, and they tell me I'm crazy. I am not crazy. I am in love with the snow and the crickets and the morning air and sand kernels, each one a different colour. Sing with me, would you? Sing with me. Simply: I want to take your hand and love you--is that so bad? I am not broken; I am whole. I am missing you, Jenny, come home.


I've been calling to you for the longest time, but facing in the wrong direction. Or have I? Have I really called for you, poised over the dry ground and pouring my tears into it? Crying for your absence rather than excitedly anticipating your presence? I think not.

I am full of apology. I love you, and yet I have doubted you. Never. Never again, the minor key. I stand tall and hum, sing in major keys now. Your place at the table is set.

You excite me, bestill me, antagonize and delight me. Fortune leaves such gifts only to those who sustain an open palm, to those who are able.

Render, render yourself as you are ready: I know it may not be time. Spring comes when it comes, and this year, it just may come twice. But never mind that, the when. I want to tell you about now, this minute, this second which shall never return.

I am sitting in a brightened room in a high school with seven other writers, writing. Beethoven is pushing our pens faster and faster still. The room smells of sweet fruit--cherry, maybe. A candle? I'm not sure. But something that has prevailed over two Tuesdays and all the intervening days.

Piano, violin, my slate blue silk on top and the neat gray of simple slacks underneath. The "Anne" shoes: I'm tall with heels and, so, taller. I am here, but not here. I am split three ways. There is the class to attend to, the regret and emergency of the day: Esther is not well, and I don't know the details of that. And there is you. You are there, here, but not.



It was autumn
we walked. Mushrooms
pulled our hands
up then down
for the picking. "Delectable"
"choice": these
are the words
of the mushroomer.

And "poison" of course:
my skull cap, my
devil's bolete--a fatal
attraction. But who
can resist that red button
flecked as if

sugared. So long
I have missed you
Why would I
miss you more now?


It's the bare arm, in snow, that draws me. She should be cold, but she is not. It is as if there is sun blazing, warming her skin, relaxing her pores. She is easy with this walk through snowy woods, coatless, resisting nothing.

"Tuesday? That means I will see the Doctor, have my exam, write a column, and go to class."

She pushes not at all against these stations of her day. She embraces them--warmly, in fact, as if they were lovers, each of them. Beloved ones she would be sad, bereft from which to part. "I see," she seems to say, "how precious you are." She speaks to the minutes, the milliseconds in this way, or so it seems. Yet she has come from chaos and cold heartedness: family who did not touch one another. So stingy with affections that she doubted they had them.

Avocado, perfectly ripe and sliced onto a tuna sandwich: this is the last meal she relished. Because it was shared with her deepest love. They sat touching, leg to leg--the feet too, I think. Yes, the feet. And the meeting of eyes now and then. They are familial, though not at all related. Familial in a way she'd heard was possible, supposed was possible.

It is no perfect love--far from it. But its substance--its depth, its breadth--is unmistakable.

She feels the hands still that held her, days ago now, by the rib cage. That organ of feeling, that well of emotion and wisdom poised, balanced for a moment between them. She still feels the hands though she is gone away now, back north, five hundred miles north, where she abides the wintriness. Where she is left wondering, then resolving to move closer. Left resolving then breaking that resolve one minute to the next.

"I must let it all go," she declares, "move on, move on."

Yet something pulls her toward again. Toward the perfect imperfection, with its mesmerizing design.



Cup my check, would you? Right there—there.
Like that. Hold it, would you, awhile there? Just
hold it. I’ve waited—ohh, I’ve waited for this.

You’d think they’d know. Know enough. If they
could make one, you’d think they’d know how to
keep one, happy, a little girl, or two.


And if I go inside, will you follow?

Round the world. Round the world, I’d follow.

On accoun’a my heart. It’s my heart, iddn’ it?
You’re afraid it’s gonna go, out’a sight’f ya,

I could tell you worse things, huh?


Been here before, have you? Well, neither have I.
But let me tell you, we’re going. My good love,
we’re going. And it’s a home place, I promise—it’s
a home place. Tell the cats.


Do you suppose there’s a future in this?

More than happenstance, I’ll tell you that. Like a
certain quality of light. It’s there, and it’s there.
But face it, some don’t see it. Don’t look.

We were looking. We saw it. The light. Just so.

On hemlock.

On hemlock.

By the rhododendron. Traced by bees.

You…I thought…I had invented…


I see a sunset and I think I must be dying. You know, those moments at the beach house when you look out and see peach--I mean goddamn tulip peach. That a sky can whip up a color like that, I just don’t know. But you see this peach all aglow through the next-door windows—right through the house like it’s a cut-out card or something—and you think, I gotta be dying, to feel what I feel lookin’ at this pretty sight. What a sight! You think, No one should be given a gift like this and get the gift of another day or more of living on top of it. Yeah, that’s it. That’s exactly it.

Oh Lawd, and then the bells. You know, there are times I hear bells and I think His big hand is on its way down to just lift me up out of this once and for all. Not that I want to go anywhere, mind you. ‘Specially since I got this hand to hold…

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

That's Why it's Called the FREEway

I was privileged to facilitate a clarity workshop a couple of weekends ago that left me shaking, for the power it released in the participants. Be Clear Now, it was called, and that is what I had promised from the three hours together: clarity, now.

All arrived convinced of their various muddles, confusions, indecisions. Those who were the most certain they didn't know, didn't have the answers that they were seeking, proved the most powerfully by the workshop's end that they knew what they were sure they didn't know, that they already possessed the answers they sought.

I'm not sure I can convey just how moving it is to facilitate and witness this process, this transformation, this lifting of a veil right before one's eyes--in a matter of an hour or two or three, no less.

At the start, participants are as convinced as I am not of each other's blocks or confusion. I tell them they already know, that they are already clear (about whatever it is that they say they're not clear about), and they look at me funny. I invite them to think of a clean surface left to collect dust for months, and say their clarity is like that surface: clean and clear and right there, just buried under all the dust. They look at me a little less funny. "You'll see for yourself," I say, "but for now, just take my word for it."

And sure enough, in the final exercise of the day--a writing sprint articulating their "perfectly clear answer"-- there it was: gorgeous clarity. Deep, wise knowing--gnosis--which often comes complete with a plan: a direction, and the steps to take in that direction.

Why do we go around saying "I don't know, I don't know..." when we do know?

And why do we argue for our limitations? Why do we cling to our familiar and often painful encumbrances even when shown an open door to freedom?

For sixteen years, I've had the pleasure and privilege of "teaching" writing, of presenting a method by which one can write free of critical interference. I present students with nine simple rules to follow. Freeing rules; not constricting, restraining ones. I tell them that if they're suffering, if it's ever hard, that they're breaking one (or more) of the simple rules. The method makes writing fun. First drafts pour forth with ease, and in an original, fresh, spontaneous fashion. The method guarantees this, and I've see endless proof of it over time. So it never ceases to amaze me that, when shown the open door, the means by which to break free of the shackles of judgment, many cling tighter to their cell walls.

The rules are simple, yes. But they're not always so easy to follow. Sure, there is the learning curve: it takes practice to deliver a perfect serve on the tennis court. It takes practice to perfect the asanas of yoga. It takes practice, repetition, to learn to drive a car. Or maybe it doesn't so much take practice as it takes allowing. Those who cling to the cell walls have no issue with practice. They, know it or not, have an issue with freedom.

Ah, the restricting cell: it does grow sweet.

I have been told that it is easy to train fleas. You put them in a lidded jar, and when they jump, they whack the lid. In no time at all, they register this and thereafter jump just shy of the lid. They will continue to do this even when the lid is removed!

What am I saying here? Freedom can be scary, sure. Unlimited possibility, and the grace of responsibility to choose, to create within that expansive field of possibility can be daunting. And bumping up against limitations can hurt, sure. But where do the limitations come from? And are they permanent? Are they even real? Who said so? Here, the lid is off, and the fleas are all still jumping inside the jar, though they have the capacity and the freedom to jump well beyond it.

I talked with three women the other night about matters metaphysicical, the Law of Attraction, responsibility, chance, luck, what is random and not, "innocent suffering," and such. The upshot was this: two of us experience great freedom, joy and happiness in life, know first hand the infinity of possibilities in life (in Love), and two of us objected to the "responsibility" (read, blame) aspect of the Law of Atraction, felt gripped by traumatic events of the past, were unconvinced that one could live fearlessly and free of the effects of circumstances: the drug dealers on the corner, the effects of mental illness, the drive-by shooting: things happen over which we have no control, they were in effect saying. It was a passionate and dynamic conversation. I realized later that this owed to each of us speaking from what we KNOW to be real, to be true: "THIS IS HOW LIFE IS. I CAN PROVE IT," we might as well have been saying.

I was concerned later that the discussion had turned to debate. Each of us knew what we were saying was "true." Maybe even"True." But argument would only grow, as it so often does, from seeking agreement from each other. Four points of view, and each the right one: that's a recipe for a good argument if ever I've heard one.

I think of the popular Henry Ford quote:

Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.

So what really is "right," then? And what is the Truth? What is real, even?

We know from the "new physics" that reality is not fixed but fluid; there are as many realities or truths as there are people to espouse them. For a long time, certainly before my beginning to get a grasp on quantum mechanics, I resisted this notion. I lived in search of The Truth and was arrogant and obnoxious I am sure when I thought I had found any part of it. Consider this:

The truth (small t) is what proves true.

The Truth (capital T) is that what you say is true will prove true.

If you say (believe) that walking alone at night is dangerous, you are right: that will be your experience. If you say that life is hard, you are right:
that will be your experience. If you say that money is scarce, you are right, and that will be your experience. And if you say (believe) "I love my life!", you are right, and that will be your experience. Another way of saying this is: we are what we are, we have what we have by right of consciousness. And this is not about blame; this is about great power, absolute freedom.

That we are all seeing what we're looking through, and there's no getting around it, sure makes
argument a waste of time and energy--not to mention that it can make communication seem impossible! We are bound to struggle, to argue, to feel powerless, to experience limitation for as long as we persist in forgetting that we've chosen our point of view.

I say humorist Art Buchwald, "The Man Who Wouldn't Die," was released--even with the ultimate refusal of dialysis--after six months of hospice care last year with a working kidney that had been pronounced failing because he was just too busy living. What had his kidney spontaneously regain function? I ask you: what? Yes, it did surrender last month, delivering him to his final rest, but not before his first surviving without the prescribed treatment. Not before his returning last summer to his home on Martha's Vineyard which he never thought he'd see again. Not before he'd written another book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye, about the hospice experience.

I can imagine Art might have said, of his surprise recovery, "Hell, I was having such a good time with my family and friends, I forgot to die!"

There are countless, gorgeous stories of such "miracle" recoveries among us. I believe that those who triumph over their fatal prognoses do so because they choose to view their circumstances through the lens of Life rather than through that of Death. Lid or no lid, they saw none and--sure enough--when they lept, they met with their freedom.

But no matter our view, no matter what we choose, Love is ready and waiting to oblige. It is impartial, bottomless, and unfailing.

The evidence is everywhere, and you know it.

Friday, February 09, 2007


Damn, if that girl hasn't done it again. Looking for a little evidence that Love's having Its way? Read my lips: just buy it! Buy several and share the wealth with family, friends, lovers. Feast your ears on the art and soul of Patty Griffin--the consummate performing artist, in my book. Her gift will lift you up--promise. Of the music on Children Running Through, she said, "I just wanted to write from the heart and let it be." This new release is dedicated to (grandmother?) Imelda Martin, of whom Patty acknowledges, "The singing started with you."

May the singing never end.

If that isn't evidence enough, The Secret is now freely available for your viewing pleasure, at your convenience, in the comfort of your very own easy chair: thank you, Google Video!

And then there is this young plant, making its way on the face of a tall, broad, otherwise barren Jamaica Plain stone wall, teased out by sun, not at all daunted by a prevailing February freeze.

Love is alive--"Hallelujah."