mundane and magic

It was late—for me—as I sat on the grass with my daughter and six thousand other people watching the fireworks.

I love fireworks so much. My head tilted back to see the explosions of color arc over the sky again and again.

They used to have smiley face fireworks. An explosion of lights that form a circle, with two dots for eyes and a smile in the middle. They don’t have those so much anymore. I guess they fell out of favor.

It’s funny that fireworks are used on patriotic occasions, because fireworks are made out of the same materials as bombs and bullets. The explosive sounds are identical.

I heard that sometimes veterans don’t like fireworks after they’ve seen action. I can totally see why the screaming explosions wouldn’t sound fun after you’ve seen them take lives.

I’ve heard that China invented gunpowder, and then outlawed other people from having it. They would only use it for fireworks.

As I looked at the awe-inspiring beauty of the showers of lights, I could only think of them as technology. The gunpowder it takes to launch these, and the advances it took to get them to squeal and sparkle–to make a smiley face!—that’s technology.

Art is all about technological advancements. How do you divide the soul from the spirit or the art from technology?

From chemical colors, which allow for textile and paint to be brilliant, to polymers that allow for sculptures and dwellings to have new shapes that weren’t possible before, these are the stuff of science and art.

Metal guitar strings allowed for louder music, so musicians could travel and perform for bigger audiences. And when bigger audiences were involved that changed the music again.

I don’t think it was the musician that figured out how to make the guitar strings metal. Perhaps the usual thing is for industrial forces to create an advance, and then artists to experiment with it.

But then I think of Stradivari and his violins. This was before the industrial age, and his craftsmanship with the violin–technology, really–changed the whole understanding of what violins could do.

He approached the art of violin making scientifically, using materials and forms to create these instruments. And his art affected the art of music for centuries. Arguably, his artisanship raised the violin to where it rests today, an inescapably pillar of music.

And these ideas swirl in my head, as I listen to the Souza march that accompanies the fireworks display above the field in my little town. The Chinese gunpowder, the craft of music making, and all the ordinary crafts that each of us can do…mixing a cake, fixing the computer, reorganizing a closet or helping a child with homework–these all have that mix of technology and art, the mundane and the magical.

As the final crescendo of fireworks explodes, I feel lifted and joyful at their beauty. I wish I could take that with me and see more of that than the mundane.

Sometimes I do.

Privilege Check

This weekend was HOT. The West Coast is suffering. I grew up in Alaska, so the extreme temperature there was COLD. In extremes of temperature, on both sides of the spectrum, the way to cope is to stay indoors.

Enclosed in my house, I looked for something to watch on TV, and discovered that a second season of Poldark was available.

Hooray! Poldark is a period piece that is basically a romance novel come to life. A vastly handsome young British Lord who falls on hard times. The plot is very melodramatic, but the people and the dresses are so beautiful it is very good entertainment.

The nobleman hero Poldark does marry a commoner (swoon!) and because he has fallen on hard times, both of them must work very hard.

So Demelza has to straddle both worlds, working as hard as a servant sometimes but still being the lady of the house.

One of the things that I find unrealistic about these shows is how the ladies do their hair. Demelza is beautiful with HuGe free-flowing red wavy hair. It’s magnificent, and as she travels the coastline to fish or gather driftwood to feed the fire, she leaves it free to blow in the wind.

It’s beautiful.

As a woman with magnificent hair, every time I watch her picturesque windblown hair I rage. It would be a complete rats nest after a day walking in the wind like that! How ridiculous! She would tie it back, cover it or at least braid it so that she didn’t have to spend an hour trying to comb it into civility after she returns indoors.

That part is so unreal.

There was another part where Demelza took a walk along the beach because her lord husband did something that disturbed her.

I remembered she was straddling the lady/servant role. She did have servants, but not enough to keep body and soul together. Their 17th century wood fire heating and fish meals required a lot of work. Many times she would have to go to the shore to get those two materials.

But this time, she was the lady of the house. The activity of walking on the beach because you needed to think was a highly privileged activity. For people who had to work tirelessly for their food, that kind of luxury was unheard of.

Only people with servants had that kind of freedom.

This occurred to me as I was sitting in my boudoir, with my laptop on my lap and the AC keeping me cool as I spent my Saturday binge-watching season two of Poldark.

I have a lot of freedom.

I have a lot of privilege.

I even have a lot of product for my hair to keep it civilized if I want to let it wave free instead of tying it back.

It’s a good time to be alive.

Fact and Fiction

I’ve been writing for a long time now. I’ve been reading even longer. The joy of reading is so easy, like boarding a train for a beautiful adventure.

Writing is different. It’s more like BUILDING a train. Or at the least a little wagon to take the readers on a journey. That’s harder.

So I’ve done what I can to learn the best practices and skills of building a story wagon. There are a lot of things to know, and methods and techniques to follow to achieve a desired result. I’ve learned a few things about what’s under the hood in a book

The book that took me the longest to write, The Russian American School of Tomorrow, is a memoir. It’s a very special form of non-fiction.
I found this definition from Hoover library talking about fiction vs. non-fiction:

Fiction” refers to literature created from the imagination…

“Nonfiction” refers to literature based in fact. It is the broadest category of literature.

See? Is my memoir my imagination or fact? Are my memories of events facts?

See what the Hoover Library says about nonfiction? It’s the broadest category of literature. It’s a super powerful form of writing. To learn and understand how things work, and how people did things in the past or what they are thinking right now about how to do things in the future.

People are very picky about facts. There are rules for what you can call a fact and how you present things as facts.

It reminds me of construction. When you build a building, there are rules and laws and every single part of that building has to be rated and tested, then inspected so that we are sure the building will not fall on our heads. That’s how we can feel confident–even in earthquakes!–to go be in that building.

We trust the building. We trust facts.

But my memory of the facts? Is that trustworthy?

In fiction, there is an UNDERSTOOD warning. The author, by placing the book in the fiction category, warns all readers that this story has not been tested and inspected. It’s ‘just’ a story. It didn’t really happen.

But in my exploration of literature, I’ve encountered books that are more true than facts. How is the story of Frodo’s battle with the ring of power not one of the truest kind of facts? Yes, it didn’t happen. The place they ‘live’ doesn’t even exist. But that story lives again and again. In my life, and in others’.

So the story of my life, what really happened, written in a memoir, is fact. But some people would dispute it. That’s their right. If they lived the story too, their view and experience of it was undeniably different.

But the imagination it took to form that story was not in the realm of non-fiction. I’ve written non-fiction. I have written training materials on how to use technology. I’ve written step-by-step instructions in The Pregnant Professional. The level of imagination is completely different.

There are parts of life that feel like non-fiction. It’s a non-fiction moment when my alarm goes off in the morning. No imagination required.

You know what’s fiction? When my daughter is crying because her homework is too hard and she doesn’t want to do it. That’s where the imagination comes in.

So much of our lives would do better if we composed it out of fiction. If we were willing to unbind the prescriptions of what we HAVE to do, and open up the box of what we MIGHT do.

What might we do when the boss calls us into the office to reprimand us about something we were unaware we needed to do?

What might we do when we feel our beloved spouse is too busy to pay attention to what we want?

What else is possible?

What else might we imagine?

There are steps. There are best practices. As I’ve found in my writing, though, those are a starting place, not a finishing place. We are all creators of our destinies. And each created life is a work of art. Look for the places to inject imagination.

Look for the art. You will find it.

Action changes everything

There have been a few Saturdays when I have been invited to two birthday parties on the same day. Always, these birthday parties were for Veronica’s friends.

Yesterday, the second birthday party was for one of my friends. And we were all going to have a picnic at Shakespeare in Griffith Park.

Griffith Park is Hollywood–all the way Hollywood.

They were performing Measure for Measure which is very NOT Hollywood.

This is what I have learned about Hollywood from living here, and from experiencing the huge amount of entertainment that this juggernaut puts out:
Hollywood does not go deep. There is a limit to how deep you can go in a movie.

I like books, and a book can go deep. So deep.

I think that books turned into movies often are so disappointing. There are things that one can do with the material of a book that doesn’t translate into film, and vice versa.

Measure for Measure is Shakespeare’s ambitious exploration of justice and mercy. A town that’s gotten too lax with their morality, so the Duke decided to tighten things up and goes out of town so his deputy Angelo can do the job for him. Angelo immediately sentences a nobleman to death for getting his fiancée pregnant.

The doomed nobleman had a very moral sister, who postponed taking her vows to join a convent to save her brother’s life.

The conversations between Angelo and the sister really allow for this idea to be discussed. Isabella the nun could speak with innocence on the matter. Few can. Even Angelo, who condemns the sinning nobleman, proves that he is not innocent.

The idea of this play reminds me of Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece exploring whether a crime can be excused because of the greatness of the man who commits it.

Also, Isabella reminded me of Antigone, the Greek heroine of the play that gives up her life for honor.

Plays are best in expressing action. Books are better at showing thoughts.

I first read Measure for Measure when I was more of Angelo’s mindset. I had a lot of iron-clad judgments. I didn’t know how to break free of them.

Isabella was caught between love for her brother and her dedication to a chaste life. Still, she can see how he deserves mercy because she loves him so much.

There are not so many people dedicated to trying to be perfect. Isabella represents the contrast. She DID play by the rules. She was an ascetic, but she still found mercy in her heart.

Shakespeare did some exploration of the problem, some rhetoric in iambic pentameter. But the reason this play works is because the arguments are not as compelling as the actions.

The act of killing the nobleman is too far. Arguments are not enough to cover the wrongness of taking this man’s life.

Even in Crime and Punishment, the deep sticky thoughts of the hero would have remained only his business except that he acted.

And Angelo acted. He sentenced a man to death.

The action took it out of ideas and into reality.

Books are ideas. Plays are action. They are performed in Acts, for goodness sake!

The idea of judgement and mercy is a toy until it comes down to the action. And the act is the most real thing ever.

I have learned how to release judgement by this time. I have learned how to choose a better action than condemnation. Which means I can encounter this book or play in a different way. Which is part of what the glory of art is about.

What are you going to do?

It was becoming clear to me that downtown was for pedestrians. How had I never noticed this before? Perhaps this Friday was worse for foot traffic than usual.

I was not on foot. I was driving and I had two errands to do for work. One was to have a meeting with a new business contact, and another was to drop off a large amount of binders and paperwork.

I was late to the first meeting. I had forgotten how bad traffic was. The second problem was that I had put the address for where I was meeting the guy in my GPS.

This is another issue with downtown. I have to put my car somewhere while I go to the actual destination.

I hung a Ricky and found a parking structure. I hoped it wasn’t too far from the skyscraper that was my destination. Also, no chance for validation. One other catch: cash only.

Oh yeah. Cash is easy for under-the-table economies. I checked–I had a 20 and a few singles.

Hop out and walk the blocks to my meeting. He was generous about how late I was, and I accomplished my mission.

Now back to my car. I was starving. But this cash economy had me strapped.

Did I drive to the next location? Or walk with the heavy box?

I did have a cart with wheels.

But downtown Los Angeles was hilly.

I checked the GPS. It said a mile.

A mile.

One big factor was that the person I needed to deliver the documents to might not be there, and I might have to walk back with them.

It was decision time. What would I choose?

I decided to drive.

I drove out of the parking garage and got $2.50. I hoped the next parking garage took credit cards. Deeper downtown probably would.

The GPS couldn’t get signal inside the parking garage, so I couldn’t tell which direction I was supposed to turn when I got to the street. I turned left, hoping that was it.

I had to stop a lot, because of all the passengers going through the crosswalks. Good thing because it took time to get the turns from my GPS.

And when I thought I could turn right, I encountered a one-way street.

And now came that demon.

That demon which says “You made the wrong choice. You should have walked. This is taking too long and it would have been better to do it the other way.”

I engaged with that demon for a while, trying to figure out if that were true.

Had I made a stupid decision? Was this a dreadful mistake?

This kind of demon pops up a lot.

He’s my companion on most large projects. Did I do this right? Surely everyone but me would have seen the easy way to do it. Surely I am missing something and I am doing it all wrong.

This Friday, I quickly realized it was not helpful. I’d made my decision, and I couldn’t turn back anyway. By car, it was more like 5 miles to get to the next building.

But I got there. I would not have gotten then nearly as fast if I had turned around and second-guessed myself.

That’s the thing. Making a decision, even if it’s not the best decision of all possible decision in a universe of infinite possibilities, is the most productive thing to do.

Choices

Me and Veronica walked out of the store looking so cool.
I’d been trying to get rid of stuff in the house, because there seemed to be so much underfoot.
“Come on, Veronica, we are going to the thrift store.”
I’ve always gone to thrift stores. My favorite teddy bear as a child was one I chose from a Salvation Army store. She has a velvet tummy and I named her Deanna.
When I got older, my jones for shopping could only be fulfilled somewhere very cheap. Thrift stores it was. The aisles were full of random things, and it was easy to try a look that I happened across because it was so cheap.
At some point, in my early adulthood I came across an article praising the fashion sense of Diane Keaton. She said she was shocked at the acclaim when it began, right around when the movie Annie Hall came out. She said she was only shopping in thrift stores.
Oh really? This was the first time I had thought of thrift stores as cool. It had always seemed like something to be ashamed of.
But I had always secretly preferred the thrift store. I could go to the fancy department store of my youth, Lamont’s and see what I was supposed to wear to look cool. But it was all the same.
I wanted something different from what they had. And Salvation Army was full of different things. I could make my own look.
And that’s why I’m writing about it. There is a cult following of thrift store fashion. Diane Keaton was not the first or the last. We thrifters are ready to take chances. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be stuck with the choices some corporate person selected for me. I have my own ideas about what I like to wear.
Even if clothes and fashion are not your mode of artistic expression, this is something to remember. You and I–all of us– have more choices than the ones we’ve been given.
You are not stuck in a rut. Life can sometimes feel like we’ve been given a booklet of ration coupons, and we have to stand in line to get what’s ours.
There is so much more than that. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And we can rifle through what’s discarded, look around and see if there’s a road or even a deer path less traveled, to see who else we might want to be or where we might like to explore.
Veronica found a faux leather jacket in her size. After looking over the whole store, even lingering on a purple hat, she settled on the leather jacket. She feels pretty awesome.
So when we left the store, I felt pretty awesome too. We make our own choices.

If it’s not fun for everyone

When I was little, there was a lady in my church who had been a missionary to Indonesia.Sometimes she would tell stories, and I asked “You speak their language?”
“I did. I’ve forgotten now.”
Inconceivable! Knowledge so hard won, and then lost. It was so hard for me to wrap my mind around it.
Of course, I had so little knowledge of my own to preserve at that time. The goal then was to acquire it as fast as I could.
Now, I get it. Now I know what it’s like to have more knowledge than you can keep.
School is coming to a close. The teachers in grade school that gift our children with the knowledge they need, the same knowledge every year. Make the shapes of the letters this way. Line the numbers up that way.
Some children are eager. Some are eager to get to summer vacation.
Because you know what summer means?
PLAY.
And I am discovering that there is another kind of knowledge I’ve forgotten to keep.
How to play.
I heard an short story on NPR many years ago, about a married couple who sent their children to the grandparents for a weekend, and went completely unhinged because they had forgotten how to be left alone without someone to take care of.
And therefore they had forgotten how to take care of themselves.
I understood that story deeply. My daughter was barely two and I understood that I’d been so wrapped around her that my own needs were a distant memory.
SHE never wanted to do anything but play.
I watched her play. Sometimes I played with her.
But her play was not my play. She’s older now, and her play is still not my play.
What is my play?
Did I forget? Like my missionary friend forgot the language?
Maybe. I am going to have to study up on play. They experts in the field say play is something that you do that you wish you could keep doing.
What in my life qualifies as that?
Sleep?
That’s pathetic. It’s time I got more serious about doing what I like.
Summer’s coming. Vacation is almost here.
Honestly, what I really want to find is at least a few things that would be play for me AND play for Veronica. That would be a miracle!
It’s going to take some serious research to find that kind of play.
Still, it would be worth it.
I don’t want to dread summer.

Quantity and Quality

A friend of mine one talked about how if you gather enough of something together, it doesn’t matter what, it will be valuable.

“If you gather a whole bunch of dirt, that is valuable, and you can find a way to make money off of it.”

My husband likes to say “Quantity has a quality of it’s own.”

Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers came up with the idea that 10000 hours of doing something makes you an expert.

So.

I have been doing this blog for 15 years now. It’s likely that with this blog and the other writing project I have done I have achieved the magical and mythical 10 thousand hours.

But when I started this blog, it went something like this:

Chris: THere is a new thing. People are writing journals online.

Me: Oh, I’ve seen that before, like on geocities.

Chris: This is bigger than that. There is a separate platform for it. It’s a web log, but they have shortened it to Blog.

Me: What?

Chris: The platform is called blogger. You should check it out.

I was for too busy. I was finishing my long delayed senior year of colllege. I had finals and graduation coming up.

but the idea intrigued me. ANd he showed me the platform.

Me: This is amazing. I could do this after I’m graduated. But only if I could have a cool name. Is Wonderblog available?

It was. And the original Wonderblog was born.

15 years and more than 2 thousand entries have passed. Blogger, Type pad, WordPress and 2 personal domains later, it’s survived a lot of changes.

It went dark because of persecution, but never completely. I have loved it truly and never let it too far from my thoughts.

I love how this is MINE, how I will say whatever I want or need to. And some truly beautiful words have come out of this exercise.

It’s been a beautiful anchor in my life. And I know that it’s impacted the lives of the readers. I know because a few of your write to me every month and tell me so.

Thank you for appreciating my art.

And now I turn this around to you. The small thing, the almost-whim that we choose, and keep choosing, adds up. My choice to do this work of wonder that I do was not unique. So many people make the same sort of choice.

This.

And his again.

For me it is words. And for you it could be something else.

Let it be. Let the efforts and practicing pile up.

They will, if you follow the small desires.

And it is rather satisfying, to have a body of work.

Thank you for sharing it with me.

What is your body of work? Write me back and tell me, if you want. I’ll be glad to celebrate it with you.

So if you write it, they don’t always come

  1. I’ve spent a long time being a blogger. But just because I write it doesn’t mean people will come read it.

con versely, Just because peopl are not reading it doens’t mean i will stop writing.

I write. And then I write some more.

That’s what I do.

I am seeing if there are some tools for garnering an audience.

There is still a lot I don’t know.

bettah work

I spend a lot of time on spiritual activities. They’re spiritual to me, anyway. I am constantly listening to books, lectures, and TED talks about positivity and improving my life.

I’ve taken classes on the phone, and gone to events. I’ve stretched my comfort zone and learned a lot.

This week I’ve been listening to Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability. It’s a recording of her lecture series on authenticity, connection and courage.

I can’t stop listening. And I gasp and cry. It’s good.

But I’m in this other class online. I took this class to bolster my sagging sense of self-worth.

I could tell it was sagging because I was very reticent to spend the money on it.

Self-worth.

I didn’t think I was worth it.

So. I pulled up my big girl pants and decided to invest in myself.

This class was expensive. So, I was committed to doing the homework.

At first.

And at first the homework was easy. Setting my intentions for the day (what sort of day would I like to have? Would I like to be playful? Would I like to feel secure?), and at the end of the day having a gratitude journal.

Not so bad. And being a committed type, I have done it regularly.

But then it got busy, and I didn’t do the next assignments.

I was still listening to all the recordings. I could do that while driving or doing housework. They were encouraging.

The affirmation tracks were great. I even played them for my daughter after she’d watched some TV that was too scary.

“You are a human being with flaws. You don’t have to be perfect to be ok.”

My daughter asked for them the next night. “Will you play the lady for me?”

Yes. Yes, I would. The lady was very soothing when I felt overwhelmed at work.

And I was starting to feel overwhelmed a lot.

I decided I should plug back into my classes, since I HAD paid for it. Take the time, I am worth it.

So, after spending all weekend with Brene Brown’s fantastic lecture series (very spiritual, personal-developmenty stuff), I sat down to do some journaling on the next module.

It’s not the same. It’s not the same thing at all.

TED talks in my ears is not the same as quality time as separating myself from all the THINGS I should do and taking the time to do a little spiritual work.

In my case, when I stopped and did the exercise, I reminded myself that I am not the victim in my life story. I am the hero of my own story. Rightfully so. And although I may feel like I am assaulted on all sides, I am in fact in one part of my story. My story is evolving continuously, and all the heroes have moments of conflict.

Oh yeah.

So. Not only am I the hero of my life, I really do find benefit in giving myself what I need to feel good about myself.

Which means, dilletanting about with feel-good recordings in my ears is not sufficient.

Doing the work feels a lot better.

Still, I recommend you all check out Brene.