Dreams From My Father

My dad came to me several times in the days following his death. Two of those visitations were in dreams.

In the first dream two hummingbirds flew into the enclosed porch where I was sitting with him, the room he spent most of his last 11 months in, recovering from chemo and radiation treatments, and when I put up my hand for them to land on, they instead hovered above it, boring their long, narrow beaks into the space between my first and second knuckles. I writhed with pain, inside, but didn’t flinch, holding still while they…sucked out nectar? Pollinated me?

As they flew off, I turned and thrust my wounded hand in his direction, imploring my dad to “help me, fix me, I’m hurt,” like I often did in real life. As a doctor, a veterinarian, he was who I turned to when sick or hurt, knowing his gift for healing. Especially of those who couldn’t explain what was the matter.

I looked at the sizeable hole the hummingbirds made – a small marble could have fit, yet there was no bleeding, and it was deep black, the darkest color I ever saw. The closer I peered, the more I realized I was looking into the abyss. Endless, boundless universe.

In the second dream, I was alone at my sister’s house and opened the door to let her cat out. Shortly afterwards, I saw a fox leaping gracefully across the yard, playful, yet intent. Entranced for a moment, I then suddenly remembered the cat was outside, nearby, and I rushed out the door, but couldn’t reach her fast enough. I helplessly watched as the fox grabbed her, sank its claws, and rendered her defenseless. She immediately relaxed, her body slumped and stopped struggling. It happened so fast. Alive one moment, surrendered the next.

That was 3 months ago. I haven’t dreamt since.

Until last night.

In this dream, my friends Tammy and Geof were showing me their grandfather’s house and the rural hamlet he lived in. I was looking to move and wanted to be someone’s roommate, and they thought we’d be a perfect match.

On our way there, I walked ahead of them into town, searching for something. Everything was intensely magnified. The green was greener than where I live now, the surrounding mountains were higher and more thickly forested. The few houses were old, and made of stone, just like the ones I coveted as a child and still hope to someday live in. No one was one the street at all, the townspeople all tucked inside. The scene was clean, orderly, pristine, natural, beautiful.

I walked into one of only two establishments and it was filled with kids – an ice cream shop. The brightness of overhead lights was strong and the hubbub overstimulating, so I left. I didn’t go into the other place – a serious, upscale restaurant, but I knew I would eventually – the twinkling lights on the windows highlighted the warm festivities inside. When I get settled in…

Then, feeling guilty I had rushed ahead without my friends, I walked briskly back down to the park, and found them relaxing with their grandfather and their son. We reunited.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After the first 2 dreams, I looked up Hummingbird and Fox in Ted Andrews’ book of animal totems, “Animal Speak, The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small.”

Hummingbirds represent tireless joy and the nectar of life. The most skilled flyer, they can change direction on a dime, fly thousands of miles – a seemingly impossible journey for a bird who needs to eat constantly, and are fiercely independent and revel in their freedom.

Foxes are a symbol of shapeshifting and camouflage, a sign of a new world growing and opening up, a beneficial creation in the works. They’re charming, and will distract you with jumping and leaping antics, until they pounce and capture their prize.

Now, a little back story about the small town and my friends’ role in it. Three years ago while visiting Tammy and Geof, who live in a small New England town, I listen while Geof shares some crazy thought he has that I might be happier moving out of NYC and to someplace like Vermont or Maine. I mostly ignore this idea at the time.

Months later, I’m invited to Maine, and suddenly remember Geof’s words. I rediscover Camden, where I once wanted to move, two decades earlier. It feels right this time. I pack up my life in the city, and here I am today, loving it.

Sooo…are T & G arbiters of my geography, and if so – is this about my inner landscape or the outer one? Is everything about to become more orderly and amped up?

How is my life shapeshifting? Am I about to capture my prize? Surrender to something?

Was one of my dad’s last gifts to empower me to live joyfully, on purpose, and suck from the nectar of life?

I figure my subconscious has been at work these months integrating the wisdom of my father and of the animals he tended, with my own beliefs, gut feelings from friends, and divine guidance. The unfolding ways of how I’ll live the rest of my life.

Contemplating Suicide? Wait.

1. In the gaping sinkhole of earlier days, kicking and screaming served no discernible purpose, it only made me sink deeper, and tired from flailing and wailing, I’d give in, spent.

(Did no one hear me? ‘Cause I was making quite a ruckus.)

I lay in bed, an anesthetic veil pulled between me and all of you normal, smiley people, and I drifted, waiting to bump up against something, anything, just to be jarred. Between numbness and despair, I preferred despair. Feeling its wretched undertow was actually molten relief.

Contemplating suicide was how I nestled with that despair, after the daily masquerade of pretending ceased. It was comforting, like the activities of childhood we revisit when under pressure: coloring, doodling, stacking blocks and knocking them down, just to see them fall.

In this secret room my fantasies of escape could gently inhale, exhale. Spaciousness dwelt in macabre scenarios. Imagining how I could die was my oxygen tank and I pulled on that tank as if……….as if my life depended on it.

And it did.

I had no control in my life. Nothing happened the way I wanted it to. Hell, I didn’t even know what I wanted, other than to stop feeling this way. Helpless and victim to everyone, to all the circumstances I was born into. All I knew were puppeteers and wardens.

And then it dawned – my first moment of light – If I had the power to kill myself, then I had the power to choose not to.

Slowly, more light crept under the door, washing across the floor and up along the bedcovers.

My mind split in two. Cleaved open. I was not just suffering anymore, I was the one witnessing the suffering.

And if one of those voices had the wherewithal to choose, even if the other one couldn’t see it, then there was still a way out. All I had to do was acknowledge it. I didn’t even have to decide. Not yet.

Just knowing an option existed was the most roof-raising, holy-fucking-shit revelation I ever had.

2. I think it’s time to start throwing parties again.

Not the sophisticated dinner party variety that I’m age appropriate for, where all the guests read the same online news reports and exchange their latest restaurant and movie reviews, and flatter each other’s weight loss, but the Sunday stew pot Bacchanalias I hosted in my twenties. Disparate groups showing up at my house wondering if they got the date wrong because while, yes…there I was, who were all these people?

Gay boys dancing, pickup-driving rednecks drinking beer, long-haired metalheads surrounded by the prettiest girls, stiff brainiacs from class, and the neighbors who weren’t sure if they were more nervous about the rowdy, muscled jocks or if they might actually be having fun amidst the cornucopia of humanity.

What I mean to say is, maybe it’s time to raise the roof again and watch the festivities commence. Remind myself of all the characters I’ve cast myself as, and all these other fabulous expressions I’ve gallivanted through the seasons with.

Who can I resurrect that will be the most playful?

The giant instigator?

The sexy flirt in leather boots?

The smarty-pants?

Damn the torpedos! Someone turn up the music, will ya? And make a beer run; it’s gonna be a late one.

3. I have a box on my desk with five passports in it. Four of them are mine and one belonged to my father, who passed in November. His was issued the year we met him (technically, he’s my stepfather); he went to Germany with his mother and sister.

It used to be that when you went to Europe, you got a stamp for each country visited, and collecting these inked pages was like those old photo albums that sat on your grandparents’ coffee table – signposts of a time and place that only exists in memory. Now that we have the EU and global connectivity and paperless paper, aren’t we playing in a unified field of dreams, where everybody’s simultaneously in costume on stage and clapping from the orchestra seats?

If we’re all collective conscious-ing and retina-scanning, how will I remember what my dad looked like in 1976?

4. Recall those T-shirts from the 80’s, the ones that said in bold letters “Frankie Says Relax” and “Choose Life?”

Yeah, those.

5. This year, I’m throwing a balls-out, come-as-you-were or who-you-want to-be party and all of you and all of me are invited. Shakespeare said so.

Do you want to join me? I think it’ll be a rollicking good time.

The choice is always yours to make.

The Hardest Thing To Do

Devoting to a meditation practice reaps the highest rewards I’ve ever experienced. Sitting on a cushion, walking in the woods, gazing at the ocean ~ a practice comes in many forms, but time alone, emptying hamster-wheel aggravations, worries, conflicts…anything redundant and mindless…this quieting is luxuriously restorative.

Understanding that our outer world perfectly reflects our inner state is what we need to bring us back into the present moment and connect with stillness. Knowing all we have to do is let go and allow what will be, to be…without judgment or control is the hardest thing and the easiest thing to do. 

When I don’t meditate, I’m anxious, reactive, uncentered, and less trusting that everything will be just fine. I struggle, feel depleted, am problem-focused, and less empathetic. Miss Crankypants.

When I do sit in stillness, even for ten minutes, this is what happens:

* My natural rhythms of eating, sleeping, and being productive emerge and I feel energized.

* Making healthy choices (nutritionally, physically, and emotionally) becomes effortless.

* I see the world as resilient, miraculous, and peaceful.

* Incredibly talented, bright, and successful friends, creatives, innovators, optimists, and solution-creators enter my sphere. 

* I am increasingly recognized financially for my contribution and value I help create.

I don’t know who said this, but it’s so true: If you can’t find five minutes to meditate, then you need an hour.

How can I help you…begin to still your mind, shift you from struggle into ease?

May I Have This Naked Dance?

“I want to dance naked in public.” ~ Jerry Saltz, NY Magazine art critic, speaking at the Rockport Opera House Sunday night, on why we create art.

Yes. It’s why I write. Why I speak. Why I live. I want to be seen and heard and feel ALIVE. And I want you to experience aliveness, to push and pulse with what calls you forth. I resonated with Jerry as he shared his perspective on creating and viewing art. “Art is about experience. It isn’t something you understand. It’s like pleasure – one of the most important forms of knowledge.”

Ah, pleasure…imagine a world in which we allowed the pleasurable to teach and lead us…what a full-of-wonder way to know we are alive.

I watched as he paced the stage, speaking of zones of safety we keep ourselves in, not daring to explore what’s just beyond the light already cast. He called out a few well-known artists, even some who were in the audience, issuing an invitation to exult, to expand, to excavate. Stop repeating what’s worked up until now. But why do we care what a former truck driver has to say?

Meaningful was when Jerry invited his wife, make-or-break you NYTimes art critic Roberta Smith, on stage. During the Q&A, she addressed this very question on why we do care about any one person’s opinion, and riffed on the crucial role culture must provide in our modern world. That without it- without discourse and education on art – we are barren and lost. I need give no examples of this; they are everywhere.

Yet, there is fertility.

As he shared his story of his entry into the art world, which didn’t begin until his forties, we saw validation of the late-bloomer, the demons of insecurity that plague all of us, and a quirky and endearing humor of a humble man who’s been nominated three times for a Pulitzer. How he first mimicked the stance and opinions of others and eventually unfolded himself, and let his voice soar. We saw an authentic presenter, not some stiff lecturer telling us Truth, but simply what he believes, what his eyes see. He urged us onward, away from declaring I Believe in Truth, I Believe in Beauty: “Don’t take refuge there. Find the blood, the sex, the self…the pleasure!”

He was real. Unpredictable. I loved him.

Be born again through art, he seemed to say.

My life changed when I finally ‘got’ all those Madonna and Childs in Italy, and stopped seeing them as authoritative, and merely reflective of that era’s cultural environment. When the work of Alexander Calder and Brancusi inspired me – literally, breathed life into my body – revealing mysteries un-ponderable in paintings, it was like learning another language. When I started scribbling on scraps of paper, then crafted them into essays for others to read, I found context for my joy…and now I’m learning to stand with an audience and speak deep truths out loud. Naked, indeed.

Creating form thrills. Hearing your connecting-of-the-dots excites. Sharing impressions draws us closer.  We are enriched through creation – as producers, as consumers, and yes, even as critics. I care about what you have to say, in the vehicle only you have the key to.

I want to witness you in your moment of creation, to see you translate what’s in your mind and heart and offer it up to us all. I want to dance naked, with you, in public, and have the whole world join us.

OMG. Can you BELIEVE what he just did?

It’s madness I say! All this talk!

Be yourself.

Follow your bliss.

You can be or do anything you want.

…and then…

Did you SEE that dress she was wearing?!

Yeah, but you can’t make money at your art. You have to get a real job.

THIS is how it’s done.

I’m not good / pretty / rich / smart / connected enough.

Pure insanity! …this cognitive dissonance of declaring that we simultaneously have freedom and also must abide. Can we not see the disastrous effects judgment – certainly of others, but most insidiously of ourselves – wreaks? Is there any way out?

I wonder…

What could happen if we:

* unfurl, instead of bind

* celebrate, instead of constructively criticize

* unarm, instead of protect

* radiate, instead of compete

* affirm life, instead of deny it

* loosen, instead of furrow

* shoot from the hip, instead of prepare

* witness, instead of evaluate

* accept, instead of tolerate

* breathe

What if we stopped judging every little damned thing we see? What if we stopped deciding if everything fits neatly into either the Good or Bad column? What if that voluptuous woman wore that dress like no one’s business, painted her way into a living, and did it all on her own terms?

THEN would we shut up that petty little voice in our heads?

What if, I mean, really now…imagine if The Last Judgment wasn’t some day of reckoning, some hierarchical accounting of our sins, layered with the gross humiliation of guilt and blame and deeply rooted shame…and instead was simply…

The very last time we ever judged?

I Need Your Help!

There’s exciting changes going on in my world, dear readers!

I’ve been diligent and curious and have immersed myself in deep business education, community engagement, and rigorous self-examination …and heck if I’m not gaining momentum! Very soon I’ll be launching a new website and business – an evolution of who I’ve become through my commitment to a daily writing practice, which was hugely facilitated by a 14 month-long Maine sabbatical.

Note to anyone on the verge: while I recognize each of us has our own path to walk, I cannot recommend Maine highly enough as a place to connect with your own rhythm, the natural world, and a fiercely supportive community. My time there has been essential to the blossoming you are witnessing. The world is too much with us, and we must find our place back within her larger cradle in order to take root authentically. I look forward to giving back to Maine as a creative collaborator, entrepreneur, and advocate…for all she’s given me.

What you’re privy to now is the unfolding of a venture I’m bootstrapping, girded by an unassailable desire to be in service to the world, the gathering of tools with which I’ll operate, and the security of knowing…

…We have everything we need.

Rumi is leading the way. ~ “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

I’m gaining mastery in obstacle removal, having discovered his golden key to transformation and action.

Exchange anything you truly want in place of the word ‘love,’ and you’ll see my inspiration: wealth, happiness, a beautiful home, fulfilling work, healing… the answers to your deep longings are waiting to be discovered, uncovered, recovered, because they’ve been there, covered, the whole time. Like when you’re looking for your glasses, and then look in the mirror and see them perched atop your head. Yeah, just like that.

One thing I’ve long sought is freedom, and along my path I’ve learned that – oh wonder of wonders, silly girl – I already am free. A revelation! Obvious, yet not really to so many of us. Another thing I’ve sought is a feeling of power – not over others, but within myself, and that, too, I’m unlocking. The more I honor the ME that I really, truly am and drop the masks, the fears of being rejected or misunderstood, the more I emerge as an authentic, powerful woman. Who knew that what the world craved was me? (and you, too, by the way).

Yet, I haven’t done it alone. It feels like a massive conspiracy – or convergence of all I’ve ever been and everyone I’ve ever known ~including every one of you, because you’ve given me your valuable attention, and I thank you for that. It hasn’t happened overnight, either, although once I launch my new site and blog and business, I know it’ll feel like a birthday – that one big world debut! (Better go shoe shopping now…gotta step out in style!)

For those who’ve gone before me, you know all the incremental steps that result in one big leap. And for those who are still gathering courage and clarity, know it’s ALL part of the unfolding. I spent a lot of time swirling around in eddies, and it does teach you something… (mostly how the view from the hamster wheel could use a new scenery designer.)

For now, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the future unveiling…

I’m developing a consulting business as a hiring specialist. I will help businesses who struggle with finding great staff attract, interview, and hire trusted, hospitality-driven employees who drive sales, ensure customer loyalty, and build brand trust. I’m writing a book about my methods and techniques, and am developing a curriculum as well. I’m propelled by the desire for people to have meaningful work lives, living the life they’ve imagined (thank you, Thoreau), alongside others who are also meaningfully employed. Win/win for everyone!

To do this I need your help.

If you are in a position of hiring, such as a business owner, recruiter, or hiring manager, I would so appreciate you helping me by completing this survey.

If you are not in a hiring capacity, but know someone who is, please pass this along – to three people if possible. The more information I have, the more customized and effective will be my offerings.

I’m thrilled to share this news of what’s unfolding for me, and look forward to having you along…

With much love and gratitude,

Kellie

What To Do When Your Creative Work Isn’t What You’d Hoped

Each piece of writing illuminates. Sometimes the light is on process, other times on content. Sometimes it’s about learning why we say yes to a word, a phrase, or an idea. Other times it’s why we edit, saying no. Just like life – our choices shine a light on who we are right now.

And now.

This morning, a friend who’d just published his latest (perfect, in my opinion) blog post, was feeling that what ended up on the page didn’t match the quality of his notes. He asked if I could I relate?

Oy! Does the seeming brilliance of my mind always come out on the page? Hardly! Is this a comment on my writing ability or on the delusion of my own grandeur?

Perhaps it’s the over-reliance on language to convey our sensations, our wisdom. The magnificence of life is far better communicated by looking into another’s eyes while they share their story, or through tender lovemaking, or when inhaling the sea air on our morning walk. It’s fully taking in what is before us, deeply and with reverence. It’s why we have Art: words aren’t enough, except maybe Basho’s.

I often tweak each post, even after you, dear reader, get my latest in your inbox – for my clarity and pursuit towards fruition. You read essays-in-progress, and you don’t know at what point you stepped into the conversation. It’s like Matisse, painting the gardens of Givenchy over and over again or like hearing a funked up arrangement of an older Ani DiFranco song on a live album. Art is a constant reworking, seeing with fresh eyes and ears and heart.

I believe in the Wikipedia model – a constantly evolving truth. This speaks to my dislike of most journalistic photography – that we think a snapshot tells the whole story. What IS true in one moment is not necessarily true in the next. Truth is shifty, and ever shifting. Like Ani sings, “it took me too long to realize I don’t take good pictures because I have the kind of beauty that moves.”

Nature is fluid. “Capturing” reality is foolish. It’s thinking you bagged that great African lion on safari, only to mount its head on your wall and discover an empty prize, for his essence has been extinguished. Perfection lies in surrendering, not in holding tight.

Everything is in motion. Our unfolding. Our belief system. Our priorities, and yes, even our values. Let’s not lock ourselves into rigid forms, but rather allow our creativity to flow, flourish, reinvent itself, innovate, turn on a dime.

To my writer friend, I posed this, what if what was left behind needs percolating for some greater purpose? What if what made it into form today serves today, and what didn’t get translated was the “mother”, the starter dough for the next loaf of inspiration?

Judge not, for our creations are also our evolutions.

Honor what comes and keep hitting that Publish button. At the end of our lives the one song, the Uni – Verse!, will be beautiful, as it already is.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Check out this dispatch from last summer, another look at how each piece is part of the whole —>

The Commodore, a $3,000 Toothbrush, & Why I Love Maine

On Distraction, Resistance, And Doing ANYTHING At All Except Writing

Note the time: 9:30am.

Bake a small loaf of Boule. Slather it with butter. Pretend to share with sister. (Here, have the last slice.)

Promise to stop eating dairy and gluten. For the third time this week.

Initiate a private twitter / Facebook group for fellow writers working on their book proposal. Silently acknowledge the smokescreen effect, while basking in self-congratulatory bliss.

Start a notebook called Accomplishments in order to feel even more productive. Replicate this list there. Use colored Sharpies for flair.

Cover desk planner with affirmations and encouragements. Read them out loud in a flowy, New Age-y kind of voice, without irony.

Burn incense. Tibetan, if possible. To light, use matchbox from Brooklyn restaurant. Feel hip, yet irked at paying $5.25 an oyster.

Pick up a pen and open notebook with book outline. Stare out window. Notice the rear tire on car is flat.

Meditate for 10 minutes to regroup.

When the muse arrives, with probing questions that spark, quickly put the pen down, walk into the living room and engage in conversation with sister. What’s her take on Karl Marx, Mitt Romney, and the plight of the proletariat?

Check the mail to see if the W2 from last summer’s gig with the schooner arrived yet. Calculate the impact that $8/hour will have on Social Security benefits. Wonder why you went to that overpriced Brooklyn restaurant?

Start making the bed for the first time since childhood.

Peruse stack of last year’s magazines with scissors and a glue stick, justifying “craft hour” by creating a visionboard. Cut out picture of Loire Valley Castle and hope someday you’ll have a remarkable story to tell, when you realize the home you’re living in IS EXACTLY THE SAME CASTLE YOU CUT OUT OF WORLD OF INTERIORS TWENTY YEARS AGO. OMG! Somebody call Oprah.

Snap the hell out of it.

Refill cup with decaf, since quitting the caffeine / sugar rollercoaster. Convince yourself that decaf tastes the same as regular and that the square of chocolate in your hand is medicinal.

Decide today would be a great day to begin that Understanding The Brain DVD course ordered after the holidays. Feel smarter for doing so, but less so once the professor starts explaining the principles of neural science. Scrunch up face at the first exercise: Why do you think saltatory conduction in myelinated axons would be faster than conduction in unmyelinated axons?

Turn off DVD and check book proposal group on Facebook for any new messages. Let guilt wash over you.

Pick up the kettlebell and do 50 kettlebell swings. Curse Tim Ferriss when your forehead and palms sweat.

Note the time: 2:15pm.

Thank Tim Ferriss for renewed energy and focus.

Sit down at computer and finally begin writing.

The Defense & Annihilation Of Paula Deen

I believe Paula Deen is scared to death. Not from diabetes. She’s scared to death of her SELF. That public self she launched into a multi-million dollar brand, that grew from passion into the beast that’s overtaken her other self: the private, real-life one.

Faced with a choice – to come clean, take responsibility for her health, to own the role her public self had in creating the disease she now suffers from like, unfortunately, so many Americans – faced with this choice is facing the annihilation of her ego.

And by ego I refer not just to the prideful one, but also the Freudian one, the one that drives us, the one that’s referred to compassionately in Buddhism as Monkey Mind. THAT self is threatened with complete destruction, the self she pieced together over the course of a lifetime, born of family expectations and societal validation and the trappings of money and fame and the kind of insecurity we vainly attempt to balm with status symbols and false paths and idols.

The self that when threatened clings oh, so desperately to the very illusion that’s crumbling beneath. Holding on to the identity she and we, yes – we, perpetuated by watching her show and buying her products – the TV personality, celebrity chef, virtual friend to millions of viewers…Lord knows when we’re threatened we hold on FOR DEAR LIFE.

To look herself in the mirror, indeed, to engage with that small, inner voice, the one that speaks late at night in forlorn moments when we feel alone, confused, helpless against the onslaught of life’s injustices, the one who says, “I KNOW what I really am,” is to risk losing everything, to begin the process of watching her entire construct crash to the ground.

That risk seems too great for her. It seems too great for many of us when we’re in the grip of denial, so instead she’s sandbagging against the flood, trying like hell to hold on.

We feel betrayed, duped! We are indignant and outraged! And rightly so, for with power comes responsibility and although we dole out our reprimands unevenly, we want accountability from our heros, dammit.

After our outrage – at her choices and their implications to those who look to her for guidance and leadership (because as superficial as celebrity is, we still revere our basketball players, movie stars, and top chefs as great leaders to be emulated) – after our outrage subsides, let’s take a moment and contemplate the denial we ourselves have participated in – when our marriage failed and we weren’t ready to admit it yet, when a loved one passed away too soon, when we were fired from a job because we couldn’t recognize it was time to move on, or…just like Paula, when illness struck and we turned a blind eye to our own culpability.

No one is free from the reach of denial…and denial is just a way to duck the sting of regret…

When we had a chance to say I love you but stewed in resentment instead. When we could’ve maintained an exercise program, but gave it up because it was too inconvenient. When we chose french fries over salad, for the third time this week.

Have your feelings about Paula Deen. Be mad. Feel disappointed.

And let it go.

Then allow compassion to rise up and replace blame. Forgive her and ourselves for not doing the best we could. For sometimes choosing to hold on to the illusion because letting go of who we think we are scares the bejesus out of us.

Who would we be without the illusion? Without the identity we cling so tightly to?

But that’s the very thing we should do. Forgive and let go, because it’s never too late to start over and discover who we really are. Not at any age or any stage.

Remember, the harder the attack, the stronger the grip. So, let go and let healing begin. Not just for her, but for all the ways we halt our life force from flowing. Forgive ourselves for what we did to cause harm to ourselves and others and…

Let love heal us.

Reading Is Fundamental And Other 70’s PSA Riffs

People start pollution. People can stop it.

“So, what do you do?”

“I’m a writer. I’ve a collection of essays on my blog, about breaking through conventional thinking and living on my own terms.”

“Oh, cool. Are you published?”

Hmm. Didn’t I just say I’ve got a website? With words on it? Organized around a topical theme?

Isn’t this kind of programmed thinking polluting our creativity? (See: BOX, thinking outside)

Oh! You mean do I have an agent, a contract, and a book deal? Not yet, but it’s curious this leveraging game that’s going on. To get the traditional folk to take a gander, the online platform must have viral-ity. And for site cred, a NYTimes bestseller sure doesn’t suck. Good thing, that penchant for having my cake and eating it, too. Hey, I’m just doing my patriotic duty. The pursuit of happiness and all…

Conjunction, junction. What’s your function?

I’ve been practicing the best of both worlds for a long time and I’m just as comfortable on a John Deere as I am in a Jag. Lifestyle agility, if I may suggest, is a virtue to cultivate. Being nimble enough to position yourself in front of the ball gives you time for strategic visioning. Score! That we embrace the models which have informed and brought us here, along with the exciting tranformations-in-progress – didn’t Dr. Seuss say it best, “Oh! The places you’ll go!” Doors are flying open, because…

The gatekeepers are gone! The keys are in our hands, and not just mine, but yours too. Technology has gifted the tools for us to articulate our madness, er…brilliance. Innovation lies not just in the realm of the few anymore.

Think: Inspiration.

Speak: Intention

Act: Creation.

You’re published when you write. You’re an artist when you paint or sculpt or dance. You’re who you say you are. Declare it. Eyes and ears are everywhere; so is opportunity. It’s taking the best the evangelicals and Darwinists have to offer and leaving certainty behind. We create AND evolve. In muse we trust.

I live to investigate and identify what’s true. Ditch the conventions and assumptions I inherited and reframe how I see the world, and I’ll tell you, it’s not my father’s Oldsmobile. Not a Prius either. Actually, it’s still car parts and chicken wire (nod to Ani DiFranco) since I’ve cut back on the ‘master’s tools’ habit. While it’s too radical to go cold turkey, (still need the Mac, a wireless connection and the USPS) I can see a new horizon and it’s architecturally magnificent! All these fellow life hackers supplying the necessary juice to keep us revved. There’s a whole lotta lovin’ goin’ on in 2012! Look around and see many like-minded souls rejecting the limitations of the previous, and even their own, generation. Truth and passion and optimism ripe for the picking. Online and off. Never before have there been so many ways to get your voice heard, your writing read, your message disseminated.

On deck here are a slew of writing projects. Seeds of new business ideas poking up out of fertile soil. I’m on the verge, folks. And so are YOU.

So remember…

RIF. Reading is fundamental.

It’s not just writing that’s being redefined. Reading, also. Have you heard that more people are cracking the kindles, nooks, and good old-fashioned books more than ever? It’s not all black and white, anymore.

Think about your RSS newsfeed, your favorite magazine, your horoscope, yours truly. None in hardcover or even sitting on the shelf. Digital. Ethereal. Cloud-like.

We’re immersed in words, in all their old and new forms. From Facebook and twitter to whizzing billboards, daily weblogs, ingredient + nutritional stats, Ron Paul newsletters, overflowing library stacks, and those creepy pharm ads (check out the side effects – you’ll never consider popping Lipitor again).

Amidst the cacophony, there’s wisdom to widening our lens. We’re exposed like never before, and great responsibility is called for. Notice how words are used and consumed. Become more conscious of what you put in your mind – for it determines what you think. Our mind is the only place that’s truly ours to govern.

Have you ever closed a book and reveled in the story, wishing it hadn’t ended? The characters live on, in our imagination. They have staying power when expertly rendered. Sometimes even when they’re not, so isn’t it better to be as discerning with our mental appetites as we are with our New Year’s ones? It’s easier to decline entry to those freeloading poseurs than to evict them. Just as we trim the fat from our diets, we should be careful with what stories we give our mental real estate over to.

Onward from my 70’s rugrat days, I scoured whatever I got my hands on. Voracious, I was. It started with the back of cereal boxes and Nancy Drew mysteries. Then there was my vampire phase. (version 1.0, that is ~ Anne Rice). My tastes have become more discriminating, as I satisfy my word cravings with more nutritious fare.

Here’s what’s on my reading list now:

  1. Drive by Daniel Pink (masterfully documenting what we intuitively know to be true about human motivation)
  2. The latest issue of Orion with a don’t miss interview between Terry Tempest Williams + Joe DeChristopher (the auctioning activist, post-jail term)
  3. This quote: Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. Helen Keller
  4. Issue #5 The OCCUPIED Wall St Journal (nabbed while touring the OWS offices in NYC last week)
  5. The Flinch by Julien Smith (FREE ebook on amazon – what’s stopping you? go get it!)
  6. The “map” of my new book (in progress) – How I’m going to revolutionize the interview process for the 21st century – you’ll never hire the wrong person again. Book proposal gratitude to Danielle Laporte & Linda Siversten.
  7. A new yoga studio’s schedule (oh how I miss you, Rachel)
  8. My dad’s Christmas card, for the nth time
  9. My 2012 list of intentions, declarations, and wouldn’t-it-be-marvelous-if’s. Tinkering, still.
  10. To my nephew: Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent. Because the single biggest determinant in the success of a child - across the board - is being read to.

Only you can prevent wildfires.

Together, we can start them! Change your mind, change your life.

What’s on YOUR nightstand? What do YOU do?

To Resume Or Not To Resume? Bullet Points, Job Descriptions and Little White Lies

Resume writing is an exercise in concise and intentional language. My less traditional route through employment hasn’t much required this black and white, two-dimensional snapshot, so when I recently was asked to submit one, I actually laughed out loud.

People still use resumes!? How very 20th century of them.

Conventional job searches rely on outdated methods – sweat out a resume (fudging facts here and there), scan the want ads, pound the pavement (a metaphor that conjures up painful Siberian exile), and sit across from a manager who doesn’t know who his ideal hire looks like, but expects you to grovel for the gig anyway.

No wonder why so many of us are unfulfilled in our work. Does this sound like the road to job satisfaction? Not so much. Since I parachuted out of the proverbial airplane of my first career in 2010, I’ve been fascinated with how we can feel both free and deeply committed to making a living that uplifts, and not depletes.

Knowing what you want to do next and where you want to do it are much more effective in opening the door to right income. (Thanks Gandhi.) Meet with people. Have conversations about what you do and why you do it. Let them see you in action – show, don’t just tell. Of course, certain professions require licensing, certification, and such, and you can supply that information, but don’t be solely represented by bullet points and fonts. Would you rather read about a new gallery exhibit, or let the vibrancy and emotion of an artist’s painting captivate and enchant you?

Given the choice between reading someone’s biography or having dinner with them, which would you choose?

Please, right this way to your table, Ms. Steinem…

However, for the sheer experience, I complied and penned the Cliff Notes version of my history, skills, and education. In 15 minutes. It was actually fun, and damn, if I didn’t want to not only hire me, I wanted to pay me more than I was asking!

Turns out that writing a resume is an end in itself, because whether you get the position, you’ll learn how to recognize, streamline and highlight your strengths with confidence. If you’re going to be judged by mere words on a piece of paper, shouldn’t you be your first and best cheerleader? This is not the time to be humble. Shine like the North Star. Brag like a gold medalist.

Distill your talents and sell your assets.

  • Keep it simple. One font, one page. Leave lots of white space so the eye may rest.
  • Name and contact information. No need for address or SS# or anything more personal yet.
  • Stay relevant. Include only necessary dates (no months, just years) and pertinent information.
  • Include experience not compensated monetarily. How have you created value for another? Charity work or volunteer position? Ran a social organization or club? Recipe writer or master of DIY? Your talents lie in more realms than financial – ever hear of social profit?
  • Tech skills. Indispensible and all too rare. (You know more than you think.)
  • Don’t list out minutiae – no one reads the admin. It’s clutter on the page.
  • Tell the truth. Own your accomplishments with integrity.
  • Focus on your excellence and strengths. How are you consistently educating yourself? A leading edge gives you the edge.
  • Give them no choice but to meet with you – right now.

If you’re even slightly discontent with your work, take a few moments, go to Google Docs, grab a resume template, and practice being concise and intentional. Shine! Reframe life experience into lessons learned ~ what used to ‘look bad’ are pluses nowadays:

  • Gaps because of travel or parenting translate into highly prized traits: communication skills, prioritization abilities, time management, adaptability, risk-taking, etc…
  • No degree? Enter self-direction and innovative thinking. See: Steve Jobs.
  • Change jobs often? You have a larger network, demonstrate flexibility, and adjust to new situations with dexterity and humor.

Ultimately, though, wouldn’t you want to be hired because someone thought ~ Hey! I know who would be just perfect for this project? Wouldn’t it be great if people gauged us more on direct experience and our full selves? But try it anyway – sketch one out on your lunch break. You’ll see yourself in a whole new light. I sure did.

I’d really like to hear about YOUR job-seeking. Tell me in the comments below how you opened up your last revenue stream and how, if at all, a resume was at play. (at play!) And if YOU’RE the one doing the hiring, how do you use a resume, if at all, in determining the outcome?

Thanks! Looking forward to hearing your stories…

{Addendum on Feb 3, 2012: From Seth Godin’s blog today:
Can I see your body of work?
Are you leaving behind an easily found trail of accomplishment?
Few people are interested in your resume any more. Plenty are interested in what you’ve done.
The second thing you’ll need to do is regularly note what you produce in a log or find some other way to keep track.
The first thing is more difficult: If the work you do isn’t worth collating and highlighting, you probably need to be doing better work.}

 

Entrepreneurial Everest ~ Base Camp Mastermind

Numerous are metaphors instructing us to unite for outcomes both lofty and anchored ~

Many hands make light work.

Two heads are better than one.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Reaching oceanic depths and Himalayan heights only happens with linked arms, minds, and legs. Consider the top headlines from 2011 – Arab Spring, the Wisconsin public employee protests, Occupy Wall Street…collective uprisings that reveal discontent and not so dormant frustrations at the state of our present realities.

While I’m not carrying a placard or camping in Zuccotti Park, I am participating as an agent of change. I believe many of us are transforming the world as we contribute our talents, skills, and passions more fully along the spectrum of our potential. For some, that means consciously raising children to be kind, loving, and curious. For others, it’s sharing expertise as teachers, public safety officers, business owners, or blue collar workers.

For me, it’s writing…developing my voice…discovering what’s meaningful and essential and building that into lifelong, sustainable revenue streams. I’ve plunged head first into the creative class.

I believe that the more of us who come alive and come together collaboratively will allow a just society to bloom and prosper. The smaller the better, for now, so that we can truly see and hear each other…in order to understand what’s meaningful and essential to us, our families, and our communities – and what’s not acceptable anymore.

After decades of conveying what was not wholly mine (not necessarily a bad thing if the environment is wisely chosen) or either reflexively reacting to other perspectives or swallowing my own point of view, I’m learning to listen more deeply instead. What’s tricky is I’m formulating ideas of my own and giving voice to them – maybe my most courageous act so far. Yet, sometimes these two dynamics are at odds: curiosity for what lies within another versus what lies within me. I’m not always successful with navigational balance. Ah, the joys of toddling…

Yes, it’s all about listening…and gathering. Co-creating community. Organizing a like-minded alliance to support our individual efforts.

I had the good fortune recently to attend a few gatherings of changemakers: one, a Marianne Williamson-inspired spiritual powwow, another, a combination TED talk / dance party / professional women’s conference.  The most intimate happened around a Brooklyn dining room table, over a lovingly prepared meal. Four of us shared our growing ventures and their inherent challenges, and we gained valuable insight ~ in the spirit of those opening metaphors.

1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = Mini Mastermind.

What do you get when you mix a kick-ass red-carpet photographer, a heart-centered personal trainer, a radically optimistic writer, and a hands-on healer steeped in both spiritual and academic methodologies? A base camp of golden insight with a view of grand peaks. Care for a crampon? Here’s a few takeaways to grab an entrepreneurial foothold of your own:

1. Invest with your competitors occasionally. See how they’re doing what they’re doing. You’ll learn something new, keep an eye towards new ideas and trends, and most especially, you’ll feel better about YOUR work – because no one ROCKS it like you do!

2. When your guiding force is to help others, becoming a financially healthy business or organization allows you to continue providing value for your clients and customers. Charge what you’re worth. This may be the most responsible action we can take for the work we believe in. “Sustainability” is not just an overused mainstream ploy – it’s LIFE.

3. When we’re in tune with our deepest passions, we are a tidal wave of power, enthusiasm, and magnetism. This makes us irresistible to people, and our future prospects. This is soul-centered marketing, when we’re just being our fabulous selves!

4. Social media is your friend. It’s permission marketing at it’s most widespread, it can be fun, and…it’s free. Use it to promote your good work in the world, and to support those who are, too. Reciprocity rules!

5. Set daily, weekly, and longer term intentions. Do it out loud, preferably within a support network. Follow up with actionable steps and a timeline. Be very specific.

However you’re engaged with making the world a better place, know that millions are doing just the same, in diverse and convergent directions. In gratitude for the collective energy & wisdom, I’d love if you shared one of your mindful masteries below. I KNOW you’ve a gem or three in your pack.

See you at base camp!

Ask And It Is Given

Multi-passionate firestarter with Thoreauvian tendencies seeks poet / lumberjack for flight.

Must have passport, rhythm, & a signature dish.

 

A wise friend once taught me that asking for what you want is the surest way to get it.

Clarity married to intention. Add in a bit of the unconventional and some cheeky humor…and best ~ it’s tweet-able!

Psst. Pass it on :)     !

Ichi-go Ichi-e

Japanese Garden

I’m going to come clean with you today. Give you a peek into one of those drawers I usually keep bolted tight.

I do most things half-assed.

Yeah. That feels really good to admit.

Sure, I can rhapsodize about excellence and the well-designed life and having a Virgoan’s superior attention to detail. But I’d be kidding both of us. There’s so much more to my capabilities than I recognize and develop and a whole lot of potential that’s just growing hairy penicillin in the back of my medicine cabinet.. If I don’t reverse this, rigor mortis of my art and work may just set in.

When I was living in Roppongi, the ex-pat neighborhood of Tokyo, a few years back, I was part of the opening team of a new restaurant. I knew a lot about the business, and was expert in our company’s culture. What I didn’t realize was that the Japanese generally give a new venture ONE chance to prove itself. If we didn’t win our guests over during their first visit, they would never come again.

This brought a whole other level to our preparations, because once the novelty wore off, our best foot forward is what we’d be judged on. That’s pressure enough to change the game. In the more forgiving U.S., we’re all about innovation, tweaking, upgrading – it’s ongoing, but in Japan, more goes into the design process before the debut, to present the best possible product or service, than we probably do by the time we get down to our fifth version.

We live in a ‘good enough’ society. We settle. We get by. Sometimes that’s OK, and sometimes we suffer for it.

There’s an ancient proverb in Japan, derived from the grace and beauty of the tea ceremony:  Ichi-go Ichi-e. “One lifetime, one encounter.”  It means to bring full attention and complete sincerity to your actions, because each moment only exists once and must be fully realized and lived.

I was reminded of this last night, as I was dining with friends at Bizen in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The owner, Michael Marcus, is not just the sushi chef, but he’s also a potter who apprenticed in Bizen, Okayama Prefecture and creates all the dishware used in his restaurant. His unglazed pieces are fired for 12 days, just once a year, in a large kiln he’s built on his property nearby. Talk about getting it right the first time!

We connected over a shared love of trekking and all things Nippon. He gave us a tour through his private tatami rooms dedicated to chado (tea ceremony) and kaiseki (a seasonal, multi-course meal), and his stunning, hand-crafted collection of vases.

The care, dedication, and passion he brought to both his pottery and our dinner was without question. He won us over by giving his full attention and heart to our experience. I used to do this, too, when I was serving others. But now that I’m in the service of myself, I think it’s time my inner CEO call a board meeting.

My best work is lying fallow. There’s a reason, yes, and that I’ll explore in my next post, but for now, suffice it to say that I’m committing – with you as my witness – that Ichi-go ichi-e is my new mantra.

Because once I devote to giving it EVERYTHING ~ to being my own best critic before I step in front of the mic ~ to crafting the most exquisite container for my bouquet ~ then I will truly be alive.

Hold me to this, I ask of you. My life depends on it.

The End, er, I mean… The Beginning Is Near

Can you feel it? It’s happening – to me and seems to everyone I’m talking with lately. We’re clearing away cobwebby concepts, habits, defenses, abuses, misappropriations, faulty thinking, and old programming. Darwinian philosophy is dead, Cartesian duality isn’t serving us anymore, waste management is a misnomer, and the levees holding Top Down patriarchy from washing away are on the verge of collapse.

     I know, I know you probably scream and cry
     That your little world won’t let you go
     But who in your measly little world
     Are you trying to prove that
    You’re made out of gold and, eh, can’t be sold

     So, are you experienced?
     Have you ever been experienced?
     Well, I have

     Let me prove you…

     Trumpets and violins I can hear in distance
     I think they’re calling our names
     Maybe now you can’t hear them, but you will
     If you just take hold of my hand – Jimi Hendrix

Maybe you’re still pretending you can’t hear the distant music, but that’s because it’s being drowned out by puppets and agents of fear – both those in your head that keep the illusion on just the other side of smouldering rage, and those who are stoking that furnace, all while tweeting their exit strategies to 98,000 followers.

Chances are though, fiery anxiety aside, you can feel an emerging future; you and visionaries from Nostradamus to the ancient Mayans, from Charles Reich* to Hendrix to that sandwich board-wearing nutso down in the subway station for the last twenty years, babbling about the coming rapture. From furtive whispers to in-your-face proclamations – it’d be foolish to deny anymore that we are living, truly, through the apocalypse.

The apocalypse – how we quiver at that word. From the Greek, meaning “the lifting of the veil,” it points to revelation during a time of falsehood and misconception, not some Mad Max catastrophe. If we plot humankind’s presence along the timeline of the earth, it’s said we don’t show up until a few seconds before midnight, New Year’s Eve. Zoom in, like a microscope, and just sit and think about the past 100 or so years, a veritable blip. That’s an infinitesimally short time to wreak so much havoc and try to evolve accordingly. Yes, we’ve invented cars, airplanes, telephones, microwave ovens, laptops, remote-controlled you-name-its, as well as eradicated smallpox, raised millions out of poverty, extended lifespan, and figured out that a net can prevent malaria. But, we’ve also witnessed and participated in genocides of people, species and cultures that will never, ever be experienced again. We’ve committed acts of violence to ourselves and each other that you’d think, if I were to frame them as the workings of an alien society, unconscionably atrocious.

We’ve altered the fricking CLIMATE, fercryin’outloud.

When was the last time you saw an earthworm or an eagle? We’re so disconnected from our planet that we need devices to tell us when it’s time to eat, what the air feels like outside, and how to wake up in the morning. We think a “week” is a real measure of time.

We’re so disconnected from ourselves that it’s not until cancer kicks us in our collective ass do we start to think, oh! Maybe there’s something wrong here. And the biggest killer of children, of CHILDREN I say, is that we are starving them to death through obesity, first by our own example and then by supporting the greed-based sources of the so-called ‘food’ we pretend to decry.

Further, we’re so disconnected from each other we barely make eye contact over our smartphones, we deadbolt our families behind gates (& call it a community), and it’s all we can do to piece together broken relationships with complaints / meaningless sex / gossip as our baseline. We’re terrified of answering real questions with honesty and humility.

But there’s good news! Really, really good news, although you won’t read about it in the newspapers or hear it on the radio, because those are part of the institutions that are either crumbling or transitioning. Creative destruction is allowing for magnificent innovation, technological transformation, and radical redesign. The evidence can be seen EVERYWHERE. While the old is getting earthquake’d and tsunami’d, more are being catapulted into a new paradigm. So surrender your erroneous defenses and create the life that’s been calling you – the world needs what only you can provide. The universe is conspiring to bring us unparalleled creativity, beauty, ease, and prosperity. And it wants you in on it. So put on your party pants and grab a partner!

     Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. ~ Steve Jobs

  • Aging – Screw dying when I’m 80. I’m going to live at least another 80 years.
  • Retirement – Bullocks! Why would I want to work like a dog for a paycheck just so that I could knit or play golf when I’m “old?”
  • Cash / Money – It’s the end of fiat currency, the end of worshipping false idols. Imagine getting what you want without the treasury middleman.
  • Jobs – I don’t want one. Do you? Jobs are going the way of the Yugo. And that’s a GOOD thing.
  • Banks – Let them fail. Yes, it’ll hurt. But no more than if we don’t.
  • Stock Market – Really? You’re still in it? How about locavesting…self-investing…community investing…
  • Disease – Heal instantly. Never be sick again. Eliminate this idea of illness as inevitable.
  • Peak Oil / Dwindling Energy Supplies – Mere corporate propaganda. No such thing. Praise the sun and the wind and the deep blue sea.
  • Time Travel – Yup. Done it. And so have you.
  • God / Universe / The Great Pumpkin – Nietzsche said “Dead!” Walt Whitman said “Leaves of Grass.” I side with the humanist.

This is what I’ll be writing about in forthcoming posts. Which is to say that all I learned and thusly railed against all my life were falsehoods and misconceptions: that which didn’t ring true, but were the foundations upon which the masses built their beliefs. So look forward. Let’s start questioning EVERYTHING we think we know is real. Let me push into what you think is not possible, and allow a seed to be planted. Come explore with me – what is something you absolutely believe to be true? Now hand me that sledgehammer.

************************************

I don’t know why we always cry
This we must leave and get undone
We must engage and rearrange
And turn this planet back to one
So tell me why we got to die
And kill each other one by one
We’ve got to hug and rub-a-dub
We’ve got to dance and be in love
(But what I really wanna know is)
Are you gonna go my way? ~ Lenny Kravitz

*There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence This is the revolution of the new generation. ~ Charles Reich, The Greening Of America, 1970.

Cultivating True Security in a Post-9/11 World

There are only 2 kinds of actions to take in life: a reactive one, or a proactive one, and if you want to know which corner you’re in, just climb down your basement stairs and see how much is floating. Drenched as we’ve been lately on the east coast, all ‘state of emergency’ and ‘the sky is falling’ factions have conspired to either congratulate you on your preparedness or illuminate your lack of it.

I ponder my placement on this why-axis as I pull on my rubber boots to survey the damage from yet another weather frenzy. Glad as I am in this moment to be a nomad instead of a nester, I’m even happier that the house I’m temporarily calling home has been tended to: toolboxes on shelves, washer + dryer raised on pallets, no flotsam and jetsam to reel in. Phew. No soup for FEMA today.

Flashing back to 1999, I recall sitting in front of the loan officer at the bank I’d been affiliated with my whole life. I was applying for a mortgage for my first house, and it was proving tricky. Apparently my occupation at the time – waiter – wasn’t what he liked to call traditional. Gratuity-based income didn’t seem to please his rather narrow bankerly mentality, and despite years of consecutive, steady income, tips tripped up his ability to ascertain my cash flow.

“You just can’t count on them,” he said.

“I’ve been counting on them for years,” I replied. “It’s no different from your salary. Look at my taxes – they’re the same year after year. They’re as real as this desk.”

No matter the black and white numbers on the official forms before him, he just couldn’t see it. He was using the wrong mechanism. Security, financial or otherwise, is not something you measure with a calculator or even calipers. Indeed, all we do to protect ourselves out in the big, bad world merely proves it to be an illusion. Don’t be fooled by the necktie. It’s just an expensive, strangling accessory anyway.

I got the mortgage eventually (of course, at a higher percentage rate to compensate for my “unusual” situation), painted the library, unpacked cartons of books, and settled into my new home. It was in this room one morning, in fact, listening to the radio I heard the unfolding news that rocked our cushioned world. Confusion, horror, overwhelming sadness…we all felt it – our sense of safety crashing all around us. From mighty steel…to dust.

In the aftermath, I searched for wisdom and meaning. My philosophizing called into question words like security and patriotism, like my nephew as he learns to speak his world, asking incessantly, what’s this, Aunt Kellie? What’s that called? Why?

In the ten years since, what I’ve come to realize is that security is not collateral to be measured concretely like a regular paycheck or the automobile industry or our ranking in the world or all the crap we stuff into our buildings. It’s nothing we can lay our hands on and say: this technology, this law, this bomb will protect me.

What gives us staying power, the ability to keep calm and carry on is how we proactively position ourselves – the resources we build well, within: Our constitution in the face of great force, whether flood or famine. Our emotional athleticism – being limber enough to feel beyond our own periphery. Our intellectual agility – informing ourselves with multiple perspectives to counteract propaganda (especially from authorities we tend to trust). Our ability to pause – for when the shit hits the fan, we need to move intentionally. And, overall, our lovingkindness – because an open heart always trumps envelopes and embraces fear.

The best place to find shelter…is inside. It’s the strongest, most resilient structure you can create. Just make sure to keep the base(ment) clean, because if you don’t do it now, it’ll be that much harder when you’re forced to.

*********************

“If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born.
“Come in,” she said
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm”.

~ Bob Dylan

*****************

Why Should You Remember August 26?

My name, Kellie, means “Warrior Princess,” which is apt because I’ve been a fighter my whole life. I’ve fought against authority, against containment, against ignorance, against hate, against those I think are wrong. I guess I took my cue from all the fighting my formal education was based upon – names, dates, and places of our history – which is to say the history of war.

I know too many dates like 1066, December 7, 1944 and September 11, 2001. Names like Genghis Khan and Vlad the Impaler or battles like Iwo Jima, and Wounded Knee Massacre. It’s all just so horrid what gets lodged in our brains. I don’t like having it there.

What if I pivoted 180 degrees and created a new language, a new framework for understanding the world? What if we all did? What if we stopped fighting against poverty, racism, or to be first in line? What if we stopped declaring war on terror or childhood hunger or especially, each other?

Imagine if we started standing ‘for’ our values and became advocates for peace, for food security, for equality instead.

Starting now I’m changing my mind, literally. I’m changing my vocabulary and my perspective.  I am for justice and liberation and the rights of all humans to live out the highest expression of the lives we’re given.

So, let’s celebrate today, August 26, and not just because today is my birthday. (Although if you raise a glass in my direction, I’ll certainly revel with you). Let’s celebrate those Americans who gave this day true meaning – women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Lydia Taft and Ernestine Rose. Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Burns. They fought for what they knew was right, for what they believed in.

Because on this day, in 1920, women gained the right to vote in the United States. And that was something worth fighting for.

How Seth Godin Got Me Into Bed

“Is that your husband?” the man standing outside the kayak store asks.

“No.” I reply, eyebrow raised.

“Boyfriend?” he probes.

“Third date.” Hmmm. Is this guy serious?

“Really? You two look so comfortable together. How’d ya meet?”

“He said hello to me in the park.”

“That’s it?! Hello? Just like that? Why can’t I meet anyone that easily?” he says, half-joking, sticking out his hand. “Well, then, hi there!”

At this point, Mr. Third Date’s animal instincts perk up and he immediately sidles up to Mr. Clueless and introduces himself. A bit of kayaking and surfing banter ensues, and territory thus marked, Mr. Third roams back into the life vest racks.

“Sooo… ya got a sister? I just can’t seem to find the right woman – she’s gotta be pretty, a hard core sailor and camper, be independent, have her own money…I don’t have much, y’know, it all goes into the boat…she needs a sense of humor, knows how to cook…blah, blah, blah…” He rattles on, listing all the things he wants, like I’m interviewing him for eHarmony, never once considering what he could do to prepare himself for when she shows up. Suddenly, my inner entrepreneur taps me on the shoulder. I should start a dating service! Write a how-to book! Help a poor guy out…

This is not the first time I’ve encountered the desperate and lonely up here in the Pine Tree State, or even this specific line of questioning. (What’s with men asking lately, in earshot of that evening’s companion, if I’m interested in them?) I think I’ll go home tonight and pen a man-ifesto: The Mainer’s Manual to Meeting Your Mate, and hang my matchmaker sign on the door. I’ll make a mill, I’m tellin’ ya. This is one lonely place – everyone here wants to connect, and no one seems to know how.

Then I realize there already IS a book – and I have it out on loan from my library: Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. (wondering how I was going to work him in here, weren’t you?) I’m immersing myself in wisdom from those living the life of which I dream, and since that method has worked for me before, I’m voraciously soaking up marketing pearls from Godin, Marie Forleo and other b-school geniuses with the intention of joining their ranks. Permission Marketing, while not his latest venture, nevertheless, is full of effective, 21st century steps to turn strangers into friends, and friends into customers.

See, Seth is my guru. And not just in the boardroom. As a budding creative, I am not content in just one arena, and neither is he. A bestselling author, marketer, consultant, entrepreneur, and overall finger-on-the-pulse idea man, he blazes a path for the firestarter in me: as a writer, collaborator, artist, entrepreneur, engaged citizen, and yes – lover. I cannot remain tightly furled in one area, while trying to blossom in another. Uncorking that bottle of Champagne means releasing all the bubbles…and my cup, dear readers, wants to runneth over. I am expanding into a realm near you.

Which means not only am I getting ready to launch new work projects, but yes, I’m also dating again, after a healthy hiatus. I took my demons & damsels-in-distress down to the river and banged stones on them until the waters ran clean and clear and now it’s sheet day, folks! See the bright whiteness hanging on the line, breeze fluttering, just waiting for someone to come along and make up the bed? Well, grab that bottle of Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé, a couple of glasses, and follow us as we turn strangers into friends and friends into lovers.

THE JOY OF SETH

(or How to Cross-Pollinate the Principles of Business & Pleasure)

1. Get Permission First.

Widen your lens. Just because we’re out together, doesn’t mean you’re in. My first passion is people – the whole spectrum. Strangers, acquaintances, friends, confidants, colleagues, associates, partners, even ex-boyfriends. I enjoy the company of them all. It’s only with another that we truly know ourselves – it’s a subjective world, after all. I’ll hold up my mirror, if you hold up yours. So, get permission from me first to pass from platonic to romantic. It’s not assumed nor automatic. Don’t move on to step 2 unless the coast is clear on step 1.

2. Create Anticipation.

Why, oh why, are we so obsessed with instant gratification? You know as well as I do that anticipation is the most powerful aphrodisiac – when you crave something so bad it’s all your mind can focus on. Rush through it? Nah – this is the fun part! Don’t pounce. Don’t whiz past the scenery. Don’t go in for the kiss, just to ‘get it out of the way’ (as someone once did – how unromantic is that?) Build up excitement. Generate every marketer’s dream: have the desire there before you even launch. Seduce me. Give me no option but to incessantly fantasize about getting my hands on you. Make me unable to think about work or sleep or food until I do.

3. Make It Personal

Red roses? Yawn. Chocolate? I know better than you where to get the really good stuff. Teddy bears? What am I? Twelve? (You’d be surprised what a 35 year old man will show up with.) Then there was the guy whose philosophy was to cast a wide net to increase his odds – he’d ask out every woman in the bar. I don’t want to be a stat in your probability experiment. Take time getting to know who I am, because I am the exception to your rules and expectations. Set yourself apart. Be original. Customize the experience, to us. Pinpoint a shared passion – so we may revel together. One size doesn’t fit all. And really, do you want the one that fits all, or who fits you – perfectly?

4. Be Relevant

Grab my attention. Give me yours. I don’t want to watch your football team on TV, I want to run on the field with you. I don’t want to hear about glory days, rather, let’s strap on the climbing gear and trek the Himalayas. Skip the coulda, shoulda, woulda’s; instead, taste, feel, and mold those dreams into sparkling reality. I want possibility & revelation. So go ahead and reveal…I won’t ask for what I’m not prepared to give, and neither should you.

Know what I’m really interested in?  YouYour imagination.  Your spark.  Your essence.

Know what else I’m interested in?  Showing you mine

So, where do we go from here? According to our digital-age mastermind, once permission has been granted, and these steps have been climbed, three outcomes are likely: trust, loyalty, and frequency. What marketer, er…person, could ask for more? Try ‘em & let me know how it works out… I’ll be waiting for you.

***********************

I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naive or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman. ~ Anais Nin

All she wants to do is dance. ~ Don Henley

The Most Powerful Person I Know

Hello Beautiful! Yes, YOU.

I’d like to have a word with you. A few, in fact.

I see you struggling over there. I hear you. I feel you. I love you. I love you so much I’m going to share a secret with you:

You have all the time in the world.

I know. There’s not enough hours in the day to get it all done. Your biological clock is ticking, and you haven’t even met your partner yet. Maybe you have found him, but the kids are climbing all over you and you can’t get anything accomplished. Or your kids are grown and you feel like you’re wasting time if you’re not pushing, striving, getting that new project off the ground. Or perhaps there are so many people counting on you to take care of things. You run a business with huge responsibilities and obligations and have a mortgage and that new roof to replace. You’re running late for work, to get to the bank before it closes, and around in circles because the pressures of daily life are mounting. Or you’re winding down in life and there are still a few things on that bucket list that you haven’t crossed off yet and you wonder if you’ll ever get to them.

What I have to say is this:

You have ALL the time in the world.

Now, I can tell you, but you may not believe me. But whether you believe in God, or Goddess, the Universe, Spirit, Mother Nature, Yahweh, the Big Bang, or even Gaia, Qi, Krishna, Gitche Manitou, Allah, or the absence of deities altogether, it doesn’t matter. You can believe in yourself, and I know that because I’ve seen you in action. You are one supremely powerful being.

So say it. Say it like you mean it.

“I have all the time in the world.”

Say it out loud.

Say it when you feel rushed or overwhelmed.

Say it as prayer.

“I have ALL the time in the world.”

Say it even if you don’t believe it. Indeed, that’s the best time – you are changing your mind, your mindset. Begin when it feels inauthentic. Maybe it works its magic quickly, but if not having enough time feels a longstanding challenge, it may take a greater commitment to shift your beliefs about time and its abundance. That’s OK, because…

“I have all the time in the world.”

Write it down. Put it where you’ll see it often. In fact, post it in a few places to increase its visibility. Sticky-note your home: the bathroom mirror, the fridge, inside your date book. Surprise yourself: slip one under the visor of your car, tape it to your coffeepot, put one in your wallet. Get creative: make a coaster for your keys, monogram your tote bag, screenprint a poster.

“I Have All The Time In The World.”

Catch yourself in the mirror, wink, and say it back to yourself. Pretend you’re an actor practicing your lines. Play with it. Meditate on it.

Imagine what it would be like if it were really to be true.


“I HAVE
ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD.”

Slowly, change will happen…it’s inevitable.

Trust me on this one. I once was in over my head, feeling the tidal wave of time slipping away. Life was too short, too much, I would never get to it all. I felt behind, under pressure, that I *should* be somewhere else than where I was, trying to cram it all in.

But I’m right here, now, and you can trust me.

You have all the time in the world.

Because YOU

are the most powerful person

I know.



Just Another One Of The 13.9 Million Unemployed

Unemployed. Out on a limb. Yep, that’s me.

I cashed my last paycheck 15 months ago, back in the middle of the recession. On purpose. With purpose.

I had a good job, a great one, even – with a prescription plan, dental checkups, three-day weekends, and a 401K. It was rollicking, good fun and I knocked off by 4pm, at the latest. The company’s prestige was stellar, my colleagues were exceptional, and there was opportunity for growth. The wine flowed. Have I mentioned the magnum of ’82 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, uncorked just for me?

People thought I was out of my mind, people who had lost their home, steady income, health insurance, a chunk of their retirement account, their sense of security and self-worth. Why the hell would I willingly walk away when worlds were crumbling?

Because great was not good enough.

Because when the market is down, I’m like Warren Buffett.

Because there’s no place like the right time. And it was my time.

Once, a few years earlier, the CEO, this restaurateur who built his empire from the dining room floor of a neglected neighborhood all the way up to the skyscrapers of Dubai, poked his head into my office and greeted me with a rhetorical, “Hey, Kellie! Workin’ hard?” before he turned and continued walking down the hallway.

“No,” I replied. “Not really.”

Mid-stride, he hesitated. Uh-oh. I had caught him off guard.

Now here’s the guy who signed my paychecks, and probably didn’t appreciate my cheekiness, but truly, I wasn’t working hard. Work hard is what my dad did – a veterinarian by day, a farmer at night. It’s what the lobstermen do here in Maine, hauling traps in dangerous weather. It’s what moms do everyday. It’s what he did, twenty years prior, when he opened his first place, when he took a risk on real estate next to a methadone clinic and earned the trust of each customer, one by one.

That’s what I really wanted to do, take a risk. Not support someone else’s vision, but manifest my own. And for that, I’ll bloody my knuckles, scrub the basement with a two-bristled brush, and sell my soul. For it was my soul that was banging on the bars, begging to be filled. I left those spreadsheets and time cards to be filled by someone else.

Now, pour a jigger of my former boss’s entrepreneurial sensibility over ice, add a dash or three of my tendency to disregard the financial and cultural climate, garnish the rim with a dusting of dreams… and voilà! Here I am, taking an emotional gamble and it’s the hardest damn work I’ve ever done. But did I have to launch my rocket during the recession? Couldn’t I have waited for the terra to be a bit more firma?

Nah. What better time to cliff dive than when the economy is weak and I’m feeling strong. Better odds that way. I’ll grow despite, with less resistance, as everyone’s running for cover. The vine must struggle? I’ll leave that to the viticulturists…

Not to say it hasn’t been scary.

Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of feeling vulnerable, looking stupid, being rejected.

Overcoming these? Not so easy.

How about getting Lyme disease without insurance in these Tea Party times? Or paring down, living on $12,000 a year? Then figuring out how to build a website, a platform, a freelance income, a brand new life?

THAT’S sweat equity.

Then comes the real effort. Maintaining health, cultivating creativity, releasing stubborn obstacles, and breaking habits with gripping roots of steel. It takes commitment, fortitude, perseverance… and a plan. You have to know what you want to get what you want.

First, know thyself. And that is the hardest work of all.

I give thanks every day for all I do have, especially my solid support system, for without loving friends and family (and those random kindnesses of strangers), these challenges would feel a lot more like struggles.

At the end of it all, being one of almost 14 million was NOT on my wish list, but it will undoubtedly lead me to become that one IN a million.

Just like the ’82 Bordeaux. I’m sure of it.

Besides, with markets continuing to crash and real estate still iffy, you’ve got to invest in something worthwhile, right? Might as well be yourself.

Darwin Is Dead.

The late nineties were pivotal in my evolution as a thinking person. Y2K, partying like it’s 1999, and all the premillennial madness was drum beating me into a travel frenzy. Infected with the proverbial wandering bug, on steroids no less, I was anxious to launch that round-the-world trip I’d been dreaming of, before the gong sent Cinderella home. What if the world came crashing down before my jet-setting jaunts could be quenched?

I salivated over the lonely planet. Where to?  Seattle > Anchorage > Seoul > Indonesia > Nepal > Johannesburg > Rome > London > NYC?  Or perhaps Mexico City > Lima > Patagonia > Kenya > Delhi > Beijing > Sydney > San Francisco?

I chewed on each country like jeweled jujubes, until they blended into a kaleidoscopic jawbreaker. Turning to my sister, no neophyte in the Delta mileage program, for destination distillation, she emphatically warned me to stay away from certain Muslim-populated countries, informing me that there was a price on my soft American head by a radical faction led by a man I’d never heard of: Osama bin Laden.

Seriously, I asked? Who would want to hurt little ol’ me? I’m a nobody. But my awareness of the greater world was on the verge of being blown wide open, and simply that I carried a passport issued by the military and cultural powerhouse of the 20th century put me in the 99th percentile of economic and political advantage. In a dog-eat-dog world, this meant I was prime meat, and we all know our human tendency to knock over those on top.

So in 1999, instead of a twenty-country bonanza, I opted for just one: China, rumored one of the safest countries for a solo woman traveler, and fortunately home port for the Mandarin and Asian culture I’d been studying. Off I went to see the land of revered mountains, towering Buddhas, and great walls.

While teaching English there, in Changsha, the capital of the Hunan Province and hometown to Mao Zedong, one-time leader of the not-so-free world, I was assigned a “monitor,” Hsui (English name: David). His responsibilities included making sure I didn’t spread pro-capitalist propaganda, subvert the Communist government, or otherwise pollute the pristine waters of my students’ shallow worldview. (and here I had thought myself sheltered from those who sought to squash my red-blooded love of freedom!) What I didn’t know was how two-dimensional my outlook would prove to be.

Once, while trying to spice up a rote vocabulary lesson, I considered myself keen, dividing the class into two rows and giving the end person in each line an eraser. I’d say a word like ‘kitchen’ and the end person would name something that could be found there – chopsticks! wok! MSG! – and then pass the eraser. I explained that the first team to get their eraser from one end of the line to the other, with correct enunciation and accuracy, would be the winner. I thought my little game fun and lively. However, during the first round, David suddenly stopped the game, jumping in to declare authoritatively, “Friendship first. Competition second.” Lively, indeed. Score one for Mao.

Now, if you’ve ever played a card game with me, you know I turn it into a contact sport. I’m out to win. I even configure ways to beat myself at solitaire, just for the thrill. I never considered any other M.O. Wasn’t Darwin the centerpiece of Western education? Isn’t the survival of our species dependent on the biggest, fastest, strongest?

Clearly I had crossed cultural boundaries and sensibilities, for then and on, David wouldn’t even let me go to the cafeteria alone, much less around the neighborhood, lined as it was with dozens of mom and pop stores, all selling the same limited merchandise for the same price. How did they stay in business I asked? Was there any benefit to buying your thermos from one over another? All those shop owners smiling and nodding was confusing, and all those choices – not really choices at all.

Over time, David diplomatically played ‘tour guide,’ as we explored his city and developed a simpatico relationship, one that flourished with mutual Q & A’s. Over sautéed bok choy and cilantro we attempted to build common understanding, but it was a bit more like sparring.

“Why do you kill your presidents?” David would ask.

“Why do you throw your garbage in the rivers?” I’d counter.

Eventually, we called a truce (a veritable peace treaty at camp David), which led to a growing fondness as we opened each other’s eyes to the dangers of narrow stereotyping and believing what those in power tell us to be true. It’s all propaganda, we realized, but we still had to navigate its mire and muck, he more than I, perhaps. (Perhaps not.) When I finally left, I returned to integrate my experience of life in a communist/totalitarian state with a new eye towards the American democratic experiment/myth with more textured perspective. My unlikely new friendship enhanced my contrarian leanings as I doubted the headlines of home and questioned even more enthusiastically the gospel of a superpower.

Still, I appreciated that I could hop a plane anytime as long as I had the money, whereas David wasn’t allowed to leave his motherland, and was relegated to his job and apartment until the forces that be changed their mind. At least I had the American Dream to hold up as a shining star of possibility, pointing to our founders as bastions of the revolution.

I relished having not one, but two jobs to come home to, and the liberty to come and go as I pleased. While the rest of the patriots thought the dream was to work like a maniac, pay the bills, compete for limited resources, and hope to win the lottery, I said no thank you.

In order to finance this off-peak lifestyle and traveling affliction, I worked two restaurants in neighboring towns, and when I made a few thousand, I’d head off again on another globe-trotting adventure. Sometimes a thorn in my bosses’ sides – you want two months off this time?! – I nevertheless managed to keep my balls in the air to truly capitalize on the idiosyncrasies of the service industry. We were in it together, when we needed to be, yet we served self-interest first. No health insurance or paid vacation, but as long as the shifts were covered, there would gallivanting.

My peculiar philosophies were sometimes misunderstood, but more often they intrigued those around me. Pat, the hardworking owner of the first place once asked me how I felt when a new Italian joint opened up next to the second place.

“Aren’t you mad that your one horse town now has competition?” he prodded.

“Nope. The more the merrier,” I replied. Despite David’s reminder of the primacy of friendship, I still felt a little competition was a good thing. “It’ll bring in more people. Our small village will become a destination for dining, and customers can choose what they’re in the mood for once they get here.”

“Pshaw!” he said. “You don’t know anything about business.”

Maybe not, but I was familiarizing myself on the fluid spectrum between the polarities of working ‘against’ and working ‘with’.

For what it’s worth, his restaurant closed within a few years and I went on to earn a living with one of the best in the industry, learning that while the strong can survive with a little competition, they actually thrive exponentially in collaboration. I found that joining forces with both the people I worked with, and, ostensibly, those in vying establishments, caused greater prosperity and opportunity all around. Talent, ambition, and passion bred more of each, and my earlier adversarial tendencies evolved along those inklings I’d had of all boats rising with the tide. David’s legacy was intact. In fact, what I learned after being employed in both hemispheres can be boiled down to this:

Listen to the accepted truth, try to understand the foundation upon which it was built and the environment in which it was conceived, then discard 80% of it, keeping only the part that doesn’t make you bristle. Stay open to emerging ideas. (My contrary nature reveals there’s a little truth in everything, but most of it remains a mystery.)

Competition is a hulking, rusted relic of the past.

Cooperation is becoming the present.

For the foreseeable future, my modus operandi will be to prosper in the community of others. I am completely a product of alliance and reliance, as we all are. What lies beyond that, I don’t know. We may or may not have evolved from the apes, but we are evolving to create global webs and bridges and understandings. It’s what we gain from these interdependencies that propel us, allowing more precise and complex truths to emerge of who we are and why we are. Darwin was just a link in the chain.

********************************************

More cross-cultural Q & A with David: Taking My Breath Away

The Commodore, a $3,000 Toothbrush, & Why I Love Maine

Sometimes I’m tucked inside and creased, like delicate and fragile origami, waiting for someone to unfold me with great curiosity, to reveal the origins of my fingerprints and implications.

Other times, I’m tensile, possibility like an inflating balloon, while someone blows me into swirly bubbles that lilt along the breeze… up, up, up and away.

From infinite microcosms to infinite macrocosms, and the eons of light-years between, I feel insignificant and almighty at once. When the universe – the one song – dilates, new galaxies and nebulas and amoebae and subatomic particles collaborate and sing me a lullaby of marvellous fortune.

Hibernation. Constriction. Prayer.

Expansion. Exuberance. Love.

But I would never recognize minutiae or immensity without being in relationship.

For tonight, this cool August eve in a wooded nook, kindred spirits wrapped around me like a handknit shawl, I am awash in appreciation for people whose orbits link with mine – however briefly – and plunge me into watery, baptismal depths:

The Brazilian surfer who blesses every meal,

the harpsichordist with a penchant for 17th century music,

the fun-loving Commodore with his antique car collection,

the sturdy sailor who crafted his schooner by hand,

the drumming shaman who sees fairies in stone,

the illustrator who lets me dig in her garden,

the pony-tailed jeweler with the three-thousand dollar toothbrush,

the laid back captain who loves to dance to the blues,

the retired pilot who follows rivers and tides,

the vivacious blonde with her unwavering smile,

the combat artist with his precious newborn,

the unlikely dandy in a teensy, windswept village,

the politico with a theory to bring order in a confusing world,

the pixie-like soprano with her hypnotizing voice,

the motorcyclist who recommends a secret kayaking route,

and the lovely, Shanghai-raised ingenue who wants to change the world.

There are as many twinklers here, on this magical stretch of coast, as appear up in the heavens on a dark, new moon night and each has sprinkled a little stardust on me…

Waterman's Beach sunset, Maine

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Read another “elemental” musing o’ mine: The Periodic Table Of My Dreams

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Stepping Into The Same River Twice

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon PaddleWhen you find something that works, stick with it, goes conventional wisdom, but aren’t we so used to throwing out the bathwater in our quest for the latest and greatest that we end up missing what the baby might teach us?

Yeah, right. I’m the master baby-tosser.

An almost-full moon paddle last week was so transcendent that, uncharacteristically, I decide to do it again.  It’s rare for me to repeat something; I’m more of a seismic shifter. But clearly, the impetus for good fortune was announced in the I Ching reading that day – a metaphorical thunder-clap not only reflected in the coin toss, but in its riverside perch between sunset and moonrise. I knew not its full impact, and perhaps I still don’t, but the reverberations were sonic. The ‘Changing’ occurred and it was enormous, but internal. (No packing my bags for foreign shores this time.) Fortunes truly can flip with a switch, New England work ethic notwithstanding, and I’m ready to meet providence. (Well, I imagine there will be 99% perspiration on my part…)

It had been a less than desirable day, but I redeemed it by climbing inside the kayak I gifted myself a few years ago on my 40th birthday. The luxuries we afford ourselves reap far more than we realize at the time, and I’m ever grateful I treated myself to that little blue boat. For years I coveted one and after I took the plunge, my world widened. Pledging allegiance to enjoyment has made a profound impact on life; I highly recommend it. That small craft has not only altered my perspective, as sitting down low in the water can do, it has also provided opportunity to explore intimacy, balance, trust, and wonder – all while nestled in the watery bosom of Momma Nature.

Not setting out to step in the same river twice, per se, I unexpectedly arrive under the full moon again, albeit in a different body of water, the following evening, soon to don spray skirt and life vest. The bathwater was still warm…

Port Clyde Kayaks

Whenever I crave a change of scenery (as if Penobscot Bay’s world class playground pales) I tour down the St. George Peninsula, roughly following the Georges River out to Muscongus Bay. I pass through Owl’s Head, Tenant’s Harbor (never missing a meal at Cod End’s back deck…fried scallops and belly clams this time),  and round past Marshall Point Lighthouse (of Forrest Gump fame), all the way down to Port Clyde, with its Finisterre atmosphere.

Cod End Tenant's Harbor, MaineThere’s a whitewashed barn across from the harbor with an art gallery upstairs and backgammon tables downstairs that serves shrimp cocktail and bottles of Shipyard Ale for the summer folk. It’s the kind of spot where you walk in thirsty and walk out with a handful of new friends, as I did one June evening. I forsake it this time, however, and consider the clear skies and looming sunset. Maybe I’ll take a Puffin cruise on one of the tour boats…

Port Clyde pierI roam the quaint general store, rueing modern supermarkets with their massive parking lots and bad lighting. Who knew you could buy Spam, motor oil, and oysters all in one creaky floorboard shop? This alone makes me want to settle in for a spell. I ponder an ice cream cone, then see that Port Clyde Kayaks is open and wander in. Cody, the proprietor, who I learn homeschools his kids so he and his wife can winter in locales like Puerto Rico and Maui, strikes up a lazy conversation. We chat about living off-peak, on our own terms, and find commonality, laughing as we realize we grew up only 45 minutes apart…kindred Hudson Valley spirits. I take him up on his offer to brew me a cup of Hawaiian coffee, despite quitting the caffeine habit months ago. Directly imported, these beans are not to be shunned; abstinence seems downright ungracious in this context, don’t you think?

It’s exactly these kind of exchanges that sets Maine apart from anywhere else I’ve traveled: unassuming encounters that seem to have the timeless tucked into them. Completely charmed, I sign up for the night’s full moon paddle, and I’m struck, yet again, by how many people I meet whose fulfillment arrives outside of the mainstream, and wonder why we call it the main stream, when it’s the customized tailoring that counts?

Honeymooners from Northern Ontario and a suburban NY couple with three kids filter in and we gear up. Cody takes his time while explaining safety and technique while the group gets to know one another. Once we put in, we paddle west, heading towards Deep Cove, where the depth reaches 150 feet, enough for the dozens of harbor porpoises that live there. Paddling towards the westward horizon, we watch melting oranges and pinks along the skyline, like softening sherbet, then turn to see the luminescence of the moon framed in darkening lavender behind us.

Full Moon rising over Muscongus Bay, St. George Peninsula, MaineWe float amid flourescent lobster buoys while glistening fins crest a gently undulating surface.  Sounds of their breathing, of exhaling, shiver me into gratitude and I am awed by their proximity. These gorgeous creatures breach repeatedly within feet of my kayak and I am spellbound.

Psshh.           Psshh.           Psshh.

I follow with my eyes, watching intently for the next surfacing. Over and over they crest and dive. I’m riveted. And then a harbor seal playfully pokes his head up.

What a glorious evening, yet so different from the previous night’s paddle. A sudden shift has definitely taken place and I can feel gestures of fluidity both around and within.

In fact, my whole day has been a series of blessings, each one almost making me blush in embarrassment as they accumulate like moths around the porch light.  I struggled with some prioritizing the last few days, and knew the answer would only be found by seeking relief. Once I cleared the air and let go, I relaxed into spaciousness, leaving tension and dilemma behind. As soon as I chose the better path, which was to step away from a form of income that wasn’t proving beneficial anymore, a new revenue stream miraculously propositioned me within hours. When one door closes…

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon Paddle Muscongus Bay

As I paddle across the bay, I reflect on how my day unfolded – each time I turned a corner, a desire manifested. I lost a top of the line knife (given to me by a chef I used to work for) and I found an exact replacement that afternoon. I admired a blue t-shirt a woman was wearing last week, and Cody, for reasons unknown, decided to give me one, the same shade, right off the hanger. I finally achieved a move in yoga I’d just about given up on. And I’d been wanting to get up close to some of the islands lately, get off the coast and explore, and that’s exactly what we did, vigorously – we paddled around Caldwell and Little Caldwell Islands, billionaire-owned Teel Isle, and larger Hupper Island, where we needed a power bar break after crossing the channel  – not easy working against the tidal currents at 10pm. Was I really out on the open water at night?

I even got up close to Andrew Wyeth’s house, which I’ve pined to see since becoming a member at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland. His paintings evoke a windswept and lonesome life whose origin I wanted to understand better. Cody shared the story of the island house being pushed across the frozen bay from Caldwell Island for relocation to the mainland many years ago. After spending the past winter here, I am at no loss to imagine such a thing. I’ve felt windswept and lonesome, too.

Perhaps I’m getting closer to the life that beckons, and I don’t need to make such drastic changes anymore. Maybe I’ll just keep paddling around under the moon and see what happens. It seems to be working out well.

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon Paddle Muscongus Bay

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The Thunderous Clap Of The Full Moon

Kayaking Megunticook River, Maine SunsetYou are what you surround yourself with.

Lately, I can’t be still long enough to eat breakfast, write a post, a chapter in my book, or do the dishes without flitting around like a nervous hummingbird. Normally playing inside is some radio broadcast like Democracy Now or Morning Maine on WERU, or a dance-to-it Pandora or Genius playlist. I like a stimulating aural environment, yet since moving recently, I’ve been disinclined towards manufactured sound in my new space. What wafts in from the surrounding wooded hillside provides plenty of ambient chirp and chatter. When I listen closely, the rustling branches, whose sways hypnotize through wide skylights, whisper to me to turn off the computer, the Netflix, the modern technological impositions to concentration and creativity. Skittish as a dragonfly, I’m regretfully honing to a steel glint an attention span more suitable for a fourteen year old with ADHD.

Completely at odds with my meditation practice, eh?

Seems I’ve got my feet on the brake and the gas simultaneously and if I remember from Ms. Ewanciw’s ninth grade math class correctly, [ + times - equals -], which means I’m a poor conductor of electricity – that creative spark every writer needs for propulsion. What good are rituals and discipline if I’m training my mind right out of focus?

Kayaking Megunticook River, Maine Island Sunset

So last night I go low, low enough to be eye level with the water – that surefire conductor, and paddle up the hyalescent Megunticook River. My savage beast is quietly tamed by rhythmic paddling and harmonic birdsong. That one music turns off while another turns on is the Rx for all that insanely eddys and ails. Outside of time, I ponder lily pads and heron flight and the splashes of just-missed fish feeding on the bugs of dusk.

So sublime. Ahhhhhh…

The boil thus reduced to a simmer, inspiration glides near, throwing golden coins into the water around me like I’m the fountain, a wellspring, the bestower of wishes. Seduced by the setting of these rippling sunstreaks and mesmerized by the coquettish moon peaking behind a wash of clouds, my relaxed and fertile mind receives the planting of a new seed.

Kayaking Megunticook River in July, Maine Island Full Thunder Moon

I drift back to the sandy shore, pull my kayak out of the water, and pause before heading home. The discovery of such a lovely spot minutes away feels like being baptized; I am submerged in deep appreciation. How have I let the falsely urgent crowd out the important? This natural beauty taken for granted! Such foolishness…

Back under darkened skylights, in centered calmness, I sit and write. And write and write and write – outlining chapters and anecdotes, developing theme and tone – any and all jumbles merely sequences and friendly tangents that will illustrate and illuminate this freshly waterborne idea. Only a few days ago I was distraught over my riches: having so many good projects…how could I ever choose which to cultivate? Too many sometimes is just that: too many. What I longed for was THE ONE. The one that would propel me out of creative logjam and launch me, like Tigger, into joyful action.

Yes! Clarity emerges. Focus and Direction hold hands, winking slyly at me.

To refine this new germination, I consult the I Ching, an ancient Chinese method of divination and guidance. I throw 3 coins, resulting in 54, Changing, and my changing lines lead to 51, Shock / Thunder. Curious, as tomorrow is the full moon (in July often referred to as the Full Thunder Moon), I put the burgeoning project into the reading’s context:

    “The shock of continuing thunder brings fear and trembling. The superior man is always filled with reverence at the manifestation of god; he sets his life in order and searches his heart, lest it harbor any secret opposition to the will of god. Thus reverence is the foundation of true culture.” (~from the 1950 Wilhelm translation of the I Ching)

Anew, I surround myself with fluidity, with natural rhythms, with less 21st century madness. I bring reverence to the well, not to the chariot of technology, so when the thunder comes, I will not be deterred.

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Want more? Here’s a post I wrote on the I Ching: a poem of engagement.
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xo Kellie

Once In A Lifetime

I was driving from Warren to Camden the other night when it washed over me: I feel like I’m living inside a David Byrne song: as if some large bird swooped down 10 months ago, lifted me on its back and deposited me squarely in this new life.  Or maybe just the opposite – not in a midlife crisis kind of way, but in a finally! all is well, but how did it happen so effortlessly kind of way?

Who ARE these people? How DID I get here? (and, strangest of all, why does it feel so much like coming home?)

   “You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
     And you may find yourself in another part of the world
     And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
     You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
     You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

Too often, men (never women, make your own conclusions here) ask me: “Soooo, how is it that an attractive woman such as yourself has never been married?” Statistics trumpeting the benefits of marriage to our esteemed male population aside, I’m often stymied as to what they’re really asking. Am I lesbian? A radical feminist? Unlovable? A runaway bride, perhaps? A maneater? Or maybe too choosy or demanding?

I always find this question partly annoying (why am I not asked if I’ve ever run a business, had children, or, even been in a long-term relationship?), and partly amusing (it gives me a chance to don my contrarian outfit, poking around to find out how much they’ve really given the venerable institution serious thought). I guess I’ve just heard one too many stories of someone walking down the aisle like it’s a plank.

Once, I learned a man was asking because he was on the way out of his 8 year marriage, claiming he’d just been riding the wave of … isn’t-this-what-people-do-when-they’re-in-love? … “We met, dated, moved in, and next thing you knew we had a wedding, a mortgage, and … there I was, wondering, My god! How did I get here?” I think he was desperately seeking permission to leave, and that it would all be okay in the end.

     “Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
     Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
     Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
     Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

Looking back on my childhood in the 70’s, there weren’t many successful models of happily ever after around me, so I never idolized some future wedding, frosted with buttercream and white lace. There was nothing I particularly wanted to be when I grew up, either.  Those pressures of today – prepping at preschool for the Ivy League – were absent. Instead, life then was much like it is now, like all good spiraling cycles do, coming back around and placing happiness in the form that we learned it first, at our blessed feet. I learned young to be content and interested and make my own excitements;  the independence that followed led me on grand adventures both far flung and romantically. For that, I am thankful my (divorced) parents left the big picture choices for me to paint, never imposing their successes and failures, but granting me the wherewithal to navigate by pointing out the moon and the stars and the sky above.

    “And you may ask yourself, “How do I work this?”
     And you may ask yourself, “Where is that large automobile?”
     And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house”
     And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful wife”

When I was eighteen or nineteen, underage at a local bar, I chatted up a guy who’d graduated a few years before me. I had a crush on him in high school, and now that I was all grown up (in my mind), I wanted to impress him with my college sophistication. But right out of the gate, in answer to my eager and bouncy greeting, “How ARE you?” he replied, “Same old, same old.” Regrettably that was not the last time I heard those words. Disappointment crashed like a Ming vase.

     “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was

Perhaps I only entered into relationships that had an expiration date, for fear I’d end up fighting and married, despondent and divorced, or like the sad sacks at the bars I tended. If I wasn’t heading into the mystic, nevertheless, I had love and lust and sweet guys and bad boys and romance both lengthy and fleeting, but I always knew deep down that I wasn’t a keeper.

     “Water dissolving and water removing
      There is water at the bottom of the ocean
      Under the water, carry the water
      Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean
      Water dissolving and water removing

Or was I? Whenever accused of being noncommittal, I resisted the notion. I’ve developed decades-long friendships, deep loyalties to my workplace, and a steadfast curiosity about the world that I indulge with vigor. Yes, I had my Houdini moments; I could bolt with the best of them. But over the years I explored the wheels and dials of my inner timepiece and discovered lasting commitment to truth, freedom and aliveness. Socrates, Jefferson, and Emerson left nourishment and I ate at their examined table. Once I put myself first, deliberately instead of haphazardly, peace reigned.

     “You may ask yourself, “What is that beautiful house?”
     You may ask yourself, “Where does that highway go to?”
     You may ask yourself, “Am I right, am I wrong?”
     You may say to yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Recently, a charming and itinerant man asked me how I ended up here. Believing he might understand why I’d move somewhere not knowing anyone, I described the complete reliance on intuition and seizing of the right moment. Instead, he pressed me to ‘come clean’ that I was, in fact, running away from some uncloseted demon or such. Are we so accustomed to fight or flight behaviors that we are unable to recognize a step forward, a Constitutionally protected pursuit, an embrace of beauty and destiny? Is drowning that common?

      “Time isn’t holding up, time isn’t after us
       Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
       Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
       Same as it ever was, hey let’s all twist our thumbs
       Here comes the twister”

My oldest friend once said that given my propensity for the obscure destinations I head off to and unexpected life choices I make, that the only thing that would surprise her would be if I were to settle down with a husband and raise a gaggle of rugrats. At the time, we laughed at the absurdity, but wouldn’t that be the kicker, the ultimate rebellious move?

     “Letting the days go by
      Letting the days go by
      Once in a lifetime
      Let the water hold me down
      Letting the days go by”

What is true is that I’m at my best in the company of those I care about, especially when in a loving and mutual relationship. I thrive in the sunshine of security. It may just be that I have always believed in only doing it once. And, watch. That’s what will come pass.

I Need A Latitude Adjustment

Alarm clocks are inhumane.  I’ve better ideas on how to be roused from dreamland, and they don’t include whirring or obnoxious bells and whistles that’re better suited to the arcade or some Monty Hall dealmaking.  Only an early morning flight to somewhere the tomatoes are luscious or the hot springs are bubbling warrants setting it.  I’ve long been perplexed why anyone would want to be jolted out of blissful slumber at all, much less for the sake of getting to a jay-oh-bee.  My body knows when it’s time to rise, even when I’ve abused it by going to bed in the starry wee hours, but I probably fell into bed with the ringing of the P*Funk All-Stars in my ears anyway.

Indeed, the body knows.  It knows when the moon’s glow is full again, when I need protein, when a 10-minute nap will revive me.  Often I can even tell time by the sun’s slant and shadow.  I guess I’m just keyed into natural cycles, and my geography: I’ve lived most of my life around the 40th parallel. But I’m wondering if this corporeal keenness is on the fritz lately.

fiddleheads It was only 6 weeks from seed to sprout – from deciding the most peaceful state in the union would harbor me for a spell to trading in my Brooklyn apartment for a four bedroom farmhouse on the midcoast – and it was there I found myself in March, unbundling from the snowiest, most glorious winter I can remember – but…something was off.  My internal guidance system’s controls were spinning and I couldn’t get my bearings.

spring lambs South Thomaston, MaineI’ve been totally kerfuffled by the Maine spring, what with global warming, the extension of Daylight Savings Time, and the fact that this was the longest transition from winter to summer ever.  At 4 weeks away from the longest day of the year, it was a balmy 48 degrees.  And today, 3 days from the solstice, I am scarf-free for the first time in 8 months.

It’s been tricky syncing up on the 44th: I cash out-of-state weather checks and they bounce.  The northeastern spring sauntered instead of sprung, and the sun rises a few degrees differently here.  Like a blindfolded child trying to pin the tail on a spring lamb, I fumbled around, grasping for signposts.

asparagus spring greenDo I pick fiddleheads, asparagus, and rhubarb or break out the sandals?  I’m used to sunny evenings happening later in the season, not in March when it’s still cold.  The cherry blossoms, forsythia and daffodils of late April are more familiar when they’re poking up through a last snow dusting and I’m not used to May nights that dip into the 30’s.  This June, I christened 2011 as the year of my Cashmere Spring.  Who knew that moving 400 miles north would result in such discombobulation?

So I pull that woolen cardigan tight and recalibrate my inner compass, scoping for environmental clues, seeking time’s relativity in the external: the groundhog who’s sniffing around the side yard, the sailors in Camden who raced to see who’d get their schooner in the harbor first, the riverside fields getting their brown winter coats burned off.

Once I equipped myself to navigate instinctually, it dawned that it’s not a monologue, it’s an intimate conversation.  That spring cleanse revealed both my body’s intelligence and its blind habits far more than what I knew existed.  I’m adjusting my interior thermostat these days, acclimating to Mother Nature’s seasonal stimuli and the ways we manipulate it to accommodate our modern busy-ness.

Now if I can only get those bustles out of my hedgerows.  (don’t be alarmed, it’s for the May Queen.)

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Another one of my change-of-season musings: Everything Is Illuminated

The Metrics Of Procrastination

oooOOH!  I get it.  To be a writer means to actually, like, you know, write.  Right?

Some friends have reached out lately making sure I’ve not been moose-trampled or otherwise met with unfortunate Down East ends.  Not to worry, I’m still breathing.  Labored, maybe, but like my chiropractor noticed when he was massaging my diaphragm last month – there’s deeper breaths to be taken, if I’d just looooosen the heck up.

So, I tried.  Formally.  The result?  Breathing exercises, my ass.  Who knew Dirgha Pranayama and Ujjayi would be so challenging?  Couldn’t I just run a 10K instead?   I’ll huff and puff my way ‘cross the finish line.  I promise.

It’s not called practice for nothing.  Yoga, writing, meditation.  Practice, practice, practice!  Argh.  Can’t it just once be about the destination?

Well, March-May was hard, seeing as my measure of springtime are those glorious, manicured days in New York City, but here its name is M-U-D, aka the longest damn ending to the snowiest winter EVER.  No sun, mostly in the forties, and relatively leafless until, pretty much, yesterday.  While the rest of the country is smouldering already, I’m still in long sleeves.  And a scarf.

I DID have a moment of spark, post-cleanse, when the muses started dancing.  It looked like this:

Bret Michaels
Look what the cat dragged in.

Yeah, kickstart my heart!

It’s not all for naught.  Many words have materialized on the pages of my memoir-in-progress and I’ve researched some communist (and capitalist) propaganda for my Soviet-era play that’s been rattling around in the pinball machine of my imagination, but clearly this blog’s been the white elephant.  (True. I’ve stubbed toes and peanut shells as evidence.)  Each passing day the ant hill morphs into sheer rockface.  Where did I leave those crampons?

Maybe someone snuck in and let the air out of my oxygen tank.

Which reminds me:
“A little bird told me that jumping is easy and the falling is fun, right up until you hit the sidewalk – shivering and stunned.” ~ Ani DiFranco

…like those little finches that fly into the floor-to-ceiling windows at my sister’s house, I’m comin’ to and shakin’ it off.

Then I was waylaid while overcome with Multi-Entrepreneurial Disorder – which, when infected, causes the patient to want to start myriad businesses and collaborative ventures – all under the delusion that she wants to actually work for a living, which I don’t.  What a rabbit hole THAT was.

So, the mania is ebbing and I got myself an $8/hr gig to see how the other 95% live. All in the name of fact-finding and experimentation.  Or… after the snow-pocalypse, then the mud-apalooza and months of solitary scribbling, I know if I don’t get out of this house and talk to other humans, live and in the flesh, I’m gonna commit harikari.

Yeah, the writer’s life. Be careful what you wish for…

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe ~ the writing’s fabulous!  Everything’s goin’ swimmingly!  I’m endlessly inspired and well-disciplined.  I’m churning out magnificent book after book and my publishers keep advancing me enough to buy that charming island with the tricked-out Cape in Penobscot Bay.  Oh, the life – just like Dr. Seuss predicted: all the places I’ll go!  As well, I just won the Booker Prize, and James Franco hired me for a consult.

Or maybe I should keep channeling my inner Bret Michaels and go find myself some groupies.  They say sex tames the….oh, never mind.

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Another inertia-trouncing approach: Acknowledging A Year Of Triumphs

The Most Radical Thing I Ever Did: A 21-Day Cleanse

I’ve taught English in Mao’s hometown, walked 800 km – solo – across a large European country, fallen in mad love, packed up all my toys and moved to snow country to write a book without knowing a soul.  But ask me to give up ice cream?  Baguettes?  Morning cuppa joe?  Bacon?  Juice glass of vino?  No freakin’ way!

So I approached it gradually.

I bought Kris Carr‘s book, Crazy Sexy Diet, in January.  I cleaned out the fridge in February.  I bought an Omega Juicer in March – the Jag of juicers!  Small steps.  It’s like weaning myself off the bottle, only it’s not just the milk I’m relinquishing.  It’s practically everything I put in my mouth.  I was shooting for Lent (tried giving up sweets then, but I wasn’t quite ready.  The sight of my first brownie signalled failure.)  But spring time is about renewal, rebirth, rebooting our systems, yes?  So, on March 30th, I launched full throttle into a master cleanse: no wheat, no dairy, no animals, no coffee, no alcohol, and my Achille’s heel – no sugar.  No sugar! How in the wholly Himalayas was I gonna do that?  Was I to feel like Sisyphus?  Atlas?  Or an orange jumpsuit-wearing prisoner relegated to a bowl of gruel?

I couldn’t have done it without Ms. Carr’s book.  She led me gently through each day with a prayer, an affirmation, medical guidance, upbeat encouragement and expectations of what toxins feel like as they’re expelled.  Thank goodness for her hand-holding and thank the snow gods for the meditative months that led up to this undertaking.  I spent the winter shedding and I was ready for the final heave ho!

green-morning-glory-juice-440.jpg
With all those restrictions, what did I eat and drink?  Water with cayenne & lemon upon rising.  Green & herbal teas throughout the day.  Oatmeal with soy milk, seeds and flaxmeal for breakfast (my usual, anyway).  2-3 glasses of green juice daily.  (Kale, romaine, fennel, carrots, beets, grapefruit, parsley, celery – whatever was on hand).  Lunch was usually a version of Mark Bittman’s celery & fennel salad, sometimes adding in turnips, beets, carrots, daikon, orange segments, pine nuts – anything I could slice on my Muji Mandoline.  Dinner was some version of a grain/bean/veg combination:  steamed or lightly sauteed broccoli, chard, mustard greens, collards – brown rice or quinoa –  white beans, green or red lentils, chickpeas.  I’d also snack on almonds, dried plums & cranberries, sesame crackers, apple slices with nut butter.  I consulted a couple of macrobiotic  and Japanese cookbooks on the shelf for more ideas, to keep it interesting.  Having lived in Japan, I find much of their cuisine keeps with this particular dietary lifestyle.  I miss eating there – no other country has satiated me more at the table.

kale chickpea salad
I wondered if I would feel deprived, but Kris presents this cleanse in such a positive light that it truly felt like I was gaining health and well-being.  The coffee was easy – I’m really more of a tea drinker – and the caffeine withdrawal headache only lasted a week or so, and was fairly mild.  I kept super-hydrated and slept really well – better on both counts than usual.  Maybe removing the caffeine/sugar roller-coaster was all I needed for deep and rejuvenating slumber.  I awoke an hour earlier than normal, around 5:30, and experienced an unusually high amount of energy each day.  I treated myself with a few lavender baths, worked out more at the gym (weight-lifting & laps, only – no cardio machines for me: boring.)  I chose physical activities that were fun, not a chore, so daily walks and hikes were mood boosters.

Noticeably, my portions grew smaller as I was satisfied with less.  I realize that I eat emotionally, hungry for more than just caloric nutrients.  But somehow I was more tuned into my body and could put my fork down appropriately.  Buying, preparing, and cooking my meals was faster and easier.  Strangely, I found more hours in my day, as I was more mindful in every aspect of diet and digestion.  Wow – I realized how we always wish for more space in our day, more time to carry out our to-do lists, but I had energy to burn!  Granted, I’m not employed outside the home and I have no children to raise, but really – was all this uumph always available, yet hidden underneath crusty loaves and triple creme sheep’s milk?  I feel like I could run a marathon, a business, and a small country now.  And that’s just on Tuesday.

As I watched my scale groan less, I felt buoyant and effervescent.  I started having profound shifts in perspective.  But not before THAT ONE DAY.  Oh, yes: that one day the Dragon of Craving rose up inside of me, in an all-consuming fire (is this what heroin addicts go through, seriously?). WINE! I MUST have a drink! Give me spaghetti Bolognese! A burger! – a juicy, rare burger, with cheese and bacon and… it didn’t matter that I wasn’t hungry; I was suffering an irrational rage.

15I can’t describe the power of this monster inside, but I held on to my commitment and found relief: opting for popcorn in  sacrificial appeasement.  Then I got as far away from the kitchen as possible. I climbed in the car (leaving my wallet at home to avoid a sudden bakery raid), drove to the beach, walked over the boulders and along the shoreline, breathing in lungfuls, and called a friend.  I was the queen of crank that afternoon, but friendship, water, and the sea air calmed, soothing that savage craving.  May none of you ever meet that beast.

That was my only rough moment.

Well, except for the Morning of Traumatic Sobbing.

Interspersed with the cleanse were 3 days of green juice fasting.  I’d do six days on, one day fasting, repeating over 3 weeks.  And what happened the day after my first fast was incredible.  It was an emotional release like no other.

Simultaneously, I’ve been asking/praying for clarity.  I want revelation.  I want to see where I’m going, or at least have an inclination about what’s next.  My recent intention, to write in a wintry place, completed once March arrived and I started feeling anxious.  Stay?  Go?  Love?  Work?  Home?  Travel?  So much monkey mind I couldn’t see through the fog, so I began asking for what I wanted, an arrow, a sign, a clue.  All while eating carrots & celery sticks.

Clarity: paradoxically hard to describeWell, you know what they say? Ask and you shall receive.  Careful!  It came in spades.  Every day brought striking clarity, bold visions, answers to long-buried questions.  One in particular, during meditation, a word appeared, so I moved to the desk and began writing about it. Before I even finished a sentence, I was sobbing.  Hard and clean, not hysterical, but fully.  Now, I don’t cry; I hold on tight.  Last time I really cried was four years ago, and now tears were flushing out an unresolved memory from childhood that, it was dawning on me, I hadn’t grieved back then.  It has held me back and I don’t want anything holding me back.  Remarkably, there was no anger (at myself or anyone else), just release and mourning.  And a big pile of tissues afterwards.

Compassion washed in, and I settled.  Putting pen on paper, I wrote twenty, yes – 20 – pages and excavated decades old detritus.  Phew.  When we let go, we really let go.  Goodbye past, hello bright future!

Those 21 days witnessed the passing of so much:  defenses that no longer serve me, fears that aren’t scary anymore, eating and drinking patterns that are harmful.  What I’ve learned is enormous.  I now know that bread is as numbing as wine.  That my sugar addiction has inflamed my shoulder for more than 25 years, and if I eliminate it as best I can, it no longer hurts.  THIS alone is a miracle, and it’s ridiculous it took me this long to find out.  Chronic pain clouds our sunshine, and pain’s absence liberates.  My skin and dairy don’t make a good partnership – in fact, I was mistaken for a twentysomething the other day (I’m 43) and countless people have remarked on my glowing and youthful skin.  That’s worth the price of admission, alone.

I supplemented my regimen with drybrushing, taking vitamins & aloe juice, lots of positive thinking, journaling, meditating, putting my Netflix habit on hold, getting a massage, getting an enema (more on that later), using essential oils, reading up on raw food & veganism, and exercising a bunch more than usual.  Swimming laps and sweating it out in the sauna were divine.

What I didn’t experience were hardcore toxins getting expelled (bad smells, pimples, aches, etc…) and I think that’s due to a generally healthy diet from the start. I don’t eat much meat, fast food, or processed boxes & bags that sell in the center aisles anyway.  I do like my Ciao Bella gelato and Newman-O’s, however…

This may sound silly, but the most dramatic thing I learned is that we are what we eat.  Yes, I’ve always known that.  But when we medicate ourselves with not just alcohol or even caffeine, but with pasta, butter, toast, cheese … we suffer for it.  Eating animals that have not lived or surrendered their lives in compassionate hands means we’re digesting violence, fear, unmindfulness.  Sugar is a replacement for a lack of sweetness, perhaps.  I don’t mean to be preachy or change anyone’s mind.  Live and let live.  I just want to share the extraordinary sensitivity that I’ve developed both physically and emotionally.

Do I miss the old flavors?  My taste buds have actually changed.  Drinking a glass of white wine is like sipping sugar-water.  Eating bread feels like I’m stuffing.  That drawer full of cheese?  I can feel it weighing me down already.  I had no idea that what once brought me pleasure actually was a buffer to living and what I want now is to live like I mean it.

Have I since incorporated some of those taboo ingredients?  Sure, but I’m keenly aware of their effect on body and mind, and make those choices consciously.  Food tastes better.  Almonds are delicious!  That farro and grilled spring veg plate at Eataly?  Delectable!  A small piece of high quality 78% chocolate?  Hits the spot!

Radical?  Yes.  And I’m so proud of myself for accomplishing it.  I didn’t know I had it in me.  Will it last?  I’ll let you know…and in the meantime, I would love to hear if you’ve ever done one or thought about it, if you have any questions or want to share with me your experience.  It was a journey of eye-opening magnitude for me!

Victory Edition 1919 War Gardening and Home Storage of Vegetables

Failing? Fabulously!

Selling Your Soul – that entrepreneurial shindig in NY this month whose scholarship I was anglin‘ for? I didn’t get it, but I’m not letting it stop me from building on my dream!  In fact, the 10 winners (The Hula Hooper is my fav!) were so inspiring that it’s sending me right back to my fire-starting desk to get even clearer on what I want and why I want it.  I must give thanks to Danielle Laporte and Marie Forleo for igniting my drive to create when I was merely smoldering – sometimes it’s not the ‘thing’ we’re pursuing that we really want, it’s the lessons we gather along the way.  I haven’t failed; I’m refining my focus and discovering my resilience.

Speaking of giving thanks, that oh-so-powerful fireball of gratitude is shooting through my hemisphere and I want to share some of my recent good fortune.  The more I dare, the more I am rewarded – it’s as simple as that.  Throw in some appreciation, and I’m unstoppable.  These past few weeks have seen my cuppeth overflow.

La Prairie Spa At The Ritz

Right before I left for NYC a few weeks ago, I found a gift certificate for La Prairie spa in the Ritz-Carlton given to me by a woman I helped a few years ago when I was working in the restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art.  Yay for me!  I look at the date: expired.  Boo for me.  I decide to call anyway, and ask if they’d accept it. (I still have a gift certificate for the Russian & Turkish Baths on 10th Street from ’96.  Note to friends – I promise to start using these more timely – hint, hint.)  Long story short, after explaining my situation to Linzee at La Prairie, she said they’d be happy to honor it – for ANY spa service I wished!  So I scheduled an hour and a half massage for the following week and tried not to feel like I was cheating on my regular massage therapist (who’s on break, pregnant with twins). I walk into the Ritz-Carlton, never touching a door (love those white gloved doormen!), and the next three hours are indulgent bliss:  Would you like a glass of Champagne?  Here’s your plush robe and slippers.  Strong hands, aromatic oils, custom music chosen from a 2-page menu, then a steam with cucumber slices for my eyes and a plethora of pampering to doll me up for the rest of the afternoon.  Ahhhhhh.  As I head back to reception to settle the gratuity, Linzee informs me that I’m “all taken care of,” that even the tip for my masseuse is included.  Nothing is more gratifying than being on the receiving end of such gracious and generous hospitality.  After years of working for Danny Meyer, I appreciate anew what he meant when he taught us – If you’re going to give, give graciously.  Everyone should have such good fortune to give this way, and to receive so, as well.

Another wonderful day I spent was with a dear friend who lives on the most glorious block in the city, 10th street between 5th & 6th, in a light-drenched apartment that’s beautifully and lovingly appointed.  She prepared a delicious vegetarian lunch for us that tasted of Italy and as we feasted, we caught each other up on our futures that are moving ever-so-gratefully towards us.  It fills me with happiness to see people I love turn towards their power, their voice, their truth.  As we emerge into our own best visions of ourselves, and leave behind the agendas of others, our unique beauty is unleashed.  To be witness to another’s hatching is wondrous and humbling.  (And I got some good puppy-lovin‘ in there, too.) There’s not much sweeter than a curled up animal on your lap to coax forth our gentleness, nor an environment of friendship and safety to acknowledge those softer, more vulnerable sides we keep hidden.  So much gratitude…

It’s where those soft places meet the fiery ones, where success meets failure, when we allow our strengths and weaknesses to inform each other and collaborate, that wholeness begins.  Sometimes I need that push to define my desires more clearly, that poke to unearth my shy tenderness…and sometimes I need to be reminded to both give and receive fully.  For all the clarity I pray for, I’m thankful each time it materializes.  That it appears in the form of failure is a surprise, but I’m embracing it.  Besides, some of the greats, like Einstein, Edison, and Churchill were both successes AND failures.  Not such bad company…

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. ~ W. Churchill

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. ~ T.A. Edison

The Words Of The Prophets Are Written On The Subway Walls

Back in October, a few weeks after I left the cacophony of NYC to the more ambitiously inclined, Forbes Magazine ranked Maine dead last in its yearly Best States For Business survey.  Where’d they get that notion?  Are there less corporate tax breaks here, or is it the geographical remove, tucked way up in the top corner of the country?  There’s a lot of coastline, though;  shouldn’t that be good for commerce?  Or maybe it’s the sparse population;  heck, more people live below 110th St in Manhattan than in our entire state, it’s just that a three-piece here means Carhartts, flannel and a tool belt. A real DIY kinda place.  We all need income, so we’re not adverse to making a living, and there’s that New England work ethic, so sloth and idleness are not to blame.  Last, really?  Hmmm.

Maybe with a slogan like Vacationland, we sell ourselves as a place to play, not work, and stats in a survey tell whatever story you want them to. Those suits at the money magazines can spin a yarn just as well as any Down East denizen, apparently.  There’s certainly no shortage of busyness here, especially if you listen to an oldtimer when he notes, “Yah know spring’s here when folks start either diggin’ in their gahden or sandin’ down their schooner.”  If you’ve done either, you’ve no doubt the industry of the task.  The curious thing is that Mainers tell themselves a story:  that finding work is hard, that jobs aren’t easy to come by, that economic times are always tough here.  Maybe Forbes didn’t rely on statistics for their survey.  Perhaps it was a write-in campaign.

Now six months later, the Institute for Economics and Peace perches the Pine Tree State in peak position as the #1 Most Peaceful in the US.  ‘The Way Life Should Be,’ the state tagline, is cliche for a reason.  Peace.  Stillness.  Ah, yes.  Shhh.. listen.

**ribbet ** ribbet ** ribbet **

Does this mean that economic enterprise and peacefulness are at odds?  Mutually exclusive?

I’ve had a long, snowy winter to contemplate this.  My ear’s better attuned now to groundswell and scuttle.  So much gets drowned out in our technolife, but November to April in the Northeast is like being on silent retreat – aside from the chainsaws, listening to Labor Mural dramas on WERU, and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman report on waves of change in the Middle East and waves of destruction in Japan.  It’s mostly tranquil here – a grand environment to ponder and listen.  And listen I do.

Seems the more we pare down, the richer life gets.  By reducing noise and distraction, one of my primary goals for leaving the city – (Who can write there anyway?  Well, except for Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, Colson Whitehead and, oh – never mind.  Focus, Kellie, focus.), I’ve gained a keen ear.  By tuning into ever-sensitized wavelengths, I’ve gained endless wisdom, all locked in a virtual Maine zip file.  I hear the messages of prophets everywhere:  in the peeping frogs in vernal pools near Lucia’s Beach,  in the profundities of seemingly mundane chats with new friends, in the warning calls of hawks, as they spy prey below, running on battened-down earth.  I hear it in my own words, even, when they’re reflected back to me;  funny, I often miss them the first time out.

But for all the halcyon moments, impatient desires rustle and poke at my new peace.  I WANT to be busy.  Isn’t activity essential this season?  My mind is fertile with ideas and wanderlust.  I want to strap on stilts, take this expanding me out for a stroll with purpose – I want my steps to cover ten times as much ground as they did before.  I want to move like a giant, calling up the wind like The Alchemist, and sweep away everything not rooted down.  The earth is shifting so wide and deep, down to its mantle, and loosening what’s on the surface.  The blasting sandstorm, the blizzard, the waves are all churning and eroding.  I, too, am shedding and recalibrating.

Indeed, Paul Simon knew.  The prophets are everywhere.  Their words ARE on the subway walls, and tenement halls, and in your mouth, and in mine.  Discerning what to believe, Ah! That’s the key!  Do I listen to Forbes, pack up my bags and head back to a Brooklyn job?  Or do I believe peace lives here, on this ground?  Or maybe, just maybe, both are mobile and malleable?

I wonder – these stories that Maine, and we, tell, are they real – are they true, or are they all talk & no listening?

The Hydraulics of Spirit

I’m applying for a scholarship to an Entrepreneurial Powwow in NYC next month with Danielle LaPorte of White Hot Truth and Marie Forleo of Where Women Entrepreneurs Live Rich, Happy & Hot.

As spring is finally making its long-awaited debut, so am I.  This was my application essay – wish me luck!

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I am my greatest victory! I have created a life brimming with curiosity, adventure, and a healthy dose of being contrarian. I’ve been told by others I’m an inspiration, that I’m the happiest person they’ve ever met, that they wished they had my life…so for the past 11 months, since quitting 20+ years in the hospitality biz and dedicating my time to writing and fine-tuned inner work, I’ve been dreaming of a life that’s far, far bigger than where I’ve been.  To get here, I’ve plucked out the dark roots of money obstacles (I actually used to believe that being rich meant compromising your values – crazy, right?), adequacy doubts (How did I ever think this amazing life was given to me & I had nothing to offer in return?), and self- and otherwise-imposed limitations (now I’m sure, down to the bottom of my pink little heart and toes, that all the success, love, and freedom I’ve yearned for is MINE!)

Off~Peak, a blog I recently began (about how going against the tide taught me to go with the flow) is merely my first foray into self-expression.  I’m also chronicling my 500-mile journey, solo & on foot, across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, where this lost soul found spiritual connection (massive Oneness revelation! You breathe, I breathe – we are all the same song: the Uni-verse) and some really fab friends.  Research has also taken residence – I’m kneeling at the altar of playwriting, too – A coming-of-age during-the-Cold-War tale about false illusions is BEGGING me to write it.  I’m heeding the call.

I’ve so much to say.  I’ve so much to share.  I’ve so much to learn.  And I am…

My challenge is overcoming the unknown, but I’m on it! I’m kicking those fears to the curb.  I’ve enrolled in Web Design classes to learn the tech side of blogging.  I’ve gotten on the mat in yoga class and confronted constriction, transforming it into spaciousness! I’ve asked a broadcasting friend to teach me how to podcast, and a playwright friend how to develop structure and direction for the stage.  I’m getting good at asking for help;  I know now it’s a sign of strength.

photoWhat I want more than anything in this moment is to throw on my futuristic power suit (which includes visionary glasses – to see grand possibility with laser clarity, titanium stilts – to stride farther and faster, and my new Kris Carr-cleansed Body of Vitality), thrust out my hand with confidence and grab the outstretched arms of my tribe.  I can ask the questions (SEO tricks? find an editor/publisher? NGO bookkeeping?), all I want is to get what I want to give: a community of creative collaborators, generous think tankers, prosperous prognosticators, uplifting visionaries.

Where am I going? Ever-evolving is the birth of Luminary Foundation, a physical and organizational model that supports social justice and advocates for access around education, the arts, and food security.  With a far-reaching approach and dedicated vision (I’ve some radical ideas about a post-capitalist economy & the emergence of global non-money-based prosperity), this Foundation will shine its brilliance collectively, because only with transparency, accessibility, and collaboration will our best future come to light.

Thank you Danielle and Maria for this opportunity to join forces – inspiration overflows!

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No Mere Spring Cleaning. It’s Exorcism.

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My arms are crossed in front of me, straitjacket-style.  I grasp the wrists of my chiropractor friend, H, as we position ourselves back-to-back, preparing for the second in a series of three adjustments.  Slowly we each lean forward, away from each other, and the clatter of wooden blocks sounds out as my vertebrae align.

“That was easy!” he says.  “You must really be ready to let go.”

You’re not kidding!  I’ve been tossing stuff out of the plane for miles – a good five years, I’d say. Someone once told me we carry our fears, symbolically, around with us, so I break out my map-reading skills and turn to the topography of my corporeal landscape.  While the runway has seen lift-off, there are still dammed up rivers, buckling frost heaves, and muscular peaks crying out to be climbed.  Taking flight requires the lightest load possible, and I’ve already let go  in substantial ways:  Goodwill, my real estate agent and the zoo that houses former boyfriends have all benefited from my housecleaning efforts.  Flying’s been a long time coming.  My whole life has been rife with falling/flying dreams and now that I’m finally airborne, cutting cords and gaining altitude, clarity emerges like a 747 coming out of the clouds.  But wouldn’t you know that the more I ditch, the more that pops up. It’s like I stashed multiple carry-ons under every single seat and now I’m on cleanup crew.  Someone please deploy the slide and toss a couple of beers my way!

http://offpeaklife.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/sleestaks.jpg?w=320&h=245This unfettering process isn’t confined to bone-cracking, closet-purging or journaling; yoga has also been integral. Pranayamic breathing  into joints and muscles bound tight like the foot of an 18th century Chinese woman highlights my avoidance tendencies and thankfully, their growing obsolescence.  Headlining as Houdini in many relationships, I mastered the art of unshackling (not in a good way) but what I fled from usually switchbacked and burrowed deep into commissural crannies, latching on like a stubborn Lyme-ridden deer tick.  In private session, I explain to my yoga instructor, Rachel, the quest to stop skipping over what I didn’t want to feel, and together we face the cave dwellers, those emotional Sleestacks hidden in my shoulders, hips, and spine.  Plank to Baby Cobra is near impossible without my shoulders wincing, so I rush the pose with no precision or grace.  Complete lack of presence.  But I know it’s possible if only I stop dodging the strain and flow through each micro moment.  It’s the anticipation of pain, more than the actual pain that freaks me out.

She guides me to hold each pose for more minutes than I think I can and breathe ever so deeply into the stretch. It’s not as hard as I imagine; time seems to slow and surprisingly, brings relief.  I exhale fully.  What I’ve stuffed into tight spaces loosens and – lo! – starts to dissipate.  Breathing room is redefined.  All this spaciousness created in pigeon, eagle, and other totemic asanas has superseded intellect and provided an escape hatch for ancient toxins.

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My nemesis, anger – always a knotty one to metabolize – has been most toxic in dark and forgotten corners of my body, sabotaging with putrid, silent stealth.  Now that I’m hushing my mind, quieting my environment, and quelling stimuli,  I see the wreckage and teach my inner fires to warm more and inflame less.  Like receding winter snow, any sense of feeling wronged has nowhere left to cling and transforms the ground beneath.  Now when ire spikes, I let it sting.  Really feel the power surge, and breath.  Then I investigate and almost always when another is involved, I imagine what it must be like on the other side and compassion instantly washes over me.  It’s hard to stay angry at someone when you realize there is no ‘other.’  We’re all in this together, and besides, do any of us really know what the hell we’re doing anyway?

photo road sign squeeze meTry this:  grab a sock or a pen in your dominant hand.  Facing it down, squeeze.  Squeeze a little more.  Now squeeeeze with all your might.  And…………………drop it.

Which was easier?  The letting go, of course. Yes, I know, it’s easier to do when you’re ready, it’s the getting ready that’s difficult.  It’s taken me years.  It’s been gradual, uncomfortable, and replete with pitfalls and backsliding, but I’m traveling atmospherically these days and I hunger to go higher and faster, still.  So I’m dedicating this month to boot camp-level exorcism.  I’m calling upon all therapies – Feng Shui-ing, digestive sand-blasting, African drumming, sitting at the altar of Ganesh, marathon-training. April is spring cleaning month and I’m giving myself a psychic colonic.  Ready?  Set.  GO!

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The Eightfold Path Of The Super Moon

Perigee Moon March 2011

photo courtesy of Elizabeth Henkel Poisson, Rocky Coast Ramblings

We pay our rent or mortgage on the 1st of each month, contribute to the electric company’s coffers every 4 weeks, and re-up our cell phone minutes on a 30-day rotation.  This cyclical recurrence nearly resembles the orbit of the moon, and places us close to a cosmological rhythm, but isn’t there a better way for us to metronome time, one that doesn’t give ourselves over to the Gregorian calendar but instead relies on a truer beat? Why not attune directly with regular lunar movements?

Several years ago, on sage advice from a trusted astrologer, a friend and I embarked on a monthly ritual to routinely review our mutual progress along life’s meandering and convoluted spectrum, all on the night of the full moon.  Not only does this accentuate a natural order to the vicissitudes of our fortunes, but doing so is like cataloguing our journey, with a trusted and loving witness by our side.  Horizon-sighting is what we call it.

Often we’ve met for dinner, although occasionally our lifestyles necessitated meeting by phone.  We ramble on about our work, our loves and passions, our responsibilities, and our dreams, letting any and all come forth.  (Usually wine is involved; nothing pairs better with Old World pagan mysticism like a good Grüner.)  After a few hours of lubricating our imaginations, we end the night by individually naming what we see on our horizon, as far out as we can reach – a real-time report on what we know to be true, what we already believe inhabits our future.

An important distinction must be stressed to not ‘see’ something  we don’t feel to be true yet, nor call out what we would like to see, or what our fantasies might be.  No affirmations or other forms of ‘acting as if’ are invited.  This isn’t about pushing boundaries or manifesting, but about getting a clear vision of what we already know is possible, all under the regaling light of Diana, Roman goddess.

After we share what our scouts have eyed, we say private prayers of gratitude for the accompanying challenges we know will come, and the comforting guidance they’ll bring, once we surpass them.  It’s amazing when we look back at the previous month and see how far we’ve traveled, or not, and we explore the whys and why nots together.  It’s one of the most enriching activities I’ve ever done.

When I stepped outside this past Saturday, with the closest moon in a score of years, shining substantially brighter, I immediately felt a more powerful presence, and knew this was special.  It didn’t necessarily look bigger, but its light was intense, a brightness that was hard to take in.  I felt I could soar right up to it, that I could be an astronaut, that in fact everyone on Earth could become whatever they wanted to with a moon like that.  So much more seemed possible than ever before.  The night sky was transformed;  more shifted than just tectonic plates.  Indeed, I felt new paradigms crouching imminent on the collective skyline of humanity.

Back inside, I sat hundreds of miles away from my horizon-sighting friend this time and performed our ritual solo.  I clearly saw a finished play on whose research I’m just embarking.  This is a surprising new development along my writing path, for I never considered playwriting a genre within my capabilities, but there it is.  I also saw more joy and happiness than I’ve ever imagined, and although I’m not clear on the details, there WILL be dancing!  There was a simple, off-the-grid house: custom-designed, fresh and airy, filled with beautiful and generous people existing in harmony.

I don’t know how to get there, but it all awaits.

Sometimes we do shine more brightly, the closer we get to our core, and the other night dazzled, both above me and within me.  I felt bigger (and not just because I was bundled like an overgrown snowman against the cold night air.) My horizon tilted vertical, then towered.  The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism appeared anew:  a way to be in bright relationship, not just right relationship, dwelling in and of the earthly world as I do.

  1. (B)RIGHT View ~ I am finally beginning to see things as they really are (or so I think ;))
  2. (B)RIGHT Intention ~ I am committing to the dissolution of anger, desire, and harm, and replacing them with positive, conscious intent.
  3. (B)RIGHT Speech ~ This is hard and easy.
  4. (B)RIGHT Action ~ Integrity is rooting. Walking the walk isn’t as simple as it sounds.  Maybe I should try bouncing?
  5. (B)RIGHT Livelihood ~ The selling of intoxicants is past;  the future is about effervescently expressing what is true for me.
  6. (B)RIGHT Effort ~ This takes unwavering dedication, no small task.  However, my will can be unbreakable when I choose it to be.
  7. (B)RIGHT Mindfulness ~ Not even the super moon can illuminate this mastery, currently.  Maybe I need a tea ceremony.
  8. (B)RIGHT Concentration ~ The monkeys are frolicking! The monkeys are frolicking!

As I choose to orbit farther and farther outside of convention and spin closer and closer to who I really am, I am struck by how easy it is, and how blessed I am to be able to say in all the chaos of present times, “Goodnight, Moon.”

Stapled To The Chicken

Why did the dead baby cross the road?

Because it was stapled to the chicken.

Stay with me here.

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My regular yoga practice was going strong this winter, until I put it on hiatus for the past 3 weeks.  I’m still figuring out how to be mobile and maintain a routine; usually something has to give, and this time yoga got sidelined.  Back in Maine after a jaunt south to celebrate my sister’s birthday and get a B-12 shot of Gotham, I barely made it this morning to an early Vinyasa Flow class.  Returning to the mat I felt like a blue square skier on a double black diamond slope – is this what happens when the pause button gets pushed?  Damn!  If Plank and Cobra didn’t make me feel like a traitor, then ‘resting’ in Downward Dog was far from soothing.  In fact, while the blood was rushing to my head and my shoulders were painfully strained in this upside-down vee, I began feeling a HUGE resistance.  Of course, I thought it’s been awhile and I’m out of practice.  But it was more than that – it lodged massive and imposing like a mountain.  I’d never felt so much physical force inside me.  Little did I know I was on the verge of having emergency psychic surgery.

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Quickly a vision of the resistance entered my awareness like a camera snapping into focus:  a large ball, perhaps 3 feet in diameter, seemingly composed of milky white cartilage, smooth as a ball-bearing.  Solid.  Firmly half in and half out of my body, from my navel to my philtrum, nestled like an asteroid that just hit earth, I clearly felt this imaginary (?) object emerging from my mouth, my throat, my heart, my gut.  I tilted my head back to give it room.

Immediately the asanas dropped their struggle, or I against them, and I  effortlessly continued on through Pigeon, Tree, and Warrior III, while this otherworldly cartilage protrusion, still as stone, remained as real as the wood floor under my mat.  When I finally came to the supine poses, nearing the end of the session, I lie there wondering… what next?  Then this pearly, foreign sphere rolled up and off my chest, across the floor, into oblivion.  I didn’t feel lighter, there was no crying or any other inclination to release.  The only notable result was that I suddenly wanted a freshly juiced glass of green vegetables.

Back home, after stopping by the local grocery for all things green – kale, kohlrabi, celery, fennel, parsley and cabbage (as well as a bag of Willow Bake Shoppe donuts) – I reflected on the strangeness of my morning.  I wasn’t compelled too much to figure it out, or understand any symbolic representation.  Instead, what most interested me was feeling that I had just witnessed the boundary point of my unconscious and conscious minds.

I had no intimation of this coming nor did I feel afterward that anything paradigm-shifting had really happened – all I wanted was some raw green juice. But somehow I think something had occurred.  I think there’s a whole world down there that I’m completely unaware of, with burrowing voles and tectonic waltzing that sometimes erupts.  It’s just the first time I was keen to it.

Am I transformed?  That remains to be seen.

So what was with the donuts? I sense they were my ‘dead baby:’  that which no longer serves me, but I haven’t relinquished yet.  I’m crossing that road, and little is going to stop me, even if it resorts to absurd stapling tactics.

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Nester Versus Nomad. Which Are You?

Snowfall has its silent beauty, but as March days breath deeper, the first rains of spring patter and tap the poetry of awakening.  The rhythmic rattle on the cellar bulkhead hypnotized me into a sleepy haze last night, and I dreamt of eddys and gushes and gurgles and whirlpools, but when I woke this morning at my sister’s house, the romance of thaw and melt drowned like the Wicked Witch of the West.  Streams cut gorges down the driveway, carrying away gravel and gutting a narrow bend down to axle-width.  Dirt roads are gullied, riverbanks ragged and schools shuttered.  In the basement, a laundry basket and litter box bob next to flower pots, scrap lumber and that last bottle of Chardonnay we were saving.  Worst of all, the furnace, hot water heater, washer, dryer and dehumidifier are Katrina’d under more than a foot of murky water.  Lucky for us there’s cordwood and a sump pump to rent.  But wouldn’t it be nice to just call the landlord?

My real estate obsession began in the mid-nineties as I fantasized about buying, renovating, and selling houses as a means to a financial end.  I audited the New York State realtor’s class and skipped certification because I didn’t want to sell houses as a vocation, I just wanted to understand the process and the legalities.  After years of renting, I finally bought a charming 1929 Arts & Crafts Bungalow with hand-milled kitchen cabinets, (now extinct) American Chestnut trim, and gorgeous hardwood floors on a corner lot.  What a feeling to own a little piece of the world!  It was all mine.  No downstairs neighbors, no sharing the driveway, no cheap remodels.

But you know the story…

When I finally sold it, almost 10 years later, I was glad to be rid of it:  shovelling the sidewalk, replacing the roof, painting the clapboard, cleaning the attic, spackling the plaster, replacing cracked windows, mowing the lawn, spring/fall cleanup, paying for insurance, fixing the plumbing…if you’ve owned property, then you know:  all mine means ALL mine.  Picking out Bee Balm Red to paint the library is fun, cleaning up the electrician’s mess is not.

Although a happy renter now, I can still imagine doing it again…shopping at Brimfield Antiques Market for treasures, finding just the right shade of Farrow and Ball, designing the Japanese bath I’ve always wanted.  I can picture an orchard of peach, plum and crabapple trees, rows of raspberry bushes and the long table set for 12 with handmade napkins and vases of wildflowers.  I see the writers and artists retreat in the renovated barn and a couple of guest cottages down a stone pathway.  However, visualizing your dream home is like visualizing your soulmate – we don’t conjure the hiccups and crashes, just the bear-skin rug in front of a wood-burning fireplace.

So I wonder…is it worth it?

As the coda of my hibernation approaches, I think of how I want to spend my money and my time.  Spring signals a new cycle, and I contemplate the lightness of living simply versus the responsibility of stewardship and maintenance.  Both have their merits and drawbacks.

Given your druthers, which would you prefer? To be or not to be – Lord of the Manor?

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Dismantling Youth

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin. My soul.  Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo. Lee. Ta.”

When I was 20, maybe 21, signing up for yet another semester of Humanities at the local community college, adulthood perpetually as imminent as the red button, the Cold War was unknowingly about to end.  In a desperate ploy to hang on to childish things, to look cool in the eyes of others, I graffiti’d a pair of white Vans with titles of Vladimir Nabokov novels in red magic marker.  Save for that  stunning opening paragraph that even now astounds me by its physical lyricism, I hardly knew who Nabokov was, much less Stanley Kubrick or James Mason, who together brought Lolita to the screen.  Smitten as I was with the younger intellectual skateboarding boys on campus – with their long hair and side-parts, lanky surfer bodies and West Coast fantasies – I scrawled ‘Bend Sinister’ across the left shoe and ‘Invitation To A Beheading’ across the right, in true contrarian embrace-the-enemy fashion.  What’s that mean? they’d ask, as we’d hang out in concrete basement bars, pretending we were old enough to be there, but not so grown up to be confused with the proletariat drinking their dollar and a half draughts during dusky happy hours.

God forbid our fraud should slip.

While Michael, boyishly cute and charming and the one I had the maddest crush on, played aloof, I did my wiliest to mirror his nonchalance (therefore showing him how much he really wanted me) and instead tried impressing his friends with arcane Soviet trivia.  When I found them gawking over stacks of nudie magazines one afternoon after class, I casually mentioned Nabokov’s penchant for getting published in Playboy, proving that yes, men really did read it for the articles and they should, too.  Were any of us planning on graduating and growing up at some point?

We never saw that our restless energy was held in check by end-of-the-world-as-we-knew-it propaganda.  What young adult wanted to stake claim in an era of Reagan and Gorbachev and the crisis of missiles?  We did as we were told:  good little Communist-haters, except that we weren’t.  We were too naive, still, to really understand anything, so we played on both sides of the rail, never knowing when the train was going to race down the tracks and split everything in two.

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Meanwhile, I taught them to play chess, (the Russians were masters, right?) and we’d plot moves until dawn, taking rooks and pawns and they taught me to say “Prost!” as we toasted with cheap vodka;  it wasn’t until I went to Germany years later did I realize that I didn’t have a trademark on affectation.  In time, our attempts to dazzle each other with bluster and bloc fizzled, but as the breezes of destiny blew, it turned out we all just really loved being together.  Especially Michael and I.  Ultimately, we paired off, whirling around in a magical wonderland with passionate abandon, leaving the group behind.  For months, we were intoxicated by the blindness of bliss, closing our eyes and diving deep enough inside to feel lo. lee. ta.  in each other’s mouths.

Eventually, the other boys all said goodbye, scattering off to four-year universities or low-paying jobs in nearby towns.  Michael and I remained, still partly caught in the stickiness of our infatuation, but somehow sensing a shift in the wind.  That fall, with legs entwined, curled up in front of the TV, we watched the Berlin Wall come down, governments toppling like dominos, the only world we ever knew crumbling, and we tried to imagine life without impending nuclear catastrophe and its fear we unwittingly swallowed. The structures that had defined us were no longer.  Where do you go when you can go anywhere?

As we planned our escape to California, as far from New York as we could  imagine, tragedy struck.  There was an accident and his brother died.  All spells broke.  The world had changed;  nothing would ever be the same.

The stranglehold of the eighties loosened and catapulted us into our futures.  The cocoon of youth dissolved.

He left for Hollywood, alone.  I never saw him again.

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Weebles Wobble, But I Don’t Fall Down

For a significant time in my life, I tended bar and waited tables and eventually reached a level of mastery that only comes after years in the profession.  In order to get and stay employed at upper tier establishments, you must meet demanding criteria with excellence, and make it look second nature.  Once, a fellow apron-in-the-trenches, Raven, observed that while it may seem to someone peering in from outside or to a server-in-training all graceful and effortless, it’s actually harder than it appears, and can be interpreted as a more accessible job than it really is.  Cultivating an efficient, hospitable presence in the midst of crying babies, hungry diners, first dates, and VIP business deals calls for a complex recipe.  Oenophilic knowledge, reflexive prioritization, vast patience, and a fluid physicality with an intimately choreographed and fast-paced dance among tables, swinging kitchen doors and moving human targets are all ingredients that create an illusion of a seamless, well-edited film.  She was right, we made it look easy, and we earned our Oscar every single night.

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Despite proficiency and agility, it’s not always wine and roses.  Steve, another veteran colleague, adds one crucial perspective that can make the difference between a shift feeling like an Amazonian jungle drive with no struts or shocks, and cruising the Autobahn in a cushy, air-conditioned Beemer. In industry jargon, being ‘in the weeds’ means you’re on a sinking ship, you NEED HELP NOW, all hell’s breaking loose, and the wreckage is piling up.  Sometimes no amount of technical ability can save you from this kind of disaster.  With his signature wry wit, he offers this wise salve, “Kellie, you can’t be in the weeds, if you just. don’t. care.”

Contemplate that for a moment.

When pressure mounts – a raucous table tries to flag you down for their third bottle of wine, another wants to send back undercooked steak that they ordered rare, the chef is yelling for you to pick up hot plates, crema on an espresso is fading at the counter and your barista won’t be too pleased to make it over, and the host just seated an ornery family of eight in your station – it’s hard to all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  The last thing that will help is grasping for perfection and squeeeeezing tight.  Instead, give up.  Stop caring about the mess, the stress, doing your best.  Embrace chaos and move through the madness.  Keep humor in your pocket; toss the-sky-is-falling panic.  Once you stop caring that you’re in the weeds, sanity and order swiftly return.

This is how I finally came to write.  For too long, I harbored lofty views of what writing should be – gazed up on vaunted writers as gods – Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, Twain – as anyone with literary ambitions would.  I intensely pulsed with visions of grand words and clever turns of phrase like the masters.  I toted high ideals, yet felt low and too intimidated to put pen to paper for fear that I could nary craft as expert a sentence as theirs.  Nothing I wrote would be good enough, much less perfect, so why even try?  In essence, my wish to be a great writer actually prevented me from ever seriously commiting.  What use is that?  So I alternated between fits of private prose and artistic abstinence, but always ended up disappointed in myself.  Journals got filled, shelved, forgotten.  Yes, Mr. Famous Author, follow me right this way to your corner table.

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Then I remembered how I did what I did for a living, and the philosophies of Raven and Steve.  There was the answer, the road to freedom. I acknowledged that it would take years to achieve mastery, if ever, and I stopped caring about being top-notch.  I didn’t need to be a great writer.  I didn’t even need to be a good writer.  I laid down striving for perfection.  Starving for expression, all I had to do was write.

At once, my first gig waiting tables, back when I was far from competent, came rushing into memory.  One night early on I dropped an entire tray of frozen pina coladas and other frou-frou drinks all over a poor little girl who had the misfortune of sitting beneath me.  Out of mortifying embarrassment I laughed uncontrollably, while she burst into frightened tears.  It was all so horrible, but I cleaned up the mess, got on with the shift, and went back to work the next night and then the night after that.  I persevered, got less clumsy, and built up skills.

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We’re rarely good straight out of the gate;  so when I ask a friend, a best-selling author, for beginning writerly advice he offers up the same, wise morsel – make as many mistakes as I can.  So I do, continually, and it’s OK because now I’ve learned not to care about looking foolish or amateur.  All I want to do is write and have fun doing it.

This week, I sit cross-legged in yoga class, prayerful hands in front of my heart, post-OM, pre-asanas and the instructor, about to lead the group in a series of balancing poses, suggests we set an intention for our evening’s practice.  Before I can think up one, she shares hers – to wobble.  She actually intends to sway, to teeter.

Let go, whispers the universe!

Kapow!  I finally get it… Validity exists in shakiness as much as in stability.  When we’re trying to ground, find steadiness on one foot, arms akimbo, torso bent forward, and we falter – indeed, that is exactly when to accept imbalance – it’s integral to the pose, and not as I’ve long thought, failing.  I’ll never be in the weeds again.

As soon as I embrace the wobble, the imperfection, I stop falling down, and finally begin.

Open (Screen) Door Policy

I stand in the doorway this bright, blue sky morning, holding open the screen door so that nothing comes between me and the young man outside with telltale pamphlets tucked under his right arm. Smiling awkwardly with his silver-braced teeth and acne, he greets me with practiced lines and hints of nervous eagerness.

“Hello!” he chirps.  “How are you?”

“Hi,” I reply, “I’m fine.  How’re you?”

“I am well, thank you.  I have some magazines here for you to read, if you’d like…” he trails off as I politely cut him short.  I am familiar enough with Watchtower News and Awake! to know I am not interested in prolonging his discomfort and our conversation.  I send him on his way back down the icy driveway to the dark sedan that awaits, older couple in the front seat – his parents perhaps, or Witness elders.  They back out and drive to the next house.

Instead of feeling relief, I hesitate and pause to wonder:  was I too hasty?  Why not invite him in and hear what he has to say.  Rather than supposing a one-way conversation, I could have offered the benefit of doubt, made my assumption charitable.  Why not entertain the possibility of dialogue, and if it didn’t materialize, then I could say goodbye knowing I stood open, and listened.

It is not unusual to have strangers rap on the door here, and that’s heartening – real world places still exist for strangers to ask for invitation and to receive it.  How easy it is to keep the door closed, to ignore a request for connection as our inboxes are overflowing and our bills are mounting – we’ve got pressures to parse and stress to manage.  But what if something meaningful was behind that knock?  What if relief lies just outside our door?

When I’ve turned that doorknob, kind people, always, are on the other side, trying to make their way in the world, just like I am:  a woman looking for a friend’s house, someone wanting to buy the truck in the driveway, or a man wanting to lease the back fields for farming.  We rely on each other to show us the way when we’re lost, to offer financial opportunity when we are in need, or to join in a new, sustaining venture.  The can-do attitude is alive and active here, and in a climate of economic scarcity and struggle, old-fashioned grassroots door-to-door isn’t just a way of making a living or promoting a cause, but of connecting to the people around us – it can pick us up and remind us that we are all in the same boat, if we would just stop putting different names on them.  In true exchange at my dining room table, I might find income, friendship, community, or just simple human contact with someone I wouldn’t meet otherwise in our tight-knit circles.  The world would get simultaneously larger and smaller.

I remember sitting at my back porch table years ago and my roommate, T, was writing out a mission statement.  I had never heard of such a thing before, so she detailed its whys and hows to me, and of course I wanted one, too.  At my last job, the mission statement was an important tool, a measure of the space between who we said we were and how we were actually operating.  Whenever I faced conflict or dilemma, I asked what stance or action would best serve that mission statement.  Clarity almost always swept in on those wings.  Now that I’m creating a new paradigm for my life, one where everything underscores my integrity, truth, and desires – no more clocking-in-clocking-out jobs, no more being who you want me to be, no more swallowing bitter pills of the cults of consumerism, conformity or competition – I must distill my belief system down to one guiding star.  Easy?  Try drawing a straight line without a ruler.  Then pull out that microscope and look even closer…

Once I write it, I wonder, will I be drawn to knock on doors to spread the word?  Probably not, but I empathize with missionary zeal – when you’re full of excitement and clarity don’t you want others to share in your happiness and peace?   Perhaps, but I believe it’s better to lead by example, lead by invitation, lead with liveliness and verve, while trusting each other to craft our own routes, or roots, even.

There are many forms of missionaries – diplomatic and religious ones initially come to mind, but don’t overlook the less obvious embodiments that are spreading their worldview, and want us on board their bus: for-profit corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), patriotic nationalists, New Age spiritualists, political ideologues, climate change environmentalists, organic farmers, 2012 Mayan Chicken Littles.  It’s not that wanting to share your point of view is good or bad, but we tend to duck when the dogma flies.  The end is nigh!  Buy now, save later!  You’re with us or against us!  Save the children!

It is a full spectrum, with chewy morsels on which to ruminate the entire length.  I have found usefulness in all platforms.  I’ve sought out and worked for a corporation that provided me with health benefits, a stable paycheck and some of the best colleagues I’ll ever know.  I’ve participated proudly as an American citizen, and a global one, too.  I’ve contributed to and benefited from both governmental programs and NGOs.  I’ve embraced capitalism and railed against its bottom-line mentality.  I’ve gleaned wisdom from traditional holy books, and rejected chapters that didn’t resonate.  The world is dynamic, complex and interwoven – and I find myself choosing more and more the kinds of preachers I want – based not on ideology, but on intention and how I feel when I hear their message. As much can be gleaned from a blade of grass as in the mire of our trillion-dollar deficit.  It is not enough to adhere to the saints or the sinners, to the left or the right anymore – I want to run my fingers along the spine of life and feel each bump and valley, the skin that covers it, and the pulse that beats beneath us all.

So I sit and craft words of meaning and truth until I come up with these:

My mission is to listen and obey my intuition, and when I falter, to correct myself with forgiveness and compassion, and treat others with the same. I will practice non-judgment and equanimity.  I will unceasingly look to see the positive and I will remember to have as much fun along the way as I can.

It’s a work in progress and in the meantime, I’ll maintain that open door policy.  Feel free to knock anytime, come in, and tell me your story.  I promise to listen this time.

PechaKucha Night

“Whose coat is this?”

“Mine,” I say, to the thin, grey-haired woman marking the chairs on either side with various winter accoutrements.  “Oh, sorry.  I went to get a glass of wine.”

Another woman, coming up behind me, leans over and says, “It’s alright Sandy, I’ll sit on the end.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.  “I can slide down so you and your friends can sit together.”

“No, dear, we’ll all be friends by the end of the night,” she declares, smiling.  “Hi, I’m Georgeanne.”

And so my first PechaKucha commences.

Born in Tokyo in 2003,  PechaKucha, which means ‘chit chat’ in Japanese, is the brainchild of two designers who wanted an efficient yet lively forum to present their work and new ideas, as well as mingle and network.  Each presenter gets to show 20 slides for 20 seconds apiece, and share their passion with the audience.  The concept has taken off worldwide, and there are now events in hundreds of cities.  I have the good fortune to attend one just down the road in Thomaston, at Watts Hall Auditorium with an overflowing crowd – just another example of the creative economy’s momentum, even, or especially, in Midcoast Maine, far from any dense urban locale.

The room is a who’s who of local talent and leadership, and is enthusiastically  emceed by Senator Chris Rector, an amiable man with strong local ties and support.  (I hope he takes kindly to my letter opposing the Governor’s environmental hatchet job).  Eight people take center stage over the course of an hour, and the topics range from texturally sculpted forms (Jacques Vesery) to equatorial coffee-picking (Yvonne Smith, Roaster at Rock City Coffee) to the history of women in Champagne (Jane Barnes, wine pro and partner on the Schooner, Stephen Taber).

(Sculptures by Jacques Vesery)
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While the presenters are both oral and visual storytellers, their styles swing from scripted to off the cuff.  Peter Digirolamo, soapmaker at Trillum Soaps, is cheeky as he flips leaf-shaped notecards downstage à la David Letterman after reading winter-related haikus from each one, while colorful slides of almost-pretty-enough-to-eat soap blocks charm us.  Elizabeth Greenberg, Director of Education at the highly regarded Maine Media College in Rockport, waxes poetic about memory and nostalgia while her ephemeral photographs seduce us with their dreaminess and longing.

Abbie Read, Artist and Garden Designer

There’s more than a glimpse at rich and interesting lives behind the cross section of those gathered and my view of all the resources tapping away here is blown wide open.  I learn how Maine coastal and island communities are leaders in US alternative energy solutions from Suzanne Pude, Community Energy Director at the Island Institute as she shares documentary-style scenes of wind turbine installations on Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay.

Vinalhaven

photo by Karen Oakes, Vinalhaven resident

The action is equally compelling on either side of me, perched on folding chairs.  To my left I meet a longtime local newspaper columnist, Georgeanne, who covers the Home and Garden beat, among other newsworthy topics and after inquiring about my earlier life in restaurants, fills me in on all the best tables from Belfast to Rockland.  On my right is Sandy, who I learn is a caterer and massage therapist, just another one of those cool, many-hat-wearing personalities tucked into towns with names like Friendship, Owl’s Head, and Port Clyde (formerly Herring Gut, not the most appealing moniker in Vacationland).  I take her number down right away – a good masseuse should always be on speed dial.  I’m beginning to think that vibrant isn’t just a word reserved for downtowns and springtime – because smack dab in the middle of what might seem like nowhere I find a hotbed of creativity, vitality and homespun community, with an open bar and no posturing.

Like flipping through a guidebook to the Renaissance Lifestyles of the Self-Reliant and Visionary, my first PechaKucha cheers me with its generosity and lack of pretentious agenda.  A roomful of strangers is just a group of friends I haven’t met yet, and I leave with a couple new ones already.  Who says there’s nothing going on in February?

Pecha Kucha Night

 

Ode to Kenmore

It’s not a mere appliance to me; it’s a Temple of Corporeal Transmogrification, a kind of gastronomic tattoo parlor where I enter sapped and hungry, and emerge energized.  It’s like my God Jar, my box o’ buff body dreams, stocked with the amino acids and omega 3’s of the indestructible soon-to-be me, the one I proclaimed would recover its optimal weight, strength and yogic flexibility by year’s end.  It’s my refrigerator and I am kneeling at its altar.  Scrubbing it out.

I didn’t always have such a soft spot for it.  Growing up, cleaning ours out was one of the least-liked chores, more often outsourced to our friends who for some strange reason relished climbing in and purging it.  Maybe it was the subversive peek into our dietary secrets or just a contest to see who could find the oldest expiration date.  Even now, when we visit home for the holidays, my sister and I marvel at the 23 jars of mustard & 14 kinds of cheese, and wonder how long it’ll take the styrofoam box to biodegrade behind the cans of V8.  But who among us hasn’t been guilty of icebox neglect at some point?  I can almost identify the particular penicillin strain in that Chinese to-go box in the back of mine.

But now my soft spot has gotten a little too soft around the middle, and I’m redefining the frozen Lean Cuisine model of my 80’s childhood to a more streamlined, whole grain version. Not an extreme makeover, as I’ve been in a beans & greens trajectory for years, but it’s time to give the fridge an enema, a cooler colonic to clean out what poisons may be lurking on the bottom shelf.

This morning’s date with Mr. Clean rejuvenated the big white box.  Inventoried, purified and reorganized,  it’s now full of yummy goodness, nary a sugary snack in sight.  There’s chard and freshly soaked yellow eye beans, a jar of red cabbage sauerkraut (biodynamic), oyster mushrooms, scallions & miso for soup, the best cider you’ll ever sip (Ricker Hill, local), and, I’m happy to say Dad, that there’s only 4 jars of mustard.  The drawers are full of crunchy veggies I’ve been shaving into salads on my Muji mandoline and Bob’s Red Mill (flax, rolled oats, wheat bran, cornmeal) has taken up whole shelf residence.  Best part, chilling in the door: a couple of bottles of vintage bubbly – because I sense there’ll be lots of celebrating in my near future!

All the lovin’ isn’t reserved for the interior – I create a visual bonanza on the outside, too – all good houses of worship are welcoming so I curate the door like an artful gallery – affirmations like “I’M LIVING THE LIFE I IMAGINED” to “THE UNIVERSE REWARDS ME FOR TAKING RISKS ON ITS BEHALF” greet my ravenous self.  There are photos of my nephew (who makes my heart melt, which is what I want the excess lbs to do) and of gorgeous landscapes that remind me of the inherent beauty in all things natural.  There’s a ticket stub to that Michael Franti concert where I sweated & bounced like a pogo stick last summer and a red, handmade, save-the-date card for the Iowan wedding-in-a-barn with the delicious roasted goat. There’s even one of my first watercolors, a postcard of a ripe Anjou pear.

Now, even before I open the door, I am uplifted, buoyant with good spirits, which is just how I want to feel before the Commencement of Nourishment.  Like setting the table with your wedding porcelain and lighting delicate tapers for romance, I want my edibles to be given as much care as the farmers who grew them.  I may have inherited a full-pantry sensibility, so my fridge won’t ever look spartan, but my Shrine of Healing is bursting with all nutritious ingredients to transform me back into the SEXY, ROBUST, GREEN GODDESS I know I am.

Now where did I put that yoga mat?

Need A Penny? Take A Penny. Got Life? Save A Life.

Tragedy hits.  What do you do?  Freeze or take action?

I tend to jump in, wanting to help.  More than most anything else, I thrive on feeling useful;  it gives meaning to my life.  A gimme-the-reins kind of person, I prioritize well, delegate easily, and know to apply direct pressure when the blood starts to spurt ( a scary story I’ll save for another time).  However, I’m not really trained in the finer points of crisis management;  in many life-threatening emergencies, apart from dialing 9-1-1, I am often helpless.

Once when my nephew was very small, he had something in his mouth and I feared he might be choking.  I was nearly paralyzed, except to run to my sister, whose pragmatic nature would surely take over.  He was fine, she was fine, it was me who panicked.  I just couldn’t think my way through the fear, because he is so beloved to me.  What I needed was a skill set to fall back on, a clear set of steps to follow so that I could accurately assess and manage a traumatic situation, and keep those pesky emotions at bay.  I needed emergency training.

A friend who lived in New York City on 9/11 metabolized that disaster in a similar manner.  She didn’t just want to be of general service, donating money or time, she targeted a specific goal and became EMS-trained.  No small response, it was an honorable and inspired action.  Her commitment to civic duty surfaced in my memory this past autumn when I saw a man dying in Central Park.  (Read about it here.)  Afterwards, I vowed to learn first aid and CPR, so being a mere bystander wouldn’t be an option anymore.  While my instincts to jump in are strong, I needed competency to be effective.

This discovery of duty, of harboring a strong sense of social responsiblity surprised me.  Duty had never surfaced before;  in fact, besides the military and medical fields, duty seems to rub up against the rugged individualism of the United States psyche.  Where does it otherwise reside in such modern democracy?   To each their own, problems and all, right?  Well, my evolution from dependent child to (sometimes too) independent adult has been bumpy, and I’m happily embracing a new relationship with my inner citizen.  So, this past weekend I followed through, turning my vow into action and became CPR/AED-certified, the first of many steps to lead a more politically engaged and community-minded life.  Oh, how many others have gone before.

Now, I can approach someone in distress and offer trained help.  I am capable of opening someone’s blocked airway, breathing for someone when they can’t, keeping a heart pumping and if necessary, even use a defibrillator.  When someone chokes, suffers a stroke or heart attack, or just needs comfort until the medical professionals arrive and do the real work, I am prepared.  I just hope it never comes to that.

 

Drag Racing In Vacationland

snow covered barn Maine winterSo THIS is Maine in the winter, huh?  I woke up earlier this week to find a few dents and scratches – overnight lows of -30F caused the kitchen pipes to freeze, internet service would be down for a few days, and I’ve (unknowingly) been driving around since November with no car insurance.  After four months of easy living, I was hip-checked by this sudden confluence of inconvenience.  At least I had heat, a stocked pantry, and my Blackberry.  But I’m a bastion of tying up loose ends, so what slipped?

Several years ago, I was driving north at night on the New York State Thruway, a notoriously speedy roadway, where the slow lane goes 75mph.  A friend was with me as we began to notice all the cars around us slow waaaay down, almost to a standstill, but there was nothing ahead to account for this bizarre occurrence.  I jammed my brakes and tried to find equilibrium, both of us worried and confused.  What the hell?  Suddenly, engines growled, tires squealed and several dozen cars sped off, as if at Watkins Glen, leaving me with white knuckles and a rapid pulse, as I tried to keep my car on the road amid the vehicular mayhem.

Later, as I reflected on the spontaneous drag race, a lesson crystallized:  how crucial it is to be ready when life unexpectedly speeds up.  Now, I’ve let up on the gas pedal for quite a while, with quitting my job and the recent move to Maine – a land where two pickups stop and chat across the double yellows – and I’ve developed a meandering pace: all carpe diem and proverbially rose-smelling.  But my insides have stirred lately.  I want more torque, more rev.  How can I ever get up to speed with my controls set at cruise?

What does this have to do with frozen pipes, you ask?  According to the Chinese system of energy alignment known as Feng Shui, when there’s a water leak in your house, there is a corresponding leak of money in your life.  I have experienced this, and believe it to be true.  I wonder then, if ice in the water lines is a sign of constipated financial flow?  And the lack of online access?  Plugged up information, perhaps?  And the unsubstantiated cancellation of (NY) auto insurance?  Maybe it’s time to consolidate my life, here.  A tune up is in order, so I get to work.  I spend a day going through piles of files, organizing, prioritizing, and eliminating what does not support my prosperous writing future (optimism counts, yes?).  I lay under the sink blowdrying the copper pipes until H2O gushes forth.  I turn in my NY Driver’s License and put Vacationland plates on my Toyota.

Afterwards I feel clear.  Detailed, waxed and gassed up.

I’m shifting into second gear now and already I’ve got some grip.  Income opportunities are coming my way.  I’ve taken on the role of Media Liaison at my local non-profit land trust.  I’m writing up my resume and pursuing a weekly column at a local paper.  My pulse is quickening and life is escalating, all with my hands firmly on the wheel.

Other than becoming officially a Mainer, nah, not too much going on here this week.  How ’bout you?

How An Acupuncturist Taught Me To Roast My Vegetables And Relax

Working in Japan was a pain in the neck, literally.  From my shoulder blades to the base of my brain, I had been in persistent agony for several months by the time I got desperate enough to call an acupuncturist.  My neck had petrified into one frozen, stony mess.  I was a stranger in a strange land on assignment in Tokyo back in 2007 and irrationally worried that if I didn’t get help, I might never be able to turn my head freely again.  Not that I necessarily wanted to, because everywhere I looked, all I saw loomed cold, lonesome and aloof.

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I missed my old restaurant job.  I missed understanding snippets of conversation on the train.  I even missed the F train – you know it’s bad when you ride the world’s cleanest, most efficient metro system and you long for the Jamaica-to-Coney Island local.  More than anything, though, I missed the flexibility that carried me through past adventures around the globe.  Where did it go?  What had happened to me? I was tight in the grip of physical and mental paralysis.  I finally called an English-speaking doctor and booked an appointment.  Must. Have. Relief. Now.

Have I mention my trypanophobia?  Come near me with a needle and I have a meltdown. I have actually skipped college matriculation just to avoid the required MMR inoculation and would almost rather get my teeth drilled sans Novocaine.  I’ll pretty much do anything to avoid the dreaded syringe.  Here I am then, lying on an acupuncturist’s table in a foreign country with a man in a white lab coat sticking needles in my neck and down my spine, trying to convince me there’s really nothing to be afraid of.  That’s how bad my neck felt.  Pain is relative, I tell myself, but I surrender as best I can to 2,200 years of Eastern orthodoxy and hope I don’t hyperventilate or start weeping uncontrollably, although that’s probably just what I need to do – breathing and crying can be great relief in times of debilitation, but I’m unable to unclench my body or my mind.

“OK, now just lie here while your body adjusts,” the doctor says, as his hands move skillfully down the back of me in a calm, healing manner.  His touch is soothing.  “Your feet are really cold,” he remarks, as he inserts a few more needles along my legs.

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“They’ve been cold lately,” I reply.

“Do you eat a lot of salad?” he asks.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I answer, slightly irritated that he’s focused on the temperature of my feet when clearly it’s my neck that needs his full attention.  I’m suffering;  who cares about my feet?  Make my neck feel better!

“You should cook your vegetables,” he advises.  “Don’t eat them raw.  You need warmth in your food, then your feet won’t be so cold.”

I resisted him; all I could think was that I liked salad.  It’s healthy, quick and easy to prepare and besides, cooking had really not been my forte anyway.  I preferred going out to eat and ordering a garde manger-composed leafy pile of raw vegetables with some fancy vinaigrette.  Or did I?  Was I just on a road that was a little too well-traveled for a contrarian like me?  Perhaps it was time for things in my life to change.  Hey, even my doctor was telling me I had cold feet.

The simple and obvious have often eluded me.  Could it be as easy as that?  Warm begets warm.  I soon came to consider his gentle demeanor and the possible wisdom in his words.  For the rest of my time in Tokyo, I sautéed up lots of greens and experimented with making vegetable miso soups.  I stopped ordering salads when I ate out, even if they sounded nutritious and gourmet.  I considered the radical notion of change and questioned the prudence of stamina.  As I began to relax into cooking, the chill in my feet lessened and the pleasures of the kitchen dawned. Gradually I gained movement in my neck and loosened up other restricted places in my life.

farmer's market Maine organic vegetablesI carried this lesson home with me and now, four years later, I love cooking.  I’ve found warmth in the kitchen and in my life.  I’m roasting  sheetpans of beets, sweet potatoes, and turnips.  I’m simmering cabbage and chard in soups and sauteing kale and garlic with local Maine shrimp and scallops.  As my upper body has slowly recovered from tension and tightness, I have also started to recover from twenty-five years in the restaurant business and its accompanying foodie mentality, which from a certain stance can both be seen as rigid and competitive.  The constant pursuit of the highest rating, the latest dish, the most perfect execution can sap the playful and judicious, leaving us in less than good health.

I don’t reject it all, however.  I do embrace eating seasonal and local, I support healthy school lunches and food security campaigns.  I enjoy the widespread availability of organic produce and all the attention and respect serving and cooking professionally get these days.  The world is a healthier place as the general public becomes more fluent on farm-to-table restaurants, the impact of governmental subsidies for corn and soy, and the environmental consequences of Monsanto-like genetic manipulations.

I’m just not as religious and precious about it anymore.  I’m looser in my approach, less driven and uptight.  This top chef, that obscure ingredient, dissecting what’s on my molecularly gastronomic plate – I leave that for the next generation.  All I really want to do now is breathe, relax, and cook up some beans and greens that warm me from head to feet when it’s cold outside.  I want to break bread that I baked this morning with people I love and turn to them with soft suppleness and toast to our good health.

Rugged Woman Meets Ragged Mountain

January is brilliant.  To hike in January, even more so:  it is divine.

The sun gods smile down on the snowscape that surrounds me while the snow keenly winks back with a blue glint in its eye.  Vistas open as I round bends on the rolling trail and follow snowshoe tracks and paw prints.  On the way up, I walk carefully, choosing my steps with caution as the week’s thaw and freeze has left an icy path in its wake.  A lean and deft trail runner, Alaskan malamute leading the way, appears suddenly and breezes past as fluidly as a taut sailor keeling along wind and water.  I gather his grace in deep draughts.

My lungs expand and empty, expand and empty, expand and empty into the hush of the forest.  A surefooted rhythm emerges.

Snow owls are rumored, but not seen.  Only the creaks of tree limbs call across the mountain, as if aching for their missing leaves, save for the oaks and beeches – their dried and tawny remnants from last year won’t molt until spring buds release them.  It is myth that winter is barren and colorless, for as the angle of afternoon rays travels with haste across the brumal sky, silvery grays and mushroomy browns creep into craw and crevasse until the white all but disappears.

I climb a nearly two-story boulder, then chuckle at the metaphor.  In woods there are no edifices of note, nests and dams aside.  I glance down.  Lichen curls like paint chips on the oversized rock, or, I guess – it curls like lichen.  How long until I can truly see this wonderland?  How long until the mountaintop stops laughing at me?

I pick my way on slippery rocks across a half-frozen stream, watching the pellucid waters swirl under shallow sheets that soon crack and fall into a tumbling current.  On the far side, I crouch to peer at myriad architectures of ice and earth and wonder what universes are captured in these tiny crystal castles.  Who reigns in these miniature kingdoms?

Like meditating, January quiets the mind.  Thoughts slow.  The cold focuses attention, the eyes narrow in scope and see with eagle-eye precision.  A world, otherwise masked by the flurry and flutter of fertility, is revealed.

Now, I am aware of nose hairs and that soft spot in my right ankle.

I begin to remember…exactly why I came here.

Acknowledging A Year Of Triumphs

Do you do this?  I sell myself short sometimes.  I look at my life and feel I’m spinning my wheels, making no headway, then pessimism and defeat settle in.  I feel a little less worthy and the downward spiral bores into the ground, rooting into hopelessness.  Crazy, right?  But why steamroll myself this way?  I wish I knew.  But recently, when a high school friend posted a photo of a (very young & very skinny) me on Facebook back from my days coaching cheerleaders, I decided to pick up my metaphorical pom-poms and be my own pep squad.  2-4-6-8!  Who do we APPRECIATE?!

My quest to restore buoyancy begins with a small exercise injected into my daily routine – I simply review the day and list what I completed.  Usually I do this in my head (washed the dishes, finally wrote a blog post, called my sister, saved the world, didn’t eat the whole bag of cookies…), but occasionally I’ll write it down, especially when the mental list doesn’t offer quite the satisfaction I’m after. Actually putting it on paper makes for a longer list, because writing it out is more of a commitment (and damn! Doesn’t the page looks more impressive the fuller it is?)  I include more than just mundane errands and the requisite household tasks – I’ll jot new insights, flesh out story ideas and add smiley faces and exclamation marks.   (It’s hard to deny the uplifting nature of drama and silliness, particularly when colorful markers are employed.)

When I’m feeling really dejected – stuck in first gear with my tires spitting mud while the ruts only get deeper – I stop and look for a higher view.  Maybe a few months back, or even a couple years, and I check out the scenery since then.  What I see never fails to surprise and delight.  I’ve been amazed by distances I’ve traveled both geographically and in the landscape of imagination.  Try it – think back to a point in time and take inventory of where you were and what you were doing.  Marvel at how far you’ve come. We are not the same people we once were.  We’re better.  Stronger.  Wiser.

What I’ve learned is to be more aware of my current state, to see with clarity – the situation is almost always better than I think it is.  Now, even before I start to dip below sea level, I head myself off at the pass by taking stock, and appreciating not just what I have, but also what I’ve accomplished, both in large and small ways.

So as I head into this fresh year, this new decade, I’m taking time to review my accomplishments from 2010:

  1. I created OFF~PEAK, to explore and develop my voice and writing skills, and to target future goals with you at my side, dear readers.
  2. I committed more fully to nurturing my friendships, after a few too many years of sequestering myself.
  3. After almost 25 years, I moved on from the restaurant business – while I still enjoyed it.  (The secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go.)
  4. I ate more green, leafy vegetables and less meat.
  5. I drank more water, and less alcohol and caffeine.
  6. I donated substantially to causes I believe in, using my money as a tool to align myself with who I am and what my values are.
  7. The Great Midwest Road Trip!  I saw jaw-dropping miles of cornfields; visited great architectural sites like Columbus, Indiana, the skyline of Chicago, and the unsurpassed splendor of Fallingwater; operated one of the locks on the Mississippi River; and met a quirky cast of characters, including a roadside BBQ chef who taught me to roll down the windows and let my hair and spirit fly.
  8. I trusted my intuition.  I listened to my gut.  I believed in myself.
  9. I purged material belongings that were weighing me down and holding me back.  A LOT of things.
  10. I cultivated my creativity.
  11. I moved, on a whim, to Maine:  6 weeks from inception to arrival.  I call that Life Flexibility.

And more than any other entry on that list, I transformed how I define myself.  I am a Writer now, and the most content I’ve ever been.  I can’t wait to check in this time next year and see how far 2011 takes me!

And you?  I would love to hear your peaks and proud moments…bet there’s more than you think.

The Royal Flush

Design reigns supreme in Japan, and luxury design is as commonplace there as the mediocre is here in the States.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in a Japanese restaurant.  However, it’s not the interior architecture or the food styling to which I refer.  It’s the bathroom.

When I was opening Union Square Tokyo in Japan a few years back, I was fascinated by bathroom culture and design.  Our store didn’t have its own restroom, rather it was a shared commodity, with an anteroom and four stalls.  Sounds familiar, right?  But once I stepped into a stall, it was as if I ventured into the cockpit of a jet airliner:  all these buttons and levers and, of course, the unfamiliar Kanji characters (not, to me) explaining it all.  At least I thought I knew the basics:  sit down and let nature take its course.  But wait!  The  sensor alerts a mechanism to rotate the plastic liner on the seat before I sit down, which is slightly startling, and then once I do… Oh!  The seat’s warm.  You know that gross feeling you get when you sit on a public toilet, and it’s been warmed by the last person?  Your backside has just been IM’ed by the bare bum of a stranger.  Yuck.

That wasn’t the case, however – no one had been inside before I entered.  Then I keyed in on the display panel… who knew there were so many variations to relieve yourself?  I pushed several of the buttons, just to see what happened.  There were sound  options.  Odor options.  Temperature options.  To distract fellow stall-dwellers from any offending sounds or smells, I could make fake flushing sounds, at different volume levels (trickle, whoosh and Niagara Falls), and pick three degrees of deodorizer to scent the room.  The seat could be heated on a scale from room temperature up to ski-slope thaw.  And although I could practically bathe in the basin,  I was never bold enough to explore all the cleansing options.  I feared walking back into work with telltale signs of toilet water geysers gone mad.

Recently, I was reminded of my Japanese powder room explorations during my last visit to New York.  I was deciding whether to go high-end or low-end for lunch – a Shake Shack burger or the healthier sushi option.  The Upper West Side fast food line out the door swayed me –  to Gari – and I figured enough time had passed since my last raw fish dining mishap (laugh at my Empty Cup story).  Seated right away, I  decide to treat myself and order the omakase (chef’s choice) and a small carafe of junmai daiginjo sake.  Then, I ask for the ladies’ room.

In here I am instantly transported back, and this time I can actually read what each button is for.  As I lock the door behind me, I turn while the lid  rises automatically.  This is what’s so great about Nippon hygiene:  the seamless choreography of sanitation.  The lid self-rises, I can warm my chilled bum, gently shower my nether regions  – all with ease and discretion.  Of course, this is the scaled back US version and I feel slightly gypped.  I want the full, miso-soup-to-gingko-nut Tokyo experience, but I’ll either have to sell my car for airfare or settle for installing one of these modern contraptions in my own house someday, along with a Japanese soaking tub.

In the meantime,  you can vicariously experience the sheer bliss of bathing in Japan as I’ll soon share my hot springs in Hakone escapade.  The Japanese really know how to treat the naked body.

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