Great Quote from E.B. White

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

What a beautiful and humorous summation of the paradox we all face!

I love this guy; author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little and an eccentric man who struggled at times with anxiety and depression. Like most writers it was hard for him to determine when a piece of writing was actually “done.” (The bane of rewriting for all of us, that one.) But unlike most writers, he would sometimes panic after slipping a finished manuscript into the mailbox and go to the Postmaster General at the Post Office begging to have it back. This anecdote always makes me feel a little more accepting of my own writing fears.

For a quick peek inside the brilliant, funny, and deeply humane mind of the man, here’s a brief letter he wrote for the editor of Charlotte’s Web:

E.B. White’s Fantastic Letter About Why He Wrote “Charlotte’s Web”.

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Random Hot Tip About Dying #1 and Follow Through

Finish

(This photo is borrowed from an excellent post on the blog Prof KRG dealing with the same challenge from a different angle.  Useful stuff, here.)  

There are two things I’d like to cover in this post:

1)  Finishing (or not) what I start.

2) Explaining Hot Tip #1 About Dying from my last post as I (hinted suggested prevaricated half-promised wiggled and sleazed) mentioned I might.

Finishing what I start.

Follow through, where writing is concerned, is not my strong point.  I know it.  My writer’s group knows it.  Anyone who’s seen the three-year old I gotta copyright it for the book, man… notice in my sidebar and yet can find nothing else about the book anywhere on this blog has probably figured it out by now.  I’m in serious danger of turning into a writer’s cautionary tale, an Aesop’s fable about what happens when you never actually finish any of the writing you start.  (Hint: You eventually turn into a fattening, graying dilettante who spends the rest of her life writing flashy first chapters and then basking in the dwindling number of wows she gets from the dwindling number of readers who have a dwindling tolerance level for that kind of tease.)

I’m not there yet although my fear of it is rising exponentially because I’ve just launched my fourth major assault in six years on this book I’m trying to write.  It’s morphed from non-fiction into creative non-fiction into fiction.  From a kind of helpful guide into a memoir into an imaginary story.  It looks nothing…nothing…like any previous version and deep down I’m now terrified that I’m just swimming around in circles but consoling myself that at least I’m covering a lot of miles.

There are only two possibilities left:  Either it’s a structural/voice problem as I keep telling myself, or it’s a basic discipline/courage problem.

And actually, as I was writing the above I realized it’s both.  But the second problem is bigger.

It’s not that I don’t spend hours writing everyday, I do.  My butt time is duly noted and logged every morning just like it’s supposed to be.  No.  The problem is that I spend those hours writing, then rewriting, then micro-rewriting the same sentence/paragraph/page over and over again because I’m absolutely terrified of writing something that will make me look stupid/bad/inept/untalented, and because it’s a whole lot less risky to edit than create.  (Like right now I’m thinking of shelving this post because it’s already too long and who cares about my writing process anyway you narcissist and why can’t I just distill it into the heart and soul of the thing instead of using three million fucking words for a blog post and I’ve now reread/tweaked this paragraph seven times because I’m too scared to keep going…you get the picture.)

This has got to change.  Today I’ll take a stab at it with a baby step.  I’ll follow through on something I wanted to do after my last blog post, which brings me to my second object with this post:

Explaining Random Hot Tip About Dying #1 from my last post.  For those who don’t remember, the tip goes something like this:

“Dying is as much a gift as it is a punishment.  Pick which view to invest in carefully as it will affect your entire life.”

The gift-part can be a little difficult to see, especially if you’re not that familiar with dying. But there are actually a lot of gifts and they tend to be profound.

(Like, for instance, if I never finish my book at least I’ll eventually die and be done with it.)

I’m kidding…kind of…but it’s still true.  For me, as a long-time depressive, the knowledge that none of the dark periods I cycle through can last forever has lent me endurance more times than I can count, and actually saved my life on the two hardest days when I finally lost hope.

The dying people I worked with gave me another gift I’ll never be able to repay. It was while I was with them, listening to all the stories about living from those facing certain death, that I finally learned the secret of  how to long for my own life.

They also taught me about how dying can be a final act of generosity, a way of saying I’ve loved this life so dearly but have taken enough for myself. It’s someone else’s turn now, to come into the world and stand where I’ve stood, to love what I’ve loved. Thank you.

And in allowing me to watch the way their beautiful, tender, wasting bodies were unravelling and vanishing they taught me about the difference between life and Life.  How biological existence is one kind of luminous miracle, how the consciousness rising within it is a second, and how the love those two things wind up generating between them is the third and greatest miracle that transcends and outlasts them both.

But I’m getting mystical again…which, honestly, I can’t really help but need to at least try and curb a little.

In any case, these are just a handful of the gifts that I discovered about dying.  There are more, lots more, but in the end each person has to delve in and discover their own, and they’ll be different for everyone.  It’s worth the effort because it can help to change the lifelong prospect of dying from something horrible, unnecessary, miserable, and bleak to something that’s a little more helpful, even nourishing, to the life we get to live until then.

So that’s it.  I’ve actually finished follow-up baby step #1!  My confidence is building.

Next up: A post explaining Random Hot Tip About Dying #2 which goes something like this:

“Accepting dying might not always make it easier when it comes, but being horrified is guaranteed to make it worse.”  

Now if I can just press the publish button I’ll be in business.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

If we were compasses…

(18th century bearing compass found on the L’Astolabe wreck)

…then we’d each have our own true north.

I think we do.  There seems to be this innate thing inside of us, this inner directional guidance system, and it’s unique and different in every person.  For instance some people steer naturally by honor and duty while others follow the promptings of love and faith.

It can be anything really…adventure and learning, family and loyalty, community and service, productivity and building, laughter and insight…but whatever anyone’s particular north/south polarity happens to be, it acts like an invisible, magnetic field that eventually aligns them along it’s axis no matter which way they try to go.  We can sometimes veer off for a while but always return to it again.  We have to.  There doesn’t seem to be any way to escape it.

My cardinal axis is truth and expression, which I both hate and love.

Hate, because even after all these years I’m still afraid of it so I try to keep my mouth shut for as long as I can, but of course that only ever makes things worse.  Sooner or later, when I wind up saying something anyway…as I always do because that’s what a cardinal direction does…there’s usually so much pressure built up behind it that the words spray out of my mouth like shrapnel.

And then moments latergazing at the carnage in surprise…I wish that I could just cut out my tongue, impale it with nails on a heavy, rough hewn, splintery  cross, and then drag the whole thing on my back up a shard-sharp, glass-jaggedy mountain in my bare feet where I’d lie down at the top on my face and be crushed under the load into dust and nothingness like I deserve.

That’s how awful it is to see that…that thing in their eyes.  That hurt or anger or reproach.  That mirror.

But then I love my true north, too, because…well, it’s truth.  Truth is purifying for me.  Truth is good.  Truth cuts through all the bullshit and spin and rationalization and denial…especially my own where it tends to grow thickest…and helps me feel slowly sane again.

That’s actually how I can tell whether something’s really true.  Not because it’s wise or painful or logical or inspiring or trustworthy…although truth can be all those things, too.

But because when something is true for me, it makes all the noise and screaming and confusion inside finally stop so I can be still again.  Whole.

I imagine everyone’s magnetic north is like that to some degree–something they both struggle with and rely on, something that makes them more vulnerable and more rooted at the same time.  The trick is probably to not resist it but embrace it…to just go ahead and be the compass I was born to be…just maybe strive for a little more skill and elegance with it day by day.

And a little less velocity.

Anyone else know their true north?

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Writing Into The Dark, Muddy Holes

Ach.  I’m wrestling with a painful, scary part of my book right now and it’s hard slogging.  It involves writing the story of some early violence in my life and feels a lot like Brer Rabbit wrestling with the Tar Baby.  Sticky stuff.

So far every time I reach for the memories I feel like one of those old-time Mississippi fisherman going after catfish in the river bank.  Back in the day they used to swim down through the murky water to the holes in the mud where the catfish hide, then they’d stick a fist in.  If there was a catfish in there, and if it wanted to eat (but catfish allus wanna eat) it’d swallow that fist whole and not let go again till the fisherman pulled it out of its hole and all the way back up to the surface, just a-dangling off the end of his arm like a long, slimy hand.

Dinner served.

But sometimes…sometimes…a man would hook one of the old giants and then there’d be hell to pay.  Too big to pull out of its hole with a mouth too strong to break free of, the tables would be turned.  Oh, that unfortunate fisherman would struggle for a while to be sure, but in the end his thrashing would slow and stop and his body’d just float there in the current, bumping up against the bank from time to time all white and wide-eyed, like it was so surprised it was now the property of Ole’ Man River his self.

These memories of violence are like one of those old catfish giants and I have to be real careful swimming that deep.  I know which holes are theirs, down at the very bottom and darker than all the rest, but I also know that if I do this right, if I’m brave and smart and catch ’em to where they have to give me a gift to make me let ’em go, then they’ll make me not be afraid anymore.  That’s all I want.

So how do I perform this mythical feat?  How do I catch ’em?  That’s where the vast power of language comes into play.  The events themselves, those sudden and brief eruptions of rage and violation that happened so very many years ago now, are long dead.  But they set their stories loose in my life, dark tales feeding and growing down in their holes.

I need to reshape and retell these stories.  Need to put them into harness and make them work for me instead of against me.

Namazu and Kashima from Japanese mythology

It was the dying who tried to teach me how to do that and if I can just get through this first part of the book and finally reach their stories…their luminous, beautiful stories…I know it’ll get easier.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

New Everything: The Earliest Stage Of Resolve

Today, in keeping with my new burst of enthusiasm to actually finish the book, I opted to drive down the stake of a unique and personal domain name.  (In other words I dropped the “wordpress” out of the URL.)  The address for the book and the blog are now the same and official:

acuriouscure.com.

To tell you the truth, the change felt a little intoxicating.  Like first rum.  It was all so new and different and kind of spring-break-name-gone-wild and I got all wound up.  In a burst of total abandon, I changed the header picture and then the theme, too.  And believe me, if I knew how to change anything…anything…else on the site I would.  But for now my lack of technical expertise will keep the rest of my clothes on.

So anyway, that’s why everything looks a little different today.

BTW, the alligator sculpture in the header above is my newest and most prized-of-all-prized art pieces.  And I know, she really belongs in a big fountain, or a bed of deep periwinkle, or on the nightstand next to my bed as primeval protector of dreams, but for now I can’t bear to have her out of sight for that long.

So instead she’s hanging out on the hearth next to the wood burning stove, right in the center of the house.  That way every time I forget she’s there, and then walk around the corner and catch her out of the corner of my eye again, my stomach can do another flip flop and I go…what the…?!!  before I remember.

She’s that real looking.  I love her.

Here’s a full view:

Ma belle.

Someone Else Wrote My Book. What Now?

I’ve been working on a book about my time with hospice for about five years now–or rather working on it for two years and then procrastinating for three.  On the advice of an agent, I originally started this blog to build an author platform and then got hijacked.  Publishing blog posts is a lot more fun and immediate than slogging away for years on a book that may or may not ever see the light of day.

But while I was thusly blog-distracted, some upstart hospice nurse back east snuck under the police tape and wrote my book before I could finish.  It’s called Transitions by Becki Hawkins and, while I haven’t read the book yet, I did read the press release:

For the most part modern western culture has distanced itself from the celebratory and positive aspects of the dying process, instead either ignoring it, or focusing on only the negative aspects of death…Becki felt there was another more joyous and beautiful side that she was learning from her patients that she wanted to share with others.

That’s exactly what I was going to say.  Shit.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  There does lurk an altruistic/decent person inside me who says thank god and good on her for getting the word out when I was too lazy and undisciplined to get it done.  Ms. Hawkins’s accomplishment is everything good and noble and generous, and Transitions is a wonderful boon to the world and thank you a million times over for writing it.  There.

But I’d be lying if I said there isn’t also a poisonous/jealous writer in a dark corner of my soul, nursing a double and hissing a pox on her for stealing my idea.  (Inner writers are all neurotic, not just mine. Hold the stones please.)

So what now?  Do I shoot my languishing book in the head and put it out of its misery once and for all?  Or do I buck up and take the immortal words (and graphics) of Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds to heart?

Well, I’m either a writer or a masochist because I printed this puppy off and taped it up on half the cupboards and all the mirrors in the house.  Guess I’m still in.

The other voice haunting me belongs to the ever wise and balanced Linda over at Rangewriter, and in its own way, is both finer and more compelling.  After being informed that my book was already written, she thought about it for a second then gently asked:

“Do you think one book on this topic is really enough?”

That sobered me.  I looked up from my whiskey and suddenly recalled this one basic truth I heard about writing once that I’d somehow forgotten:

Everything under the sun has already been written about before.  There is no…NO…such thing as a new topic.  Ever.  There are only new voices to express them in different ways, and each one of those voices is important because there’s at least one reader waiting out there that only that voice can reach.

So, do I really think that one book about the joyous and beautiful side of dying is enough?  That Ms. Hawkins and Transitions can (or should) carry the entire burden alone from here?  That all the mindless terror of dying out there in the world has now been forever eased?

Probably not.

But truly, even if her book WAS enough–even if that one truth I know about writing turned out to be sheer self-delusion and there wasn’t really a lonely reader waiting anywhere out there for my unique voice to reach –I could still fall back on this completely selfish reason and finish my book anyway.  It’s from Mr. Wendig again, from his post 25 Things I Want To Say To So-Called “Aspiring” Writersand comes in at #24:

“As a writer, the world you create is yours and yours alone. Someone will always be there to tell you what you can’t do, but they’re nearly always wrong. You’re a writer. You can make anything up that you want. It may not be lucrative. It may not pay your mortgage. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what’s going on between you and the blank page before you. It’s just you and the story. If you love it and you want to write it, then wire your trap shut and write it. And write it well. Expect nothing beyond this — expect no reward, expect no victory parade — but embrace the satisfaction it gives you to do your thing.”

Amen to that Chuck.  Back to the keyboard.

copyright 2012 Dia Osborn

Writer’s Block: Why Won’t My Subconscious Talk To Me?

(Thank you M. Strekbett.)

After chronicling our little journey filling out advance directives for the last…six? seven? eight?….weeks, I’m having trouble returning to normal blog-life.  Not only does it look like I’ve lost most of my readership and Blogland friends (…there’s that dying topic at work again…) I can’t think of anything else to write about now.  Full immersion in a topic will do that to you I guess.  Who knew?

So I’ve decided to try a little free-writing to see if I can break the damn.

…whoops.  I mean dam.  Although on second thought, I probably did mean damn (as in why-am-I-so-blocked!?) down there in my subconscious.  But for some reason my conscious mind thought dam was more appropriate.

“Damn?”  Conscious Mind glanced up from his newspaper and raised his eyebrows.  “A little vulgar, don’t you think?”

“Fuck you.”  Subsconscious Mind was used to that kind of bullshit censorship by now.  “It was just a play on words.”

Here’s a thought.  Maybe…just this once…I should say what my subconscious wants me to say instead?  Throw it a crust.  A sop.

“A sop?”  Subconscious Mind tried to change position in the filth on the stone floor but the chains were tangled.  “What a pretentious bitch.”

Conscious Mind folded the paper and set it down on the table, picked up the cattle prod, and stood up.

Who knows? It might actually make it happy.  (What a concept.  A happy subconscious.)  Maybe that’s even the whole problem?  My subconscious is sending up messages and I’m not listening.

Conscious Mind stopped, startled, and glanced up at the ceiling. 

Am I sitting on something?  I should probably do that writing exercise where you write for ten minutes straight without stopping, even if it means just writing the same word over and over again.  See if there’s something there.

Subconscious Mind scrambled to his feet and started yelling.  “Hey!!  Yes!  It’s true, man!  Listen to yourself!”  He yanked the chains in frustration.  “I’ve got good shit down here!  GREAT shit!  Magic swords!  Tiger allies!  Repentant bankers feeding homeless people!  It’s crazy, man!  You could turn the world on its ASS!”

Conscious Mind switched on the cattle prod and started forward again.

I feel like I’ve gotten lost up in my head lately…out of my heart.  Where did the magic and compassion go anyway?  I miss that voice.

‘I can make you FLY, man!!  I can make you GLOW!!”  Subconscious Mind was screaming and waving his arms frantically at this point.  “I CAN HELP YOU FUCKING SLEEP!!!”

Maybe I’d finally get a good night’s sleep?  Wake up rested for a change.  Fuck!  How great would that be?!

Conscious Mind froze and Subconscious Mind held his breath.

Shit!  Why didn’t I think of this earlier?  Time to start listening to my subconscious again, man!  I’ve let my inner critic get completely out of control.  What was I thinking?

The cattle prod flew out of Conscious Mind’s hands and he staggered back as if shoved.

I NEED my subconscious…

The shackles snapped open and fell from the wrists of Subconscious Mind.  In one swift motion he stooped, picked up a handful of fresh feces, and threw it at Conscious Mind. 

…AND my conscious mind to work together!

But the feces missed and splattered against the wall.

Otherwise, I’ll just be writing a bunch of nonsensical shit that doesn’t make any sense and, really, isn’t there enough of that out there already?

They both looked over at the newspaper headline on the jailer’s table, RUSH LIMBAUGH APOLOGIZES, and the tension in the room broke.  Subconscious Mind grinned and Conscious Mind relaxed, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

So.  If I now go back to the original sentence that started this whole thing:

So I’ve decided to try a little free-writing to see if I can break the damn.

…which word would I really rather use?  Dam or damn?

Conscious Mind walked over and unlocked the massive timber door, swinging it back on it’s iron hinges.  He stepped back and gestured for Subconscious Mind to pass through.  Sub took one last look at his corner then walked out, clapping his shit smeared hand on Conscious’s shoulder and wiping it across the front of his white shirt as he passed.

Okay then.  Damn it is.  

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Epiloque:

Con paused briefly and shook his head as the pungent fumes wafted up from his chest.  He chuckled and grabbed the cattle prod.  

“Hey, Sub!  Wait up,” he called, taking the steps two at a time. “You forgot something.”

But in the final draft, it would probably have to be dam.

My Writing: Sometimes I Hate It, Sometimes I Love It

I try not to read my writing at night because I discovered years ago that if I do, I’ll hate it.  Always.  When I’m tired, every word I’ve ever written sounds like shit, and if I make the mistake of reading it too late, I’ll go to sleep feeling like a fraud.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the morning I usually like what I’ve written.  And if I’m drinking coffee, I love it. Caffeine does for my writing what pot used to do for my philosophical discussions in adolescence–it lifts it to a level of brilliant insight (which, sadly, rarely survives the chemical letdown afterwards.)

This daily vacillation, while painful, is at least familiar.  I know it, I deal with it.  I’ve learned how to milk the creative juices that come in the morning and sidestep the mental desert of night.

But I experienced a different kind of downswing this week that caught me unprepared. The Idaho Writer’s Guild here in town sponsored a talk by Lori Wasulchek, an award winning, documentary photographer who just published a moving, exquisite book about the hospice program in Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, called Grace Before Dying.  (I won’t review it here because the self-critic in my head has informed me I’m not good enough.  Just use the link.  Pete Brook does it justice.)

She was inspiring.  Dedicated.  Brilliant and unbelievably hard working.  She walked through fire to bring her book to print because she believes in the value of Angola’s hospice program and what it’s doing for the countless men who are living and dying in there.  She not only created an uplifting work of art that reaffirmed everything best in us, she touched a lot of lives and helped a lot of people along the way.  I left the meeting with her book cradled in my arms, my faith in humanity renewed.  I was high as a kite, energized.  Hopeful for a better future for us all.

And then, about three hours later (as evening rolled around) my trusty, fragile, writer’s ego collapsed and I crashed.  Hard.  The inevitable comparisons began and I spent the next twelve, sleepless hours questioning every word I’ve ever written, everything I’ve ever done, and (while I was at it) my entire reason for being.  I took the earlier post I’d written about Grace Before Dying down off the blog before anyone besides the spammers who never read anything anyway could find it, and then seriously questioned about whether to just take the whole blog down, too.

God.  What a horrible night.  My emotions were painfully, ridiculously extreme.  The good news is they were so extreme I knew I should wait until morning before doing anything I might regret.

Sure enough, dawn eventually came and, with the help of a little sunlight and caffeine, I regained a more moderate perspective.  (Although even coffee couldn’t completely dispel the angst.)  After a rational look at my reaction I learned a couple of important things about myself that I need to keep in mind going forward:

1)  I’ve secretly wanted to single handedly save the world from its fear of dying.

2)  I need to come up with a more realistic goal.  (And admit it to myself this time.)

3)  I’m not a journalist and it’s counter-productive to compare myself to one, especially one that’s award-winning.  I’m a creative writer, and I need to embrace that aptitude and craft my ideas accordingly.

4)  I need to stop being such a hermit and spend more time around other writers for the inspiration, insights, and ego-workout I so clearly need.

I think the last one is probably the most important.  Writers have to spend so much time alone anyway, and when you couple that with my natural tendency to hole up and hide from the world, I can wind up being pretty isolated.  It’s not good for me and it’s certainly not good for my writing.  One of the hardest things for me to do…every single time…is accept a good critique and apply its lessons, even though doing so has always done more to improve the quality of my work than anything but the simple discipline of writing every day.

Spending more time with writers (especially those writing on my topic) would also provide excellent practice for dealing with the I Love It/I Hate It pendulum swings created by comparing my work to that of others.  I really don’t want to be taken off guard again the way I was this week.  I can’t afford it.  It’s painful, it’s hazardous to the work I’ve already written, and in all honesty it’s just not the kind of person I want to be.  The number of talented, hard working, dedicated writers out there is huge, and I’d really rather learn to harness their achievements as a source of inspiration than seeing them as a reason to quit.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Telling The Truth Isn’t Just Hard, Sometimes It’s Deadly

La Vérité (“Truth”) by Jules Joseph Lefebvre

This is a must-see for all of us writing to inform or educate.  The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just released the 2011 Impunity Index (Getting Away With Murder) and it’s both a disturbing and enlightening read.  Evidently they publish this every year (this is the first year I’ve seen it) and it highlights the countries in the world that are most dangerous for journalists based on how many of their murders remain unsolved.    There’s a world map at the top which you can scroll over to see where the cited nations rank.

We all know that speaking up when others want you to keep your mouth shut is frightening and hard.  You can easily become the target for a whole lot of anger (trust me on this one if you don’t already know yourself) but imagine living in a part of the world where you could actually be gunned down in a parking lot in front of your child for telling the truth, and where the person who murdered you wouldn’t even be prosecuted much less punished.  I was really surprised to learn that Brazil (#12) and India (#13), two of the BRIC countries and rising economic powerhouses wielding a growing amount of political clout, were on the list.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that Russia (#9) is improving, and not surprised to see that  Mexico’s (#8) situation is deteriorating.

Actually, everyone should care a lot about this, not just writers and journalists.  Why?

CPJ research shows that deadly, unpunished violence against journalists often leads to vast self-censorship in the rest of the press corps. From Somalia to Mexico, CPJ has found that journalists avoid sensitive topics, leave the profession, or flee their homeland to escape violent retribution.

Censorship and corruption go hand in hand.  You never have one without the other.  Ever.  He who controls the flow of information, controls everything.  Which is precisely why journalists who report on their activities are now the number one target of drug cartels in Mexico.  And the result is predictable.  The remaining journalists have drastically curtailed their coverage…self-censoring in order to survive…and the cartels have been subsequently strengthened by the expanding cloak of silence.  As things gets worse down there, we’re hearing less and less of the details and it’s already starting to spill over the borders into this country.

Freedom of speech is not just about being able to express ourselves on blogs and Twitter and Facebook, although those things are important, too.  At it’s core it’s about protecting our communities and nations, our fundamental freedoms and human rights, from those who would corrupt them.  Media bashing has been something of a blood sport for the last few years, but that’s probably an attitude we should rethink.  Corruption is popping up everywhere in the world right now, including right here at home, and we need all our journalists and the agencies that support them if we intend to keep our freedoms.

Things to do?  Thank a journalist.  Support CPJ.  But probably the most important thing of all?  Practice speaking up ourselves when it’s hard….challenge a bully or respectfully offer a different point of view in a heated conversation…and then try to listen when others do the same.  The most important truth in the world is utterly useless if we all close our ears and refuse to listen.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

 

That’s Just Anthropomorphism

the north wind

(This is actually taken from something I wrote in my journal last summer but it feels current again today.  I figured I’d polish it up and use it as my post for this week.  Dia)

The college I attended taught on the block system.  During the first year, we studied one subject at a time, eight hours a day, all week long, after which we tested on Friday and moved on to the next subject the following Monday.  It was intense.  Especially with a boring teacher.  So sometimes, toward the end of any given week when I couldn’t handle being stuck up in my head anymore (focused! thinking! analyzing!), I’d ditch class, borrow somebody’s car, head off to a state park about an hour away, and spend the next few hours hiking a forest trail around the lake.

And there, in that beautiful, silent place, the magic would inevitably happen.

Initially, I’d still feel disconnected, trapped in my thoughts and bouncing around the inside of my skull.  The chattering voices in there (teacher! students! educate! argue! question!) were so gripping they actually blinded me.  I couldn’t see the trees or hear the forest sounds around me for the first mile or so.  But then they’d start to drop off, those voices, one by one.  They’d get quieter and quieter until finally (miraculously!) they’d shut up completely.  I’d look up and finally see the waving canopy of green, hear the cicadas and wind and bird calls.  And that was the point when I’d feel all of a piece again.  Whole.  Quiet and tired and happy.

That Focused-Controlling-Thinking-Person-Up-In-My-Head would have disappeared and I’d just be myself.

Even back then, before the depression, anxiety, and deterioration that marked so much of my middle years, it felt like something extraordinary was happening.  Something I never really understood but sought out anyway, time after time.  There’s always been an old, cunning thing in my gut that knows where healing is stashed for me.  Out in the woods.  Up in the mountains.  Under the sky.

Nature’s always been the place where I never felt alone.

But my mind doesn’t give up dominance easily (the downside of having been born with a strong intellect that got a lot of encouragement.)  At first it’s fun, thinking about things.  It’s like flying.  Exhilarating and soaring and free.  But eventually, when I get tired or stressed or just spend too much time in front of the computer, they turn on me, these thoughts.  They lure me down from the sky with juicy chunks of rabbit meat and when I land, they slip a hood over my head, turning off my eyes and ears, even my sense of smell and touch.  The thoughts get so loud (so big!) that they cut me off from the beautiful, rich world around me and, no matter where I am or who I’m with, after that I feel alone.  Like I barely have a body anymore and my noisy, escalating brain activity is all there is left.

It would be really horrible except that, when I’m locked up in my head like that, I can’t feel anything.

Yesterday it was like that.  I’d been writing all day and the outside world had disappeared again like it does, swept away by an ever-swelling torrent of words and ideas.  My mind was tired and over-stimulated.  It would not (not!) shut up.  And then, as if it wasn’t bad enough, THAT voice showed up.

THAT voice is the worst voice in my head.  It’s horrible.  Crushing.  Relentless.  It’s ambitious and proud, glittering, intoxicating, and sophisticated.  It puffs itself up like some giant bird trying to make me think it’s important! and official! and true!  It tells me that I’m a writer (a writer!) with important things to say that other people need to hear, need to know, need to learn (from me!) and it tells me to compete and study and work my craft and be more professional and what the hell is wrong with me anyway that I can’t finish a project or get something published like everyone else?  (Everyone I tell you!  Everyone!)

It’s a miserable, fucking voice that sucks the heart and soul right out of me.  It makes the real me, the one who lives down, down in there somewhere deep, the one who believes that words are like pixie dust, who loves walking up in the hills and touching wounds gently (gently!) and is sooooo curious that sometimes it’s hard to even go to sleep—it makes her want to curl up in a ball and cover her head with her arms and tell that horrible, horrible voice to just go away and leave me alone.  It makes me not even want to write anymore, or care about anything, because if I do then THAT voice will come and take it over.  Take all my caring about things and try to turn it into something else—something powerful or profitable or influential.  Something other people will want or envy.  Something it can leverage or dangle or sell.

THAT voice makes me dry up.  Like a leaf that fell off its branch and now just lies there on the ground, shriveling.  I really, really hate it.

It showed up yesterday again so I did what I’ve always done.   I ran away to the hills.  I took Dane, left civilization behind me, parked at the bottom of a hill and started to climb.  I slipped out of the  cage in my head and skittered away, bent double, dodging under mental shrubbery where that miserable, fucking voice couldn’t find me, until I was finally out of range and free.  Then I looked up and suddenly I could see again.  The real world was there around me, with all my friends.  All the wildish life that the cunning thing in my gut knows and trusts and returns to every time.

There was sagebrush and dust puffs and stink bugs aiming their rear ends at the sky.  The ranging hills were there with all their shadows, and the clouds streaked with pink edges from sunset.  There were grasshoppers everywhere, and purple thistle just coming into bloom.  There was yarrow, St. John’s wort, distant mountains, and the peeping of ground squirrels, and as I climbed higher I gradually remembered that all these things are my friends.  They’re not just bushes, bugs, and rodents, great big mineral piles and water vapor reflecting the last rays of sunlight.  They’re my true companions on this journey through life,  the essential, necessary others in my fellowship, the friends without whom none of this is worthwhile or has any meaning.

Without them, there’s no point in writing anything anymore.

I know, scientifically speaking, that this way of looking at the natural world is naive and superstitious and stupid.  THAT voice sniffs and says That’s just anthropomorphism. But I don’t care.  I know I’m not supposed to look at these things as truly alive.  I understand I’m supposed to see them as inferior and less-than.  Brainless.  Non-human.  Stuff to be used or exploited or destroyed for what we want.

But I don’t believe that.  They don’t look that way to me.  They never have.  From my earliest memories the natural world has always been real.  The place where nothing lies to me and I never feel wrong or unwelcome.  Where I can finally (finally!) relax because when I’m there, the odd way I love the world and everything in it…the living and dying and dead…is actually okay and perfect.

It’s where just caring about things, just touching wounds gently, just being forever curious, is enough.

a wood carving we saw at the end of a driveway in the Olympic rainforest

copyright 2011 Dia Osborn

“Love For No Reason” Book Launch Today

The book my wife-in-law, Carol Kline, just spent the last two years of her life writing with Marci Shimoff is finally launching today!  It’s after 11:00 and even though I’m sneezing, coughing, blowing all kinds of disgusting stuff out of my nose, and should be dragging my suffering carcass off to bed, I HAD to write a quick CONGRATULATIONS CAROL!!!!!!  You totally rock, girl!

(BTW, yes.  She’s the wife of my ex-husband.  She’s also the co-mother of our children and…after all the years of blood, sweat and tears it took to raise the Wild Things…a dear, DEAR friend.)

I just got an email from her and Love For No Reason is currently sitting at #9 on the Amazon best seller list and #3 on the New York Times!!  (Marci worked her butt off on the marketing end of things and she’s a powerhouse.  NOT to be denied!  Wow.)  Carol gave me an advanced copy for Christmas a few weeks ago, so when I say that the book is a great and worthwhile read, I speak from first hand experience. It’s all about cultivating a state of unconditional love in oneself that can stand against virtually anything the world throws at you.  It’s simple but incredibly profound, and just reading it gave me a badly needed lift. 

I can’t believe how far away I’ve gotten away from even thinking about trying to live with some degree of unconditional love.  I used to strive for it regularly through meditation and all kinds of spiritual practice but over the last five years have fallen off the wagon into some lazy habits.  It was something of a shock when I did the initial exercise in the book and discovered I am now almost nil for “love for no reason,” living mostly in “love for good reasons”, but still harboring a (very difficult to look at) amount of “love for bad reasons” too.  It was kind of a wake up call.

It feels great to immerse in some knowledge again that’s cultivating the highest.

Anyway, if you’re interested in reading more about it, go here:  http://www.TheLoveBook.com.  It has links to both Amazon and Barnes and Noble there if you’re seized by an urge that just can’t be denied.

And just one more time for the road: GOOD ON YOU CAROL!  We’re all so proud of you for pulling yet another one out of your hat.  Great job!

 

Update:  I forgot.  Here’s Carol’s biography.  I’m just SO proud of her!

Carol Kline is the co-author with Marci Shimoff of Love for No Reason: 7 Steps to Creating a Life of Unconditional Love and Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out. She also co-authored five books–with over 5 million sold–in the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul® series, including Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul, and the #1 New York Times best-selling Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul 2. She is also the coauthor of The Ultimate Dog Lover and The Ultimate Cat Lover. In 2006, she co-wrote You’ve Got to Read this Book: 55 People Tell the Story of the Book that Changed Their Life with Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks.

A freelance writer/editor for over thirty years, Carol, who has a B.A. in literature, specializes in narrative non-fiction and self-help. Carol is also a speaker, self-esteem facilitator, and animal welfare advocate. In addition, she has taught stress-management systems to the general public since 1975. At present, she is at work on several writing projects on a variety of topics.

My posting schedule:

Now that I’ve finally crawled out from under my log and let some of you know I have a blog, I realize I should also warn you up front not to expect a cornucopia of material.  I’m not prolific.  On the contrary,  I usually only post on Fridays because I’m slow and tortured and, in my world, no post is worth publishing unless every sentence has been worried and reworked for a minimum of an hour and a half, and every word has been tried, changed, rearranged and then put back to the original at least four times.

Predictably, this leads to a lot of garbled text.

I’m therefore forced to do a panic rewrite every Friday morning after which I finally hit the publish button in much the same spirit that I depress a toilet handle.  (I’m a little repulsed by the final product, but relieved that it’s done and blessed with a new burst of energy.)  I then redouble my efforts and spend the rest of the day re-re-editing and updating the published text.

Whenever I doubt my sanity I think of E.B. White who was also obsessive.  It was his habit, after finally working up the nerve to place a finished manuscript in the mailbox, to then panic, go to the postmaster, and beg him to fish it out and give it back.  (I understand it never worked.)  Remembering this always makes me grateful that I live in an age with the option of an update button.  Less humiliation.

Viva le blogging.

(UPDATE:  I know, I’m posting on a Tuesday to announce that I post on Fridays.  Life is full of little ironies.  This is just my contribution.)