On Purpose

Three weeks from today I will be in Iowa City. I’ve been going there for the past five years for the Writing Festival. My friend Selene came with me one year; a friend asked her, “Are you going to Iowa on purpose?”

My friend Selene being purposeful.

My friend Selene being purposeful.

So she wrote a poem titled “Iowa on Purpose.”

I’m a California girl through and through. Born here, lived here most of my life. Northern California, of course. Though I hear that Southern California has its charms.

What I like about California is its diversity of topography. Within four hours I can be in the mountains or Mendocino. Within five I can be at a dormant volcano or Hollywood.

It’s an interesting place California.

But I go to Iowa on purpose. It has something that California doesn’t: summer thunderstorms, lightning bugs, and cicadas that sing as day changes into dusk. They have waited ten years to emerge and sing their songs.

Talk about patience.

I might be learning patience; trusting that life unfolds as it should, if I pay attention to nuance. Nuance must be what a ciccada pays attention to – waits for the moment when it’s called to emerge and join the chorus. Talk about a miraculous moment.

Maybe I’ll try and record their music this year.

Last night, after dinner with friends, we talked about transformation. One friend, who takes the role of devil’s advocate, questioned whether we could ever really transform; took the position that we can never escape our birth language.

It was a difficult and interesting conversation for me, because I had to articulate what I meant about transformation, without having to be right and win the argument – an argument I didn’t know I was having.

I tried using the term paradigm shift, but he got irritated with the word, “shift.”

I asked him why it irritated him, because that was not my intent. He never answered that question. I think it was an important question, but he did not.

In the end he was satisfied that I wasn’t talking woo-woo nonsense, though I’m not sure he’s convinced, in the way I am, that we can transform.

So here’s what I’m thinking might be the metaphor for what I mean by transform.


I sometimes think that catepillars are the most courageous creatures on the planet. They crawl along and at some point heed the call that tells them to cocoon. While they are in the cocoon, their matter turns gelatinous, they no longer look anything like they did when they crawled along the ground. In fact, they have no discernable form.

But then their gelatinous stuff forms itself into a butterfly. Their DNA changes.

They struggle to emerge, then have to wait for their wings to dry so they can fly, for what a day or so?

I mean what an experience: go to sleep, knowing a world that you only perceive crawling on the ground, then wake up with the ability to fly – to look down on the world you used to inhabit.

Maybe that’s what astronauts experience when they look back down on earth from space.

So maybe we can be caterpillars or cicadas. Trust that when a crisis gives us the opportunity to make a fundamental change in our belief systems – there isn’t enough for everyone, for example – that it is life calling us take our next step – which could be to take wing and fly or sing our unique song.

Dick Cheney challenges my ability to be compassionate. Why, oh, why does he and his family want us to be afraid – be very afraid. Perhaps his mechanical heart has too many shorts in it.

8 thoughts on “On Purpose

  1. Transformation is good. It may even be possible, though I doubt it’s ever easy.

    A caterpillar’s DNA, however, does not change. Technical point in biology, but there you are.



  2. Jim,

    I looked it up. You’re right, the DNA doesn’t change. What they do is access DNA that wasn’t accessible before.




  3. Karen, as you know going to Iowa is always purposeful for me — and since so many wonderful things come from the Writers’ Workshop, I have to believe it’s something in the air — or is it in the bars of Iowa City? Whichever, I loved your paragraph on it.


    • Wink, well I think it might be the air in the bars. How’s that for putting it all together. I’m so sorry I missed you when you were here. Life has been — well, strange. Any chance you could make it down to Iowa City on June 13th? That’s my one free day (it’s a very intense schedule once my classes start). Also, I’m afraid that I have hurt Caryl, as I haven’t been able to schedule a visit with her the last two times I was in Iowa City. (The time before that I spent some time in the emergency room at Mercy(?) Hospital. If you have to go to and emergency room, it’s the one to go to. Long story, short version, I was dehydrated due to food poisoning — down for the count for two days. I seem to get sick at weird times. Anyway, any chance you can make it on the 13th and maybe we can hook Caryl and Marcia in, too? Unless of course, you sometimes want to sneak in and out of town.


  4. Karen, I have to be in Aberdeen SD on the 11th and not sure yet if I’ll have to stay overnight. I’ll see. I am so sorry I didn’t know you were there two years ago — Williamsburg had a bicentennial celebration that went on for 5 days and would have given you enough material to write a book. What a hoot.
    Ill let you know if I can get down there on the 13th.



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