Writing by Hand

writing by handI got As in penmanship when I was a kid. I found an essay I had written my senior year of high school—don’t remember even what it was about, just that I was applying for some kind of senior-year prize. I could read every word. My penmanship was neat and even.

I don’t know when my penmanship turned illegible. You would never know my name by reading my signature. Sometimes, I can’t even discern what I was saying in my journals—not even by context. I’m certain there are brilliant gems, words of an insightful genius lost to posterity because it’s impossible to interpret the penmanship.

Lately, I’ve made a commitment to writing so I can read what I’ve written by hand.

Writing by hand. I call this writing acoustically. When I’m in my Writing Shed, I use a fountain pen—a black fat, elegant pen made by Mont Blanc and left to me by my mentor, Ed Brush. Recently, I have discovered Levenger ink—Raven Black.

My hand-written writing comprises two things: recording the Animal Tarot Cards I draw each day, and my morning pages. I sometimes skip my morning pages. I think that is okay.

As I wrote today, I noticed I was writing legibly, neatly, evenly, taking the time to form each letter, careful to spell words correctly, and punctuate for meaning. The slow flow of the ink filled the white space on the page letter-by-letter, word-by-word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph. Its clean smell wafted up from the page.

I slowed down. I took the time to smell the ink.

An actor friend wrote on his Facebook page today that he was taking his next step without a plan. His other plans had all fallen through, so he was just moving forward, leaving behind fear of what others thought of him, embracing his own life.

He was writing with ink.

My career path in life has been pretty non-existent. I got diverted from a career in health care administration when I quit a job after ending a relationship with my boss. I became a bar tender so I could spend time with my writing.

That was nearly 40 years ago. That decision was the turning point of my life—the moment I decided to embrace my own life, though I didn’t know it at the time. I backslid off and on, taking paths that had clearly marked signposts. I failed miserably anytime I tried. The signposts annoyed me.

Where Fred Astaire aspired for perfection, Gregory Hines would allow a mistake to take him to the next move, making it up as he went along if the occasion called for it.

He improvised.

It has occurred to me that improvisation, rather than a career, has determined my path in life.

The constant has been writing, though it has only been the last ten or so years that I found my voice.

I love writing on a computer. It allows me to keep pace when my mind is racing. Its fluid nature matches the way my mind writes, then edits. Backspacing letter by letter to erase a word, highlighting whole sentence or paragraphs to cut them, or cut then paste them somewhere else. Seeing the change instantly in black and white without the distraction of crossed out words, scratched out sentences or paragraphs, arrows and notes to indicate where to move a circled word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph.

It has its own flow—writing on a computer.

But writing by hand, with the pen that once belonged to Ed Brush, the flow of ink filling the empty page, the smell of ink transporting me into the moment—that’s an improvisational moment for me.

Much like life, there’s no Undo command when you write by hand. Make a mistake. Then improvise.

The Changing of the Light

I am a little disappointed that Mama Quail left without saying goodbye.

Mama Quail was nowhere to be found the last I saw of the Quail family. Her babies, I think it was they—no longer fuzzy but still a fuzzy brown color—lifted from the ground with a flutter of wings as I started down our long driveway to retrieve our New York Times.

She had taught them well. They recognized an intruder and fluttered away in different directions. If I had been their predator, I would not have known which way to follow.

It is the Autumnal Equinox. Equal day and equal night. Light and dark share the stage equally as our part of the world makes its journey to the Winter Solstice. Dark has dominion during the coming season—staying longer each day until the Solstice, when Light starts its ascent.

The Harvest Moon rose big and bright this week, lighting up the San Juan de Fuca Straits. It’s called the Harvest Moon because in the times before we (we, as in humans) learned how to light the dark with electricity, its brightness extended the day so our food could be harvested into the night.

The beginning of a time of gratitude.

I have always liked the Fall—the way the air cools, the trees adorn themselves with new colors, the light shines through an almost invisible haze. It has always seemed like the beginning to me. Pagans recognize that. It is when they celebrate the end of one year and beginning of the next.

As our home begins this orderly transformation from one season to another, we humans are walking a different path. A mad man uses chemical weapons to slaughter innocents in Syria. Mad men randomly slaughter people going about the mundane motions of their daily lives. Politicians fluff their feathers to appear bigger than they are, threatening world chaos if they don’t get their way.

When God hates the same people you do, you have created God in your own image.

I never know how to answer the question, “Do you believe in God?” I guess it seems like the wrong question to me, as if there are only two answers, “Yes,” or “No.”

It’s not so much I believe in God, as I see there is an orderly transformation from one season to the next. Not orderly in the sense of schedule or chronology or predictability. Orderly in that one season turns into the next. Life begins and Life ends and then a new Life begins. There is pain, there is sorrow, there is joy, there is ecstasy.

If might makes right, there is no room for love in this world.

I don’t think that means being passive. I think it means recognizing that life is more a rock-scissors-paper world than one where owning an assault weapon ensures your safety.

But, what do I know?

I know that today is the Fall Equinox. It is my seventeenth wedding anniversary and we just purchased a home on Happy Valley Road. I will soon be living in Happy Valley where the elk wander through from time to time and the Olympics stand still in the background—a good vantage point to witness the changing of light.

Still. I’m a little disappointed that Mama Quail didn’t stop to say goodbye.

The White Wall

“I wish I’d paid better attention. I didn’t yet think of time as finite. I didn’t fully appreciate the stories she told me until I became adult, and by then I had to make do with snippets pasted together, a film projected on the back of my mind.”
—Jessica Maria Tuccelli, Glow

I am at that time in life. I want to ask:

“Did he give me a music box covered with pink roses?”

“Did you go to Fisk?”

“Did you give new meaning to Debutante Ball—with the busboy?”

But they are all gone, the people that could answer those question.

Years ago, I don’t remember which television news magazine reported it, I saw a story about a woman, an artist, who had received a devastating diagnosis: she had an aneurysm that could burst at any moment and she would die.

She lived with this knowledge for a year. A moment-by-moment experience of life. After a year, they discovered that she had been misdiagnosed.

This is what I remember about her back-story.

Sometime after that year, a gallery owner came to her studio. He noticed a subtle, but significant difference between her paintings. She told him her story and they realized that the differences he noticed reflected that year of living with the knowledge that life, time for her, was finite. There was a distinct before and after to her work.

He wanted a gallery show that told that story. They decided on a mural that would take up one wall of the gallery. She wanted it to be done with pastels. She wanted it to be up for one month, and one month only. And she wanted the opening to be reserved for people who were living with a terminal diagnosis.

I believe she spent a month on the mural, weeping as she worked, her fingers bleeding from working pastel onto plaster. As I remember the mural, it was a series of framed scenes, scenes as you would see them through a window, as if you were doing something mundane, happened to look up, and see a snippet of life. Simple but glorious.

At the opening, the invited guests passed through slowly, weeping. Weeping with joy and sorrow.

After one month, she stepped back to look at it one more time, then wept again as she took scrub brush in hand and washed away her work of love and passion.

But a ghost of the image remained. The gallery, with her permission, covered it with white paint.

In a way, it was the coat of white paint that touched me the most. Behind it, the ghost of the mural remains.

I have come to think that that is how it is when we die. We disappear behind the coat of white paint, but the ghost of our experience remains—in the memory and hearts of those who experienced us.

I stand with my back to the white wall, its coat of paint between me and the people who are gone. I have memories, some vivid and clear, others misty and muddled. I cannot verify any of them. I cannot point to them as facts. But I trust their presence behind that coat of white paint, and that their presence in my life has shaped it.

Low, Slow, Rumbling Thunder

Thunder greeted me this morning.

Not the loud clap that makes you wonder what’s going on with the gods up there in the sky. Are they restless? Pissed off? Fighting with each other? In the throes of a bowling tournament?

No, this was that low, slow, rumbling thunder, like the distant sound of a train passing through.

When the calendar flips over to September, I think autumn has arrived, even though it isn’t official (according to the gods) until the equinox, still a couple of weeks away.

The weather up here in my corner of the northwest is cooperating with my rhythm of the seasons—a beautiful rainy day.

A quail family has taken up residence in my front yard. Or maybe I’ve taken up residence in theirs. There are seven little ones and I assume the mother who watches over them as they peck away at the ground. I don’t know what they are foraging for, but they seem to be successful.

They don’t seem to mind the thunder.

They are old enough to fly. I’ve seen them take flight if I surprise them, or they surprise me, when I step out of the door. I don’t know how old they are. I’m surprised that theses babies are here now. I would have thought they would have been born in the spring, would be big enough to leave the nest by now. They seem less fuzzy today than they did a few days ago.

But, I don’t know anything about quails. Other than I am glad they are in my front yard and that the window seems to make me invisible to them.

Falling leaves remind us that change is the only constant.
From the Autumn card of the Wisdom of the Crone cards

I have been in my new Northwest home for close to a season now. Summer has always seemed to me to be a time of letting things grow, letting things settle, and then autumn is the time to harvest.

I feel settled up here in the Northwest. I never thought I would be anything but a Californian. I love California, but this is my new home. I have found a peace I have long searched for. Perhaps it’s the air. Perhaps it’s having the time to be still—to watch quails forage in my yard.

Had dinner with new friends last night. Like us, they are California transplants. It looks like the time is right to start a Saturday Salon up here. They think the ground is fertile for it.

So, that will be what I will harvest. A new place where something happens so something else can happen.

The quail family scurried down the long driveway, disappearing around the curves. Lunch was over?

I have grown very fond of that mother quail. She does such a good job with her little chicks. I want the world to be safe for them. I can’t, nor do I want to, protect them from the natural world. I’m sure there are predators who are their enemy.

But I would like them to be safe from the hubris of man.

As the thunder rolls through again, I’m grateful that I can take a respite from the world that rages outside.

Fill Our Hearts with Power

I really do intend to update the Writing Shed weekly. But sometimes, events seem to leave me dumbstruck. Well, not so much dumbstruck, as waiting for the light bulb to click on, shed light on the dark corners that harbor the missing pieces of the puzzle I am trying to put together.

My small personal world and the global world intersected last week. There was the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. There was a comment in a blog by a colleague that claimed we really can’t ever get into another’s shoes, can’t really imagine what their lives are like. And then, the drumbeat for action in Syria, followed by Obama stepping back, deferring to our Constitution, defining this moment as one that has global as well as national interests.

In many ways for me, the decade of the Sixties was about tossing our Pick-Up Sticks into the air and waiting for them to come down. The music, the liberation from the conformity of the Fifties, the march into a future that attempted to shed the past, were a part of that era for me. But what really defined that period for me was the Civil Rights movement. That August 1963 March on Washington was a defining moment.

In the shadow of Lincoln, a quarter of mile from Jefferson, King took the idea, the dream, of America to the next level. Jefferson planted the seed. Lincoln cleared the blight of slavery, and then King called on us to partake in the bounty promised by Jefferson’s ideas. He claimed entitlement to the ideals promised by Jefferson’s declaration that all men are created equal.

Some pointed out that there were no women speaking on the day. There weren’t. But fifty years later, it was his youngest daughter who delivered the clarion call, the words that ended with bells rung throughout the country in the name of human rights.

The Civil Rights movement, the clarion call of King’s dream have rippled over the years. The women’s movement was about civil rights. The disability movement was about civil rights. The LGBT movement is about civil rights. It shone a light so that those who lived in darkness and shadow could claim their right to a place at the table.

Clearly, things aren’t perfect. My colleague’s blog told of her experience as a female attorney in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Fifteen years younger than I, hers was the generation of women who began changing in large numbers the landscape of the playing field that had typically been an exclusive male club. Women, it seemed had arrived.

The message she received when she joined the firm was clear: be one of the boys or be the outsider, and by the way, you will never be one of the boys. Her colleagues in the firm, she said, could not imagine her life, what life was like in her shoes, because we are not capable of really doing that.

I think she let them off the hook. I think they chose, consciously or unconsciously, to refuse to see the world from her perspective. They had too much to lose—their position of privilege based solely on their gender and race.

The biggest flaw in the early women’s movement was the assumption that we needed to be seated at the men’s table—that power came from emulating them. I think that is changing. I suspect that to the current generation (the Millenials, if you will), this is not much of an issue. I think they see each other as equals in a way that none of us dreamed possible fifty, or even twenty, years ago.

The drumbeat for action in Syria left me with such mixed feelings. The horror that is happening is Syria seems to me to call for some kind of action. But what is the proper action?

Then President Obama took a step back. He called on the American people to respond to the atrocities. And, just as important, he called for the world community to take a stand.

To some, this was a sign of weakness. I think not. I think it is a sign that he has a deep understanding of the world we live in, and of power.

We have perhaps the most powerful military in all of human history. We have the might to enforce might makes right. Obama is probably correct that he has the authority, the power, to order military strikes without the consent of Congress or other countries.

But that is too much power to put in the hands of one person. I think that is what Obama understood, and why he took the step back. That is not weakness. That is strength.

I don’t want to idealize Obama. I could be wrong. We’ll see. I’m hoping that by forcing Congress to be accountable, he can disrupt the dysfunction that has consumed it and that maybe, just maybe, we can take that next step to realizing the dream.

In the film The Mission the priest, portrayed by Jeremy Irons, explains to Robert deNiro why he won’t take up arms. Perhaps might makes right he says. Maybe so. Maybe so. But if might makes right, there is no room for love in the world. I cannot live in such a world, he says.

I hope we are taking this moment in history to make room for love in the world—to fill our hearts with power—as we move forward as a country and as a world community.