Feeds:
Posts
Comments

New year, new direction

I have had this blog for over two years now. Originally, it was a place to get in the habit of writing articles and posting illustrations regularly, but it morphed into whatever I needed it to be at the time – a pregnancy log, a place to meet other new moms, a way to stay creative while surviving my son’s infancy – and once again it will be shifting its focus down a new path.

I am still on a campaign to create wonder, the emphasis I made in the blog last year. I always thought that would be through writing and illustrating books or teaching art, but I have decided to pursue a master’s degree in library and information science because I believe librarians play a huge role in creating wonder in the world as well, and in a way that may better suit my personality. Over the next few years as I slowly chip away at the program, while also working and raising my son (now 18 months old) this blog will probably contain thoughts about what I’m learning in the San Jose State MLIS program. Please check in from time to time if you are interested in libraries, their role in preserving and sharing information with the larger society, how they create wonder, or how I might incorporate my interests in art, children’s literature, and education into a meaningful library career.

Here’s to a great new year!

Action #9: Be Still

Life has been far too noisy for me lately. For whatever reason I am built to thrive with frequent doses of silence and solitude. I used to think this was just a freaky thing about myself I could choose to ignore, but I can’t. Too long in the city and I can’t even hear myself think. I get overwhelmed by the hubbub that assaults me as soon as I set foot onto my busy street every morning. The din follows me in when I turn on my computer, which is full of competing voices shouting for attention. And speaking of shouting, my toddler seems to only have two settings: Asleep or Loud. I have been long overdue for some quiet time.
Here are some ideas on how to incorporate stillness into your life, to make room for wonder.

Ample Time and Money: Retreat! It turns out some of the people I respect the most have also needed this time alone to recharge. Jesus, for one. Another is one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote, “Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody – away from all those people I love most in the world – in order to regain a sense of proportion.”

I just spent a couple days at my family cabin with no electricity on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean just south of Big Sur (my family may not be rich in many material ways, but this little piece of heaven makes up for anything else we may lack). It is such a centering, grounding place for me. I immediately feel reconnected to the rhythms of the earth, to my past, to who I am and what my place is when I go there. There is nothing like watching the sun set in a spectacular light show with an unobstructed panoramic view and then seeing a gazillion stars revealed to regain a sense of proportion as just one tiny part of a great cloud of galaxies. I feel as L’Engle again writes, “I am created by a power who cares about the sparrow, and the rabbit in the snare, and the people on the crowded streets; who calls the stars by name. And you. And me. When I remember this it is as though pounds are lifted from me.”

Go somewhere you can be still enough to feel that. Get away from it all. Unplug, check out, and recharge before your battery runs dry. If you can go for a good long while, great, but even if it’s just for a weekend or 24 hours, it will do wonders. Mothers, in particular, need to treat themselves to a rejuvenating break, but tend to be the last to do it. Don’t feel guilty. The kids will survive. You need this! (As expected, my son was much more excited at the return of our dog than of me. His first words are “dog” and “Dude”, our dog’s name. Still no “mama”, dang it!)

Limited Resources: Observe some form of the Sabbath. Even if you are not remotely religious, practicing a day of rest, relaxation, and connection with community each week is a wonderful and much needed ritual we can all adapt to fit our circumstances. It doesn’t have to be done in a legalistic or rote way, just in ways that are helpful to you personally to be mindful and slow down from your hectic schedule. Check out sabbathmanifesto.org for inspiration.

Busy and Broke: Start a silence habit. Just like checking email has become a habit or bath time for our toddler is an anticipated part of the daily routine, I am hoping to incorporate some mindful silence daily. Before Little Man came along, I used to journal and read and pray in the mornings. Now, mornings are nonstop action from 6:30 on. It may require an adjustment of priorities, but if I retrain myself to take some time each day to pray or meditate or journal or read something soul lifting, I know it will become a habit that will benefit my mental, spiritual, physical and creative health.

May you all be able to create wonderful moments of stillness in your days. For those of you who check back here from time to time, you’ll notice I have not been posting twice a week as I had been. It will probably remain infrequent as I rearrange priorities to be present to a busy toddler and attempt to maintain mental health and good life balance and maybe even read some actual books. I haven’t quite decided to go the route of Yiyun Li, but I may be headed in that direction.

Action #8: Grow Some Wonder

It is still miraculous to me that you put a seed in the dirt and after a bit, it grows into something edible or beautiful or determined or tall as a redwood. I am not known for my green thumb. My greatest achievement to date in plant management has been to keep some bamboo alive, just barely, for the past ten years. But I am ready for more.

I mentioned awhile back that we signed up our backyard as part of an urban cooperative farm, but sadly, the organization went belly up. It was a brilliant idea, but somehow paying their farmers a living wage in San Francisco was not a sustainable business model (imagine that!). We were left with a garden set up to grow things, which my neighbor with whom we share the yard promptly took over, as I was busy tending to a newborn. Seeing what she has accomplished (tomatoes galore! kale, arugula, brussel sprouts, oh my!), and now that I have a toddler who can “help” me or at least busy himself in the dirt while I garden, I decided it’s time to try my hand at cultivating a small corner of our yard.

I have no clue if this is a good time to plant or if I am doing it right at all, but I planted green beans, strawberries, pumpkins, watermelon, cabbage, broccoli and beets. It’s only been a week and I’m already seeing little sprouts popping up. I helped to create life! Now, we’ll see if I can keep them alive.

What would you like to grow?

Ample Time and Money: Transform your yard into a garden. See how much of your food you could grow yourself, like Barbara Kingsolver did for a year (she wrote about this in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle).

Limited Resources: Start out with a few pots or an indoor herb garden. Get a hanging tomato planter. Plant a tree. Watch butterflies grow, then set them free.

Busy and Broke: Try putting a seed from something you ate into the ground and see if anything happens on its own. Or grow something you don’t have to pay much attention to, like a cactus, or bamboo. Just remember to stop and wonder at its tenacity every once in awhile for inspiration.

Have you memorized anything yet for this week’s action?  I have not yet learned To Begin With, the Sweet Grass in its entirety (but recalling bits of it during the day reminds me to “look, and look again” and to forget myself and love the world).

I can, however, recite The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton in the dark while rocking a wriggling toddler. Like I said, my brain only has so much available space right now, and you can see who gets top priority.

For anyone who has a little more space or time in their lives for documenting their family’s stories so they will be remembered for generations to come, some interesting resources serendipitously found their way to me this week. The California Council for the Humanities has a grant program called the California Story Fund, which is seeking project proposals by November 15, in particular for stories that address the meaning of democracy. StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit that encourages everyone to share and preserve their stories. You can bring someone you would like to interview into a StoryCorps location to record it, or you can follow their DIY guide. Think of what an amazing keepsake it would be to have a recorded conversation with a beloved family member.

Go, learn wonderful things, and talk to people who matter to you about what matters to them.

As a society, it seems we have lost the art of committing things to memory. If we need to remember something, we Google it. In the old days, people could recite sonnets to their lovers. There are stories of prisoners of war staying sane throughout their captivity by holding onto great swaths of Scripture they’d memorized. I was in awe of a professor in college who could quote poems and passages from literature as if she had written them herself. What a wonderful thing to make something beautiful and uplifting your very own, to lock it away inside so that it becomes a part of you no one could ever take away.  You could bring it out at will in your greatest times of need, or even just in moments of boredom.

What would you like to have written on your heart? How could you go about committing it to memory this week?

Ample Time: Become an oral storyteller. Learn the stories of your family and your ancestors and pass them on to your children and to your community. My great grandmother’s second husband was the most amazing storyteller I’ve ever known. Granted, I was a young, impressionable child when I was his audience, but I remember being utterly captivated by his stories. They ran the gamut from Native American folk tales, to nursery rhymes, to stories of his own youth living in both Alaska and Mexico. Of course, I don’t know if even the ones he told about himself were true. It wasn’t until I was a teenager long after his death that I discovered the tale he told me of a mongoose saving his life from a snake when he was young was actually Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling.

What made him great was that he completely owned the stories. He was totally blind when I knew him, so he couldn’t read books to me or write his stories down. It was like he had an entire library inside of him, and could pull up the most fascinating yarn for any occasion. And it breaks my heart that that library disappeared along with him when he died. I wish I could remember everything he told me. I wish someone had the foresight to record him speaking. The oral traditions of our cultures are dying out, if they haven’t already. If you can make the time, learn the stories of your heritage and your culture. Use the technology of today to record them, but try to keep them in your mind as well and learn how to pass them on in the oldest of human ways to communicate, orally.

Limited Resources: In high school, an English teacher made us memorize “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. Back then, I swear I had a near photographic memory. I rarely had to study anything for very long before I could recall the entire page and read it in my mind as if it were still in front of me. I don’t know what happened since then, but that skill is long gone. There is now a No Vacancy light blinking in my brain, and if something new crams its way in, something old gets shoved out.

I am currently getting into poetry. Probably because I only have the smallest windows of time in which to read, and I can actually finish a poem. I am absolutely enamored with Mary Oliver. I would love to have command of some of her words that resonate for me. I think I will try to memorize To Begin With, the Sweet Grass from her 2009 book, Evidence. Ok, maybe pieces of it. It’s long and I have many other things on my mind, but I’ll try. What will you try to remember? Here are some good tips on how to go about it.

Busy: Write out a short prayer, simple mantra, scripture passage, or inspiring quotation and tape it to the back of your phone, on a post it on the edge of your computer, on your bathroom mirror, in your car, on an index card in your purse, wherever it will be in your face often. Look at it whenever you have a spare moment. Say it out loud until you can say it without looking at it. Make it yours and draw upon it this week for wonder.

Please come back and share with me what you’ve written on your hearts.

Poetry Friday: Halleluiah

I have not had the chance to post an action to create wonder this week, but I hope you all get a chance to do something wonderful over this long weekend. I am hoping to recharge my wonder juices out in nature, holding these words by Mary Oliver in my mind.

Halleluiah

Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway that I’m not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.

-Mary Oliver, from Evidence

Once a week, I will post a suggested activity for creating wonder in your life (mostly to get myself to do it, but I hope you’ll join me). I will include three different participation levels, so lack of time or money will be no excuse. Please share your experiences here to inspire others. Go forth and create wonder!

We often chug along in the same deep tracks day to day, hauling our burdens along with us, blind to the view because it’s so familiar. Jump the rails this week by learning something new. Try your hand at a new skill, take a class, read something outside of your normal repertoire…acquire some information that will take you down a new path and improve your life, your mental state, or at the very least, create some wonder.

Ample Time and Money: Pursue the degree you’ve always wanted. This is a big commitment, but as someone who strives to be a lifelong learner, I hope to get at least a couple more.  It has been far too long since I was in school, so this spring, I will begin the graduate program at San Jose State University to get an MLIS. Yes, I am going to become a librarian (it will take a few years since I’ll be going very part-time, but I gotta start somewhere). I think being surrounded by books and helping others to access the knowledge they seek will make a good career for me. Someday, I’d like an MFA as well. Why not? Ghandi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever,” and that’s what I hope to do while I’m here.

Limited Resources: You don’t have to get a degree, though, to break up your workaday routine. Start with one class in something you’ve always wanted to try. Yoga. Hip Hop Dancing. Calligraphy. Creative Writing. Sausage making. Excel spreadsheets. Seriously, there is a class out there calling your name. I just started a Mandarin Chinese class at City College. I’ve taken a few conversational classes over the 8+ years I’ve known my husband, in an attempt to better communicate with his family. This time I have the added motivation of wanting to raise my son to be bilingual, so I’m also learning how to read and write. I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of Chinese characters, but was completely baffled by how anyone could actually read them. Well, I’m learning how they do it. Practice, practice, and more practice. What have you always wanted to be good at, but put off beginning? It’s never too late to start learning!

Busy and Broke: Learn while you’re doing something else. Try listening to podcasts on your commute. You can learn languages, get DIY craft instructions, or improve your cooking or grammar skills all on your way to work. Sign up at dictionary.com to learn a new word every day. Try to use it in a conversation to make it stick. Or simply look up something you’ve had a question about. Take interest in and investigate your world.

Please come back and share what you discover. I would love to hear what you’re learning about.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.