Activities, Books, Uncategorized

This World is Not Just a Little Thrill For the Eyes

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.

Activities, Books, Uncategorized

Action #7: Write Some Wonder on Your Heart

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.

People

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

Activities, Uncategorized

Action #6: Learn Something New

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.

Activities

What Am I Waiting For?

The creative action this week was to make something new from something old. My big goal was to make something crafty with my son. I was going to use old water bottles to make discovery jars, or empty milk cartons to make containers for crayons and markers. Or I was going to make little creatures with him out of things we found, and today while I was walking the dogs, I gathered some pine cones and eucalyptus nuggets (I’m sure that’s the scientific term for those pod things they drop) and moss and all kinds of cool things nature had discarded. And then I remembered my son is 13 months old. He is not “crafty”. Destruction is his thing, not construction. I can’t even build a tower with his blocks without him toddling over and smacking it down. He is happiest when he is hitting things with sticks, smooshing squishy food in his hands, or tearing pop-ups out of books.

I keep wanting to buy him art supplies and then I don’t because he just eats whatever he’s holding. I look at the fingerpaints longingly, and then put them down, sighing and saying, “Someday soon”. It just occurred to me that I have been projecting my wishes onto him. I have been dreaming of making art with him, and he might want to someday and he might not. It is my passion, but it may not ever be his. I need to let him be who he is, and give myself permission to play and make stuff without waiting for him to join in. Maybe it’s less scary to be silly and not produce great results if you’re playing with paint with a child. If I painted for myself, I might be disappointed if it wasn’t “good”. Oh, the burden of consciousness. If I could only be as free from that results-oriented thinking as he is. He’s sleeping now, and there are so many other things to check off my to-do list, but instead I am going to pull out the fun things I gathered and make something. Just for the fun of it. Just for me.

What are you waiting for? Go work on something you’ve been putting off. Something that will feed your soul and create wonder in your life. Go.

Activities

Action #5: Create Something New from Something Old

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!

Reinvent something that has worn out. Give new life to something on its last legs. Not only is it “green” to reuse, but it gets some creative juices flowing to come up with a new purpose for an old object instead of just tossing it.

Ample Time and Money: Do a spinoff of last week’s sensory field trip and go somewhere you can buy things to repurpose. There are amazing places where you can sift through someone else’s old stuff to make it new for you. You can find treasures at garage sales and flea markets, but you can also search for places in your area that take in people’s junk and sell it for super cheap. I can think of two off the top of my head in the Bay Area: Urban Ore and SCRAP. These are two enormous spaces filled with fantastic collections of things waiting to be reused, diamonds in the rough waiting to be polished off and reborn into something glorious. Comb through with an open mind, and be inspired. My friend just went to an Urban Ore-esque place in the Sacramento area and came home with three old frames (or were they cabinet doors?) she painted over with chalkboard paint and hung on the wall for her daughter to draw on.

Limited Resources: Maybe you own something already that would take just a little sprucing up to make new. Sometimes it doesn’t take much time or money to revive an old favorite. I have had an Ikea bench seat for about seven years that they don’t even make anymore. It had this red wool upholstery with seven years worth of stains and dog hair and rather than throw it away, I reupholstered it myself. It didn’t take long at all. I ran into Discount Fabrics one day while I had an hour to spare, drooled over all the possibilities, reveled in colors and patterns and textures, and finally picked a red and white houndstooth check. I had scissors and a staple gun and within another hour, I had what looked like a brand new bench. I had fabric left over, so I replaced some old Ikea pillow covers. I don’t own a sewing machine so I made them by hand while watching TV. They aren’t as snug as the old ones, but I was pretty proud of myself considering my serious lack of domestic skills. Look around your own house. What could you make new with something simple like a fresh coat of paint or new fabric?

Busy and Broke: You really don’t have to buy anything at all to create something new. Make art out of found objects or the contents of your own trash or recycling bin. Challenge yourself to only use what you already have and see what you can come up with. This is especially fun to do with kids, but don’t think you can’t make something cool for yourself, too. There are tons of craft sites that show you how to reuse anything from newspapers to water bottles. Check this out if you need some ideas. Or Ready Made. Or Photojojo. There is no end to great DIY sites, but if you’re busy, don’t get lost searching for ideas. Just go make stuff. And come back and share it here.

Places, Uncategorized

Stimulated yet?

Supposedly this summer is one of the coldest on record in San Francisco for the last hundred years. I am not surprised. It is dreary and gray and so foggy I had to use my windshield wipers driving around the city yesterday. Summer is never our best season, but it has been particularly gloomy this year. I don’t do well when the weather is like this, and it’s even harder when other things aren’t going so well.

I was going to self-publish my book, Animal Mashups, on a small, handmade scale, but have found the process so incredibly frustrating, I decided instead to seek a publisher or agent representation. Which most likely means heading down a long path of rejection, which I’m also not so good at.  That said,  I’m trying extra hard to keep focused on doing things that bring hope and light into my days, keeping my senses stimulated until the blessed sunshine returns (I know much of the country can’t fathom this, as it’s hot as balls everywhere else, but the grass is always greener, right?).

This week I stopped by Casa Bonampak in the Mission to get a gift for a friend, and to brighten a blah day. Everything in here is made by hand in Mexico. There are papel picados in every color for any occasion, paper flowers, Day of the Dead ephemera, Virgen de Guadalupe onesies, Spanish greeting cards, Mexican wrestler action figures and on and on. It makes me happy just walking in. If you need to brighten up a party (or your day just because), you can buy fun decor directly from their website.

Have any of you done anything to wake up those senses this week? Do tell!