Sunday, August 31, 2008

To toss or not to toss

For the last few days I've been reading On Being a Photographer by David Hurn and Bill Jay, one of several intriguing books on this subject published by Lenswork Magazine. I came to a section about contact sheets and was tempted to skip it, since digital photographers don't really have to deal with contact sheets.

But I decided to read through it anyway, and am coming to realize that the folders of images I examine through the PhotoShop browser are almost exactly like contact sheets. So when the authors talk about taking multiple shots of any given scene, what they call "little sequences of the photographer stalking the image," I somehow feel vindicated, that it's actually okay to shoot a scene from several different angles and allow the final decision to be made when you are able to compare the results.

Even more reassuring was the phrase, "the more static the scene, the more images I tend to shoot." Because that's true of me as well. The challenge for me, once all the images are loaded into the computer, is throwing the lesser images away. It's almost always clear which is the best of a set. But because I understand that my sense of design is always evolving, it's often difficult to discard images which are close to perfect but not quite, for fear they may contain something that would be useful later.

This is not so different, I think, from my husband's tendency to keep around old clothes, and old articles he's printed off. Nor is it very far from what we used to call "the Depression mentality": our parents' tendency to keep EVERYTHING -- even old string, rubber bands, and used Saran Wrap -- for fear such things might again become scarce.

What is this fear that keeps us from throwing things away? And, in the case of my photographs, ALL of which are backed up elsewhere on another disk, how irrational is it to keep close to hand seven variants of a single image, when the likelihood is high that only one will ever appear in print? Surely the healthiest thing would be to eliminate as much clutter as possible.

Here the authors of On Being a Photographer help me again. Because what they help me to realize is that the discard process gets slowed down considerably by my desire to learn from the lesser images. If I have several versions of the same shot, I tend to open all of them at once, and then compare each to each, observing my preferences and at the same time analyzing them.

And that process becomes almost meditative as I sink into each of the images: what does this one make me feel? Why does this element bother me, and is that a good or a bad thing? How much of the appeal of this one is still caught in the experience I had taking it?

For this image, for example, I have several variants. But to get this particular one I almost fell into the water: does that mean it's my favorite because of its vertiginous memories, or because getting that extra vantage point, taking out those last bits of distracting background, made all the difference? If the answer isn't clear, I tend to keep the others, hoping that over time I will become more objective, and knowing that in the meantime there is still something to be learned.

I wonder how many years it will take before I come to accept that all these little quirks of character, the ones -- like this reluctance to toss extra images -- which certain voices in my head condemn, are actually little blessings, pieces of me that keep me on this curious path I travel. How long before the Voice from within that says "You are okay, and I love you" will overpower the ones which accuse me of waste, laziness, or stupidity?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Longing for past and future freedoms

I've been spending much of my recuperation time on our living room couch, watching life spinning around me as I rest and read. At some point, having seen several things that caught my fancy, I brought my camera over, thinking it might not hurt to record what I see while I'm sick.

A couple of the shots are quite nice, actually. But after a night of little sleep (a mild allergy is triggering occasional coughing fits which are NOT FUN with a sore stapled stomach) I was awakened at around 6:15 with 15 minutes to get ready for a trip to the airport to see our younger daughter off to Vermont.

I would SO much rather have slept, but I'd promised, so I went -- and was much discouraged by how little energy I had: just walking through the terminal exhausted me. So now, when I look at the pictures I've taken from the couch, this is the one that sings to me: our dog, Nemo, looking out the front door, kept by his cone from licking his paws and kept by the door and his diabetes from his former gay leash-free gallops on the beach.

Maybe I just have to sit with this and continue to learn from it what it feels like to age, to lose energy and spirit, to be restrained or cut off from favorite activities. This is definitely one of those times when it's hard to be present, to live in the moment; I keep jumping forward to the time when I'll have energy again, when the pain and staples and stitches and bruises will be gone.

It's all good. But that never meant it would all be FUN!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Having been pruned...

I remember when, years ago, pregnant with my first child, we invited all of my husband's family to join us at our house in Vermont for Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law was not the best cook in the world, so our intent was to do our best to keep her out of the kitchen, but like many women of a certain age, particularly in her generation, she was more comfortable DO-ing than BE-ing.

In the end, to keep her entertained, we suggested she might prune some of the plants that lay around the house. In those pre-child days I had a prodigious green thumb, so there were plants everywhere, all spiraling out of control in a lush enthusiasm that celebrated my own rather obvious fertility.

Poor plants: little did they -- or I -- know that once the children were born all that creativity would get redirected elsewhere and they would all die slow horrible deaths...

At any rate, they did get a foretaste of that, I suppose, for my mother-in-law trimmed them all within an inch of their lives and then begged again to help in the kitchen, and I remember thinking -- with all the wisdom of my then 37 years -- how sad it was that she couldn't just sit and relax and enjoy having her family around her.

And now, here I am, having been a bit pruned myself, enduring my own period of enforced inactivity while my family swarms around, getting ready for college and departing (the kids) and recovering from various attacks and illnesses (the animals). And, just like my mother-in-law, I have this itch: isn't there something I should be doing?

But instead I am following my brother-in-law's advice and reading the popular bestseller Eat, Pray, Love as I wander back and forth between couch, bed and rocker. It's amazing, like reading my own autobiography in some ways, and profoundly reassuring, especially as I move through the healing process.

I particularly love the part I just finished reading, about the evening she decided to try 2 hours of non-moving meditation just at the hour of the day when the mosquitoes were moving in for the kill. To sit through the bites without swatting, and, most of all, to notice, when it is all over, that eventually even the itching passes, was very reassuring. Soon it will no longer hurt to stand, or cough, and the pain I still feel from my surgery will be just a distant memory.

The challenge, of course, is that good things pass away as well: this flower, so bursting with promise, that Ali bought for me today from the flower stand around the corner, will eventually droop and fade; my girls will have gone back to school, and the next phase of life will begin with its gains and losses, beauties and triumphs, challenges and failures.

And, as Julian of Norwich has said so beautifully, echoed by saints and wise men and women across many faiths and denominations over the centuries, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not traveling alone

I think that through much of life, many of us make the mistake of thinking we are traveling alone. I don't necessarily mean this in a negative "I'm looking out for Number One" sort of way, but more as a general observation: we forget that our lives are so intricately linked with those around us, and spend so much time staring at our own feet that we fail to see how many other feet are traveling the same path.

I have mentioned the Buddhist practice of Tonglen on this site before, but over the last few days I have come to realize how healing it can be, when under stress, to think of others suffering as you do, and to reach in to your own healthy spaces and pour a little of that out to share. I can't claim that practice has become automatic for me, but I will say that it's become one of the tricks in the self-help drawer in my brain; one of the places I can go when under stress.

And though I understand that the function of Tonglen is to remind us of others' suffering when we risk becoming too caught up in our own, in practice what I find is that it reminds me of the "minitude" (as opposed to magnitude) of my own suffering in comparison to the many blessings in my life.

I don't seem to have much energy left to explore this at the moment, but I do want to dedicate this column to Eileen and to Clara, the two women who shared my hospital room these last 3 days. Because of them, I never felt alone, and I wish them both a speedy and comfortable recovery from their surgeries, both of which are to repair damage suffered in falls.

However empty the way before us may look, the fact is that none of us is really traveling alone.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

When feelings leak...

This blog usually begins (after a brief meditation period) with me sitting down at my computer and browsing through photos to see what speaks today. It's a bit like a game we used to play that a priest friend called "Bible Bingo," and not so different from those plastic fortune-telling eight balls you buy at the novelty store.

Basically you ask a question, roll the ball or flip open the bible, and see what answers come to light. Only with the blog, the question is always the same: what image should I write about today? And something always springs forth, though I rarely know what I will be saying about it until I begin to type.

So this is the image that surfaced today. I took it long ago, while walking on my friend Karen's beach; this is the cement piling from a dock that no longer exists. The official title appears to be "Blood from a Stone" but now it reminds me of a workshop I attended many many years ago.

I was a librarian in a small town in New Hampshire, and our town manager was something of a bully. If memory serves me, all the town employees were required to attend an anger management workshop (including the manager, I presume) as a way of enabling all of us (especially him) to cope with the challenges of job, life, etc.

I only remember two things about the workshop: pounding a couch with pillows as a way of releasing anger, and this one phrase: "Anger leaks."

Looking at this image now, I would say that its message may well be "emotions leak." We are, many of us, busily keeping our emotions contained much of the time, for a variety of reasons. For women, I think, we are keeping our emotions pent up as a means of protecting our families -- or even as a way of holding the family together: we forget, sometimes, that catharsis, and truth, can be have healing qualities.

For men, taught from early childhood not to cry, the "stiff upper lip" may mask sadness, a variety of fears, performance anxiety, or just a need "not to look like a wimp." And most of us know that in certain situations we are simply powerless to change what is, and just need to "bite the bullet." Those who have the misfortune of living in abusive relationships may well be keeping feelings under wraps for fear of upsetting a delicate balance, or fear of reprisal.

I can tell from all these quoted phrases that society passes this message to us in a lot of different guises, and I am reminded of my mother-in-law's edict: that a parent's job is to CIVILIZE her children, by which I believe she meant to teach them not to be self-centered but rather to function as a useful cog in the machine of community.

What I'm pretty sure she failed to communicate -- which intrigues me, as she was an artist of considerable competence -- is that one way to function as a useful cog in community is to express a feeling that all of us may share. If I say "situations like this make me feel so helpless" or even just "boy, I sure got up on the wrong side of bed this morning -- don't you hate that?" it allows others a safe space to explore their own feelings, because responding and sharing feelings is an accepted way to function as a cog.

It seems to me that this is the function served most commonly by artists -- not just painters, but writers, photographers, musicians, poets, actors, sculptors. We give voice to the unexpressed. Our bishop used to say that that was the job of the church: to give voice to the marginalized, though I'm sure he meant people, not feelings. Whether or not he was successful in that, I would nonetheless agree that this is a sacred charge.

Which may all be a way of saying that today I may be trying to contain a lot; there's a lot on my plate, and one last performance to do as well. And I expect that to function reasonably I'll be determined to keep it under containment, and that, with the inevitability that always attends such attempts on my part, something will leak.

I hope, when it does, that it's not quite as "bloody awful" as the right side of this image, and has more of the blue, healing quality of the leaks on the left. But there are no guarantees...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back by popular demand

By special request, here is Alex post-surgery. If you look closely you can see there is a second drain to the left of his stitches; you can't tell that his eyes are dilated from the pain meds because I had to use the flash. And I can't photograph him with the dog yet as we have to keep them separate until his drains are removed.

This, of course, presents its own challenges, as the dog has a way of clawing at any door that keeps him separate from me or his cat buddies, so currently Alex is living in our powder room. He gets lonely from time to time, and so we see a paw peeping out from under the door and hear his plaintive cries, which means the dog begins to claw at the door (fortunately this one has no paint on it) and utter sympathy cries of his own.

But the worst is when I am administering the hot compress to help Alex's wounds drain: Nemo (whose full name is Captain Mnemonic) stands outside the door and claws and howls to get in -- mostly because he is painfully jealous of any attention the cats get from me.

As a four on the Enneagram scale -- at least, that's what I'm told I am -- I struggle with envy and jealousy sometimes, too, so Nemo's issues in that area are particularly irritating to me. It's all part of those shadow issues that Ken Wilber clarified so beautifully in the chapter I referred to in an earlier post.

I finally got around to giving that chapter to my daughter to read. Asked about it later, she said that she stopped reading when he said all pressure and stress comes from within. So I attempted to explain (as he would, if she had kept reading) that when people pressure us to do things we are not at all interested in doing, it doesn't create stress for us.

The stress comes when there IS a part of us that wants to do whatever it is. For example, my husband would very much like me to go motorcycling with him (as our daughter just did). I have no problem refusing him because I know from experience that it puts my back out to ride behind him; there is no stress in this decision, and I don't feel pressured about it so it's a bit of a joke between us.

On the other hand I do have trouble shutting our overweight cat, Sophie, out of my office when I am blogging. She likes to sit on my wrists when I'm typing, which makes it very difficult to think or write. But she's getting so many meds right now that she is mostly avoiding us and living under our bed, so the fact that she's willing to trust me and interact with me at all means I would like to accommodate her.

The obvious choice would be to set aside time for her, but as soon as I move away from my desk she claws to escape, for fear I might thrust another pill down her throat; she has control issues. But then, so do I. And my control issues are looming large for me at the moment, as I will be going in for gall bladder surgery on Monday morning. The surgery itself is minor, but it does mean I will be away from home at an awkward time, when both my girls are preparing to leave for college and three animals need constant care and medication. Who will make sure that everything is taken care of while I am gone?

So I'm sure Wilber is right: the stress of all this is surely coming from within me: so many of their issues are my issues as well. It's all a learning experience, isn't it!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

For better or worse

Years ago, when I lived on Shaw Island, my landlord (who at the time was living on an island off the coast of Boston) emailed me to say his beautiful Irish Setter was dying of kidney disease.

His descriptions of walking the beach with the increasingly feeble setter were heart-breaking, and he was obviously distraught. So the following Sunday, at the Shaw Community Church Service, when the subject of prayer requests arose I asked for prayers for my landlord and his dying dog.

In those days the community service was run on a rotation basis. About 20 families attended regularly, and since almost everyone who attended came from a different denominational background our worship was quite varied.

Having come from many years of "doing church" as an Episcopalian, I confess I was a bit put off at first by the Shaw services: like many Episcopalians (they/we aren't called the frozen chosen for nothing!) I was a liturgy snob, and it took a while for me to realize the extraordinary nature of the faith that was modeled in that community center every Sunday.

Over time certain specific gifts emerged -- as will often happen in religious communities -- and no matter who was running the service, Melba would play the organ and Marlyn would handle the intercessory prayers. I thought little of it at first -- older women are a staple of religious communities everywhere -- but on this particular Sunday I realized that these were not just any older church women.

Because Marlyn could pray extemporaneously better than any priest or pastor I've ever heard anywhere. Her prayers on behalf of my landlord and his dog were thoughtful, brief, and breathtakingly eloquent; prayers lifted up on behalf of every animal that has ever warmed a human heart, and on behalf of every human heart that's ever suffered at the loss of the pure unconditional love that pets so often provide.

My own heart was opened that Sunday morning to the beauty of those simple prayers, and after that day I set aside my snobbery and learned to revel in the richness of the love that filled that room.

And I mention this today because the cat in this picture, our dear Alex -- one of those rare cats-in-a-dog-suit, a total people snuggler who walks with us and our dog every night, who comes when he is called, loves strangers, and distributes licks and hugs with abandon -- spent most of the day in our vet's office getting some very messy wounds cleaned and stitched.

We're not quite sure what happened, if he was swiped with a huge claw or bitten by a rather large mouth, but he is now safely home, wearing one of those ridiculous collars and missing most of the hair on his back. The two largest of the lacerations have been stitched shut, and two ugly off-white drains project from his back. And all that lovely thick soft rabbity fur is gone; sigh.

The good news is that he is doing well, though quite loopy from his pain meds. The bad news is that I need to give him pain meds and antibiotics twice a day and put hot compresses on his wound. The first hot compress bothered him so much he managed to yank off his collar, so this is clearly even less fun for him than it is for me.

But that's not all. One of our other cats (we have three) ended up in the emergency room with an asthma attack this weekend. She gets eye drops twice a day, 2 antibiotics twice a day, and allergy meds once a day. Bringing the total number of cat med administration activities to 13.

And finally our dog, who is diabetic, has developed skin allergies and managed to chew a hole in his thigh. So he, too, is wearing a collar now; he too gets antibiotics twice a day and allergy meds once a day. And he also gets insulin twice a day. Bringing the grand total of animal meds to 18.

Oh, you say, would you like some cheese and crackers with that whine?

Oh, probably. But it's all part of the package. Animals, like children and husbands, definitely come with a "for better or worse" deal. This may be one of those times when the worse is outweighing the better, but I'm not ready to give up, not yet, anyway.

Like the Shaw Church, this isn't exactly what I thought I was signing up for. But there's a lot of love flying around in spite of the change in plans. There are probably lessons here I need to learn. And I sure am grateful to my family for helping me cope!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Building for the future

Built in 1962, Seattle's Space Needle was intended to symbolize the future, and is apparently one of the most instantly recognizable structures in the world.

Most of the time I see the Needle from a distance -- usually from the ferry -- and it definitely sparks up the landscape, makes the Seattle skyline distinct much as the World Trade Towers once characterized New York City.

But I was driving to a rehearsal not long ago, drove up over a rise and stopped at a stoplight, looked up, and there it was, just looming over me. It was, as you can see, a lovely clear day, and if you look closely you can see the observation deck is lined with sight-seers looking out over the sound to the islands.

Shortly after we moved out to Seattle from Vermont -- some 20 years ago now -- my mother came up from Texas for an Alaska cruise, and part of her tour of Seattle before the cruise took her to the Space Needle. She was enchanted, and took many photos; she even blew one up, framed it, and gave it to us (talk about bringing coals to Newcastle!)

But that was my mom: most every gift I ever got from her was more about her than it was about me. It took years for me to learn to ask for what I wanted, because, as a child, I was told that was incredibly selfish of me.

I still remember the year my parents came to visit, and my mom gave me a birthday present. I opened the package to find a sleeveless mustard-colored silk shirt with fringe hanging from the collar. She admitted she had bought it for herself (she never tried things on in a store; she was too embarrassed as she was quite overweight) and brought it home to discover it was too small.

How she ever thought she would fit into a size 12 was beyond me, and I was a size 10 at the time, so not only was it a color and style I would never wear, but it was too large. I was in my early 40's by then, so I got up all my nerve and said I would prefer not to accept the gift, as it was not my style, size or color.

She didn't speak to me for three days after that, and I remember my younger daughter taking me aside at the time (she was probably about 4 years old) and saying, "Mommy, couldn't you just tell her you like it, even if you don't?"

"Honey, I've been doing that all my life and I'm tired of lying," I replied. The future of the relationship looked pretty grim at that point: as a therapist once explained, pleasing your parents is a matter of life and death for a very young child, and thus becomes a habit that's very hard to break. Years of tiptoeing around my mother had left both of us pretty damaged, with lots of old patterns that were hard to resist.

As Jack Kornfield says, sometimes "No!" is the most compassionate response, but it can take a lot of courage. The good news is that somehow we managed to reconcile before she returned to Texas, and future visits became progressively easier so that, by the time she died, I was able to be true to myself in her presence and she was able to love and respect me for that.

That's one of the challenging things about life: the structures and patterns we built long ago have a way of staying with us. And while most of the time they are just part of the scenery, occasionally they have a way of popping up, looming over us, and reminding us that we still have "stuff" we need to work on.

At times like that it takes a lot of courage and resolution to break out of the pattern, to be honest -- both with yourself and with others -- and to risk the pain that can come as a result. But we do survive, and ultimately the long term gain will be worth it.

Think of it as building for the future.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Outstaring the dark

I remember vividly that one of the pleasures of childhood summers was to stay outside until the last rays of light were gone from the summer sky; playing badminton til you could no longer see the birdie, or playing hide and seek until no-one could be found at all and the dark became a lonely place.

We were reveling in the moment then, enjoying ourselves so much we barely noticed as the light slipped away. And I find now, as summer draws to a close and the light begins to fade earlier and earlier, that I am drawn as I was in childhood to sit up with the neighbors, watching from our back decks and talking quietly as the clouds begin to shimmer, then slide into darkness.

But if we stay out after dark, still staring at a horizon no longer visible, it probably means we are NOT in the moment, and are, in fact, unaware of our surroundings, but rather lost in our own thoughts and concerns, losing track of time. It is, for some of us, easy to do that; to fall into the darkness.

I think of this now because of a line from Richard Rohr's Great Themes of Scripture
that my friend Karen quoted in her blog a day or two ago:

"Mary is the model of faith for every woman and man who believes the Lord's word can be trusted. She is willing to outstare the darkness, however long it lasts."

I'm not sure how old we are when we first come to realize that the sun will always rise, that dark, after a certain number of hours, will always be relieved by the arrival of dawn. I do know that it took me a good many more years to understand that the emotional cycles of life are subject to the same rule; that darkness will inevitably be followed by a new dawning of understanding.

Unfortunately it seems to be taking forever to get that understanding planted deeply enough within me that I can remember it in the darkest times. There always, even after all these years, seem to be those moments when hope begins to shimmer and slide away, like the clouds after sunset.

But it is there, in that space, or perhaps just a tiny bit after, that faith emerges, that blessed gift of spirit sent to hold our hand like a reassuring mother, to bring us comfort and the memory of light until morning begins to glow on the horizon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Honoring the divine within

Over the years I have seen this gesture many times: a person puts her hands together as if in prayer, acknowledges the person she faces, and, bowing slightly, says "Namaste."

What I didn't know until I read it this morning is that Namaste means "I honor the divine within you." Jack Kornfield, in The Wise Heart, suggests that, as an exercise, it would be good to begin a day with the clear intention to look for the nobility in three people you encounter that day.

Initially it might be best to do this on a day when you are feeling very positive, but ideally you would expand the number of people over time, then expand to doing it on less positive days,and then eventually you might come to honor the inner nobility of every person you meet.

As a photographer I tend to shy away from intimate moments; it seems intrusive. Which might explain why, despite all the photos I have of retreats, there are none of people with their hands in a gesture of prayer. The closest thing I could find to that sort of reverence was this shot, taken when a group of us visited what is reputed to be the oldest and largest tree on Bowen Island, up in British Columbia.

There is a bench placed beside the tree whose back is at a much larger angle than 90 degrees to the seat, so that people may lie back into it and look up into the tree. But one of the women I went with was not content to just admire the tree; she wished to commune with it directly.

It is, I confess, a rather obvious shot -- the phrase "tree-hugger" does immediately come to mind. But it seems to me to be a sort of cross-species version of Namaste; she is honoring the wisdom and divinity inherent in the tree.

So what would be the opposite of Namaste? I suspect there are many answers to this question, but the one that would seem most common to me is to look at another with contempt or suspicion or prejudice; to assume the worst about them rather than to honor the best.

I remember reading about a marriage therapist who practices in Seattle (I believe it's John Gottman at the University of Washington, but I'm not absolutely positive about that). Apparently he will videotape a couple's interaction, and, watching the video, can predict in only a few minutes the potential success of the marriage. And if I remember correctly, one key indicator is contempt: if one partner rolls their eyes or sneers at the other, chances are the relationship is doomed.

So if, as we begin this exercise, we start on a bad day, and cannot bring ourselves to honor anyone's nobility -- perhaps because we cannot find our own -- we could probably start by noticing the times we look at others with contempt.

Just notice. And then see how that feeling resonates within you; feel how your body pulls away from the other, feel the slight shriveling inside. And if you cannot bring yourself to reverse that process, to honor their inner nobility, then at least imagine how you might feel if you could: the softening of the eyes, the opening of the heart.

Someone said to me yesterday -- in a conversation decrying all the sad things that can happen in church congregations -- that churches make Jesus' message so complicated; get so caught up in blame and recriminations; the right and wrong way to "do church."

It's so sad, he said, because at heart, Jesus' gospel is really very simple; it all comes down to loving your neighbor as yourself. And sometimes it seems like church is the last place that sort of respect for the "other" is likely to happen. Curious, when you consider that it is in church you would expect to find that prayerful gesture -- the palms of your hands together -- most often. Perhaps we will never be very good at honoring the divine in God if we cannot begin to honor the divine in one another.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hair Apparent

For some reason, the subject of hair has been coming up a lot lately. It has something to do, of course, with the fact that I've been spending a lot of time in the backstage dressing room for this play: hair -- and how it looked in the 50's -- is a critical part of each character's costume.

But yesterday I heard one of the girls -- whose hair is very like my daughter's, shown here, only darker -- say that when she straightened her hair on a whim one day while at college, her own roommates didn't recognize her. "I knew my hair was A defining feature of my look," she said. "But that's the first time I realized it was THE defining feature of my look."

There were other hairy moments backstage: one of the boys, who had put too much gel in his hair, was experimenting with slicking it all back instead of parting it. Oberon, who plays an Elvis look-alike, was having trouble getting that one loose curl to hang down over his forehead.

The fairy with the shortest hair put her pigtails in, and they refused to match: one waved sweetly while the other stuck straight out from the side of her head. And another player was remembering one of the summer shows when numerous bald men in the audience had chosen not to bring hats or sunscreen, and the cast found themselves spotting the red heads blossoming around the theater.

But where this all came home to me was when my neighbor arrived on the island in her new wig, an utterly charming concoction which, though gray like her own hair, makes her look years younger and quite lovely. "And he held my hand," she said, smiling sweetly at her husband, who had accompanied her to the salon -- on their 44th anniversary -- to have her head shaved and choose the wig.

Later her husband took me aside. "Sometime we should talk. I want to tell you what an incredible blessing this whole experience has been for our marriage." It was very dear.

Many of us are almost painfully aware of our appearance, particularly during the adolescent years. There is that tension between the desire to fit in and the urge to be noticed, and hair becomes a key player in the drama.

But in the end, it's really love we're looking for. And how nice to know that when love is present, hair can disappear altogether and love will remain, stronger than ever.

Pretty powerful stuff!

Friday, August 15, 2008

The comfort of Mary

Not having grown up Catholic, I'm not as attuned to Mary as I might be. But I remember a dear friend telling me that when her 16-year-old son committed suicide while vacationing with their family in Italy, she drew enormous comfort from all the Mary images that surrounded her as they struggled through their last few days in that country.

Tonight I am thinking of a line from the Prayers of the People that we say every Sunday at Grace: we pray "for all those who worry, and wait, and long for peace." And I think of Karen, Gregg and David, reliving this last week of Katie's life together a year after their loss. I think of Colleen, who was able to come out for a visit today for the first time this summer, and who faces another round of chemo next week.

I listen to my cat, crying unhappily because our other cat, Sophie, had an asthma attack this evening, and my husband had to take her to the emergency room. I watch my dog, waiting by the door for Chris and Sophie to return from the vet, and for my daughter to return from her day in Seattle. And I think of all those who wait; of all those who watch their loved ones' pain; of all those who long for the peace of relief, of closure; of all those whose prayers are still lifted up in hope.

And, looking through all the madonna images I collected on my own trips to Italy, I am drawn to this one, to Mary, Queen of Peace; the Mary who, knowing what she now knows, having lost the child she held so dear, comforts and shelters, who pulls the soothing cloak of darkness over all who lift their hearts in prayer and longing, that they may find rest.

As day fades into deepest night, and the vigil of memory begins, I realize it is the words of my favorite service that are playing in my head, that beautiful prayer from the Compline service in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love's sake. Amen."

Striving for perfection

Yesterday my daughter chose to spend her day off (from the camp where she works on Orcas Island) riding the ferry to Anacortes to meet me and one of her friends for a girls' day out.

So I rose early, picked up her friend, and drove north to meet the ferry. We spent the early part of the day at a discount mall, had a late lunch at a little Greek/Italian restaurant in Mount Vernon, and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Mount Vernon Value Village, a charity-based second-hand store which has provided entertainment for me and the girls since we arrived in Seattle almost 20 years ago.

We had a blast, didn't spend a lot of money, bought some styrofoam wig heads for an as-yet-undefined future art project, bought goofy gifts for numerous friends, and enjoyed ourselves enormously. Ali's friend (I'll call her Haley) and I put Ali on the 6:50 ferry and began the long (hour and a half) drive home to the Edmonds ferry, and along the way we talked a lot about self-image.

And Haley, who is a tall, statuesque young woman with a vibrant personality, endless and spectacular legs, a great singing voice and stage presence, a lovely face, great hair, brains, passion and humor talked about her insecurities: her fat stomach (it isn't), her large nose (it fits her face beautifully and gives her character), her jealousy of my daughter's ability to wear bizarre clothes and pull it off.

And I, still in the throes of this play, find myself wishing I had Haley's powerful voice (mine is weak, which is particularly problematic when I am in a duet with a grade school principal whose voice can stop a third-grader on the far side of a gym). And I, looking at the photos of the play that are being loaded onto the group's website, mourn my appearance and wish I had Haley's slim figure, lovely legs and coltish grace.

This morning my friend Karen blogged about perfectionism. Clearly she is not alone in dealing with the perfectionist bug: Each of us, including Haley, is holding somewhere within us an image of what we SHOULD be, and each of us struggles with the voices in our heads that remind us that we don't measure up. Each of us, like the angel in the picture, fiddles with our clothes and appearance and secretly longs for that impractical and unattainable goal while failing to appreciate all the fine things we are and have.

The good news is that all three of us also understand that those voices are not necessarily speaking truth, and each of us, for a variety of reasons having to do largely with the difficult things we have encountered in our lives, have learned the folly of listening to those voices. There is another, deeper voice in each of us that breathes acceptance and love, that calls us to set aside these petty concerns, that inspires us to gratitude and service.

At the end of her blog, Karen concludes: "I am broken; I am not perfect. But perhaps I can be a safer person for myself and others, if I am more accepting of that fact, more humble, loving and open, and less perfect."

She's absolutely right. And her willingness to admit the struggle, to bare her own wrestling with the issue, and to speak openly of the unconditional divine Love that accepts and loves us as we are, inspires the rest of us to do the same. The more successfully we begin to overpower those perfectionist voices, and the better we are at loving and accepting ourselves, the more we can begin to create a safe space in which those around us may come to do the same.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Deep Water Joy

This morning I was cleaning out some old files and came across a promising image. I decided to play with it a while, shifting colors, adding layers, and this was the result.

What's fun about this is the combination: the blue brushes of a carwash, dragging across my windshield; grasses in a meadow, and a rock with cattails on the edge of a junkyard -- Nothing all that interesting to begin with.

Maybe it's a reminder of the immense creativity of God. Surely if I can transform three mundane images into something this deep and rich, God can "work through all things for good."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Train Wreck Riders

There are several bunkers on our little island, left over from World War II; this one sits in Blakely harbor, on a bit of land that divides the beach there from the saltwater lagoon behind it. It's covered in graffiti, some bits of which I've shown here before; the graffiti changes all the time as the kids explore their creativity on this wide open canvas.

There's a fruit tree growing up out of the cement inside the bunker, and this madrona curls around the southwest corner of the building, its graceful branches echoing the curls of the graffiti, though it's no longer clear which came first.

And I love this tiny little graffiti etched here, barely bigger than a madrona leaf: it has life and energy, and I feel -- as I always do -- a bit guilty photographing it; it's really someone else's art, not mine, that placed this little bit of charm in this odd little spot.

But today I feel I've been a bit of a train wreck rider myself. I'd planned to go to the San Juans to visit my daughter today, but when I woke I realized that the stomach flu that consumed my weekend hadn't quite left my system yet. This change in plans necessitated a number of different phone calls; the one to my daughter was particularly difficult as she had been counting on my visit.

But we've worked out an alternative -- assuming that two more days will restore my health more fully -- and, to her credit, she called back to set it up and apologized for being so distraught in the earlier call.

I'm still feeling rather dizzy, so I've been mostly laying low, watching old reruns of Monarch of the Glen, washing and ironing my costume, sewing back on the buttons that came off in the dryer. And it's rather lovely, actually, to step off the track for a bit, to lose myself in someone else's stories, to nap in the middle of the day and plan for an early bedtime.

And what felt, this morning, like a major train wreck, now seems like one of those accidents meant to happen, a chance for long conversations with good friends, a chance to spend more time with my other daughter, who is only here another week or two; a chance to pace myself more wisely, to listen to what my body is telling me, and slow down.

Maybe that's what train wreck riders do: they don't go anywhere, and find there's a lot of life to sing about right there on the tracks where they landed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Seeking our shadows

From recent discussions with some of my actor friends, including Dan Niven, who is portraying Bottom in this picture, I have come to realize that many of us find it easier to portray characters who are less like ourselves, or, conversely, that the more different a character is from the actor who portrays it, the more successful the portrayal is likely to be.

Which means, I think, that from now on I will approach the roles I play with a conscious effort to seek out that aspect of the character which is most opposite my own personality. In thinking about this, I am reminded of an exercise I had to do a couple of years ago in a workshop given by the folks at Washington Courage and Renewal, a wonderful organization which helps people in the teaching profession.

The purpose of the exercise was to get us more comfortable with our shadows, and it went something like this:

1. List three positive qualities about yourself
2. List their opposites.
3. List three things you are trying to become.
4. List their opposites.
5. Look at the six opposites -- which are, essentially, your shadow self -- and find positive qualities about each of them.

I'm not quite certain where we were officially supposed to take all that -- it's been almost two years since I took this workshop -- but when I look at my notes I see, and remember, that this process was a great revelation for me: I learned that the aspects of my personality which most shame or embarrass me actually have value -- particularly in connecting me with the rest of humanity.

Which may explain why, when I am acting, finding the aspect of my character that is least like myself can make her so much more readily accessible -- and believable -- for my audience. I suspect it also makes it easier to PLAY the role: we get to tap into that unexpressed part of ourselves, which wells up in joyful response at the opportunity to be seen.

My reading this morning took me to a passage written by Ken Wilber about dealing with our shadows. He says:

"As you begin to explore your opposites, your shadow, your will start to see that most battles between you and other people are really battles between you and your projected opposites... with the shadow projected onto other people, we hate these people as we once hated the shadow...To take back your projections is simply to tear down a boundary, to include as yourself things you thought were foreign, to make room in yourself for an understanding and acceptance of all your various potentials."

Which, I think, explains why portraying our characters as opposites makes them so successful: we are tearing down our imagined internal boundaries between "us" and "other," and providing an opportunity for integration.

I'm thinking that might be part of the value of theater, not just for the actor but for the audience as well -- that it allows us to see that there might be something loveable in traits that would normally be distasteful to us.

But of course, it also explains why acting takes so much courage: to be really good at it, we have to walk into those places in our psyches that we find most difficult, and not only face them, but allow them to show through us to a larger audience -- which may often include the family and friends from whom we try hardest to mask those qualities.

PS: to read more of what Ken Wilber has to say about shadow (it's really interesting, and very accessibly written) follow this link:

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Good old buoys

In my reading about Christophany this morning, I am learning that in a world where individualism is a primary assumption, the things we encounter are either "me" or "not me;" we become like little castles, completely separate from one another.

And in such cases intimacy becomes, for one party or the other, a potential loss of identity. If there can only be me or not me, one party must be subsumed in the other, and the attempt to connect becomes more of an invasion than an engagement.

But the author then suggests another way of seeing; that we are all part of a net, all connected by the same threads but each a unique knot. I was immediately reminded of this image, taken many years ago when I lived in Friday Harbor.

This net was just dumped in a pile on one of the docks used by the fishing boats that anchored there. The way the threads were sort of greenish, and glinted in the sun, made me see that the buoys (which were actually yellow, white and orange) looked very much like easter eggs, so I used my (then very elementary) knowledge of PhotoShop to delicately add a bit of pink and lavender.

I don't know whether the author of Christophany will stay with his knots-in-a-net theory, or if he will pick that one apart as well and come up with some other analogy. But I'm thinking it would be more fun to be the buoys that keep the net of being afloat; each of us buoyant with life and love; each of us a gift and a surprise, appreciated and anticipated like the pleasures of an easter basket on a sunny spring morning; all of us working together for a common goal.

But then, I always was a dreamer!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Stealing time

It seems to me that the whole point of the industrial revolution was the development of "labor-saving devices."

At the factory level that meant that one machine could do the work of many laborers; on the home level it meant that time-consuming tasks like washing laundry and doing dishes could be done by a machine, freeing up the household labor for other, more important tasks.

So when did we cross over into the realm where those so-called labor-saving devices consumed more time than they freed up? This sign, at the Washington State Ferry Terminal in Seattle is advertising Wi-Fi: oh, goody; riding on the ferry, watching the waves roll by, sitting outside with your face to the sun and listening to the cry of the gulls, need no longer be a complete waste of time.

Now you can spend that time on your computer, checking email, surfing the internet, blogging, playing bridge or poker, shopping; all activities presumably having more value than just enjoying the ride, chatting with fellow travelers, meditating or napping.

Ah, but I am too critical. Perhaps it just means that those who are under considerable job stress have the option of reducing that stress; that those whose work days are relentlessly circumscribed by the challenge of commuting back and forth to a small island can leave home half an hour later and still begin to work, or leave work half an hour earlier and still continue to work, thus giving them more time at home with their families.

How quick we are to leap to conclusions like this, to assume -- which, as my daughter says, "makes an ass of U and Me." The fact is that we are really only capable of observing and understanding ourselves, and even that is the work of a lifetime. It is even more difficult to understand the motivations of others, but few of us make that effort; it is far easier to judge than to comprehend -- a human tendency that was probably initially designed as a protective device but which now contributes to that feeling of isolation that plagues so many of us.

As I watch communities under stress it seems clear that this tendency to judge other people's actions splits us apart at least as effectively as do the actions themselves. And yet the effort to take the time to listen and comprehend, to reach a compromise, to agree to "let bygones be bygones" -- the work of truth and reconciliation -- is regarded by much of society with contempt and suspicion, the time-wasting of liberal do-gooders.

So does that mean it is time that is the culprit; time that keeps us from being better neighbors, or better parents, or better friends; time that keeps us from doing a better job at whatever it is we are tackling in the moment; time that keeps us rushing from task to task, never quite giving anything the attention it deserves? Surely that is what this sign suggests.

But I rather suspect it is not time that is the problem but rather the choices we make on how to spend our time. And, interestingly enough, those choices we make in one moment influence, in turn, the choices that we make in the next. What I choose to watch or read influences my actions, which then have repercussions of their own... it's a cycle, one which I am often only able to break by keeping to-do lists to remind myself of my priorities, so that I don't drift too far away from the goals I set for myself.

But ultimately I find that the most effective way to break the cycle is to stop, once a day, to remove myself and re-evaluate. And, interestingly enough, when I stop and pay attention, time is no longer the enemy, or something that runs away with me, or a precious jewel to be stolen or hoarded. It becomes, for those few moments, absolutely infinite, limitless, totally freeing; a deep well of joy, love and insight from which to drink.

And, having done so, I am refreshed, and ready once again for the journey.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Call and Response

There is an edginess about this photo that appeals to me today. Change is in the air: the long days of summer are getting shorter, the hot sun that has been baking us all week has disappeared behind a thick layer of clouds, and I found it very challenging to stay focused this morning.

There's something about the sweep of the clouds in this photograph... or perhaps it's the way the bench sits right at the edge of the picture? But even though it's really the focus of the scene, I can't seem to stay with it.

I'm restless, I want to leave the bench (which, being metal and bathed in sunlight, looks awfully hot and uncomfortable) and go explore the beach, or at least get behind the trees. It's at times like this that I find it most difficult not to be overcome by my "shoulds." I SHOULD sit. I SHOULD focus. I SHOULD stay on task.

Although perhaps it's the other side of those statements that really causes trouble: because I'm restless, because I'm unfocused, because I don't seem to want to do the things that were on my list for today I am somehow a bad person. It's very hard to give myself permission to walk away from that bench, though the fact is that the time I spend there is supremely unproductive.

But what if something wonderful is waiting on that beach, or behind those trees? And what if I completely miss it because I'm so busy doing what I think I should be doing? Maybe it's okay to be irresponsible once in a while.

I really, really don't want to be a typical me-generation thinker, in the "if it feels good, do it" mode. I've been hurt by others who've taken that path, and I think a lot of important work goes undone when everyone is off following their dreams and trying to find themselves.

But once in a while I suspect it does a soul good to step off the path for a minute, or to at least stop and listen to the voices that are calling you away. Whose voice is that, anyway? And why is it so alluring right now? What else is going on in life that makes the path seem tedious, or challenging?

Whether or not we follow the siren's call, it's good to be attentive to both call and response; we can learn a lot in the listening.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The lap of love

Yesterday evening I elected to dine near the waterfront, and arrived at the restaurant early enough to get a seat near the window.

This collection of boats was partially obscured by a dock, but it kept calling to me, so after dinner I went back to my car for my camera and then went down to the waterfront to take this shot.

I took several different versions of this image -- some horizontal, some vertical; some with the little white dinghy, some without -- and I don't know yet which I like the best; it takes me a while to feel my way through these sorts of value judgments, as my responses tend to vary over time.

But this morning this is the one that sings to me. For some reason it feels like it has a tenderness to it; the way the larger boats are clustered around the smaller one; the way the lines seem to be converging as they approach the bottom of the image.

I remember reading, when I studied child psychology in college, that the primary characteristic of a two-year-old (other than their use of the word NO!) is their yo-yo behavior. One minute they are clinging to their parent, and then next they are running away to explore the world.

I'm wondering now, speaking first as a mother, if that yo-yo phenomenon doesn't continue well into adulthood; it's just that the string gets longer and longer, so the time spent apart and away, discovering the world, keeps getting longer and longer, and the time spent re-connecting gets shorter.

Do you suppose that our relationship with the divine has a similar yo-yo-like quality? We know our spiritual life has its ups and downs; times we spend in the desert feeling separated and lost balance with times we spend showered with nourishment. If so, then I would hope that the times spent in the hand of God grow longer as we age, rather than shorter...

But however that plays out over time, I just know that today I am craving that closeness, that tenderness and comfort. Like this little dinghy, I want to sit in the lap of the divine and feel arms around me, holding me close.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dissolving the boundaries

One of my jobs as a photographer (pretty much the only one that pays, though it hasn't lately because the real estate market is in such a slump) is photographing houses for real estate brochures. This home was outside Tacoma: I had to take most of a day to go down and shoot it, and some six months later I still haven't been paid for the job.

But I love this one image, shot from the deck outside the house, because of the way the boundaries between within and without are blurred, and I find it very inviting.

I love the flowers on the deck, which appear to rest on the blanket draped across the couch; I love the serene presence of the Chinese statue within, the reflections of the trees and sky behind me even as we see more trees and sky through the window beyond the statue.

I love the counterpoint between the straight lines of the horizon and the deck railing and the curved lines of the flower bowl and the couch piping, and I enjoy the way the railing lines are echoed again through the window beyond, in the sleeve of the statue, and on the blanket itself.

For some reason the illusory nature of the boundaries between inside and outside in this image reminds me of a line from the Episcopal liturgy: "by him, with him and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit." I confess I've never thought much about that phrase; all those prepositions seem to just roll past, gathering strength like a wave to enhance the impact of the next phrase, "in the unity of the Holy Spirit."

Which, of course, is one of the dangers of a beautiful liturgy recited exactly in the same way Sunday after Sunday: the words acquire a rhythm of their own and tend to lose their meaning. We stop listening, and think of other things, waiting for our cue to step forward and take the bread and wine.

It's a bit like the Lord's Prayer: I am remembering a sermon in which the preacher said the harshest word in the Lord's Prayer was "as." He paused briefly, as we all stared at him, perplexed, and then went on to explain. "You know. "Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us?" And I remember thinking, "Ouch!"

But what does that mean, by him and with him and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit? If I pay attention to what I am reading about Christophany, this phrase appears to be addressing the nature of our mystical union with Jesus Christ.

I have to back up here a second and say that, for all I am willing to admit to being an Episcopalian, I find it VERY difficult to write words like these in this blog: priest, communion, Christ, Holy Spirit. Because Christians so often use those words as battering rams, or as exclusionary mechanisms, they have acquired an uncomfortable and invasive power that makes me -- and many others -- want to fold my arms across my chest and turn away.

Which is too bad. Because I suspect that the real power of the Christian faith may actually lie in those three little prepositions: by, in, and with. Because the magic that makes my often Buddhist heart repeatedly turn back to Christianity lies in the sense of mystical unity implied by those words. I love the thought of the Divine reaching out to us; that we are formed BY it, that, through Christ, it walks side-by-side WITH us; and that through the Holy Spirit it lives IN us -- as we live IN the divine.

I don't begin to understand how that might work, this blurring of boundaries between human and divine. And I am still not comfortable with some of those churchy religious words -- and even LESS comfortable with the ways those words have been used over the centuries to exclude, abuse, and excuse.

But there is a comfort in those three small prepositions, in the sense that there is a loving presence that reaches out to us, walks with us, lives in us and lifts us when we stumble or fall. And as, thinking of that comfort, my resistance to the Divine softens and blurs, so, too, the boundaries between self and other begin to blur, and I realize again the illusory nature of the divisions between us.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Through a glass, dimly

During that period in my life when all my friends were getting married, it seemed to me that there was a passage from the Bible -- First Corinthians, Chapter 13 -- which was read at almost every ceremony.You know the one:

"Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; Love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

It's all about love, which is why it seemed so appropriate to wedding ceremonies. But there's this odd bit near the end of the passage that always leaped out at me:

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known."

It's very mystical, and doesn't seem to have much to do with love. Perhaps it has to do with the way love evolves over the course of a relationship; certainly the love that emerges in a context of dinners and movies in the dating phase evolves into something quite different over the course of a long relationship, developing -- or, sadly, often losing -- the flexibility to embrace joy and hardship, sickness, health, loss and wealth.

Or it could have to do with 20-20 hindsight, that ability we have to look back over a lifetime together and better understand how certain patterns developed.

But this morning I began reading a book called Christophany, for a retreat I will be attending at the end of this month. And it seemed to me that this passage might also be about the human tendency to see everything through the lenses of our own experience; that when we watch, or criticize, or love, or test our mates -- or anyone, for that matter -- we are usually watching, criticizing, loving and testing our own image reflected in them, filtered through a lifetime of preconceptions and prejudices.

And it isn't until we become considerably more enlightened that we begin to see both their unique and completely separate value as individuals and, at the same time, the ways in which we both are manifestations of that single divine spirit that ignites us all.

With luck, over time, that clearer vision that emerges extends across the whole of humanity, so we can come to see the differences -- between red and blue states, between Christian and Muslim, between black and white, between male and female -- in the same way.

Perhaps then the "Objects in Mirro" -- whether it is our own reflection or something completely other than ourselves -- will awaken within us the respect and reverence that is due all of God's creation.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Soul Food

This image, which is entitled "The Color of Music" began life as a photograph of a portion of the hull of a very large boat. The boat was being sandblasted, and all the layers of paint that had been created over the years were being exposed in the process.

I took several photographs at the time, and have played with them off and on over the years because I love the colors. This one was created for a specific exhibit at the Gallery, and consists of 3 layers of the same image, just shrunk and rotated to create an illusion of depth.

Thanks to a couple of people who have commented on this blog, I've been surfing in the world of art blogs lately, and it's clear that I am drawn to images like this one: abstract, primarily cool; intense colors with a splash of warmth; generally fuzzy with a spark of definition. And it occurs to me that perhaps I need to do more of these; to explore the more intentionally creative aspects of my craft.

One of the lovely things about starting your day with an intentional period of quiet time is that you get to watch these bits of longing bubble up within you. If I give myself time to sit; if I allow the to-do's to gather like dust on the surface and then just blow them away, I get glimpses into the rich colors that lie below the surface; get to follow the color and the joy that draw me into the more creative realms of consciousness. Which always feels like the beckoning of the divine: go deeper! go deeper! Seek the clarity which lies at the center!

But that's also the blessing of visiting art blogs and galleries: wandering about, drinking in the richness of color and design; getting steeped in the creativity and originality that abounds in such places. So thanks to all the struggling gallery owners who are working to stay afloat in these harsh economic times, and thanks to the community of art bloggers who share their thoughts and work and dreams with us: you feed our souls!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Safe Travels

One of the things I love about visiting my friends Sue and Dave in Vermont is that their house is full of angels, fairies, buddha figures and butterflies. Several of those figures have appeared on this blog over the last year or so, but I offer this one today for all those who are embarking on new adventures this summer.

For Claire, who is opening as the star of Thoroughly Modern Millie this week and will share with us her newly discovered dancing and singing skills; for Karen, walking into a first anniversary of her daughter's death; for a dear friend whose divorce is now final; for the cast and crew of Midsummer, which opens this afternoon; for all those who travel; and for all of us who have ever been children: may the angels of love watch over us, comfort, guide and protect us as we continue on our way.

Friday, August 1, 2008

But being over full of self affairs, my mind did lose it

Both my husband and daughter rose early this morning, and the general consensus -- since they were planning to go into Seattle together and had preparations to make before their trip -- was that I should wait to meditate until after they left.

I agreed to do so, and spent my time doing other chores and chatting with them, then got caught up browsing some art blogs, so I was a little slow to pull away from the computer after they left. By the time I did, I was hungry, so I did dishes and prepared a snack before settling into my chair for the morning's meditation.

But by then I was out of the "zone" that usually starts my day. The morning coffee had kicked in and the to-do lists were roaming freely through my consciousness, so all my efforts to stay focused met with pretty weak results. I stayed the course, because I understand that it's good practice for me to continue trying to access the peace while other parts of me are restless and out of tune, but it was with some relief that I rose from the chair to blow out the candle when the clock chimed quarter after.

Having been immersed in Shakespeare for so many days and nights, I find that odd lines from the play keep popping into my head: a clear indicator, I think, that even after all these centuries Shakespeare still has his finger on the pulse of humanity. This morning it was this line -- displayed in the title above -- from Theseus, as he attempts to justify his negligence to Hippolyta, that sprung to mind. It seems the perfect description of my failed meditation attempt...

I mean, no one thinks of Barbie and Ken having a meditation practice: it's all about the clothes, the social life, the travel and the jobs, the pink Barbie house and the pink Barbie car. We're most of us not so different (though perhaps more anatomically correct and less shapely) from these dolls; our minds are generally full of such affairs, and less inclined to look beyond the trappings of daily existence to the heart of life that lies beneath.

Which is why I try to sit before my day begins: it's easier to move into that space when my brain is still a bit befuddled with sleep. And it sets the tone for the rest of the day, taking charge before all the other voices -- my internal listmaker, my comparer, my acquisitor, my naysayer -- can attempt to dominate the day.