Metaphor or Advice?

Standard

img_0687At the beginning of the month I went to the Holy Grail of women’s writing residencies: Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island. I leave three weeks later (plane takes me home tomorrow). I have managed to stay off of social media (unless you count joining Instagram and friending five of the women I have gotten to know during my stay).

Everything they say about radical hospitality is true. I started out in Willow cottage but roof repair necessitated a move to the Meadow House, and here, in the quiet of my loft desk, I have completed a draft of my next book. I have read books—plural! I have walked around the lagoon and talked to bunnies and slugs. I have discovered quite a bit about the silence of the mind and untapped potential of an unscheduled day.

I have learned how to build a fire. I have discovered that I make terrible coffee. I have also discovered that I will drink terrible coffee if it means not having to leave the cottage.

Here’s some other stuff I’ve learned. Is writing advice or is it metaphor? You be the judge.

 

You don’t have to stay on the path in order to find your way.

Sometimes a fire doesn’t burn until you leave it alone.

The red thermos holds three cups of coffee.

Take time to feed the llamas.

Take baths. Take naps. Take walks. Take the cookie jar if you are hosting.

When you step on a ladder from a lofty height, don’t look down.
When you are climbing the ladder, don’t look down.
When you are descending, it doesn’t matter so much
if you are looking up or looking down.
It only matters that you have a firm footing.

Not every recipe is in the cookbook.

The puffy llama doesn’t want the fruit you have to offer her.
She just wants to snort at you.
Don’t take it personally.
The other llama is not so picky.

Fire needs to breathe to live.
Sometimes kindling and a little air is enough to reignite the flame.

Hedgebrook is the place where you fall out of your routine
in order to fall into a rhythm.

Big flames don’t always carry a lot of heat and they burnt out quickly.
Those orange-hot embers, on the other hand, will cause other logs to catch fire
And will keep you warm through the night.

You don’t have to finish everything on your plate.
You can even throw it away.
After all, making yourself eat more than you can handle is also a waste.

Don’t pay attention to the smoke.
Well, sometimes you should pay attention to the smoke.
Especially if you left a towel on the wood stove.

Sometimes the flowers you cut bloom.
Sometimes they die right away.
Sometimes they have bugs.
Dead flowers have their own picturesque beauty.
Buggy ones—less so.

Burning your manuscript as kindling is fun, but newspaper is more effective.

Even Hedgebrook makes chocolate chips cookies
from the recipe on the back of the Nestle Tollhouse bag.

Vito isn’t making it up—you really can see Mt. Rainier on a clear day.
It will shine there a hundred miles away, iridescent pink and glowing.
And once you see it, you can’t un-see it.
You can see its outline in the clouds.
You can feel that it’s there.
This is how you will be when you leave this place.
What you need is already inside of you.
Even if you don’t believe it.

P.S. Don’t kill Gloria Steinem’s spiders.

Orphaned Post #638

Standard
IMG_0632

desk from a cottage in the woods

I am sifting through a very rough draft of a book I’ve been kicking around in my head for years—a book about ballet. This is from the introduction. It doesn’t fit anymore but it deserves to have a home. So here it is. A little nugget from March of 2011.

 

Dear Gentle Reader, (Aren’t readers are always gentle when referred to by their authors?)

            I imagine you curled up on your sofa, drink on the coffee table. Maybe it’s hot chocolate (I myself am partial to hot chocolate) or maybe it’s a hot toddy (perhaps you are partial to those). Or maybe you are sitting on the bus reading during your commute or maybe you are too young for a job and you are instead a budding ballerina, reading this book at night in secret because you are afraid that your mother would never let you read a book that occasionally makes use of the “F” word, which—and you may not be aware of this—is a very handy word when you work in the theatre.

Perhaps you picked up this book because you wanted to know the inside story on ballet—if it is like the movie Black Swan: all sex, drugs, Rachmaninov, and I can assure you that it is. The inside story on ballet, that is. Not necessarily the stories inside this book. There isn’t much sex inside this book. The drugs are limited to over-the-counter narcotics such as nicotine and Dexatrim and the occasional extra-strength laxative. And ibuprofen. Oh, how there ever were ballet dancers before Motrin, I’ll never know. But that’s the extent of the drugs and as for Rachmanianov, really, the only thing he has in common with Tchaikovsky is the fact that they are both Russian.

            But it is the inside story of ballet, the real inside story. Of hope and ambition. Of leaping and falling. Of little girls and grown women. There are shattered dreams just as there are shattered metatarsals. It is the quest for identity—artistic identity, personal identity. It is negotiation between dancing for oneself and dancing for others. After all, if all you do is run around trying to please others, you will never cultivate that one thing that people don’t even know that they want to see—that thing that constitutes your inner you. And yet, if your inner you doesn’t please at least somebody, nobody will offer you a job.

            There is something very strange about the ten-year-old who can see the next twenty years of her life with perfect clarity and feels that there isn’t a moment to lose. It’s probably even stranger when she is right. And there’s something very exotic about teenagers on tour away from home, especially when they grow into long-limbed dancers who wear scarves and soak their feet and agonize over the varying slippage factors of different ribbons. But the real beauty of the stories, just like the real beauty of the dancer (or anyone, really) is what’s within. The real beauty isn’t in the shiny stuff; it’s in the grit and not because dirty is the new shiny, but because the dirt represents the humanness—the vulnerabilities. The falling down, the occasional humiliation.

A broken spirit isn’t inherently beautiful. But you know it what it’s like. You’ve been there. You have been to the place where you dance between what is expected of you and what you expect of yourself and how the universe actually operates. Sometimes the universe isn’t fair and sometimes things don’t happen for a reason. Life events do not have to have a meaning in order to be meaningful. In fact, the mantra “Be in the moment” (which I believe is the new “Just do it”) tries to illicit just that.

            Maybe this book is like fog. Fog always looks like it’s somewhere else. Even when you’re deep in it. You can’t hug it. You can’t touch it. But you feel it. It embraces you. It wraps around you. And sometimes it’s heavy and sometimes it’s light. But it’s not something to take; it’s just something to experience.

            I hope you enjoy the experience of this book.