What I plan to do on my summer vacation
Blogging on all channels will be light until autumn. You’ve probably noticed the crickets around here, so I thought I’d pop in and offer a peek at what I’ve been up to, which is by extension what I plan to do with the approaching summer.
Perhaps you’ve noticed my tweets about South Park Seattle and other neighborhoods? That’s because one of my favorite projects right now involves writing for neighborhoods around South Seattle. For these projects I get the opportunity to meet with local merchants and learn their stories. Then I do my best to tell those stories for print and web use. Our goal is to help attract new customers from around the Puget Sound area by sharing the unique goods and services to be found in these communities. Did you know that there are over 30 languages spoken in homes throughout the Duwamish Valley? There’s a load of history surrounding the Duwamish River. I’ll try to share the best things I learn along the way.
If you’ve missed the tweets and want to learn more about South Park Seattle, I recommend these starting points:
King County: South Park Bridge
Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center
Poetry & Prose
The solstice is just a couple days off, and I feel good about staying on track with my writing goals for 2011. Sometimes it has been a challenge for me to set aside significant time for working my own creative material. Life happens. This year I’m spending more hours writing and editing my stories. I’m powering through spiral-bound journals with greater velocity. I’m also taking more time to submit one or two finished pieces—at least once a month.
For the poets in the audience: among my foci this year is prosody, and if you’re interested in honing the music of your poetry (or if you’re just among the curious who would like to learn ways to read and enjoy poetry) I suggest these reference materials as starting points (which I borrowed from Kitsap Regional Library bookmobile—love your library):
Rules for the Dance : a handbook for writing and reading metrical verse by Mary Oliver
The poem’s heartbeat : a manual of prosody by Alfred Corn
I also checked out this book, but had to return it before I had time to read: All the fun’s in how you say a thing : an explanation of meter and versification by Timothy Steele. If I get back to it I’ll let you know what I think.
It wasn’t the refresher course in the rules of scansion that excited me about these books. What I did enjoy was each author’s use of examples, philosophical musings, and allusions to the evolution of language. It’s always a good to be reminded of the intimate relationship between poetry and breath. (It’s also nice to remember that I’m not the only over-analyzer on the planet.) If I had one wish about these books, it would be for less emphasis on poets and poetic forms that I already know. I’m on the quest for similar books which address poetic traditions and forms from other regions. If you know me, you know I’m not much of a gal for tradition. But there is much to be gained from the careful study of those predecessors who had way, way more self-discipline than I do.
Reads & Critiques
So what else am I reading? The stack is tall, but my favorite interest this year is slipstream. I blame it on the folks at GUD (review here) and a cappella zoo (review here). Years ago someone told me I was writing magic realism, which was before I’d even heard that it was a genre folks wrote to. Now that I’m a more of an active reader, I’m curious to learn about the evolutions of speculative fiction and slipstream. What I know is that I love well-done specfic and slipstream, and I’d like to learn to write a story that’s as effective as it is ethereal. If you’re interested in slipstream, I recommend this title (originally recommended by a cappella zoo): Feeling very strange : the Slipstream anthology, edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel.
Part of the reason I’ve returned more than a few unread library books is that I’ve gone into critique partner overdrive. It started last winter when I wanted to add a couple people to my critique exchanges to help keep me active. May rolled around and I had somehow accrued 10 critique partners, including one full manuscript exchange (not a short story but a rather ambitious novel). What I love about critiquing is not just reading newly-forming work, and not just challenging myself to share feedback that’s useful, but the act of the exchange itself. I think it makes me feel alive as a writer to trade with someone else who’s hacking away at the same mountain, hoping to strike a vein. Just remember, all ye who venture to pursue the full-manuscript critique: it’s worthwhile work, but you must be prepared to donate a significant chunk of your life to get it done.
Do you love trees? Sure you do! Blog, pod, vid, whatever medium you like, share a tree, orchard, garden, or forest from your neck of the woods. Then send us the permalink at the Festival of the Trees. Our monthly blog carnival is hosted at a different blog each month and celebrates trees in all their forms. The upcoming issue is our fifth birthday! That’s right – we’ve been blogging trees with folks from around the world for five years. Join the party at Dave Bonta’s blog Via Negativa.
If you’ve been reading my blogs these past years you know that for me, health and garden are intimately connected. While I didn’t finish moving the compost pile (did I mention that life—and the occasional flood—happens?), I did stick with my other health goals from 2010. I don’t do my qigong every morning, but I’m pleased to be in much better health this year, most especially because it means I can stay productive in my work. My new 2011 health goals include restarting my yoga/dance routine. I’m renting the upstairs of a farmhouse with big open floors, so it’s a great time to dust off my books from the Evergreen days and get my form back. The rental is located on a short neighborhood street with lots of trees, so my other simple goal is short, daily walks. I love being a writer, but it does require a fair amount of sitting. My final word for you all this summer: make time for recess.
Common Sense (or: a modicum of self-discipline)
In recent months (ok, years) I haven’t exactly devoted a lot of time and attention to my own well-being. I could point to a few causes, but mostly it comes down to this: my life has been crazy busy over the past few years, and I’ve either lacked the discipline or simply not made the time to seek balance amid the whirlwind. Perhaps having self-discipline and making time for important things could be considered one and the same?
I’m guessing that at some point, most of us are forced to realize that we need to slow down and reprioritize. There are plenty of published materials from experts and laypeople alike which expound upon the virtues of personal wellness (or what I like to think of as common sense). Ideas like “slowing down,” “finding balance,” and “doing what you love,” are deceptively simple, and somehow easily overlooked.
For those who share my situation of a temporary lack of common sense, or for those who simply need a friendly reminder to be kind to the self, here are a few easy steps that I’m taking to strike a balance, find a center, and achieve renewed health.
Get off my ass
No, not you, me. Tech-loving writer-geek that I am, it’s become all too easy for me to spend sunup to sundown at my desk, typing and scribbling away. It doesn’t take a genius to discover that sitting on my butt all day, every day, might be part of what’s got me down this season.
Option 1: GARDEN, of course! I postponed my garden work this spring to make time to prepare for a trip that I wasn’t able to take — because I got sick. The result is an unprepared spring garden and a grouchy Jade. In this image you can see the fruits of my initial labors, which are tasty indeed. I’m sticking with light-duty garden tasks for now (like seed sowing) and working my way up to the big stuff (like garden bed relocation).
I’ve mentioned before that my garden resides in a rock-rich swath of glacial till in Kitsap County, which means I need to add a lot of organics to build up the soil. This season I had a healthy pile of mushroom compost delivered on my driveway, which equates to lots of rounds with the wheelbarrow to relocate the decomposing matter to places around the garden. I’ve decided to visualize that big, steaming pile of crap as the symbol of my big, steaming pile of unwell. I can’t move the pile in one go, but I have to work at it, one load at time.
–> Suggestion: find a symbol that works for you, and see how good it makes you feel to move that mountain of shit out of your way. [Hint: try looking at the state of your desk, or office, or house. Notice anything that’s getting in your way?]
Option 2: QIGONG: I first tried T’ai Chi Ch’uan in 2000 while working in payroll tax and terminations at the-bank-formerly-known-as-WAMU. If I think about it, I probably started taking that program for the same reasons as I have today: I wasn’t feeling well, and I knew I needed a change. My instructor at the time (whose name currently eludes my memory) said something to the effect of, “the first million tries don’t count,” as told to him by his mentor. For me, this is a reminder both to discipline myself with practice, and to forgive myself for the inevitable imperfection.
I know that I love to dance, even if I’m not all that graceful. While studying at The Evergreen State College I practiced Orissi dance with Dr. Ratna Roy and Jamie Lynn Colley. Orissi Indian classical dance is a delicious intersection of Tantric, Yogic, and Martial arts, which often uses motion to tell stories on the stage. Orissi is by far my favorite dance, but it has been six years since I really practiced in earnest, and I’ve lost much of the form, discipline, and strength I once had.
This June I am beginning with Martial arts (again) with the help of Eight Simple Qigong Exercises for Health: The Eight Pieces of Brocade, a DVD by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming which was originally recommended to me many moons ago by Qigong instructor Michelle Wood. I bought this DVD a couple years ago, used it for a while, and then stopped. This June my focus is on the sitting portion of the Eight Piece Brocade, which I am practicing every morning upon waking. My goal is to learn enough of the motions, and the poetry behind them, so that I can do this every day (and without using the DVD as a guide). I’d like this daily routine to last indefinitely.
–> Suggestion: find a motion that works for you, and do it EVERY DAY. [Hint: walking is moving. So is waving your hands in the air like ya just don’t care!]
Lose the ‘tude
An attitude adjustment can be the most obvious (and the most difficult) solution to a lot of problems. Feeling bad begets more bad feeling. Whenever I’m frustrated, stuck-in-a-rut, or I otherwise feel like there’s no way out, I can usually eliminate all the external grievances I might have, and boil my problems down to this: I’m not looking for a solution, and I’ve donned an unproductive attitude.
Option 1: SMILE, of course! Anyone who has experienced depression knows it’s not that easy. You don’t “just snap out of it,” because chances are, you didn’t just snap into it. You probably wormed your way down into that dark little hole (or fell in unwittingly), and maybe turned your back on the exit, forgetting it was there. Silly movies are one approach, but I’m not a TV junkie. My approach is to spend time among the things I love (like out in the forest and the garden) until I start to wake up, notice the world around, and smile. This morning I ate breakfast on the porch and watched a humming bird eat its breakfast in the salal (Gaultheria shallon). I dare anyone not to smile at such a sight.
–> Suggestion: close your eyes, quiet your mind, and ask yourself this question: “If I could be doing anything I wanted right now, what would it be?” [Hint: it’s probably not “sitting on my butt getting frustrated.”]
Option 2: EAT WELL, naturally. I consider myself a good eater… when I eat. I prefer fresh foods to packaged foods, I grow what I can in my garden, and 18 months ago I began to eliminate meat from my diet and replace it with plant proteins, like my many beloved legumes. This has been a great choice for me for several personal reasons, but if you need a few of your own it’s easy to find ethical, ecological, and practical reasons to reduce your meat intake: if you’re looking for discussion rather than instruction, start with Michael Pollan.
The problem for me is that I often skip meals when I’m busy, ill, tired, grouchy, or otherwise out of balance. I’ve also recently adopted a bad habit of eating at my desk while working, and it’s not hard to recognize that my meal isn’t restful if I type while I munch. My goal is to unplug from my computer for significant chunks of the day, get back into the kitchen, and remember to celebrate the simple pleasures daily. For me, this means physically shutting down my machines, because otherwise I’ll think of something REALLY AWESOME, run in to my office to write it down, and stay there for three hours.
–> Suggestion: take stock of your meals, and BE HONEST. Really be honest. If most of your food comes from a box, consider this: where do most animals get their food? [Hint: the answer is not “from a box.”]
* * *
To recap, my goals/foci are as follows:
1) Get out in the garden
2) Practice Qigong
3) Smile, and adjust the attitude
4) Eat well and cook more
* * *
Your turn! Share your ideas and answer us this in the comments: how are you approaching your goals, health, and attitude this season?