Sunday, December 25, 2011

What is Christmas?

I've been mulling over the question in my head for a few days. It's not really a date on the calendar or a set of decorations we drag out from underneath our basement stairs and out of our dusty, damp closets each year. It's not the feeling of togetherness as families reunite or the isolation that some feel when circumstances and choices separate them from potential connections. Separations that can either be physical or psychic. Sometimes the loneliest feelings come from being in the midst of orchestrated social activity.

There are the different symbolisms for the same celebration. The birth of goodness and light that will cause the darkness of physical existence to fade, the gradual lighting of the Menorah, a new moon that ushers in blessings and the idea of being connected to something powerful and unseen, an omniscient being that travels the universe in one night and deposits trinkets of wishes, hopes, and dreams. But it all comes down to one thing, I think. The belief that anything is possible.

So much of what we experience as humans occurs in "the dark." It doesn't make sense. It seems outrageous, ludicrous, damaging, painful, destructive, defeating, despairing. I could go on, but I think we all know what a struggle walking in darkness is.

Our entire universe (as we know it) exists within a vast, dark hole of nothing. Yet within that emptiness is something. A lot of some things. Brilliant, bright, self-sustaining, and intelligent somethings. From darkness life creates itself because it believes in the possibility of something good.

During the rest of the 364 days on the calendar we sometimes take for granted that the sun's rays warm up our skin and that miracles can manifest at any time, and in ways that take some effort to notice. It can be an alabaster statue of a deity, overlooking a once prominent neighborhood slowly being overtaken by crime. Or a stoplight on a freeway on-ramp that makes us stop to take notice of the license plate on the car in front of us. Or a Facebook message from an old friend, an invitation from a new one, the mystery of synchronicity that reunites past lives, a message from a recently departed loved one that shows up as an "accidental gift."

Christmas is a reminder of what is possible when we believe in what we can't see. Trust. Hope. Faith. Light. Magic. Kinship. Life. It is the only reason why we are here; the only purpose behind the facades of talent, profession, "project," "ambition," current state of existence. Light illuminates darkness. Possibility makes something of nothingness. Belief transforms sorrow. Giving ensures receiving, until nothing can be seen but a single star.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gratitude in Darkness

I have a few people to thank for this past week and a half. Some I may never see again, some I will work with in the months to come, and others I may never see in this lifetime (but who have been a silent, inexplicable force of guidance and inspiration for more years than I care to count).

Anyone who has ever come here or lived here knows L.A. is a strange city. You arrive and you're either irritated and disoriented or elated and full of excited teenage energy. Then you get homesick and wish for everything you left behind in another reality; a reality that seems like it no longer exists, except in memories and dreams. Somewhere along the way you feel like you've been here before. You've seen the sights, heard the sounds, sensed the history, driven the roads. Finally, you get sad and realize that you're leaving another place that feels like it's home. Maybe this only happens to the people who have lived too many past lives as artists and sensitives. I'm not sure I can really say. I just know what I feel every time I'm here.

The people that I would like to thank may read this and they may not. I hope that they eventually do.

Thank you to my recent workshop leader and current term mentor for showing me that you can't escape a lesson that you thought you could run away from.

To my last term mentor and workshop leader for showing me that you don't always have to know what you're going to learn.

To my workshop peers for advocating for what was right, and being sensitive to encouragement, true support, "what's working," silent thoughtfulness, and allowing yourself to stretch to your fullest potential as an artist.

To the "random" speakers, writers, and beacons of social justice for revealing that I'm far from lost. I just have a lot more "dots to connect."

To the universe for all the repeated, obvious, urgent messages of "don't give up" on the freeways, the streets, and the clocks.

To the old friends and strangers I should have spent more time with, thanks for the advice, the chats, the tears, the laughs, and the insight.

To J for being understanding when I had to cancel our plans. Here's hoping (and promising) for next time.

To my sister and brother for helping me out with "Mr. Scruff."

To my gracious hosts for letting me stay in your guest suite and giving me a place that truly felt like "home away from home." I appreciate all the extras you thought of and for inviting me to spend time with your family and friends this evening.

To the city for being beautiful at night from "above." Beauty and light exist in all different shapes and forms when we stop to breathe.

To the other half of who I truly am-thanks for guiding me to the right street when the directions couldn't, and for your constant "vibes" of understanding and support. I couldn't ask for a more beautiful reflection of my side of the rainbow.

And finally to that part of myself that knows this point in my journey is happening so that I can get "lost" and "let go" in order to become one with whomever and "whatever" I need to serve.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Uncertainty, Surprises, Resolution

It shouldn't surprise me that I got homesick on the second day of my residency. Despite feeling strangely connected to this city, I want to go home. By home, I mean Colorado. Yes, freezing in the winter, boring, conservative, culturally and diversity depraved Colorado. It's Sunday and I just spent another hour or so fighting traffic to get back to the studio apartment I'm renting in the Hollywood Hills while I'm here. I used to hate to drive in this kind of mind-numbing, always have to be in defensive driving mode traffic when I lived in FL. In June, I thought I was homesick because I was staying in a two-star hotel that was missing the conveniences of my condo-a kitchen, a living room, landscaping, etc. It was my first time staying in a two-star hotel in god knows when, but I had decided to be frugal. So frugal that I'd forgotten that once you get used to a certain level of comfort and privilege you can't always regress completely.

I shouldn't be surprised at the fact that I'm ready to leave. I was always the kid that cried herself to sleep at Girl Scout camp and counted down the days until it was time for our parents to pick us up. Meadow Mountain was beautiful and it was wonderful to connect with my peers, but I wasn't comfortable with the sleeping bags, the cool nights, and the orchestration of activities that forced everyone into revealing more about themselves than they may have wanted to.

This MFA program is similar to that. Sometimes I feel elated and inspired, at other times tired and annoyed. A lot of times I wonder what I'm doing here. I don't look like most of these people. I don't have a desire to decorate myself with tattoos, wear combat boots, dye my hair extreme colors, or dress in some art nouveau fashion. Maybe my 17 or 18 year-old-self would do a few of these things. But I'm not 17. And I can't erase the fact that I chose to become someone more conservative and left-brained.

I certainly can't analyze or get energized about literature the same way they do either. Even though I know I'm still learning, I'm aware that a part of me isn't connecting. Sure, my mentor last term said she "vibes" with my work and offered to be my mentor again. I knew she was the "right one" the minute she stood up during last June's panel. She knows I'm having doubts about carrying this through. I didn't have to say anything. She just "knew." And at this point she's the only one from this term's panel that I trust with my writing.

On Saturday, I saw the 222's on the freeways. I heard the words "don't give up" during a wonderful speech by a famous writer. One that I almost didn't attend due to fatigue. Messages of synchronicity seem to be following me and I want to listen. It's just hard to not wonder where this is all going, where it's going to end up, and whether I should just return to that life of soul-sucking jobs that pay enough to afford two or three annual prepaid trips to a tropical beach.

I guess it takes time to go through a metamorphosis. The surprise is that I thought this might feel different. The way I used to feel at 17. But you can only discover something new once. And the minute you decide to abandon something, you can't really recapture what might've been.

What I know from getting lost before is that it's better to stay calm, create a sense of stillness in your mind, and connect to something that knows exactly how to guide you. I also know that there's something about familiarizing yourself with the new that can create a sense of panic and uncertainty. The part of you that is aware of your present surroundings is paradoxically unaware. Another part of you that sees the entire circle of your life gives you the needed answers at just the right moment. Not through something that's obvious, but by means of random synergy.

Maybe there's a place for me somewhere in this world. Maybe it's a wrong exit and I'm going to have to turn around and get myself back on the freeway. A journey that makes the best use of all that you are capable of doesn't end on one street. Within my heart is the urge to write. That alone makes me a writer-not a book deal, a list of published works, freelance gigs, and spending time with a group of "serious writers." This may just be a hobby, not a profession. I'm okay with that.

I'm a woman of diverse tastes, interests, talents, and aspirations. A woman who doesn't want to live in a fishbowl or limit herself to an idealized version of reality. Someone whom I think is willing to listen, but needs a layover in order to hear her own voice and what rings true.

And like a few people have said to me "no matter what you do, you're going to be good at it. You're just that kind of a person."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Miracles on 777 Street

Christmas reminds people of miracles, of hope, and the possibility of goodness that lies within each of us. The light displays twinkle on the lamp posts, the houses, the trees and the shopping malls. Churches become full again and people gather together to celebrate the bond of being in this dream and struggle we call life.

I used to walk the streets in the early morning hours during this season. The air was crisp and cold enough to chap every exposed layer of skin. It was a safe collection of neighborhoods, full of mostly "blue bloods," successful business owners and retirees who were just grateful to get their papers on time and placed in the right spots. I was never scared, even though a twenty something young lady might be by herself in the dark, with nothing but silent stars and colorful displays of Christmas lights left on overnight.

But every season it was the same. I'd get phone calls, extra tips, plates of homemade cookies and cards of gratitude from people who only knew me by my name and my work ethic. In a box those cards still exist, waiting for the right moment to be reopened and reread. Despite the fact that I was only doing this "job" for extra money to pay off my car lease and some of the debt I incurred as an undergraduate student, it became a little something extra. A source of simple joy and unlikely friendship-the kind that's harder to notice as the gray hair and the wrinkles become more prevalent.

Every so often, I still drive down those streets, breathe in the clean, cold air, and see the Christmas lights dancing beneath a dark blanket, sprinkled with reminders of what could be. It was a time in my life that was filled with small miracles that I'll always be fond of. An example of what it really means to have given, received and achieved success; a gesture or two of private recognition for dreaming the dream with conviction, determination, welcoming warmth and spunk. No Oscars, red carpet premieres, or literary Nobel Prizes. Just a group of neighbors saying thanks for making the journey a little bit easier.