Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Sacrosanctity of Your Writing Space


No one should have to move while enmeshed in the writing of the great American novel. But I just did. Sixty-three thousand words into it, and my husband and I decide to downsize. For good reasons, though. Not because we’re in dire straits, but because we shifted our priorities.

Now, there's one thing I would never do, not in a million years, and that is: display photos of my writing space. I’m not even sure when I discovered this mythical taboo, but I have to tell you, I think it came down from on-high, and not from mouths of men. In my gut, I have always known, ever since I started to write, to never cross that line, that this was more than mere superstition.

It’s possible a writing instructor or two has reinforced the inviolability of exposing your inner sanctum during otherwise discussions about the high stakes poker games of storytelling, and maintaining some semblance of mystery. But right before I packed up my computer at my old writing space, I decided it was not in violation to snap a few photos of the old chamber, provided certain failsafe guidelines were followed. (See 7 guidelines below.)

What initially gave me the idea for this essay was seeing a gosh-dern writers contest online, which was soliciting submissions from wordsmiths, asking writers everywhere to send in photos of their writing spaces. Shouldn't a writers website know better? Flickr is propagandizing this stuff, too. Writers are exposing themselves all over the web.

I’m sorry, but putting up a photo of your sacred space for public scrutiny is like opening the inside of your tomb. Only your unseen in-mates should know what goes on in there, and your most intimate friends. Take photos of your dog or cat, not your writing space. (Notice I have even swirled the inside of a picture still haging on the wall of my old space, so no one can discern its meaning.  But showing one of my feline familiars is okay.)

Trust me. Your writing space should be treated as sacrosanct; it is your altar of creativity, your manifold of ideas, your deepest darkest secrets wafting amid the collective dust of writer’s block and ecstatic breakthroughs. It’s personal! What you conjure here is supposed to be enfolded into words, painstakingly gathered and collected amid bookshelves, writing pads, scribbled scraps, dust bunnies, and preserved for eternity in the fallen crumbs of your gluten-free muffin. Your writing space is not for public consumption. You’re already on the chopping block with every word you write—someone out there just might see your work—so don’t give it up with a “picture worth a thousand words.” Yikes!  Put it instead in your manuscript. I’m just saying, “Just don’t do it!”...

...that is, unless you’re leaving it behind, like I did. And only after you’ve stowed away all your loot. When my old writing space was emptied and compacted, reshuffled and organized, and safely stashed inside U-Haul book boxes, I decided to chronicle the empty shell that was now devoid of my secrets. My old writing space had already served its time.  And as for me, I had already gleaned all I ever would from its confines.

Here are the FAILSAFE GUIDELINES...
If you must expose anything about your writing space, do so only under these conditions:

1.  You’re physically moving it to another location.
2.  You’ve emptied all your shelves, and there’s not one book left in sight.
3.  There's no chance you'll ever write in that space again.  Not ever.

4.  Photos of boxes are okay, as long as they’re sealed, and no one can read what’s written on them. (I have liquefied the text on the boxes in my photographs that violate this rule.)


5.  If you’re trying to impress anyone, even with the image of the empty shell of your old writing space, it’ll jinx the quality of your work in the future, the same as it would in your writing. [Remember: the act of writing itself can reveal more about you than perhaps you think you know.  So monitor yourself, because your negative ego always lies: “This’ll impress ‘em.” Same goes for photographs of your writing space. One of the reasons your writing space is sacred is, it's where you deal with your shadow, as well as that pesky ego.

6.  On the occasion you’re trying to show how derelict your writing space is--messy, oppressive, meek, sparse, cluttered--that, too, is a BIG no-no. Because you’re still trying to impress someone. It’s merely the flipside of point #5’s coin.

7.  Regarding utility strangers visiting your onsite space: phone jack installers, DSL people, electric and gas men, or someone like the piano moving guy who just delivered my repaired fallboard.  These are unavoidable circumstances, and for the most part, these people don’t count, as they’re “on the job” themselves, and not really interested in your space.

Now, if you want to mitigate someone's probing curiosity about why your desk is sitting under the chandelier in the dining room, what you do is act like it’s no big deal. Don’t bring attention to yourself by exhibiting morbidity (or arrogance) in the face of exposure. Also, another thing you can do is, put a protective light around yourself and your space beforehand.  (I like to use the colors of the rainbow because it gives me more vividness in my visualization, as well as protecting the full spectrum of me, represented by my seven chakras: safety/security (red), creativity/sexuality (orange), power and emotions (yellow), things of the heart (green), communication (blue), intuition and sensitivity (indigo), and my connection to the divine (violet or white). Like I said, all the colors of the rainbow.

I hope in some small way these guidelines help preserve the sanctity of writing spaces everywhere.  Sending best wishes to everyone for a wonder-filled holiday season, and a new year that brings many new possibilities to light.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

New York Won't Leave Me Alone!


I thought I was a California girl.  From the time I was four years old, I knew I'd be living here one day, just didn't know when.  In 1957 I flew with my mother and little brother on American Airlines from Indianapolis to Los Angeles.  During the flight, I became a qualified Junior Stewardess, which entitled me to wear the official ring.  It would be the last time I'd ever see my great-grandfather.  During our stay in Los Angeles, my mother took us to visit the empty-seated Hollywood Bowl.  This is where I made first contact with the spirits of entertainment, while climbing the stairs between rows of benches.  I also knew I'd be back.  Twenty-six years later, I packed everything I owned into my old van and drove myself and my dreams to the California Coast.

So... What the hell does that have to do with New York?

Well, it seems New York got under my skin and left this California girl in quite a tizzy.  Other places have found their way into my misty recesses over the years.  But not until September 2009 did I take such a plunge into deep mysterious waters.  I had given myself permission to go visit a friend on the Upper West Side, for no other reason than to reconnect with her, and with the city I barely knew.  I suspected New York was going to change me; I just didn't know how much.  Below is the view from my girlfriend's apartment.  She lives in one of the Trump Place towers along Riverside Boulevard, overlooking the Hudson River.  I hung my camera out through the narrow window opening to get this shot:

I had only been in New York on two other occasions in my life.  The first time was early in my childhood, before the Twin Towers were built.  It's only a vague memory, one remote feeling accompanied by the view from the Empire State Building.  It's all I remember, but the memory is infused by the image of what I saw that day.

My second visit to New York came in 1980, while I was touring with Little Rock, a Nashville-based show rock group.  Four significant things happened while I was in the city this time.  One good, and three bad.  First, the good thing: I and the two other girls in the band got to take voice lessons from Bette Midler's vocal coach, Sue Seton.  Toni, our band's leader, passed Gilda Radner on her way in.  At the time, Gilda was performing her one-woman show on Broadway.

Bad things one and two: My Korg Synthe-Bass was stolen out of Donna's car, along with my favorite antique necklace with the green triangle-shaped glass stone, and I got a ticket in Central Park when Toni's friend's dog (notice I am twice removed from this dog) finagled his way off his leash.

Bad thing number three: (A side note: I believe there was intervention here from forces beyond this world, otherwise I'd be dead.)  This is when I first drove into New York, and got lost after my first turn past the bridge.  I ended up in Harlem.  Now, how could this have happened?

First of all, I'd been driving for two days nonstop from Columbus, Ohio, a journey which had its own mystical episode, one that's earmarked for a chapter in my back-burnered "On the Road" memoir ("What A Fool Believes") about a non-famous keyboard player obsessed with a famous keyboard player.  I had been driving Donna's car.  Donna was Little Rock's front singer, along with Toni.  Both of them kicked ass, I'm telling you.  But Donna had let me drive her car to Columbus, my home base, so she could traipse off to New York with Toni in one of the Little Rock vans.  Below is said car and van in question:

Okay, so I was lost.  In Harlem.  How I got there I have no idea.  It was dark, not a lot of street lighting; the streets were empty this late at night.  I stopped at a gas station that appeared to be open, to get some directions.  A drooling double-fanged German Shepherd was perched on the concrete stoop in front of the gas station entrance, ominously lit by a blinking tubular light.  So what did I do?  I got out of Donna's car, squirrelly from driving for two days.  And wouldn't you have guessed: that dog charged after me like a ravenous wolf to a rabbit.  I think I left my body, because it seemed like the deafening death-barks that numbed out my eardrums were penetrating me from all sides.  I was a goner.  But at the last minute, the gas station watchman screamed his lungs out at the dog, "Fido, Stop!"  Miracles of all miracles, the dog obeyed.  The guy couldn't believe my balls, I know it.  Afterward, I couldn't believe them either.  But I got my directions and found my way into Manhattan.  I later wondered if he had known that he named his dog the same name Abraham Lincoln named his dog.

Okay, with that preamble, flash-forward to September 2009.  Here's the deal:

New York captured my spirit and stirred my soul, so much so that I don't think I'll ever be satisfied in this life until I get my own apartment overlooking Central Park.  I know I'm not going to stop until I have achieved that dream.  And of course, I wouldn't stop there, because, well... I'd be in New York!

Its hold on me is beyond logic, and my comprehension.  I told my friend, Teresa, first up I wanted to go to Ground Zero, to lend whatever energy I could, even if but a little.  I wanted to be present with the space left by 9-11.  We arrived by subway, and when I looked over the construction site, I could feel hope, and that surprised me.  The city had wrapped herself around the wound, and she seemed to be contributing vibrant and unmistakable energy to the healing of this sacred space...

Every majestic building surrounding Ground Zero was keeping ever-faithful watch, holding the ground solid beneath its own structure.

And though the Empire State Building seeks the limelight no longer, it still stands a powerful monolith of a nation's unshakable will.

While I was in New York, so many things happened supposedly by happenstance, in this serendipitous land of make believe. The city challenges you, gives you a nudge, makes you look inside yourself and feel the vibration in the rhythm of your walk down Fifth Avenue.

People you didn't think you'd see appear in beautiful regalia.  This bride and groom were walking the streets, still basking in their wedding.  The bride looked at me, and I was grateful for her smile, though the video photographer next to me probably wished she was looking at him.

People, yes, but also beings you didn't expect.  A gnome at the edge of Central Park made himself known to my camera, letting me perceive the thin veil between worlds.  The nature spirit of earth delivered a message: "You won't be able to stay away.  Gotcha!"

Wondrous shadows, building shadows, a tall dark forest of intrigue, and Sophie's Cuban Cuisine sign swaying in the tunneled breeze.

And then in a twinkling, I heard on a roof, Norah Jones Chasing Pirates in a video shoot.

I zoomed in my lens, tore open the shutter. Looked through my viewfinder, wanting to see better.

(Sorry about the poetry. Just trying to get the New Yorker to take notice.)  New York has so many dichotomies.  There was a Goddess Festival near the Battery Wall.  I just had to get a picture of this keyboard player.  The Goddess herself stood in the background, New York Harbor's beacon of welcoming.

Interestingly enough, before my friend and I could even get over to the festival, we were stopped by a secret service agent near the Ritz-Carlton.  She put her arms up and told us we couldn't cross the street.  We asked why, but she wouldn't tell us.  She held us back until an entourage of black SUV's zoomed out of the hotel, accompanied by NYPD cruisers.

Since there were no reporters, this must've been a hush-hush event.  I tried to capture whoever it was in the big black van.  After the entourage had passed, we were allowed to cross the street to Battery Park.  I decided to try asking the secret service agent again who was in that big black van, and she relented: "The President of Iraq."  Jalal Talabani in New York!  And there we were, my friend and I, witnesses.

Later, we "happened" to find ourselves standing in front of the National Museum of the American Indian, housed in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.  For three years I have been researching several tribes of Native American people for two different story projects: my current novel and a screenplay that waits second in the queue.  New York is an ancient land, and, according to W. Richard West (Southern Cheyenne), "has become a center of new thinking about Native cultures."  The Hopi have a prophecy about a time long ago when their people "would travel to the east to meet with the nation of the world in a 'house of mica.'" I looked up at the allegorical statue of the continent of Africa, and once again I saw New York's dichotomous relationship with the natural world.

Inside the museum I found a Crow girl's dress, from Montana, decorated with elk teeth, bone, and hide.  One of my novel's secondary characters is a young Crow woman from Montana, learning the ancient skill of horse doctoring.  She finds herself lost, with only her medicine bag, after chasing a herd of wild Mustangs who have somehow entered through a portal to a Montana Otherworld.  When I saw the Crow dress in the museum, now you can understand why I was grateful.

Nearby was another striking view of the city's tall, angular forest.  The guy with the New York Yankees hat wasn't sure about me.  But I thank him now, just the same, whoever he is.  For without him and his hat, this photo would be a little less complete.  I call it, "Morris Street."

The subways were amazing to me, mysterious underground passages that spilled every sound into a wash of echoes: bright 3-dimensional canvases smeared with loud, dark-colored paint.

During one of the days I walked the streets alone, cherishing the solitude and deepening my personal connection with New York, the city gave me another surprise.  A cormorant.  This whole past year, I've been blogging about seabirds in Port Hueneme, California, especially grebes and cormorants.  Well, when I strolled through Cedar Hill (Fifth Avenue side of Central Park), there he was, just standing there on a floating wooden platform.

At first, I couldn't believe it, walking past the outdoor tables where people sat drinking coffee.  From across the pond, he looked like a statue.  And it's not like New York doesn't have its share of statues.

Now I have seen seagulls and sandpipers standing on one foot, but I never saw a cormorant doing that.  It wasn't until I looked more closely at the images that I started to think this guy only had one leg.  He never moved from his position the whole time I observed him.  And there were plenty of disturbances that could've prompted him to lift from his platform, but he never did.  I remember how content he seemed, so I don't worry too much about him now.

I could write to eternity about New York, and that's why I know I'll be coming back to the city, to spend more serious time folded within her magical layers.  But for now, I'm leaving you with my favorite Central Park tree photos.  They whispered to me, all of them; they are Human Whisperers.  They stand as guardians between worlds, between the human world and the Other world that imbues the magic.  It's hard to let go and move on to my next project, as these words and images have drawn me back.  I can feel New York in my bones, in my soul.  Like I said, I'll never be the same.




Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Northern Minnesota

I left the California coast on September 3rd and flew to Minnesota. This was my fourth research trip back there for my current novel project, and my third time visiting the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation. It was an honor for me to witness the sacred manoomin harvest. Manoomin means "the good berry" in Ojibwe, and it's what the Anishinaabeg call the wild rice. It was a beautiful morning on the first day of harvest. Beyond the shaded foreground in the photo below is the lake. You can't see the water for the rice.

Canoes were being driven along dirt roads to Dead Fish Lake, tied to tops of cars and sticking out of truck beds, until all were lifted and carried to water's edge.

At 10 AM, eighteen canoes were launched. As each ricing team made their way through the high rice beds, the call of Trumpeter Swans echoed across the lake as, one by one, they lifted out of the rice stalks to the sky.

I snapped a few photos of the Ojibwe wild rice harvest from this watchtower. Misty sunlight streaked through the trees and spilled over the tower, adding a sparkle to the Fond du Lac Conservation Officers' truck:

During the four days I spent time on the reservation, I stayed at the Black Bear Casino Resort. When I turned into the entrance of the hotel my first day, I spotted a group of Giant Canadian Geese in a small pond. You can see the reflection of the hotel in the photo below:

These are magnificent birds. And... they were wondering how I had gotten past the fence and over the rocks from the parking lot, especially this one, who seemed to be their leader:

But, alas, he wasn't too keen on me snooping around taking pictures, so he got everyone to hightail it to the other side of the pond.

On day five, I drove down to Southern Minnesota, and visited several small towns in Rice and Dodge Counties. I will post later to tell you about my enchanted walk through Rice Lake State Park, but for now I gotta fly.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Great Blue Heron on Port Hueneme Beach

There's nothing to say about this, other than I couldn't believe my eyes, seeing this magnificent creature walking among the seagulls.

It was very personal for me. Thus, for this blog, I'm here just to share some of the photos, so others can appreciate the beauty of this bird, too.

Below is the closest photo I dared take. My zoom really helped.
I didn't want to cause him any stress... ruffle his feathers. His demeanor seemed pretty laid back:

I have lived in Port Hueneme for a year, and I've never seen this Great Blue Heron on the beach, ever. This was a rare landing, I know. I took a walk down the beach to check on another bird I'd been keeping an eye on, and when I came back, the Blue Heron had moved away from shore, about halfway between the beach and East Surfside Drive. Can you believe this next image??

Wow, such incredible wing-wrapping. It was hard to figure out what he was doing. The next photo shows the Surfside I condos in the background... such a strange dichotomy of images here:

By the way, the date of this encounter was June 25, 2009. The next photo is from behind. I love the way he has cloaked himself, or is it herself?

And here he/she is with his/her head down. Unbelievable!

And my last shot of the beautiful Great Blue Heron:

I turned to leave, and when I turned back, he was up in the air. And I realized he was the bird I kept seeing fly over our condos from time to time. Like this day, he always seemed to be heading toward the Naval Base. I hope you enjoyed these photos.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Seagull with a Broken Wing

It happened over Memorial Day weekend--the official start of the summer holiday season. There were a lot more people along Port Hueneme beach, and a lot more cars in the parking lot, more than we had seen all year. As my husband and I were driving away from our condo, we spotted the seagull in the street. He must've just been sideswiped by a car. His wing was busted and dragging the ground, and he was making his way from East Surfside Drive to the curb, heading towards the parking lot and beach. We knew we would need to come back later that evening to look for the little guy.

But we didn't find him until Saturday morning. I saw him early. He was being fed by a homeless man near one of the picnic tables. I was grateful for the compassion being shown to the bird by the man. There are a couple of seagulls on Port Hueneme beach who have bad legs, but if a seagull can't fly, then it won't be able to survive for very long.

Later in the afternoon, after my husband had completed his work, we parked our car in the crowded parking lot, and carried a box and towel with us to the beach. We were determined to find him, cause we knew he was out there. Here is a photo taken at a less crowded time, this one showing a perfectly healthy seagull:

Eventually we found the little guy, after walking past a lot of family-filled picnic tables. I brought my camera this time to take a couple of pictures before the rescue. He was a young seagull, and his wing was really bad.

Like the rescue of the other broken-winged seagull we did earlier this year, my husband was the one who headed the bird off at the pass while I ran after him coming from the opposite direction. I threw the towel over him, careful not to let him nip at my hand. I used the towel to gently hold onto his beak and body as I put him inside the box.

We drove him down PCH, turned onto Malibu Canyon Road, and into the canyon to the California Wildlife Center, hoping upon hope that the bird's wing could be repaired. We were very impressed with the facility, and were greeted by a cage of baby orphaned ducks near CWC's front entrance.

We watched through the examining room window, and saw the doctor taking a look at the seagull's wing. We knew the bird was in good hands, so we left feeling rewarded by our rescue. A few days later I called the facility to see how our seagull was doing. They informed me that the little guy had to be euthanized, his wing was just too far gone. We were so saddened to hear about our little friend, but we knew his passing was a gentle one, and not one of struggle and pain.

I can still remember seeing him walk the beach, his reflexes couldn't stop him from trying to move his wing (jerking it), but I knew it had been painful for him. To whatever degree of pain one might want to argue that a seagull can feel, no one would ever be able to convince me that he wasn't suffering, nor that there wasn't a soul inside that little bird... or any living creature on this earth, for that matter.

My husband and I said our silent goodbyes to the broken-winged seagull, sending energy for his transition, and for his next life, and to whatever new adventure that life will bring. Farewell, little friend. Your wings are okay now.