It was three miles in to a canyon reachable only by foot.
Or, by wing, if you have them.
A hummingbird hovered over us as entered the trail.
After visiting the Boynton Vortex to take in the beauty there,
we turned our lunch heavy pack and stepped on the trail towards this
A hummingbird hovered around me, then sat on a juniper branch, right up
at the top, so I could see its tiny presence against blue sky.
At our backs, the Boynton Vortex stood against the sun. At the top of the rocks at the Vortex, a kind man played his flute. His music
mixed with the Canyon Wren’s song as our path wove through side canyons. The songs were so similar. Paul Winter composed a collaboration with a Canyon Wren. Listen here.
Do you find birds to be a blessing?
This is what I saw early as I did my morning pages out in the sunrise.
Hummingbirds urge me to lighten up. These tiny powerhouses are capable of gymnastic maneuvers, they can fly backwards, and they are able to revive themselves after seeming to die when cold nights still their body functions.
Kind of like what a vacation does for a wintry soul. Hummingbird medicine on this day has revived my winter logged self. I am dusty and drenched in the orange red landscape here. Not enough time to paint and dream as much as I’d like, but plenty of time to walk with my husband and daughter, taking it all in.
The rocks seem very feminine here, the light plays with them, they blossom in the changing light. I am soaking it up.
I am here to ask you to tune in to National Public Radio to Susan Barnett’s show, 51%. It plays Thursday, February 20 at 8pm. You can livestream it at the link I just gave you or tune in to WAMC. Then the show goes national on Friday so check your NPR stations to see if they run 51%. I will post a link here.
If you are in the Berkshires, my Powder Keg Sunday Sessions: Writing Workshops for Women take place this coming Sunday, February 23 at 1pm. Email me at email@example.com if you’d like to be there. We write for 3 hours. Sessions are $30. Please bring a journal and a pen.
I know I have a lot more to tell you. I have great posts lined up for the Out blog series.
But first, there is a sunset to see.
Blessings of birds to you, wherever you are,
PS Laundry Line regulars will notice a new comment thingy called Disqus. This requires you to create an account, but does not send you any email or link you to something that will fill your in-box. It is a comment threading system that allows me to comment back to you directly and post a photo or link. You will get an email if I comment back to you. It feels more manageable
to me and I like having more direct conversation with my readers. Send me your feedback on this. My research is very positive so far. Thanks to Nancy Moon at Moon PR and her new blog for inspiring me to Disqus. xo S
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
What does “Priming Your Pump” mean?
Do you feel dry and stale sometimes?
Do you wake up wondering if something new will come in to your day to surprise you?
Do you wonder if your resources are running out?
This is normal, grossly normal, as we like to say here on Hollenbeck Avenue.
We are in deep winter here in the Berkshires. Our larders are plumbed for just the right snow day sustenance. Bean soup simmers here at my house. Butter is softening for Ginger Molasses cookies. Wash is drying on a rack.
Home chugs along in winter mode, I am stocking my inner fires with good music and tea breaks to watch horsetails of snow curl off the garage roof in the wind. I will make a snow angel today, I will, just let me lean on to the radiator a little while longer.
We are well in to winter comfort. I feel the sun on my back through several layers of wool and jump at the sound of a large mass of snow sloughing off the roof as the sun warms it too. Movement comes, but slowly in this deep winter cold.
The other night at my writing workshop at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic,
we painted and doodled on small pieces of watercolor paper. These small palates of lines and color are appetizers for the creative voices of the women who gather to write at the library three times a month for an hour, on Wednesdays.
Very often and sometimes for entire lifetimes, women feel pressed to duty. Our families, our professions, our relationships demand our attention and we freely give it. Women are wired for connection and we nurture these interactions with our full focus.
But, we also weary of doing for others to the detriment of our own nurturance. Taking time to write, to fuel the chilly hearths of our own voices, is necessary to building any creative practice. If you do a little something every single day, whether you dance in the morning to Lou Reed or you thread a needle and embroider or you mold a bit of clay, massaging your expression with warm hands, you are doing what I call “Priming Your Pump”.
Our creative expression has often been hiding out behind the clamor of busy lives, busy minds, busy bustling occupations that leave no room for singing at the top of our lungs, or weaving baskets. To begin, you must warm up. Like me leaning my entire frame against the radiator in the kitchen, absorbing it’s warmth in to my tissues before putting my boots on, I become ready to move. Priming Your Pump is any small action of making that carves a path through the clutter of your mind to the place where your voice resides. Your inner castle door or as John O’Donohue calls your “Genesis Foyer”, is the place of beginning.
So, Joelle, to answer you literally, to prime a pump which is designed to draw water up from the ground as Ben is doing there and as I saw when hiking in the Alps with our Ursula this summer, you must lift the handle and pump it repeatedly to create suction that coaxes the water up and through the pipe and out the spout. To prime the pump of your creative voice, we engage in gentle slow attention building activities that settle our minds, clear the clutter from our thoughts and make way for a new beginning. We keep our inner pipes warm with small creative acts.
Yesterday, I wrote about The Rainbow Wayby Lucy Pearce. Her book about nesting a creative life while mothering, she urges readers to begin. Lucy writes,“The only place to start is at the beginning-just start-and keep going! You can paint over it, rub it out, delete the words. You can start again, and again, and again, and no one dies.” The women in my writing workshop begin by painting and doodling. We do small writing exercises to engage and enliven our imaginations, like making a list of all the words you can think of beginning with L and taking three of those and writing a small paragraph including those words. Just letting your making be playful. Your creative voice warms up, your visions find safe passage from your inner life to a page or pot.
Jan Phillips says, “We only have one lifetime under this name to speak our truths, to manifest in the world the supreme force of love that cannot be made explicit without our hands, our eyes, our voices and actions.”
You do only have this lifetime to tell your story. Grace Paley said, “The world is a better place for having its stories told.”
I urge you to live full out, to burn brightly today, as no one other than you, your one precious life lived is worth more than anything. Let your stories take form, however that works for you, but do not squander them.
Making things has always and ever been my life. Long before I contemplated motherhood, making was just what I did. I learned to sew when I was ten and began making my own clothing. I learned to make quiches and my friend Patty and I baked them for dinner parties as a way to make money. I worked all through my acting career in costume shops, making costumes for Martha Graham’s dance company and the Cabbage Patch Kids calendar.
When I became a mother, my making magnified.
Soup and cookies and jam became easy in my hands.
I learned to knit when Ben was a baby and dear soul, he has lived a life with wool socks and sweaters and itchy hats. Infant Catherine sat up easily, propped up by wool everything…she was a winter baby and the perfect model for my knitted dreams.
This entire making for others nourished me; my desire to create was well channeled and had practical value. Elizabeth Zimmerman, my knitting she-ro said, “Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises” and I followed her instructions to a tee. Knitting and jamming and gardening comforted me while raising my children. These tasks fulfilled a very necessary part of our daily life, warmth, interesting meals and bountiful gardens producing edibles. I was fully occupied for the most part.
What I want to get to you today is this: Take small steps toward what you desire. If it is writing, then prime your pump with doodles and dancing. I can only tell you what I know to be true for me and that is a daily practice of small creative acts keeps my winter pipes warm and flowing with inspired attention, reflection and expression.
So here is the writing prompt we used on Wednesday.
Write in to this statement: “This is what you get today…” and shed light on the parts of you that might not be so glamorous or perfect. (another stumbling block to creative acts is waiting for things to be perfect. I invite you to celebrate
the places that aren’t so perfect. They are much more interesting!)
Mine was about my passion hoarding of colored pencils.
From that tidbit I then wrote this ode.
And so, in closing this Valentine’s Day post, I leave you with:
Ode to the Woman Who Loves Pencils
Oh, beloved scrivener of lead, wood, oil, gold embossed shafts of possibility.
You, who sing to the grrr, grrr, grrr, grrr of the Boston Champion sharpener,
the music of a sturdy color-tipped twig runs symphonic through your long fingers.
Gripping your deft collaborators, your short stubby yellow hexagonal sticks,
scratching fine lines with lean steel mechanicals to form nice architect-y flat-bottomed letters
who play as if a ruler, a long metal thwackable ruler butted under your pencil’s momentum
darting across large sheets of vellum.
PS Thank you Joelle, for asking for this post. You primed my pump! xoxoxo S
PPS Please share this post with a friend who needs a bit of warmth today. Share the Valentine’s Love!
PPPS The synchronicity is not lost on me here. Writing about priming our pumps on Valentine’s Day, which celebrates
our most precious of pumps, our hearts! Here is to each and every one of your hearts, much love!
Arriving with the boatload of life-change my offspring brought in to
my tidy little life, was a continually developing habit of worry disguised as imaginative thought. This habit became the default setting for my mind.
One small event is expanded upon. It is as if a Sears catalog of horribles opens with the merest slight. My mind draws on all resources including hearsay, titles from grocery aisle magazines and Huffington Post blogs, everything I have ever heard said about, say, concussions or menstrual cramps or faulty brakes comes forward. I not only deal with the facts at hand, but I have this Wagnerian chorus chanting doom in the background.
Some days the chant murmurs.
Some days, it lofts to colossal measure. Worry prepares me, I think. I check through my resources and concoct solutions to possible outcomes.
I found myself at the kitchen table the other midnight. I laced my Sleepy time tea with elderflower syrup because that is what Janet would do for me, if she was there
in her jammies, reading and keeping company. But I was alone, and though I know I am never truly alone-by this I don’t mean mice or my husband upstairs snoring, I mean that I am never truly abandoned by the Holy. But, the Holy was not there in flannel at the table with me to talk through my concern about something that had happened to one of our kids that day.
I do pray. Without ceasing, really. Not in the way that I learned as a child, I don’t grovel or abnegate. But I face this Power Greater Than Myself, and for the sake of brevity, please call that Power whatever you will and let us allow each other that name in our hearts. I do pray earnestly with a heart full of gratitude for the many blessings in my life. I read, on another night at the kitchen table, Danielle LaPorte’s words, which so closely resemble my own.
In The Desire Map, Danielle writes “My relationship to prayer has transformed in parallel with my relationship to life. My name for God has changed. My location for God has changed. My capacity to feel God has changed. What I used to call him, I now call Life.”
Believe me, I have sat with people who are dying, people who I knew to have lived long lives devoted to a religious practice, others with a deeply personal relationship to the Holy not attached to an organized religion. There was no debate in these hallowed moments, where the lapses between breaths were counted, where time slowed and the shimmery veil between life and death rested on our shoulders. There was no debate in these moments about which club they belonged to or not. There was no checking of credentials. There was life and there was Life and as I sat with these cherished souls making their way, picking their way with tender aliveness over the last rocks and crevices of their time on earth, which is to say, there was care and time here, slow, very slow time, I never ever felt that the religious or the not religious ones were more or less welcomed in to death.
This strengthens my resolve that though I do worry, and some days, I worry a lot, my prayers are answered in ways that I cannot know immediately. It struck me during a perfectly horrible time with my son, when his teenagerliness overshadowed any kindness between us and our conversations were minefields, that this, even this, was exactly how things were supposed to be.
My heart, bless my heart, my heart or my deeper knowing that is revealed in quiet hours, asked, “What if this is exactly how things are supposed to be?”
There was a moment, at 10:17am on a Saturday 3 years ago, when my husband called from a Berkshire ski mountain to say that the EMT s had him, but our boy had a badly broken leg and I should come, now, right now, and meet them at the hospital in Hudson. I leapt to my knees to pray. It anchored me in grace. I don’t think there was a second of consideration of to whom I was praying. Names were not mentioned. Grace was provided. Courage and stamina for a grueling day of holding my son’s head in the ambulance as they transported him from one hospital to another on a very very very rough, icy wintry road where every bump caused him to gasp and tears to flow. The EMT who sat with us in the back of the ambulance breathed with us. There was plenty of grace. No names mentioned.
So, this week, when I was murdering Wednesday night with worry, I let my prayers become, as Danielle suggests, declarations. I love my child. I “immersed myself in the pure wanting” of this child to be safe and well, to heal and feel comfort. There was something different in this praying than I have ever experienced. Rather that seeing the horribles, I envisioned all that was possible, I envisioned that child well. The Wagnerian chants quieted. I was able to finish my tea and crawl back in to bed.
Years ago, when we were planning our wedding, the celebration of our faith lineages uniting as one (read: Lutheran meets Jewish, Escanaba Michigan meets Coney Island New York), we found a verse that resonated for us then and has only increased in importance to us now. Our best friend Benita read from Psalm 121:
A song of degrees. I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Looking in to the hills at night is not so easy, but the stars help. Looking in to the hills from my desk right now is one way that I gain perspective and calm myself. Truly, we have all witnessed horrible events in our lives, which cannot be explained or mollified by “being the perfect thing”. But, having witnessed those things myself, knowing grave loss and tragedy, untimely death, stupid mistakes and earth shattering changes, I know that I live differently because of them. Perfection arrives in knowing more, in learning, in gaining confidence standing close to the edges of life and feeling the presence of whatever you call the Holy. And though I cannot stem the losses, my living differently, this slowing down is the gift.
Worrying, how I love thee. Worry, you bring me in to necessary relationship to slow, to prayer, to requests for help and light. Worrying, though I carry you as a horned Viking screeching agonies, you drive me to candle light and to seeing what I desire.
“Desire joins you with God, with Life.” writes Danielle.
All is well today. Bumps are healed. Legs are strong. Tests have been taken. Life bumbles along. There was a bluebird, a female, at the feeder near our kitchen window this morning. Almost too heavy to perch without shutting the feeder, she batted her wings wildly while grabbing seed- her body engaged with frantic beating while her beak steadied to reach and gather seed. This combination of action and focus is just like worry and prayer for me. I may be worrying frantically, but prayer allows me to focus and rally what I need for the situation at hand.
May your desires bring you closer to God, closer to Life.
I woke up singing this song, which led me to think about mountains, which led me to thinking about worry and prayer, which led me here.
Thank you for reading me here. Please share this post with a friend. Share it with your people if you are up to that. And look up at the hills.