Living in Frames, by meshing the lyrical moments of life with the captured images of experience. This is a reverie, a journey, the fork in the road, and the never-ending story....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Recovering Idealist

Personal freedom has been a hot topic lately- the latest trend. In September, students and supporters rallied together for a week-long, demonstration in Keene, NH for the legalization of marijuana: http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090930/FRONTPAGE/909300301
Then in late-fall came John Mayer's album Battle Studies, where he asked, "Who Says (I can't get stoned?)"

In the news this weekend, protests unfold at state, college campuses across California.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/22/california.student.protest/index.html?eref=igoogle_cnn

I find myself reminiscing of the days when I was an undergrad. I was such an idealist when it came to social issues - adopting a greener lifestyle, educating on global warming, locally supporting small businesses, advocating universal healthcare and affordable education, accepting certain values of socialism. I sat on board with my fellow peers during political campaigns and charities. We believed social change was within our grasp. Little did we know that we were directing our energies in an ineffective way, and that fighting against invisible, bureaucratic ideologies, made about as much sense as spitting in the wind.

I would like to think I have grown up from those years, but maybe its just a newfound revelation - it is easier to influence the tangible and what lies before you, than trying to change a long-held idea or belief. Perhaps this is another incarnation of idealism; I want to believe that my personal, day-to-day choices are just a smaller scale of the "better good". If we were all conscious of our individual actions, with a broader responsbility in mind and motivating us, wouldn't we be better off?

Of course this comes from someone who devoted time and energy to the study of political propaganda from the "Events of May 1968"; having argued from a sociological and visual art standpoint, that the posters created during these student/worker uprisings, were the strong-arm of the protests. Quoting a blog I wrote about that time:

" I spent many months of my college career, obsessing over the year 1968 and reading everything I could get my hands on, from "The Paris Commune" by Lenin, to the writings of Hervé Bourges. (I am sure I was red-listed as a communist supporter by my junior year of college). But I think something really rubbed off on me, and though I was not claiming to be a socialist, I had developed my own political ideals that were definitely in the realm of anti-bureaucracy... my only criticism of the "Spirit of '68", is the lack of mention of other visual breakthroughs that came about during this revolution; which are the political propaganda of the students, workers, and artists who joined forces for a common cause. With much of the art produced still remaining by anonymous hands, I think it is important to appreciate and give credit to the creativity that can sprout from political/social discord." (In response to A.O. Scott's "Spirit of '68", NY Times)

Recently, I came across some sketches I had made up during my studies. Some friends and I had wanted to start a t-shirt company with witty expressions and political humor, just as others had done before our time. I remember feeding on the energy of those days, where evenings were spent crowded in a small room, munching on garden veggies, and bouncing ideas off each other. I was truly inspired by images of the past:
"Be Young and Be Quiet"
"Culture is Dead"
"Free Information"

Here is one of my sketches:

I have begun to revisit the t-shirt idea again, and just recently approached a designer friend of mine about silk-screening. Though I have to say, the images that are now in the works, are quite a bit more passive than they were before. Play-on-words and metaphors are my latest interests. So, if you have any ideas or suggestions for this new pursuit of mine, please feel free to comment or send me an email.

I am interested to see what comes out of the California protests, and whether the personal freedoms message gains momentum as it becomes more publicized in the media. But I can't help but think how frivolous some of these causes may seem, in perspective to those fighting every day to be alive. Another reason for me to focus on what is before me, the choices I make, and how they affect the larger picture, than trying to mend the world with my own two hands.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Writing in Luxury

Just last week, I treated myself and splurged on a genuine, leather Moleskine journal. I thought I was going to make it until the end of the year before switching to another notebook, but the pages filled fast, and I was forced to make the purchase, or else go without for the remainder of 2009.

I was picking up a few books for school at a local bookstore, when I came upon one of those displays stacked with generic journals for $4.99 & Up. I usually gravitate towards these deals, stocking up where I can, because I know I will eventually go through them, and they are always good to have on-hand. For the last 5 years, these colorful covers and ruled pages have been a staple to my daily, writing activities and seem to work best for my sketches, brainstorming, and free-writing. So why not go cheap and buy in bulk, right?

But on this particular shopping trip, I wasn't satisfied with the usual selection. The pages weren't bound right, the line spacing was too large, the cover was in faux snakeskin, or the size wasn't convenient enough. So, I walked on.

Next to this display, there was a rotating rack, also with journals. Even from afar, I could tell they were of better craftsmanship -- Ah yes, the infamous Moleskine! I knew people who swore by the brand, but I couldn't get past the trend or rationalize the extra ten bucks. If I was going to write, I was going to write on or in, whatever I could get my hands on. I don't discriminate, as long as its a legible surface.

Writer/Poet, (Some people believe we should distinguish between the broad and specific labels. Not all writers are poets, but all poets are writers.. or something like that. Anyway... ) Natalie Goldberg described her own preferences when it came to notebooks, in her craft-book Writing Down the Bones : "Garfield, the Muppets, Mickey Mouse, Star Wars. I use notebooks with funny covers. They come out fresh in September when school starts. They are a quarter more than the plain spirals, but I like them. I can't take myself too seriously when I open up a Peanuts notebook."

And isn't that what it comes down to? When you choose fancy stationary or writing materials, you are investing that your ideas and thoughts are worthy of such. I find myself writing more neatly, even with expensive birthday cards, being extra careful not to blemish the pages with my horrendous handwriting or poorly-formed meditations.

In my hands however, I liked the texture of the Moleskine under my fingertips. I flipped through it and the line spacing was spot-on. And yet it was still about the same size and thickness as my past journals, but with a noticeably better quality. Then on the cover, the fine print simply stated: The Famous Notebook of Van Gogh, Picasso, and Chatwin... I was sold. "Perhaps, the words will come more sweetly," I thought to myself as I broke the bank and left the store.

Today I am happy to report, the journal is working out well, and my writing is very much alive and thriving. There was no adjustment period or directions needed. The transition went mighty smoothly, and the "acid-free pages" and "hand-glued bindings" are growing on me. When I blessed the inside cover with my "author's note to the reader" (which is basically an explanation for its contents), I thought about customary journaling and wondered how long it will endure, particularly in this age of technological gadgets.

To me, there is something still so intimate about writing in a diary. My handwriting is distinct to the rhythm of my thoughts; it is my every inspiration and breath in, and my every secret professed in exhale. The contents of a hard-drive could never reveal of me, what a journal could. And perhaps that is why I have become more selective about the organization and contents, as I've grown as a writer.

I always worry about what I will leave behind. And I definitely don't want the manner in which I leave my writing, to distract from the meaning of my words. "Don't judge me for what I was not in my life, but for the passion I approached my life with." That's what is most important to me. And as long as that comes across, I would be content writing on napkins for the rest of my days...

For the history of Moleskine, go here (Actually, it is pretty interesting): http://www.moleskine.com/moleskine_world/_the_legendary_notebook_moleskine.php

Time Flies When You are NOT Having Fun


I know, I know. I have let this blog go over 2 weeks without posting. I wish I had a really creative excuse, like I just got back from participating in water rituals in Thailand, or I was kidnapped by a band of gypsies to be sold as a love-slave...Unfortunately, I am still Stateside and my only excuse is one of time.

It is as though I woke up one day and all the extra time I once possessed, was sucked through some invisible worm-hole. Which wouldn't surprise me all that much, since the lining of my reality is appearing more and more fragile these days. Sometimes I even catch myself seeing the counterpart of my life and wondering if it could be just another dimension of existence, or perhaps where all my time is escaping off to afterall.

When I was young, I had no connection to time. My life went along a certain flow, without increments or divisions, and the only dictation I had, was instituted by my parents or by school. Summer vacations seemed to span an eternity, where who you were in one grade, was definitely not who you were going back as the following year. And evenings lasted until they interrupted a game of ball, or an innocent kiss, and your parents called you by your full-name to come back home. I miss getting so caught up in a moment or an experience, that I lose that sense of time and need to be called back. Now, I am the only one accountable for my days and I have no one else to tell me how to utilize them, other than myself. Time has become my dictator.

Until I owned a cell phone, I never wore a watch. I was given them as presents, but they were all stashed away in their original cases, in my little box of time. My cell phone however, has become a constant reminder. When I notice the clock behind the stove, on the microwave, or on the TV, I still check my cell to see if I have gained or lost a minute. It's compulsive and I hate it.
But what I find even more dispicable is that, even if I haven't checked my phone in the last minute or hour, I am still acutely aware of what time it is, without even looking. And when it comes to simple questions like, "Should I stay or go?" "Should I order another or not?", "Should I rush or meander?", it is always in regards to the time!

They say time goes by faster when you are older, because you are preoccupied with getting things done. I guess that could be true, but I would still prefer my long-lost naivety when it comes to such things. Instead, I can't help but think -- in 4 1/2 months I am going to be another year older, which means another year closer to 30, which means that much less time to do XYZ, which means I can hear the clock tick-tick-ticking, which means that now I am in a hurry and living in heat, and all the lovely things I used to take the time to stop and notice, I am brushing past, because I don't have the time!

Whoever decided to divide days into 24-hour blocks; IT WAS A REALLY, BAD IDEA! You spend almost half the day just on biological necessities, such as eating and sleeping. Then there is work and commuting. Leaving let's say generously, after maintaining your survival, 4 hours to do as you please. 4 HOURS! And we wonder why there is so many stress-induced diseases out there? Time is the culprit. I am certain of it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Leaving Comments

I have received a number of emails from friends and followers, regarding Living in Frames (LIF). I always appreciate the feedback and I'm encouraged knowing that people are actually reading my babbling, stream of consciousness. When I hear how a blog has touched someone or how they were able to relate to something I have written, it makes my time and thoughts all the worthwhile. I absolutely enjoy sharing my experiences with others and love having others share with me, theirs. Whether it be personal stories or another perspective, I am almost always open to the communication.

Recently, I have had a number of people contact me, who read LIF, to let me know they were not able to leave comments on the page. Initially, comments were only allowed to be left for "followers" of the blog. I have since changed the settings to all Gmail/Blogger users. The comments will be monitored, but I will post as many of them as I can.

Thanks again for reading and I look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Breaking Up is Not Easy to Do

So, I have been a bit of a basket case the last couple days. I received feedback from my mentor on Thursday, regarding my first submission. Though overall her comments were positive and she was very excited to see what was to come in the future, the most constructive critique she gave me, was that my first seven or so pages needed to be reworked and my opening completely scraped.

At first I thought, "Hey, this won't be too bad", but then I realized, "Oh shit! The anecdotal opening, is a metaphor for the novel's entire theme!" She wasn't convinced it was the best way to introduce the main character and in a sense she thought it was too superficial for the depth of the protagonist.
"Sarah, you just got to learn when to kill your babies," she said.

As amusing as that was, I knew I had alot of work before me, whether I was ahead of the game or not.

Unfortunately, I can't just discard the first page and start from there, because it would leave the beginning too vague, with multiple unanswered questions. The main theme of the novel is: how relationships shape us as individuals, and how we can learn from them and grow. It's not so much that I am attached to my opening, it's that I don't know what to replace it with, while still being able to get the theme across right away and present the female lead.

My manuscript, at least the first seven pages, is looking a little like confetti right now. I've kept the most important paragraphs and have tried to organize them in a logical way. But there are still holes that need to be filled in and I absolutely hate the idea of using "filler" to patchwork my story together. Maybe I just need to scrap the whole first chapter and start over that way?

I know there is no one else who can really solve this problem for me and the answer will probably come to me when I least expect it, but I only have 15 days left until my next deadline and it already feels like not enough time. You just can't rush the creative process and be satisfied with what you've done. I may have to use a temporary band-aid, so I can continue forging forward...

RECOMMENDATION: Here's a man who doesn't get seperation anxiety with his art, UK chalk-artist, Julian Beever http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/





Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Personally... I think it's too personal.

When you are in the business of the arts and you eat, breathe, and rarely sleep over your work, when does it become too personal? In my family circle, we call it "soul puke", where the artists' guts and blood are spilled out like a Pollock painting, for people to criticize, misinterpret, and muse over. However, as romantic as the thought is, most artists don't put themselves out there completely for an audience and most do care what others think of them. Even Pollock, who was known for his self-deprecating antics and critic-hatred, had his moments of solitary reflection and expression. Even Philip Johnson, who built a glass house as a statement of transparency in craftsmanship, couldn't bare to live in a place that lacked privacy.

Tonight, I caught myself saying, "It's just too personal", when someone close to me suggested I post an essay I recently wrote, to my blog. Yes it's true, there is writing out there that I selectively reveal and censor to more intimate relationships. I also have writing that I have never shown to a single soul; that will only emerge when I have left this life. (And for those who the work is dedicated to, it will be yet another world unveiled). But it's interesting how we classify what is worthy of another's eyes and what is left solely for our own. And what we will leave behind, when we can't hide it anymore?

I have written about sex, lust, love, violence, death, abuse, and insanity, but all in such a way, I have still managed to remove myself from the scene or subject matter. I am an onlooker looking back, looking forward, I am a character in disguise, but rarely am I in the present tense with my bathroom or bedroom door, wide open. I can derobe in an artist's studio and have my nakedness hung on a gallery wall, but how different it is for me, to have my honest words read by foreign lips and deciphered by strangers' minds.

I came across this book online, Sleeping With a Famous Poet, and immediately I thought, "What an allusion to so many meanings and I don't even have the faintest desire to read what it is about." All the questions that first popped into my head: Was he really that famous? Was it his fame she was attracted to? Or was it the novelty of him being a poet? Was he a good enough lover to write a book about him? Or was it about having an affair with another man? But even with all these unsolved questions, I still didn't care enough to read poem after poem, of personal bravado.

Currently, I am working on a novel of fiction. My main characters are already, pretty defined at this point in the process. The protagonist (a female) and the antagonist (a male), have an undeniable chemistry that leads the story along, with both tension and longing ( never once do they occupy a physical space together in the present tense.) The female character is very much tied to my own psyche and initially, when I began writing my manuscript, I had chosen to use the first-person perspective. But as I began to work the strings, as the creator of this woman, I realized it was becoming harder and harder for me to allow her to be something I wasn't. I had become too attached and couldn't see beyond my own perspective. That is when I made the conscious decision to change the "I's" to the "She's".

She still resembles me in some ways, but at least now I can acknowledge that she isn't me and stay somewhat emotionally detached. And that way, when people rip my manuscript apart (and it will happen) I am less defensive about the characters and more focused on the overall critique. I don't know what would be worse? Protesting, "No, she's not!" to a publisher. Or saying "It's really not that bad, is it?"

To find out more about Philip Johnson and his Glass House, go here: http://philipjohnsonglasshouse.org/

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What does LOVE got to do with it?

How do you when you have submitted to the same editor one too many times? When Gmail has defaulted "Editor" to your chat list. Four weeks have passed since my submission to the NY Time's Modern Love column and I suspect I am probably not going to hear back from them. Or, I may just receive another one of these:
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Dear Sarah Caouette,

I'm afraid we've chosen not to use your essay in Modern Love, but we appreciate the opportunity to consider it. The volume of unsolicited submissions we receive prevents us from responding personally to each writer, but please know all essays are read and considered, and in fact we discover most of the essays for the column among these submissions. Thank you for your interest and best of luck.

Daniel Jones
Modern Love editor
The New York Times


Yes, the specifically-formatted, apologetic, rejection letter. A letter that most writers, get very familiar with.

According to my mother, who also just submitted to the column a couple weeks ago, today's Modern Love was about "frozen sperm". We have a running joke that if its not about drug addiction, trans-genderism, beastiality, or abuse, it's just not interesting enough to make the cut for our beloved Sunday column. And if you think about it, the average profile of someone who reads this column, let alone the New York Times, probably can't relate to the obscure, isolated cases that the editors seem to favor for publishment. Maybe it has become a bit of a "pissing contest" for the out-of-the-ordinary, leaving little room for the truly, relatable relationships and stories, to compete.

I have one last pitch, then it is time for me to throw in the towel. But I will sit on this one for a while, really foster it, maybe push the boundary of absurdity a bit. You never know, maybe the column will be able to pull at the heart stings and inspire once again, acknowledging those with genuine passion and story-telling capabilities. Until then, we will continue to be entertained by meth-addicted, cross-dressers, who are obsessed with their pet parrots.

Today's Modern Love: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/fashion/06love.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=modern%20love&st=cse

RECOMMENDATION: My Heart Vs. The Real World, by Max S. Gerber
"a photo documentary volume that explores the lives of children with congenital heart disease (CHD) through striking black–and–white photographs and interviews with subjects and their families." - Cold Stone Harbor Laboratory Press
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Monday, August 31, 2009

Animalia

PhotobucketBought a fish today. Named him Ceres, like the dwarf-planet and the Roman, earth goddess. I figured the name was androgynous enough to get away with, but it also got me thinking.

(Yes, and he speaks French. If I could buy him a beret, a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes, I would)
According to Wikipedia, Daid Bowie was the pioneer of androgyny in popular culture. And after Labyrinth and white spandex, the title was surely deserved. Pyschologist and theorist Carl Jung, described androgyny as "the balance of anima and animus". Basically, the ying and yang of gender studies. Anima is the feminine inner-personality of the unconscious male. And its counterpart animus, is the masculine inner-personality of the unconsious female.

Androgyny really suits betta fish, as it does for many creatures in the animal kingdom. Where the male betta is of a larger size to the female betta, it also has more colorful scales and fins, creating an aura of flamboyance.

Other male species that display their beauty are:

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Many of the characteristic differences between male and female species, are from the existance of sexual dimorphism in the natural world. Examples of female breeds out-showing males exist as well, obviously seen among humans, but also among birds, reptiles, other mammalians, and even in insects. For example:


PhotobucketIt all comes down to physical attractiveness, mate selection, and breeding. It seems that humans really aren't the only ones guilty of being shallow and who judge others based on "face value". All of God's creatures do it, on some level or another.

So, let men be pretty and women strong-featured, and we will all live in one, big harmonious bliss. Happy mating!
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RECOMMENDATION: Green Porno series by Isabella Rossellini http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKkgUxJxU5M

Saturday, August 29, 2009

On Baking and Writing

White chocolate and raspberries? Raspberries and white chocolate? For the last three days I have been craving these two items and have been mulling over the many flavor- palate combinations I could come up with. Truffles? Muffins? Cookies?

Baking is my usual excuse for not being productive in other ways, specifically when I am finding myself stuck on a certain storyline. And being so often that I get stuck, I should probably not keep sticks of butter or eggs in the house, so I refrain from digging out the mixing bowls. I know I am definitely not the first writer to enjoy the past-time of cooking or baking and will probably not be the last, but how can I stay focused on plot development, when I am craving blackberry-peach pie?

A friend of mine once described me as, "the skinniest, fat girl" he's ever known. Perhaps he's right. I just love food. Eating it, preparing it, talking about it, even photographing it on ocassion. It's no wonder that little tid-bits of foodie-ism, end up in my writing from time-to-time. Seriously, how can you know anything about a character, unless you know something about what they ingest? Remember health class, "You are, what you eat." Maybe that's the foodies' play on, "I think, therefore I exist"?

There is this great scene in the movie Sylvia, where Edward Hughes takes off for the day, expecting his wife to take advantage of her free time to write. When he returns and sees she has been baking, it transpires a little like this:

Hughes: "You've got to write.
That's what poets do."

Plath: "Yes, well, that's easy for you to say.
You go out for a bike ride and come back with
an epic in hexameters. I sit down to write,
I get a bake sale."

Well, I have to say, she still somehow managed to take our breaths away with her prose and definitely did not die of obesity, from eating one too many sweets. Yet, its still a bit hard to imagine such a tortured soul, wearing a cheery apron and pumping out lines of dark poetry, between apple pies.

A lil' food for thought, I guess.

WHITE CHOCOLATE-RASPBERRY SCONES

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup non-fat vanilla yogurt
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups frozen raspberries
1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks

Directions:
Don't bother mixing these ingredients together. You don't need scones, no matter how decadent they sound. You have 5 hours of writing ahead of you and shouldn't be anywhere near the kitchen. Pass the recipe on to your mother and hope she is in a baking mood.



RECOMMENDATION: By far, the most inventive and delectable truffles out there: http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/

Friday, August 21, 2009

Finding Routine, Freeing Creativity

I had always assumed that to be an artist, one must live an eccentric lifestyle, in a constant state of disarray and chaos, which seemingly lends itself to the creative process in some way. To me, artists were free-thinking bohemians, who lived without fear or convention, utilizing art as a form of communication with the society they had stepped away from. As though the creative process condoned and fostered, living in the liminal.

I, myself would not define myself as an eccentric, though I am sure there are people out there who would debate this. For as socially-outward as I may appear from time to time, with an air of intensity, I am an immense introvert.Coming from a family of eccentrics and creatively-minded individuals, I intuitively took to the background and became an introvert. I also spent a large amount of time preoccupied with order, because it didn't seem to exist around me. My family even used to joke with me about my obsession with cleanliness and organization, because at five years old, I was already color-coordinating my closets and redecorating my room, every couple weeks. They were the kind of people that took their socks and shoes off wherever they felt like it, and left them. I was the kind of kid, who needed a designated spot for everything.

As I got older I realized my creative abilities were nurtured, only when I allowed for a disruption of the order I had created. I couldn't concentrate on writing for long-periods of time, if I allowed for the distraction of clutter, chores, or errands to clog my mind. I needed to find a balance or routine, between chaos and order, that worked for me.

How I found this balance, was by joining a low-residency, MFA program. At first, I was hesitant to go back to school, being under the impression that I wasn't going to learn how to write better by being told how to write better, but by practicing it on my own. "True writers, write out of necessity above all", I would say. But I was lacking structure, and every routine I tried to stick with, just fell through with procrastination or duty.

Now that I'm involved in this program, I am really glad that I gave it a chance. The program has definitely provided a structure for me, requiring deadlines every month in pages. Forcing me to sit everyday and get the work done, even when I have piles of laundry, if it's a beautiful day, or I just don't feel like it. I am writing everyday as second-nature, without even contemplating whether I have the time. I now make the time.

By having this sort of obligation to writing, as a form of work, I thought it would make me lose enjoyment for one of my truest passions. But what I have noticed, as I turn out more and more pages, I have gotten so caught up in the story itself, that I look forward to getting back to it with each day. And at night when I am finished writing for the day, I am still thinking about "what comes next" in my manuscript. It's definitely a wonderful space to be in.

As a child, being an artist was living with "no rules", painting outside the lines, without a care in the world. But to be a producing-artist, I found that it's a whole other creature. Something I learned I could be, by balancing routine and free-flowing creativity. Right now, I have to say, life is good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Recap from MFA Summer Residency '09

Before I get started, I want to thank everyone who has supported me and stood by me, both family and friends. This year has really been a time of growth for me. Learning new things, challenging myself, finding inspiration and motivation, and really pushing myself beyond the imaginable.

Growing pains are never easy and I seem to be always walking that line between the conventional and unconventional. What I should be doing at 26 and what I want to be doing at 26. But it's all part of the journey, and without all the love and understanding I've been blessed with along the way, I probably would've wound up lost, a long time ago.

I can't wait to celebrate with all of you, when I wind up on the other side!
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Returning home from my 10-day residency, I expected to be met with change, something out of order, or at least a period of adjustment. But to my surprise, everything was as I left it, a little over a week ago.

When I returned home, my belongings hadn't been touched, my work schedule was still in place, my family and friends still moved about in their regular patterns. It was as though time stood still and I was re-approaching "my life" from a new perspective, a fresher outlook, or different angle.

No, things hadn't changed, but I had.

My experiences were eye-opening and genuine. I was welcomed into an eclectic and colorful community of artists. Inducted as a person of passion, lyricism, intelligence, and life.

It had been a long time since I'd felt connected, on a level deeper than first impressions. Late nights were filled with comfortable conversation, laughter, and confessions. I didn't realize how thirsty I was, until I lapped up every word, off of every tongue, with quenching appreciation.

No, things hadn't changed, but I had.

I learned a lot over those intense, 10 days. About the craft of writing, about the industry I was entering, and about myself as a writer and human being. I can only imagine what the next two years will bring. Hopefully a book, life-long relationships, but most importantly, a stronger sense of myself. I am really looking forward to the horizon beyond.

Thanks again!

Love,
Sarah

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lost in Translation: Relearning the Language

The mathematics of a relationship are supposed to be simple, how one person exists in relation to the other, in perfect balance or out of sync. Like a shared language, based on a mutual communication and understanding, we learn the basic rules and keep practicing until we get it right.

We were lost in translation. The important words to creating a co-existance, had different definitions for us. Simply, I said "tomato", he said "tamato". Words like: "love", "monogamy", "marriage", "selfishness", and "happiness", held different truths, like rose-colored lenses. We agreed, to disagree.

Maybe it was the challenge of learning the other's language, that intrigued us. Maybe we thought we could mold the other into a "native speaker". Maybe we found a beauty in the other's dialect, but couldn't form our mouths and tongues to make the proper sounds. Finally, we gave up on words and let our instincts do the talking. But eventually that failed us too.

I spent four years of my life speaking of the relationship, as if it were our own secret club for two. The well-rehearsed words, rarely accepted by others, richochetted above my head, in a constant buzz of self-doubt. Why others couldn't relate to me, baffled and frustrated me. But maybe I had become fluent in a make-believe language, without me even knowing it. Or maybe I had just accepted a hybrid, line of speech; with the casual slang of my first-given vocabulary and the arcane definitions of an influential mentor.

Now when I speak, I correct my own thoughts, questioning whether or not they were mine to begin with. Or if they were someone else's, that somehow snuck their way into my mental dictionary and vernacular. I just want people to understand me again. To connect their eyes with mine and nod, not necessarily with approval, but that they are hearing what I am saying. I had forgotten what that was like, long ago.

To be an outsider looking in, or an insider looking out, it doesn't matter much to me, just as long as I can communicate with the rest of the human race, once again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why Living In Frames?

To be honest, I am so very humbled to hear how people are responding to Living in Frames. The more I hear, the more impassioned I become in trying to keep a fluid, stream of consciousness going. Having an audience is motivating, but it also keeps me clear of how far this journey can continue. The possibilities are endless, so long as I have the language and desire to translate my experiences for you, my readers. And I enjoy sharing! (I am also a pretty, darn good listener and always open to conversations about the good ole' stuff, we call "life")

In a way, I think I was a born storyteller. How else could one explain the eclectic, feast of experiences that seem to have trailed me tirelessily, from the time of conception? My mother was already telling stories about my arrival, long before I came. And the detailed accounts of her plans for me, were meticulously logged, so when it was time for me to look back at my upbringing, I could catch up on the already backlogged material. Maybe it was in my blood? Or maybe it was just a growing appendage, like fingers defined by age and use.

I had many relatives who wrote, but never dared call themselves "writers". I guess I would be a second generation writer, knowing only of my mother who has finished a book (now if I could only get her to publish it!). Artists are many things, but least of all, coaxable.

My first real exposure to the written word, was through my mother reading 5 cent Golden Books that she had picked up in a supermarket aisle or a thrift store bookshelf, and the children's books she had written and illustrated herself, when she couldn't spare the change. She would line my crib with the fold-out books, to ooh and ahh at the pictures of simple shapes and characters, or hold me snug in her lap to point at the cardboard flaps. I would concentrate hard, grab with my chubby, dimpled hands, and sometimes mouth with slobbering, inquisition. I was a curious one, I was.

My mother's favorite image of me as an infant, was when she would lie me on my bareback, in the shaded grass of an Alabama summer, and I would stare wide-eyed at the rippling leaves of an old Chestnut. And as though that same calming energy ran through my own tiny body, I would coo like a small bird, in the comfort of my own cool, green nest. I felt a connection to my surroundings at a very young age, almost a connectedness, and consequently defined in me a sensitive and observant nature. And though to any artistically-minded individual, this would be a blessing, I have always had a love/hate relationship with the way I see the world.

If you have read my profile, which really doesn't tell you who I am, let alone say much of anything, the title of this blog, Living in Frames, came out of my own understanding of how I experience life. One may choose a quilt or a patchwork, as a better metaphor.

We all have these moments pieced together, but within those moments we have more minute details, and within those details, the smaller things we missed. The framework of our memory and our mind, can be as focused as those smallest things, like the veins of those rippling Chestnut leaves. Or the framework can be as broad as a lifetime. It's how we choose to step inside those frames, walk about, and appreciate them, that gives us our perspective.

So, that's my little anecdotal nugget, on Living in Frames, and why I chose the name for my blog.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Where Did "IT" Go?

Every so often, I catch myself browsing the archives of YouTube.com, when I should be productive in other ways. Cheap laughs and pure bafflement of humanity, is usually the motivation. Lately however, I've been fascinated by old movie clips and shorts.

Maybe I crave something nostalgic. Maybe I feel as though I missed something by an age default. Or maybe there was a purity in film then, that I just don't see in this modern age. Whatever it is, I feel more of a connection to the older clips, than the lastest YouTube showcases.

This evening I came across a clip entitled, Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger, and though the idea of it just seemed completely boring to watch (regardless of who it was), I was still intrigued.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaf6zF-FJBk

If you viewed this clip in its entirety, without scrolling the timer ahead, I am impressed. About half way through the clip, as I watched Andy dip his burger without a crack in expression, I anxiously held the mouse, tempted to click forward. But "What if I miss something?", I thought. What if he drips ketchup on his shirt and curses? Or complains that the fries are missing? Or launches into some social commentary about commercialism? I will never know what I missed out on, because I was too impatient to sit and watch.

This blog is less about YouTube and more about something that existed then. When the image of an icon eating a burger, was art, and the people who understood the language of art, appreciated it. Today, a man eating a burger, is just a commercial. And that was Andy's point; this was where our society was headed then and this is where it is today.

Art has always been created in pockets of society. In the past they were intellectual circles, where people traded ideas, theories, and inspirations. Today, I see artists as a more disconnected bunch, in constant competition for a market, for the spotlight, or for fame.

In the 1920's, when Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Pound, Cummings, and Steiglitz, got together amongst bottles of wine, a creative energy was fueled from their camaraderie. They were avant-garde and challenging. The Post-Fauves. The Modernists. It was "Art for Art's sake!"

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In the 50's, it was the Beat Generation; Kerouac, Ginsberg, Bukowski, and Burroughs. They were hip and non-conformists.

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In the 60's, it was Warhol and the characters of his Factory. They were full of love and peace, and wanted beautiful things.



The 80's saw the tale end of art as a group endeavor or ideal. The Neo-Expressionists like Basquiat, Salle, and Cucchi tried to keep the circle together, but the future was inevitable.

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Something real existed then, something pure, something insightful. And I feel like I really missed out. That I was born in the wrong time. It is true that being an artist is a lonely path, but sometimes I long to be connected with others who follow a similar path, who know a certain language, who can offer wisdom, inspiration, and understanding.

To know that there were "golden times", that there were circles that will never form again, and that there were "movements" would never get the same momentum these days. It's all a bit sad, I guess.


"Everybody has their own America, and then they have pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can't see..." - Andy Warhol

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Remembering Those Who Came Before

If we weren't quite ready to get over David Carradine's farewell, let alone understand his secret life, there passed two more great celebrity icons, for us to pick apart, piece back together, and divert our attention. The recent swarm of tabloid gossip and "news", over the death of Michael Jackson, has been overwhelming and disturbing. And there seems to be no silencing of the buzz, until something even larger to report, comes along. Even Obama's healthcare reform campaign, much needed by the majority of the population, has taken the backseat to our beloved pop, man-child.

Now, I am not going to be another voice idolizing celeboredom. Truth be told, I rarely pay attention to the nonsense surrounding these people and the elevated status the public has given them. Afterall, they are just people who have been successful in their trade, no less or more greater, to the non-publicized. And of course, they have contributed to their industry and inspired many generations, but they are not super-human, Jesus, Mother T, or Ghandi.

I've overheard and participated in many conversations over the death of David Carradine, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. And they all seem to follow the same understanding of the events surrounding their death.

"Oh, they were such an influence, ahead of their time really, gone before their time. BUT... did you hear about the erotica, the kiddie porn, the arguments over the will, the relationship between them and..."

It doesn't make sense. The public turns these people into gods, then they cast on them a negative light, displaying their flaws unmercilessly, for entertainment and judgement. Society is told to honor and respect those who are successful, but then they resent doing so, and they resent those who have succeeded.

I think of how I will be remembered when I pass away or how I have remembered those I've loved, who came before me. They were not perfect. I am certainly not perfect. And there will always be some strings that are never quite tied up. But when all is said and done, and I am no longer a presence on this earth, I hope to be remembered in an honest way. Not in a way that distorts who I was, or gives my loved ones a reason to question who I really was.
I want to be remembered for the less-than-perfect-quirky-compassionate-truthseeker I am today and will be throughout my life.

I am still young and I would like to think I have many years ahead of me. But if I were to go before my time, like so many people often do, I would like something like this said about me:

She wasn't perfect. She sought beauty and love in the simpliest forms, but expressed them with great passion. Her heart was an open book and she never questioned her compassion towards others. She was inspired by many and hoped one day she could pass the gift of inspiration on to others. She loved, laughed, danced, and smiled to the end. This is how she wanted to be remembered.

By the way, she took back that Snicker's bar she stole when she was five. Just in case it was overlooked...


R.I.P
"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Anticipating the Next Step

Dear Readers,

In three weeks, I will be taking part in a 10-day residency, as part of my MFA. The residency is designed as a writers' retreat, where 10-12 hours a day is spent workshopping, writing, editing, revising, reading, and listening to guest speakers. Just the other day, I received an itinerary for the program, and literally my every 15 minutes, from the time I wake up to the time I rest my head, is accounted for. It's kind of like a boot camp for writers.

As I leaf through the time tables, I find myself excited, but also filled with a bit of nervous-anxiousness. It has dawned on me that never in my life have I been allowed the opportunity to focus completely on my passion for writing, for any amount of an extended period. My writing and my focus have always been interrupted for one reason or another (mostly due to having to go to a "real job", where I actually make money), and I have learned to accept the disjointed schedule it has created for me. But in the last week of July, I will be appreciating the life of a monk; with a generous amount of time for me to honor my own path to enlightenment, as I meditate on the written word for those ten days.

In the weeks to come, I will be preparing for the residency; adding to and revising my manuscript, putting together a portfolio of some of my other writing (short stories, essays, and poetry), and reading up on the works of Francine Prose (the guest writer in attendance). I've just begun her book Reading Like a Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, and I am still waiting for Lives of Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired, to arrive.

I had a little moment of serendipity when I was reading the synopsis of Lives of Muses, because apparently in this book Prose profiles the relationship of Marie Rainer Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salome. I felt a flutter in my heart and an instant connection to Prose, for the work of Rilke has been a huge inspiration for me. And if it was an inspiration to her as well, then we have been brought together under a shared commonality, and it will be a much more rewarding experience to workshop with her and learn from her.

Prose makes an honest statement in Reading Like a Writer, that shows that she is down-to-earth and also has a appreciation for other writers, which I find important when selecting a mentor to learn from :

"Each of us will meet a different harbinger of personal failure, some innocent genius chosen by us for reasons having to do with what we see as our own inadequacies. The only remedy to this I have found is to read a writer whose work is entirely different from another, though not nescessarily more like your own- a difference that will remind you of how many rooms there are in the house of art."

There is a lot to look forward to in the near future and the distant future, and I am embracing all of it. This experience, earning my MFA, will be life-changing and the outcome, unpredictable. But it is my hope, after two solid years of finding my voice, it will be worthy enough to share with the public; published and bound.

The great thing about sharing these steps, here on this blog, is that this is a first-hand account, of the growth and changes that occur when someone discovers a path and decides to follow it. And though I do not expect fame nor wealth in this pursuit, success to me, is touching another with my art and giving them inspiration of their own. Nothing is more rewarding, than sharing all one has acquird along the way, with a perspective that is unique and unduplicating.

So, wish me luck on this journey and I promise to keep up with the postcards!

With much thought and sincerity,

Sarah

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hello, My Name is________I am a________

Labels. Where do I begin? We label everything around us, to acknowledge and understand, and to describe to others what we are experiencing.

We are given a label at birth; our name. Yet we share this name with millions of others that are so unlike us, it's sometimes hard to imagine this label is supposed to encompass all that we are and all that we should be. Have you ever gotten the remark? :

"You don't look like a ________"
Or, "I once knew a _______ . You are nothing like them."

When you look in a mirror and your reflection stares back at you, it's not your name that crosses your mind, it's everything else; your age, your flaws, your insecurities, your achievements, your personality, your happiness, your pain.

Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard had exclaimed,
"Once you label me, you negate me!" Probably frustrated by the limits placed on him, by others. For once a label is given, it's difficult to see beyond that label, true individuality and identity. And this is probably why Ben Shahn professed, "I believe if we left it to artists to choose their own labels, most would choose none."

Labels are limiting (I talk more about this in the blog Are You an Artist?). I am in a constant battle over labels, in my writing. Because words are simply the names of things, I find that sometimes the vocabulary just doesn't exist to describe everything I experience or want to convey.

For example, two months ago I set out to begin a manuscript, in hopes to complete a novel in the years to come. When I began the manuscript, I did not say,
"I am going to write about this______ ", and then write everything I knew about that subject- matter, in the language I already possessed.

Instead, I just started writing about the things that had meaning in my life, in a way that was natural to me. A Juxtaposed, scrabbled, and arcane story emerged. It was a patchwork of memories, conversations, letters, and poems from my own life, breathed into the names of two fictional characters.

When people ask me what my book is about, my response is not a synopsis of the story, but the casual remark of, "It's about life." The label I have given my own creative endeavor, in my mind, leaves nothing out and everything up to the imagination. Because as soon as I say, "It's about love, passion, pain, discovery..." I just left out all the other indescribeable and simple things, that exist and make people tick. I have then also confined my creativity to a linear storyline, where A meets B. And does not allow for the possibility that the story can change, as well as the characters within in it.

A sculpture before it has form, is just clay with endless possibilities. So, why can not the written word be the same?

Wallace Stevens, wrote beautiful verse called "The Man with the Blue Guitar", after being inspired by Picasso's painting, "Blue Guitarist". Here Stevens breaths his own meaning, into the likeness of a musician.
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THE MAN WITH THE BLUE GUITAR (excerpts)
I

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

II

I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero's head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If I serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.


RECOMMENDATION: The book, "The Blue Guitar: Etchings by David Hockney Who Was Inspired by Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired by Pablo Picasso"

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Love Letter to Reading

Dear Readers,

I have been surprised lately, by my new-found determination to finish every book I begin. Through my college years I had gotten into a very nasty habit of starting books sporadically, and then if by 40 pages in I wasn't intrigued, I was on to my next interest. Resulting in a book shelf of half-read works that I now cringe to look at, knowing of the pathetic excuses I had used (i.e. too dry, too self-indulgent, too boring).

I knew people in school who read, word-for-word, all assigned reading. I however could not bring myself to do it. I was a "skimmer"; I would scan the literature looking for key words and lines, getting the gist, but never digesting a piece in its entirety. As a result, I probably missed out on some great writing, that I hope someday I can go back and give another chance to. Until then, my bookshelf continues to mock me every time I pass by.

If you can get your hands on the article, "In Defense of Distraction" by Sam Anderson (New York Magazine, May 25, 2009), he makes the argument that this has become part of the culture and less about the writing itself. I agree that as a culture we are all a little attention-deprived (and a little over-medicated for it), but I also believe we can blame the writing a bit too.

Many people choose their reading mostly, based on an entertainment factor. They do not choose writing that both challenges them and keeps them riveted. It's usually one or the other; it's challenging or entertaining. It's the difference between the mass-market writings of John Grisham, James Patterson, and Jennifer Weiner and the novels of Ayn Rand, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. These are all great writers, they just write to appeal to two different types of readers. And it's very difficult to find writers that write for the people, who want something in between.

Selection is important. If I start a book with an obvious or repetitive storyline, basic language, and ridiculous characters, you better believe I won't get through two chapters, before I think it is a complete waste of my time. On the other end, if I pick up a book that is full of facts, dates, and reference, and I have to look up every other word just to figure out what the author is saying, I will probably only pick that book up again, to dust it. The holy grail of writing for me, is something that gives me a well-designed plot and storyline, well-contrived characters, a little wit and poetic articulation, and a philosophy that challenges my beliefs or every-day thinking.

The book that really changed my bad habits, back to the earlier mentality of my youth, when I would read feverishly from cover to cover, was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. I had been stranded in an airport in Philadelphia for a good 3 hours and I had picked up this book in a newstand to keep myself occupied during the layover. I was so absorbed in the book, I almost missed my boarding call. I continued the book on the plane and by the next day, I was finished with it. The writing was so beautiful and passionate, and it made me fall in love with reading all over again. I then moved on to the works of Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Identity.

I eagerly began taking recommendations from friends and family who also enjoyed reading, writing them down in what I call "My Book of Lists" (which is literally just that, lists of everything that intrigues me and fuels my creativity). My "Book List" has grown so much in the last year (and still adding), that it will probably take me a good five years to get through it, if ever.

Recently, I decided that I wanted to have three books going at a time: A fiction work, a non-fiction work, and a writing guide. That way there would always be a variety and I would have no excuse not to be always reading. I swore to myself that as I finished each book, I would substitute a new work in the same genre, so it was a constant rotation.

For example, when I finish the Fountainhead (if that ever happens), I would like to start another piece of fiction, perhaps a novel by Wally Lamb (or one of the many recommendations I have received from friends and family). In this rotation, I also make sure that one book is going to be challenging me, one is teaching me, and one is entertaining me. This way, all parts of my brain are statisfied (again, no reason for excuses).

Just last night, I was asked by a coworker who had started some nature literature, if it was typical to struggle through a book loaded with facts, dates, and commentary? He said he had started the book at nine at night and not even a few pages through, he was lost. And it made his eagerness to continue his new book, wane. My advice to him was: Don't read your "challenging" books before bedtime. Your brain is tired from the day and wants to unwind, not go into overdrive.

Timing is everything. I have found in my own experience, that I begin my day with light reading (daily/weekly/monthly publications i.e. NY Times, NY mag, Food & Wine, BBC.com, etc.) Then mid-day, when I can take a break from work and errands (usually around lunchtime), that's when I pick up the "challengers". My brain is wide awake, well-fed, with a little adrenaline pick-up from work. And I find that sometimes after that hour of a little tougher reading, it really opens my mind up for the rest of the day. I finish the day, with a light, entertaining novel.

Of course, everyone is a little different when it comes to reading habits. But it seems like, more and more often, I am coming across adults who just do not enjoy reading. And when they tell me this, it's just so difficult for me to comprehend, I find myself asking them "why" out of curiousity. Ninety-percent of the time, it is because they didn't enjoy reading as a kid and therefore never gave it a chance again. The other ten-percent, it's a matter of selection and time; they can't find reading they enjoy or they have better things to do with their time. This worries me on another level too, other than my fear for an illiterate society.

I want to enter the field of publishing as a writer, a teacher, and critic. But with a decline in audience and market, we are finding the publishing world suffering like they never have before. Newspapers and magazines are going under, publishing houses are becoming more selective in genre (they only want what sells), and aspiring- writers just can not live the creative, avant-garde lifestyle they had imagined, without worrying about their financial future and working another job. It's a trickle-down effect. And if it continues on this path, we are going to have nothing to read, but advertising.

So, my advice. Fall in love with reading all over again. Learn what you want and need out of this relationship, between you and the written word. Discover what fuels your imagination and stokes your passion, and read, read, read. And pass this love on. Recommend that book or article. Read to your children. Get a library card! (If one thing there is a shortage of, it is library cards. It has become a prerequisite in my dating life and you would be surprised how many people that eliminates from the pool).

Until we meet here again. My words and your thoughts.

Love,

Sarah



RECOMMENDATION: For the challenge seekers,

http://www.amazon.com/MOST-DIFFICULT-BOOKS-EVER-WRITTEN/lm/R29VPS3NEIQ0AS

To fall in love all over again,

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"In Defense of Distraction" by Sam Anderson, NY Mag 5/09 :

http://nymag.com/news/features/56793/



Friday, June 5, 2009

Revisting Parson

Last Saturday, I woke with this yearning for the smell of salt in my nose and the sand under my toes. I packed up my camera, journal, a book, and a blanket, and made my way over to the Maine Coast. I anticipated the influx of out-of-staters, that usually swell the beaches near the tri-state border (ME, NH, and MA). So, I decided to adventure a little further north that day.

I had remembered a small beach that my mother had brought me to, a couple years ago. Herself, me, and my youngest sister Molly, had been coming back from a 2-day camping trip near Rockland, when we decided to make a quick stop in Wells on our way home. This was my first time at Parson's Beach and immediately understood my mother's desire to show me this place.
 
It's an out-of-the-way strip of sand, situated between private estates and grassy wetlands. The beach itself, is actually part of a wild life preserve, and has great appeal for bird-watchers. The turn in, feels as though you are following a private drive; a one-lane, dirt way, overgrown with fat, umbrella-like trees. As you follow the road, you catch glimpses between their shaded, barrel-trucks; of lush meadows on your right and an expansive, white horse farm on your left. If you are lucky, three chocolate-colored steeds will run along side, as your car travels past.

The road opens, like a bowl filled with sage-colored grasses and glassy, pools of salt water. On a busy day, there are no more than 15 cars. Parking is limited, to keep the traffic minimal.

Everyone that comes here, seems to be instantly transported to another state of mind. It's not just me. You can see it in their eyes, when they walk past. They smile knowingly and the wind whispers, "It shouldn't be a secret. It should be shared."

Parson's beach is a quiet man with icy, blue eyes and white hair. Who wears linen and smokes a pipe. Who reads Tennyson and Frost. And who has always existed, but with a lightness in his heart.
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I laid my blanket and set my place. I ventured over grassy knolls and wove through prickly, sea brush. I photographed and mapped the place in my mind, and by pen. I got close to the sand and stretched up, to see afar. I dipped my feet in the Atlantic, until my ankles burned from the cold.

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I was so relaxed in this place, I fell asleep on my stomach, listening to the waves roll and crash. When I finally woke, the water was four inches from my feet. The tide had creeped in and quite possibly could have washed me away.

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I finished a few chapters in a book I was reading, wrote a few words, watched men cast out their fishing rods in smooth eloquence, envied couples who had found each other, and children who braved the water in their skivvies. And then packed up my things and headed home.
 
All in all, it was a perfect day. And this is what I brought back with me:
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" The winds, as at their hour of birth,
Breathed low around the rolling earth
With mellow preludes, ‘We are free.’

The streams, through many a lilied row
Down-carolling to the crisped sea
Low-tinkled with a bell-like flow
Atween the blossoms, ‘We are free.’ " - Tennyson

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It Comes in All Forms: Part III

So, when we last left our adventurous characters, Sarah had just made a self-discovery about her faith, amongst the grandeur of the Colorado Rockies...

An awe-inspiring experience that has reviberated inside me, every time I am struck by the beauty of my natural surroundings. I can be anywhere from Martha's Vineyard, to a walk along the Charles River, to the rainforests of Puerto Rico, and my soul will crawl out of hibernation and smile like the small hands of a child, catching a firefly; where you peer inside and see a small aspect of the world and the whole world, in the same moment.

When Chris and I arrived in Bishop, California, the town that had inspired us to make the trip across country, I instantly fell in love. It was a small town, almost New England-esque, with a mix of residents; nature lovers, metaphyics seekers, old down-home Westerners, and displaced American Indians. The town rested in Owen's Valley, between the California White Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas. This was Inyo County, California, respectfully named after the Native American word inyo, meaning "dwelling place of the great spirit".

And indeed it was. I had been there before. My soul was familiar and at peace, not stirring around as it normally does, adjusting to the new and ever-changing. I had perhaps, visited this place in another life. The connection was so strong and I could feel a sigh of relief, deep within me, as though I had been holding my breath for a lifetime.

In the mornings, I woke with the base of the mountains on my fingertips. We would pack up our gear and hike into a new spot, in the early morning humidity. We would stretch our appendages awake and approach the rocks, as though we were meeting another body for the first time. We would learn their curves and crevices. We would hang and hold, balance and maneuver. We would form our fleshy hips, bellies, and legs to be close to the sharp, grainy terrain; "to be one with".

My fingers bled and blistered in the hot, midday sun. But we kept climbing, until we couldn't stand it anymore. And as if our prayers were answered, every day the clouds would roll in and rain just enough to cool the rocks down, and cleanse us of our dust and disuse. When it would stop, the boulders would steam like water on a frying pan, and the whole canyon would be in a vaporous, fog.

We spent about 5 days in this place, but I can't be completely sure. All the time seemed to blend together, as though it didn't exist. Our lives during our stay there, existed only to "just be". We slept in the deserted hills, we climbed and meditated among the volcanic boulders, we visited eery lakes and towering pine forests, and we bathed ourselves in the hot springs with other pilgrims.

Heaven existed for me, in this place and in this time. When it was time for us to leave, we hoped that we left an imprint of ourselves, so when we did go back, it would be like we never left. In a way, a piece of me will always be there. (I have spoken about this in my blog, Lost and Found: Reclaiming My Experiences)

When we were passing the limits of Bishop, our van broke down. It was the first and only time on our trip. We were driving right along and the car completely lost power and shut down; no warning, sputtering, or grinding. We were in a desert, with the closest town 15 miles in either direction.

Neither of us knew much about cars, so we looked at each other nervously and mystified. We crawled out and made our way to the hood. Propping it up, we stuck our heads inside. Nothing seemed wrong with the cylinders, pipes, tubes, or belts (at least from what we could tell). But it was Chris who claimed, "Aha!" when he noticed a small nest on top of the battery.

The nest was composed of grass, some sort of fuzzy material, and plastic wire casings. When we looked closer, there was a small, brown mouse fried to the engine block. (What a way to die.) Chris scraped it off gently and placed it under a sage bush on the side of the road. It seems this little rodent had managed to chew through our spark plug wires, leaving us without any power. It had probably crawled up inside the car, during one of the cold desert nights, trying to stay warm.

Chris, being the Macgyver he is, decided our climbing tape was our saving grace (at least until we got to an auto parts store, where we could replace the spark plugs). And just as we were slamming the hood back down and wiping our hands, a white bus pulled up beside us with about a dozen or so tow-headed kids, with bright blue shirts, hanging out the windows in curiousity.

"Do you need any help?!" One voiced from the mid-section of the bus.

Chris and I smiled at the wholesome sight, "Nah, I think we've got things fixed."

"You sure?" They seemed eager to offer their assistance.

"Yep. Nothing that good ole' tape can't fix!"

They laughed at the joke.

"Ok. Well, God bless you and have a safe trip."

We said 'thank you' and waved 'goodbye', chuckling among ourselves about the exchange and our resourcefulness.

At the first rest stop, we stopped to see how the tape was holding up in the heat, and to use the facilities. When we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed the white bus parked in a corner, and the blue-shirted, tow-heads scattered about the curb and picnic area. We parked a few spaces down, and almost instaneously they noticed us, and approached our van.

"How is everything?" One tall boy asked.

"Just checking to see how our tape is holding up." Chris explained, opening the hood for further inspection.

"What happened?" Another asked.

"Well, it looks like a mouse made a home in our car." Chris pointed to the little remnants of nest left over.

"Oooh." They said in unison.

"Hey, wait a second..." I heard Chris trail off, as he leaned closer into the belly of the car.

"What?! What?!" A smaller boy, piped up.

Chris hustled over to a small, wooded area and came back with a good-sized, broken stick. He dug around in the engine, like a dentist manuevering teeth and gums. And after poking around for a few minutes, he re-emerged with a large, white rat dangling from the end, like a spear-thrower with his first kill. The rat was literally the size of a house cat. I had never seen anything like it and neither had any of the boys who were now standing wide-eyed and open-mouthed at Chris, as though he were some Saint appearing before them.

Regrouping and disposing of the cat-sized critter, we decided to get back on the road. Chris was now a rock star among the young boys and it was hard to get him to bow out, when they wanted to know all the details and crazy tales from our travels. When we said "goodbye" for the last time, they asked if they could pray for us.

Of course we didn't want to say "no". But we didn't realize that they meant right there, right now, in public, at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. And as they circled around us, holding hands, with their heads bowed and eyes closed, muttering the words to an unfamiliar pray, I couldn't help but feel a sincere, thankfulness for their compassion.

When we pulled away from the rest stop, both Chris and I were silent, but we knew what the other was thinking. We were both glad to know there were people like that in the world; so full of wonder, faith, and compassion. And it was nice to be reminded, so far from home, that good-hearted people come in all forms, even in the embodiement of faith.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It Comes in All Forms: Part II

It was summer break. I was 20 and full of bright ideas and romanticized notions. Really it was not that long ago, but if you can imagine, it was a time before IPhones, American Idol, and Twitter.

My boyfriend Chris, was both my fondest companion and love of my life, but also a master of stoking the imagination. We were going to live in Alaska, we were going to follow the Appalachian Trail, we were going to bike from New England to Nova Scotia, we were going to get lost in Europe. He compelled me to dream and I thirsted for adventure. I once wrote of him:

" He loved me naturally, the way he loved the earth between his fingers... His touch was always tender, as though he were tending to a delicate sapling, in need off the first signs of love to flourish."

So, young and restless, Chris convinced me to embark on a grand road trip across the country. We were coming to the end of our sophomore year and spontaneity was not hard to come by, for a couple whose only serious commitment was to each other. Abbey and Kerouac were becoming a bore and we were ready to see for ourselves, "the paper mache Rockies" and the raw beauty of our homeland.

Chris had always talked about this lovely, quaint town in California, that he had visited with his cousin. It was called Bishop and little did I know, I had been there before (will elaborate more on this later)... We decided that this would be our ultimate destination and our pilgrimage would be to learn more about ourselves and each other as we camped, hiked, climbed, and drove our way there. Everyone we knew, claimed that "You really don't know who you have for a partner, until you travel with them." And to this day, it is one of the greatest pieces of wisdom I have received.

The '98 Dodge Caravan couldn't have been more befitting. We had lined the ceiling with a dyed tapestry that we had picked up in some "head shop". The blue, green, and orange floral designs were unique, probably native to India, and they reminded me of far-off lands that I would one day travel to. We pulled the seats out and built a box framed bed. Our climbing mats served as
matresses. We had thought of everything: cookware, clothing, camping supplies, climbing equipment, books, a game of chess, cameras, binoculars... The finishing touch, a yellow sign made of construction paper reading: "California or Bust".

We left on a hot day in early July, before the birds could catch their breath. We hadn't been on the road for 5 hours, when in upstate New York a black sports car, with a pretty woman, pulled up beside us on the highway. She motioned for us to roll down our windows. I rolled down mine and she yelled over to me, "I am going to California too! I will race you there!" She smiled big and took off. And so it began; our great pilgrimage.

We didn't have an itinerary, just a map, our dreams, and free-will. We were headed west, just as the transcendentalists, the pioneers, the beat generation, and the hippies had done before us. We were naive to what lay before us; a tabula rosa mind-set. But we had so much to look forward to and we drove through the night just to get beyond our beloved Northeast.

I could recount for days the many details of our trip across country, but I have a point to this little tale (It Comes in All Forms), so I will share but two quick anecdotes with you, that happened on this journey.

The first begins in Colorado. We had cut through Colorado diagonally, off our usual migrant Rt. 70. We had arranged to stay with a professor of Chris', who owned a house in Durango. The day we arrived in the south-western corner, a hike had been planned for us and we were anxious to get out and stretch our legs.

The pollen was thick in the air, as we traversed the mountain roads, with no guard rails and non-surviving drop-offs (after my stay in Colorado, I began to think these roads contributed to the "balls-to-the-wall" mentality of Colorado natives). My senses were completely overwhelmed between the elevation and the air-quality, as though someone had blown a dusty vacuum cleaner in my face for hours on end. We were headed to an off-the-map kind of place; a old mining town call Silverton and one of the junctions of the Colorado Trail.

During the hike, I struggled to keep up with the guys, who didn't seem to be phased by the largest pollen particles known to man, flying above our heads. At an elevation just over 15,000 feet, there were few trees, just cascading green slopes littered with their sun-bleached, skeletal remains. A patchwork of wild flowers, hummed with activity as we passed by. The real ascent, was rocky and difficult to navigate, and we found that we were no longer in the upright walking position, but were actually crawling up the face of a summit. After 2 1/2 hours, we reached the ridge and stepped into two feet of snow (it was mid-July).

I was weak in the knees, out of breath, with blood-shot eyes, and on the verge of vertigo. But when I looked out at the distant gray peaks, sharp and cathedral-like, I was humbled. And I knew in that moment, there would always be something larger than myself.

It was that day, I found a new place of worship. It wasn't confined by four walls, stained glass, or hard wood pews. It was an internal devotion, to the outside world. It was a feeling of connectedness, to all that was natural and pure. And I felt that same energy running through my bones, as it did along the spine of the Rocky Mountains.

(As promised I will pick up, with my second anecdote tomorrow) So, for now :

TO BE CONTINUED ...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It Comes in All Forms: Part I

Recently, I had one of those moments that really made me question my faith. (And this is after having emergency surgery for internal bleeding. And falling asleep at the wheel at 65mph, crossing three lanes of traffic, missing a telephone pole by two feet, and plunging into a construction zone. Both true stories from this past year.)

For those who know me in the physical world, I lost a dear relative of mine a little over a year ago, to cancer. And if that experience couldn't have been tragic enough, irony had to make its appearance, by taking someone I love away, on Valentine's Day. Just like the marathon runner who becomes a paraplegic, the professor who dies of a brain tumor, or the health-nut who is diagnosed with multiple-sclerosis. My grandmother died of stomach and liver cancer, when she swore she drank all of twice in her entire life. (The poem Chanel No. 5 is dedicated to her)

After, losing my grandmother, Norma Lenora, I went into one of those all-questioning states, where I wanted to know the point of everything and if everything even had a point. That summer my questions were answered, blatantly with two shocking, eye-opening events (as mentioned above). They were definitely signs, screaming loudly "Sarah, wake up! Your life has meaning. You are here for a reason. You can't live in fear. Figure out what it is you want and do it!"

So, I did. I began efforts to reacquaint myself with myself. I wrote down all the things I ever wanted to do and began to dissect the steps that were needed to do these things. I wanted to go back to school for my master's, so I began the process of applying; putting together a manuscript, gathering recommendations, aligning my work schedule. Very positive progressions, toward a grander scheme.

But as I reached in that positive direction, other aspects of my life seemed to struggle to keep up. My relationship with my boyfriend, teetered. My job became a droning, aggravation. I found myself in fits of depression and frustration, when all I wanted was to glue myself back together, and be happy. I felt like I was back to where I had started after the passing of my grandmother, and wondered if all my efforts were in vain.

It was a gray, mid-week day when I was given another sign. I had just finished having coffee, with the unwavering love of my life. The day wasn't all that different, from any other day. The conversation, the usual. The moments, beautiful. But as I left the comforting, perk that is my relationship, and wandered back to my car, I saw something fluttering on my windshield.

At first I thought "Oh shit! Another parking ticket!" But when I pulled the paper from underneath my wiper, I realized it was a Christian pamphlet. I will premise this saying: I have always prided myself on having an open mind. I know where my comfort zones are, but occasionally walk on the outskirts to see what other pools of thought have to offer. I also know what makes me uncomfortable; what makes me back away with my hands up saying, "I don't want any part of that." Displays of violence and racist remarks make me squirmish. Aggressive behavior and crossing personal space boundaries make me uneasy. Being a female, alone, in a dark alley is a situation I avoid. But another infringement on my comfort is, unwarranted religious preaching and propaganda.

Intuitively, I felt that pang of uneasiness sneaking up on me. I looked around to see if I could catch the perp, who sneakily slid their ideals onto my car. But the only people on the street, were a couple sitting in the doorway of a run-down, Thai restaurant. They probably saw the solicitors, but smiled their big, toothy grins and watched with amusement as I huffed into my car, with the literature clenched in my fist.

I threw the pamplet on my passenger seat. (I have too much of a conscience to litter). At the first street light, I looked over at the 3 x 6 booklet, gnawing with annoyance. I shook my head. At the second light, I coyly leaned over to read the title, just to satisfy my curiousity. It was called "I'll do it later." At the third light, I began to read.

This wasn't the typical Christian propaganda that I had become accustomed to over the years. It wasn't like the mini-bibles handed out in front of bars and on college campuses (I make a donation to the Salvation Army every couple years, because I am too scared to throw them away). Or the unnerving preacher, with the card board sign and cross, who you try not to make eye contact with on the street. Between these pages, a story unfolded, just like a funnies cartoon. And I was intrigued.

The character's name was Johnny and in each frame Johnny was seen procrastinating through his life, from a young boy to a grown man, always making the excuse that "he would do things later". Then one day a friend of Johnny's approached him about "being saved" and Johnny responded as he had always had "I will do it later". But Johnny dies and he is sent to hell and the caption reads: "Poor Old John! I wonder if he got saved? It's too late to say, "I'm sorry now".

Well, I am not going to say that between stop lights I decided to "be saved". I don't think my mind would ever allow me to subscribe to any organized religion (or organized anything), no matter how appealing their philosophy or theology is. But underlying, the religious content, there was a nugget of wisdom that hung true for me. And that was: to stop making excuses, to be aware of your actions, to trust in your faith, to live with no regrets, and your destiny will present itself.

It was a simple sign. It did not shake me silly, with philosophical discovery or inner-bliss. But in that moment, I thought, "Everything will work itself out in due time, as long as I keep myself open to faith". And for the first time in my life I didn't judge those who chose to practice their faith differently, because on a certain level we all believe in the same thing; something bigger than ourselves, something out of our control, something to live for.

Some call it love. Some call it God. Some call it happiness. Some call it enlightenment.

I guess I call it truth.