340: “Seeds With Tenderness” (Khalil Gibran)

                “And what is it to work with love?
                It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
                It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
                It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.”
                -Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

                Well my friends, it’s been a tough week in plenty of ways. That includes a potential covid exposure that, thankfully, turned out to be nothing, and difficult situations at work, and the emotional transition of going from time with family in California to my life in Illinois. In the midst of all that I’ve found myself going back to poems and other places I know. I walked out to the catalpa trees. I cooked. I read some Khalil Gibran, passages I’ve loved since before my teens. All those habits are like paths through the woods that I’ve walked before: they’re new each time, with the trees whispering different sounds, but they’re also familiar in the way they turn, they way they offer, walk here.
                Just now, I like reading Gibran’s lines as an invitation. If we were at the beach about to make the kind of sandcastle that’s big enough to climb inside, and you asked, “How?” I might suggest “We could find driftwood shovels.” Many  Gibran would suggest, as one though not the only way, “With love.” 
                How to move the sand?
                How to wash the dishes, cook the onions, sweep the floors? 
                With love.

339: “Hear Their Voices” (Isabel Allende)

                “[Writing a book] is about living with characters long enough to hear their voices and let them tell me the story. […] I can’t control life for my grandchildren, so how could I control a story?”
                -Isabel Allende in a 2013 interview with Gemma Kappala-Ramsamy

                Years ago I heard Robert Sapolsky talk about people, our interest in newness, and the experience of being a beginner. As far as I remember, he said that in general people lose their interest in newness as they get older. Bit by bit we get stuck in more and more ruts, and the idea of doing things differently, of putting away our bike and trying out a unicycle, gets less appealing. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, he said. But he also said: something happens if you’re a beginner. If you set out into anything new, anything that you just don’t know how to do and still spend time practicing, your general interest in newness tends to go up. Spend the next six months trying to pick up the harmonica and maybe you’ll be less of a stick-in-the-mud about other things, too.
                Maybe that’s part of what I love in stories. A first chapter always asks me to step through a door I can’t even imagine yet, to go into a room that might have dragons or friends or blankets made of song and bone. In a first chapter I’m a beginner in what’s there. I’ve been wondering about the first chapter in my novel for years. As far as I can tell, it’s hard. Where do I start, how do I help you start, when there isn’t a start yet? Sitting with Sapolsky and Allende tonight amid the beautiful red rocks of Arizona, the challenge in that feels more like a rainstorm to lift up new flowers than a wall to break down. It takes some balance. Some time. For a little while I don’t know where I am. There’s a rush and a whirl, and the disorienting delight of being swept along to another here I hadn’t seen yet.

338: Drawing Arguments (Julie Maroh)

from Body Music, by Julie Maroh

                Julie Maroh’s Body Music includes an argument between friends. As the argument starts, they’re sitting in a modern-day Montreal park. The words stay modern as the friends get angrier, but the art shifts—from beer bottles and rumpled button-up t-shirts to Roman orators in the senate, medieval swordsmen bashing each other’s shields, and on through history. Since reading those pages, I keep thinking about the way I see myself when I’m talking. When I’m “defending” a point. When I’m arguing. Maroh writes what these characters are saying, but they draw how these characters are seeing themselves—the imagined poses they’re taking up.
                Earlier today I had a long conversation with my brother, a conversation that sometimes drifted toward an argument. With Maroh next to me, I found myself noticing what he was saying, what I was saying, what I wanted to be saying—and the flavor that went along with all of those. There are listens like chili mangoes and listens like cool spring water and listens as metallic as a spoon. Maroh reminds me: what are the tastes of these words? What are the scenes I’m shaping this moment into?

337: “Penguins” (Schindel & Lai)

                “Penguins splashing.”
                -John Schindel, Busy Penguins

                “Maybe if you just do somebody different for a bit, you’d feel less sad.”
                -Lee Lai, Stone Fruit

                I’ve been hanging out with my nieces, three and six, and last week we read Busy Penguins. Each page shows the penguins doing something. Since then we’ve been penguins caring, and huddled up in a hug. We’ve run around the house as penguins dancing. We’ve waved our feet in the air as penguins splashing. It turns out penguins can do just about anything.
                When I ran across the quote in Stone Fruit, it worried me. Or bothered me. I think it’s so important to let yourself feel what you’re feeling. (At least one of Lai’s characters seems a little troubled by the idea, too). At the same time, since reading that, I’ve been wondering. There are times where what I’m feeling becomes what I’m doing, and when what I’m doing becomes what I’m feeling. There are times when I close myself in that loop. To put it another way, I’m always feeling so much. I’m feeling stressed about finishing this (and excited by the idea I’m following). I’m feeling tired (and rested from this last week with my family). Maybe playing as someone else is one way to make space for a part of myself I’ve been forgetting, a part that wants to come out and run.
                When the Stone Fruit characters move with their imaginations, playing together as feral creatures, they’re drawn like feral creatures. That’s one of my favorite parts of the book. It shows me how pretending to be someone else is a way of being another side of myself, and maybe how a self is often so grounded in a way of imagining. I have so many selves. And at least one of them, it turns out, is a penguin.

336: “What Turns Up” (Astrid Lindgren)

                “We’ll have to see what turns up,” said Pippi. “Something always does.”
-Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking

                Today I found an acorn just about to sprout. It had washed down onto the street. It’s sitting beside me while I write this, and my niece saw it on my desk. “Is that an acorn?” she asked. “Did you find it?”
                Pippi is a thing-finder. A person who goes around finding things. I remember listening to Pippi’s adventures again and again as a kid, and when I ran across this quote again, I wondered how much the little seed of Lindgren’s idea helped grow into how I walk. Or sit. Yesterday there was a bit of moss floating along in the gutter. The day before there was a little round washer rusting on the hiking trail. A woodpecker, quiet while we passed. I usually don’t look for things to keep. It’s more like I look for things that’ll keep hold of a moment with me.
                To put it another way: for the last three weeks I’ve been sharing invitations toward embodied experiences that I’m developing with artist and educator Natalia Espinel. It’s been so much fun to play with these invitations, to find them together. One of the most fun parts is realizing there’s always some touch inviting us toward an embodiment moment. The hum of the heater, the lamp’s reflection inside the window, the texture of the carpet—I found this, and this, and this. And they found me.

335: “Thinking and Moving III” (Natalia Espinel)

	One more of these invitations! This one's called "Balanceamos y Caemos," and follows the other two in the last two weeks.

Invitation, if you’d like to try:
Stand up. Relax. Center. 
	Lift one foot, flexing and spreading your toes,
		Rolling your ankle. Put that foot down
			Steady
And balance above it as you lift your other foot.

Now let yourself move. Reach your arms side to side,
Swirl your shoulders, swing your raised leg
And feel how the momentum moves you.
Play with the balance of standing on one foot. Let different parts of you—
Your hips, your knee, your elbows, your belly, your neck,
Your shoulders—wake up and lead through different movements.

Meditation, after you've tried: 
	For us, this is about the joy of playing, of finding all the ways you can move, and it’s just as much about the point where your balance wobbles and you fall over. It’s a game for being in a body. 
	Now that we’re balancing and almost falling—what now?
	¿Ahora que nos balanceamos y caemos, ahora que?

334: Thinking and Moving II (Natalia Espinel)

	This is another of the invitations I introduced last week, and that I've been writing in collaboration with Colombian artist and educator Natalia Espinel. We're calling this one "Breathing In Waves." Nothing is "supposed" to happen. We created these invitations after wondering together, and following each other through different movements till we focused in on something that felt powerful. Each invitations hopes to open up an embodied moment that can become what it is for you.

Invitation, if you’d like to try:
Sitting crosslegged in front of each other
	Press your palms together, right to right or left to left.
Throughout this invitation the pressure stays, gently reaching.

When you exhale, you press a little more
into their reach, and your hands move toward their shoulder
while they breathe in. When they exhale, you inhale

And they press a little more. Both hands move
	Toward your shoulder, while you breathe in.
There is a slow, heavy texture in the space around your hands, like honey.

You take turns, one breathing in while one breathes out.
	Feel the press of their breath leading into the press of your breath,
The press of your breath leading into the press of their breath.

	Meditation, after you've tried: 
	For us, instead of asking us to focus on our breath, this movement invites us to feel how our breathing moves all through our body. This movement continues out past us, inviting us to feel how our breath moves through our partner’s body and through the space around us. Breath becomes a kind of material, a living ribbon we follow with our hands.
	Now we are breathing together—what now? 
	¿Ahora que respiramos juntes, ahora que?

333: Thinking and Moving (Natalia Espinel)

          “There's a kind of thinking that happens through the act of moving.” -Natalia Espinel, Colombian artist and educator

          I'm collaborating with Natalia Espinel, and we're playing with “invitations” toward different embodiment movements. Nothing is “supposed” to happen if you try these invitations—we hope instead that the movements become something for you as you do them. Here’s one of our invitations, if you would like to try.

“Changing the Vertical for the Horizontal”
We are so often sitting, straight up, holding ourselves 
tight. 
		The floor is always calling us. Gravity.
Going to the floor is a kind of surrender.
 								Perhaps 
you will move there,
					now,	
						slowly and mindfully.
Lay on your back, arms at your sides, feet a foot or so below your hips.

Relax. 
  	Breath by breath,
				relax
Your feet, your neck, your shoulders.
Your arms, your lips, your mind. 
When you are deeply relaxed, 
	perhaps you will return to other movements,
When you are disconnected from your body,
	perhaps you will return to the floor.

	A meditation, after we’ve tried:
	For us, the vertical is related to control. It is like focusing intently with your eyes. It is part of the construction of power, of ableness, of intentional arrangement of yourself and the other. It feels connected to the hierarchies woven through those constructions, and the hierarchy of dividing life into work/rest, worthy/unworthy, of building “achievement” from opportunity from presence.
	The horizontal releases control. It is like awakening to peripheral vision, to the unconscious, to a sensorial relation to the world. Instead of holding ourselves above we surrender into. 
	Now that we have surrendered to the floor—what now? 
	¿Ahora que nos entregamos al piso, ahora que?

332: Drawing Courage (O’Keeffe)

                “To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

                One of my friends draws. She makes it look like magic. A few weeks ago I watched her coax a few drops of water from the cap of her water bottle onto the page, and then dip her pen into those drops, pulling them out into a beautiful watery flower. She told me today, “That was just because the pen was dry.” I’m not sure I believe her. It was because her pen was dry, and she had a water bottle, and she knew (or wondered) how the color and water would mix.
                We’re in class together, so I’ve gotten to see her draw almost every week since August. A few months ago I started following along. When she took out her pencils or crayons or pens, she’d put them between us. I’d watch the ways she played with lines, patterns, colors. A few years ago I tried to practice drawing once a week. I picked an object, a bike, a teddy bear, and tried to sketch it. Other than that I haven’t drawn a lot since I was a kid. Following along with my friend, there wasn’t as much practice, if that means concerted effort toward a goal. There was more of a practice, a dipping of the pen’s tip into the water. A pulling, week after week, of colors across the page. It’s not that I didn’t struggle and get confused. I did. But there was a heartbeat to the work. Like each question was a breath, and as I worked next to her, breathing in led to breathing out led to breathing in again. That reminds me that courage is connected to heart. That inspiration is connected to breath, simple breaths above a page while we talk and draw.

331: The Landscape You Grew Up In (Arundhati Roy)

                “I think the kind of landscape that you grew up in, it lives with you. I don’t think it’s true of people who’ve grown up in cities so much; you may love a building, but I don’t think that you can love it in the way that you love a tree or a river or the colour of the earth; it’s a different kind of love.” -Arundhati Roy

                I think love, for me, usually includes an embrace of a so much beyond my control. Landscapes are wonderful at reminding me how rich and complex and interwoven all those beyonds really are. Continents drifting and hills weathering away; moles digging and ants following their pheromone scents; trees dancing; a sparrow weaving through the branches. Look, look, look. Or run your hand over the tree’s bark, and feel. Or listen to the creek gathering. There’s a moment when I stop wondering what to do with all this. When I sit at the foot of a free and feel all this swirling apart, brown leaves blowing, and swirling together.
                For me that’s a nice reminder about loving people, too. I spent last night with several dear friends and a few friends I know less well. There were moments of hilarious laughter, moments of connection, and moments when I tried to figure out how I fit next to this person I just haven’t talked to that much. Maybe fit is a funny term. Maybe you fit in a landscape, but you also run across it, sit inside it, are awed by it. I think I love the unknowing. The swirl at the edge of me and you and this, and that interweaving current is such a big part of the so much I’m thankful for.