Mulligan Stew: Ten for Today


Someone kicked me in the head. No, it just feels that way. Like a rubber soled tennis shoe attached to a leg cocked back in ready mode, ready to slam into my head on the ‘go’ of Ready, Set, Go! The phantom bump on the base of my skull aches. 

It’s just pressure. The day’s failure oppresses me and manifests itself in an overblown-balloon-ready-to-pop tension. That’s me. Ready to pop. And it’s not popping time. Not for 4 more hours on this miserable shift.

To boot, the lady who pulled down the lever on a broken machine marked “out of service” complained about the dripped water on her food and wants to start her frozen yogurt creation over. Whatever. Sign of the times. Stupid.

I’m stupid. I spent all day writing for two new clients, two good blog pieces, solid stuff, just to blow the deadline on one by a minute and the instructions on the other. I actually wrote the wrong thing, on the wrong topic. How could I have misread the directions, completely ignoring the point of the whole blog site?! I could not even argue the post was remotely related, though I did offer to fix it. 

But first impressions are lasting, and I made a shitty one. Twice. Two jobs lost in one afternoon. Impressive–Not. Hours of work for no pay. My fault. And the drum in my head keeps beating it: Twice. Work. Zero. Pay. Zero. Work. Twice. No. Pay.

Sometimes the climb out of hell hits loose, slippery, rocky mountainside. I slipped and fell, though I probably won’t make the same mistake again. I hope. Back to the grind.

“No, see the sign? It says it’s out of service, so you hit stale water, not yogurt. Yeah, I guess you should have read the sign. No, it’s all right. Start over.” I smile weakly. She takes her do-over in sheepish confusion. I’ll take mine tomorrow.

Writing the Divine (Ten for Today)


August 8, 2016
 
I stuck a three-fold brochure entitled “What is Vedanta?” inside my book on writing. It’s a book mark but also a reminder. The pairing is everything.
 
The Vedanta is a philosophy based on the oldest scriptures of India, the Vedas. The basic premise teaches the divine in all of us, and the pursuit of the divine is all there is. Writing needs no definition. Most everyone writes.
 
But writing for some is more than communication, practical missives that need delivery to complete some operation, some function of human existence. Some of us write because it’s what we do to reach the divine in us. I’m not sure I’m including myself in that “us,” but I’d like to consider that conviction more.
 
More than God and the divine, the Vedanta embraces all other belief systems whose end goal is reaching the divine. In other words, it makes no difference the words or way, it’s making the journey that matters. And that’s sort of my approach to writing. I write. Every day. Some of it’s good, some not. No matter, it’s the doing that counts.
 
Some days writing is therapy. Some days it’s meditation. Others it’s creation, while still others–struggle. Writing is life. It’s all we do. Some of us.
 
The finest and lowest moments connect to writing: that painful process of birthing a poem, a story, an article, a listicle, even, like molding bramble, hay and rocks together to make a statue of the Mona Lisa. And then the miracle of finishing with something approximating Da Vinci’s girl, or even pretty damned close–well, that’s heavenly.
 
The struggle to achieve, find, see and discover the divine of us in, by, through and despite the Vedanta continues moment by moment. It is the ever-present, ever-elusive (seemingly) goal. Writing is the mock up. 

National Tolkien Reading Day

  
Guess I missed it yesterday, the day devoted to reading Tolkien. And while I would not have read any Tolkien, I would have paid honor in some way as he is one of my most influential writers. Not so much for style or even content as timing.

My earliest reading memory is tied to him. In sixth grade, the reading light went on. Somehow it struck me that with a dictionary and determination, I could read just about anything. I had proven it by trudging my way through The Hobbit, an assigned reading by my ambitious sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Allgrove. Though I begrudged that woman many things while sitting long days in her class, reading Edgar Allen Poe stories to us was not one of them–nor assigning us Tolkien.

She was ambitious for us 11 year olds, and I took up the challenge. Reading The Hobbit was painstakingly difficult but I had a profound sense of accomplishment and enlightenment after finishing the book. Not so much for the story, which reached me in mere wispy shadows at the corners of my imagination, thin strands of plot but thick with magical atmosphere and mystery. More so that I had cracked some code or found the secret password and entered the club. I could read hard books.

After that I ventured into many books, too many to count. I am a reader. I attribute that love to Tolkien who lured me with mystery. My attempt to do the same for my own children did not work as well. I found an amazing illustrated text of The Hobbit for kids, drawings that plucked the fright out of the spider scene or the eerie from Gollum. But it bored and frightened my kids. They were not six graders yet. Maybe premature. They did not even see the movie when it came out. I surely did.

Tolkien totally enveloped my world when I was fifteen, the year I read the trilogy. The Lord of the Rings not only captivated my imagination, but yanked at the seams of longing and teenage angst. The darkness of that book was my own darkness, deep and well traveled. The torture of that darkness produced by the most majestically fabulous language spoke everything to me: horror and beauty. 

I lived in Middle Earth, at the edge of Mordor, in the realm of invisibility that was becoming more and more addictive. The landscape was my own insecurities and sorrow as I traveled through the tunnel from sad teenager to savvy teenager. By the time the ring was tossed into the abyss, I had come out of my own cave to see that the world was brighter than I imagined. I lost some of my perpetual glum, which I wore like the makeup other girls wore to make them–in their minds–more socially acceptable and attractive.

I learned to speak Elvish. My best friend and I spent one Halloween in a cemetary drinking Schmidts beer (a little over a buck a six pack back then) and smoking hash scaring the shit out of each other with visions of Mordor. I lived this world not only while I read the books but in the long aftermath of its lingering imaginative aroma. I hated finishing the books, my long, long absorption in the world coming to an abrupt end.

My love for The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien stayed with me like a first love. The untainted visions and preserved excitement of total disappearance into another world were sacred to me, so much so that when the movies came out, I refused to see them. I did not want my own mental creations of the characters to be displaced by someone else’s casting. I wanted nothing to do with that.

Until I entered graduate school for the second time at the age of 43. I went back to school to get a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of California at Riverside on a fellowship. One professor in the program took a special interest in me and invited me to a small group of three students to do an independent studies course in flash fiction under her tutelage. After I agreed, the course turned out to be a delving into the holocaust and feminism, two subjects I wanted to avoid.

Interestingly, the course reading list included The Lord of the Rings. When I saw that title, I became both excited and anguished. Did I want to spoil the specially preserved place of that book that I read purely for pelasure and out of curiosity by dissecting it until the juices were totally bled out of the words?

The same books from 1975, yellowed with decades of shelf time, came to my aid in 2003. It was like a time warp. I read the books as if for the first time and enjoyed them without critical interference, which was my wont 28 years later with a couple of literature degrees under my belt and several teaching years. As is often the case with acquired analytical expertise, the innocence of a subject under analysis is lost when the invisible lines of creation are exposed.

But that did not happen with The Lord of the Rings. And even after taking some wild bent roller coaster ride of a term paper outlining the underlying sexual tension of the menage a trois between hobbits and gollum-like creatures (Oy, don’t ask), I had fun reading the book even while destroying its innocence with interpretive analysis. It was the easiest paper to write, and I had the most fun writing it, unparalleled to any before or after.

But I still refused to see the movies for months afterward–until I did. I had the director’s cut of all three of them. I sat down in pj’s for the weekend and dove in. And yes, my initial impressions and imagined beings have been displaced but the movies were faithful and enchanting. I admired Jackson’s devotion to the spirit of the text. I was once again immersed in the world with its strange and wonderful journey, mine once again. 

Tolkien has taken me far, stretched me through the years. I am forever indebted to him and his creations far more than I can express in my own plebian words. And though I am not a dedicated fan of fantasy adventure novels (though I have read a fair amount of them), I attribute Tolkien to both my love of reading and my disinterest in most fantasy adventure stories. I had trouble getting through all of the Harry Potter books. In every fantasy story I have read since, I recognize some “borrowing” from Tolkien. 

He was the master after all. He set the prototype. Everything after cannot be but some poor imitation, switch-up or clear avoidance of everything he imagined. The greats do that: pull us along and then intimidate the hell out of us. Thanks J.R.R. I am always reading you, regardless of book in hand or not. Cheers!

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate’s Day!

Female_pirate_Anne_Bonny (1)

When I was girl, aye, many a moon ago,

a landlubber me, me mateys too

sailed the ocean in books from the bilge,

the library basement racks, and ventured far,

anchored only by words like hook of the captain

luring us in like Moby, wee urchins to the salty seas,

uprising smartly when it was time to go.

But we’d come another day for a skull’s whistle.

“For a tale awaits on the shores of shelves,”

the spectacle’d lass in pumps and plum lips said.

“Pirate the world in an open palm, my beauties,

Steal the wind with a spell set on shivering leaves.”

Ahoy and avast! And we did, alit below the stars

of blackened ceilings open endlessly beyond

and long before days peering into Davey’s Locker..