I thought I had come to California looking for horses. That's what drew me out here; the wide open land given to these majestic creatures; throwbacks to a wilder and forgotten west. I swooned for their photos, I fell into them. The wildness that was still in these creatures, the neighing and bucking and kicking and running into the horizon, manes in the wind. Unbridled. Free. Charging mares, leading herds, tending foals. And perhaps I will still find them when that time is right.
But upon landing out here, I was taken by the water, foremost.
The Atlantic shores are beautiful, but for some reason, these waters...the Pacific...are different. The shores she touches. The stories she swallows, the secrets she holds. Oh, these waters hold so much. They have seen and felt so much. And in that, as a whole, as a body of water, a being in its own right... she is that much more calming. It's a powerful, cleansing presence. A deep healing. Not to mention the sheer majestic and aesthetic beauty of the area; it's no wonder writers and artists flock here over the decades. The vistas are unmatchable.
But Steinbeck. I was first hit as I toured Cannery Row, which is now a giant consumer-wonderland. Which is fine. I bought a souvenir or two, some t-shirts for my son. A refrigerator magnet. I'm a sucker for that stuff, within reason. My first day there, as I was walking up and down the streets, weary from a few hours in the car after leaving San Francisco, I snuck around back, behind a closed shop, to the boardwalk. Or pier, whichever. All the chairs were turned upside-down on the tables; this particular deck was empty.
I considered Steinbeck's writing, his growing up in Salinas, and his visits to this very bay and other points along the coast. And the man, the good friend Ed Ricketts, who inspired Doc. His trouble with marriage and relationships, in general. And the water! Oh, it's impressive. Overwhelming.
I had read a little bit about Steinbeck the night before, because someone in San Francisco mentioned that the area was great for writers, being that it's "Steinbeck-land." Now, of course, I knew who he was, I read Of Mice and Men in school. Grapes of Wrath. I did the assigned reading, but never delved fully into the man that he was: his motivations, his sorrows, his dreams.
As I toured the area and the Steinbeck exhibit in Salinas, and as I read more about the man... I felt such heartbreak. Disillusionment. Internal battle. Here was a man who saw great injustices and great stories and he had to get them out. He had to. And they were good stories with great themes. What I found heartbreaking, nearly tragic, was how his novel The Winter of Our Discontent was received and critiqued, as it won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But it was more than that.
John Steinbeck was a highly sensitive man, it would seem. A deep, mysterious, brooding, Piscean artist, who felt that the world was spinning off its rails, losing its morality. He saw the coming of the fifties and sixties and to him it was a breakdown in society and decent values. He felt things deeply. He felt his world crumbling and wanted to write about it. Fight it, perhaps. But at a minimum, provide a chronicle. He went out on the road with his dog, Charley, and wanted to revisit and recapture the America that he once knew, after spending time away, in New York and Long Island. he wanted to see real people, small towns, local bars, not the affluence and facade that he'd been living in.
"I nearly always write - just as I nearly always breathe..." - John Steinbeck
And later, when his novel was shunned so hard, despite praise from others, he put his pen down and never wrote another novel. And to feel that kind of pain and humiliation inside, is just heartbreaking to me. And I could feel how soothing those waters were, and must've been, to him. And to so many.
In reading Travels With Charley, just now, being that I was so taken with the man and his story and his need to see the country... I can't help but reach back and pull some lessons out...or some parallels, at a minimum. It's what I do.
Steinbeck came from a family of Republicans, and changed a bit when he saw more of the world and got out his his hometown. His perspectives on Life changed. When he'd returned home, arguments would ensue:
"Let's just be friendly and loving. No politics tonight." And ten minutes later we would be screaming at each other.
And so it was, and so it still is. Steinbeck knew he was nearing his last days. He felt his world deteriorating. I can't imagine the ache inside. Well, actually, I can. I think so many of us can, which is why he and so many writers like him are so resonant. Particularly now, in this climate, when the world feels divided and torn up, much like it did then. Those of us who truly do feel deeply want to find things to mend; to help that ache. And it's a humanity-sized ache, a global ache. There is a real and dire need to heal someone, something, anything, everything. Or a touch of madness grows in the absence of that longed-for resolution. And in that madness, oh, does distraction blossom. Numb, numb, numb the ache. With a drug, a habit, a spoon, a television, a drink, an over-zealous need to disappear into something other than what is, rather than live a healthy balanced life. And it's not easy, we've all got our things. Hopefully our addictions don't harm and make us ill.
And how did moderation become such a rogue idea?
We seem to be commanded by a world that favors extremes. Extremes in diet, in entertainment, in lifestyles, in just about everything. Nice, easy, simple living has become a lifestyle choice, something that has to be taught and remembered, rather than...just how things are. We have to be told and reminded with blips and beeps and timers and gadgets to relax and breathe and sleep and eat. I get it, John Steinbeck, I get it. The players have changed, the scenery is different, but it's the same game. And now, we have the internet. And do you know how often you're meme'd John? A lot.
I walked the coast again, and thought, in imaginary conversation with this writer I'd become enmeshed and obsessed with...
Despite the flack you got about that one book, John Steinbeck, I mean... wow, man. You did it. Didn't you? Your books are required reading in schools and libraries. Iconic. Champion of writing the proletariat. Great sense of place and giving voice to the everyman. You are part of the canon, good sir. I wish you could've seen it happen, in the flesh.
It's been a week since I attended a half-day women's retreat with the lovely ladies at The Life Detox Retreats. This is the sort of event that I always push back, make excuses about, or try to work around. I mean it's half a day! But I promised myself that I'd show up. For starters. I'm so glad that I did, here's why:
I say this a lot...that magical things happen when women gather together, with like intentions. A synergy, a web of interconnectivity, is born that never existed before.
We began around 8 am, which for me, on a Saturday...is ridiculous. I wanted to stay in bed. Lounge, indulge, snooze, and stay in my luscious dreaming. But I promised, and this was, after all, the year of choosing ME (the premise of Wild Horses and Mistakes.)
I rushed a bit, but made it on time. The grass was still cool and damp with dew, the sun was still low. There was a peaceful quiet: a crispness, a clean-ness...about the energy in the air. I remember thinking... this is why people wake up early. For the stillness. Wow. It was beautiful. (Not making promises to become an early bird...)
I wandered in and found the women, chatting, standing, sitting, assembling around yoga mats. We started the day with some quick greetings and introductions from the facilitators and then eased into a gentle yoga routine. It was just lovely, being outdoors on a sprawling and lush estate, surrounded by green, at the foot of the harbor. Hearing the birds overhead in the canopy, feeling the fresh morning breeze on my skin, opening to the whole experience. It was blissful.
As the day went on, and we nibbled on wholesome foods, and moved into different areas for different methods of inner-work, like EFT (tapping), I found that I was surrounded by women from all places in the circle. Some were a few laps ahead of me, and had deeper, richer stories to tell, and deeper, more painful wounds to carry forward. Some were a few rounds behind me. We were all different, we lived different lives. We felt different levels of stress or worry or pain or sadness... and also different levels of motivation, dreaming, goal-setting, and challenge busting. Because there is both, there will always be both.
Dream and envision, while overcoming obstacles and pushing through fears and pain. And the scale of these things will vary; our best looks different at different times in our lives.
There is a balance.
I remembered and brought so much more to the surface that day, and in the days after. How beautiful it is to share our stories, to gain perspective, and to connect with each other. To observe. To listen. To see pieces of myself, in all of these women. How grateful I was just to be there. To witness. I gained a great deal of gratitude and perspective. It was a perfect little reset.
it was solidarity.
But also, the number one thing that kept bubbling up for me, all week... was exploration. Curiosity. Imagination, dreaming, creativity. All of this involved exploration. I had been in a bit of a tug-of-war, for a while, neck-deep in paradox, while writing more of my current project, which is probably the most honest and vulnerable piece of writing I've worked on, thus far. Even in that, there is challenge, a battle, a charge forward and a rush of resistance. It's all part of the experience. The give and take.
I'd thought for so long, and really took to heart, that to be spiritual... was to be silent, obedient, and stoic. Receiving, only. Just be still and grateful, and all I need will come to me. Ohm... OK. Let's get real for a minute, beyond the bullshit and chatter. I have less and less time for it.
Here's the thing with that... in real life: if I were to sit still, in blind gratitude and acceptance of what my life was and never got off my rump to see or do anything new...well, then nothing would ever change. My life would always be as it was, I wouldn't see or do anything different, nor would my son, and I would spend a lifetime limiting myself. Or him. No. Something has to move. Change. Shift. Always.
Writing my first book wasn't so much about the finished product, it was about who I got to be, as I wrote it. As I finished it. And made room for more to flow through. Chasing wild horses, or pursuing our dreams, isn't about what we catch, it's about who we get to be, what we see, how we grow and evolve...as we journey toward them. It's about adventure, the unknown, the other side of fear, the magic and mystery of encountering something new. It's about moments of awe and wonder and magic. To be still and unmoving, is to avoid change. It's safe. Simple. Less threatening, for sure. But to avoid and hide from change is to miss out on growth opportunities, as well as, oh...those simple little things like... bliss, joy, fun, excitement, passion, pleasure, meaning, and magic. All the things that make Life worth living. For me, spirituality is about embracing humanity, not hiding from it, and living in the Mind, alone. It's about coming fully into my body, from my soft stomach, to my head, and all the way out to my finger tips and toes. Being aware of twinges and discomforts and pain and exploring them. Healing them. Also, diving deep into the me inside, exploring there. Allowing emotional pain to surface for healing, and letting it go, and finding myself that much lighter and more free. Closer to wild and unfettered and blissfully abundant, with each healing and release. Stronger and more resilient with each stumble and setback.
To me, this is it. Living full-on, up-close with the Self. Honestly. Full acceptance of all that I am, light and dark. Awareness of what doesn't work, and measured action to improve. All change begins with conscious thought, with an idea, with a seed. But it lingers, unawakened, until action is taken. There must be a catalyst.
Action...is the step through the threshold, into a new world. A leap of faith. A big decision. Facing a fear. A change in plans, a new experience, a flight to another place, meeting someone new... all of these are first steps through that doorway, into a new story. A new adventure. Consciously creating opportunities to encounter new things, face to face. To engage the senses in different ways, to change perspective, to expand.
I am working with a coach now, (I'll gush about her when we're through, I don't want to detract from our work together) and it's doing wonders for staying focused and connected to my creativity. And she said something at our last visit, that stayed and rattled around in my head. Shook things up. It had to do with getting to core wants and desired outcomes, how I'd choose to design my life and experience creativity in a responsive world:
"What if there wasn't a book to write? What if there was no song you had to write and sing? No project to get done? What would it be then? What's beneath that? Without the to-dos?"
Wow. What a storm of stuff! Epic battles started raging inside, don't tell me I can't write! Why can't I sing? Why, what, why... and on and on. Silently, of course. Inside. Me against me. As is everything.
But I considered it, for the sake of the exercise...and some crystal clear truths bubbled up through the mess...
1. I am writer because it's who I am. I'll always write, I always have, because it's just me. It's how I see the world, and whether I share it or not, it will still happen. I live stories; life is art. It's not a have to, it's just me. As much as my arm or my foot is me. The same is true of music. If I went through a day without dancing around the kitchen, holding mini-concerts in the car as I drove, or hearing music within me and letting it out...I'd obviously be very ill or depressed. It just doesn't happen often. So, the answer to that question is: I'd still do and enjoy these things, even if I didn't seek to publish or share them. They're just me. It also made me so much more grateful to have these outlets in my life, and I promised to create more space for them.
2. But what if... if I didn't have those things. What else is it, what is the thing that lights me up, that sets my soul on fire, that mainlines me into Bliss? It's travel. New places, experiences, adventures, people, sights, sounds, smells, landscapes, FOOD. I write and create to process my world, and explain it in my own unique way, but I travel to engage my world. To live. For me, travel is to be in experience of Life, while art is to be in observation of life. (I did say up there that life IS art, so I don't know. Good luck sorting all that out. it might not make sense. It might, though.) Anyway. I thrive on a balance of both. So, if I had no project to work on, if I wasn't writing something or crafting something... I'd definitely be planning my next travel experience.
And here's why all of this is so important: knowing what makes us come alive and feel good, is everything. Knowing what that is, and then doing it, is a recipe for a fulfilling life. It's simple, but it's everything. Human beings, as we grow from childhood and encounter life's slings and arrows, we become wary of joy. We get further and further from it if we don't make an active choice to bring it to mind, and connect to it. Consciously. And stillness, quiet, meditation is key...because in the silence, we hear ourselves again. We hear what it is that we really want. (Pssst. We're still allowed to want things.) Or, we could hear our purpose, or the whisperings of the divine within us, our higher selves, pointing us toward our Truth. Whatever it is, way deep down, that energy, in those buried places, we get to listen to it.
I believe that we don't merely wait for our lives to happen to us, but that we consciously create them. Each day, with each choice. What great reminders I got, this week.
A simple prescription:
Find balance: nourish the body, quiet the mind, honor the soul
Listen and know what you want
Honor that voice, take a step toward what it wants, and live in gratitude of it
Repeat as necessary.
So I am "on vacation..." away from it all, on location. A writer's retreat, an artist's date. Right on the southwestern tip of Florida, dancing in the gulf. Paradise.
Ongoing conversation this weekend, originally inspired by exotic meat on a stick. But applies... to... ya know. Everything:
Me: what is this?
Life: try it. do you like it?
Me: I love everything about it, I love how I feel right now, I love being ABLE to FEEL right now. I love BEING so ALIVE right now. Free, yet tethered to some current of magical unknown-ness yet connectedness. But what is it? What are the ingredients? How can I repeat this?
And so it goes...takeaway? Sometimes we need to not think and extrapolate. Sometimes... we just plug into it, whatever IT is, and we charge up there. Resonate there. Shine, glow, learn and unlearn there. Love there, as long as we can. An environment of Bliss in which to explore the reflection of ourselves so deeply, that we nearly melt into the mirror, examining likeness. The sublime surrender of particles melding with particles, into new ways and understandings of beingness. Because the YOU then and the YOU now are different, thanks to one subtle, yet powerful change in input.
Unclenching those curled up fingers, that are squeezing that elusive control and need to know things.
Sometimes, yeah. It's about Being, experiencing, and celebrating.
I'M IN LOVE!
Life itself. And isn't that... isn't that why we're here?
So I'm at the airport, which already feels like I've stepped into Back to the Future 2: I haven't flown in a while. I had to sit at a table and order my breakfast on a tablet... luckily a sweet-faced young woman was here to walk me through robot-land here. It feels truly bizarre. We can't order through people anymore? Visions of Minority Report and Fifth Element are flashing through my head. Holograms traveling through the air, every inch of airspace congested with information and data. We are on that precipice...how much does tech encroach upon our lives, our work, our interactions? Where is the line? And are we mature enough, responsible enough, for all of the implications? Big questions for 6 am. :yawns:
So. I've been reflecting. Looking over my Life, thinking about Paris, climate, countries, states... all of it. It's all one organism. How often we forget. We...are all one giant system made of a gazillion sub-systems. But again, too heavy for 6 am. Haven't had enough coffee yet. But... work. People. Work and people. With people. For people...
The field of public service can be brutal, in many ways. There are a plethora of things to complain about, for sure. And we do, sometimes. We all have days and we are quite human and have our own lives, as does anyone else.
But sometimes, I get to see "my kids" come back. Teachers and counselors and public librarians are so lucky in this way, almost like a parent: that we get to be there for certain growing periods of a child's life, when they are earnest and studious, and then rebellious and snarky, or they're bullied or they're being the bully ... or they're triumphant, or questioning, or confused and lost ... and on and on. Oh, to see a child in their innocence through to their formative adolescence, and then...years later... to see them return. The great return, a bit like birds flying back home to the nest.
And this doe-eyed child is now a young adult. Perhaps they've finished college, or they've found a trade or a passion in something outside of academia. They speak eloquently, respectfully, they are kind and make eye contact. They read. They think. And they engage in their world. They strive for earnest success. They have...evolved. Grown. Matured. And in that moment that youth flashes before your eyes, and the gratitude... the deep, deep humbling bow to even being able to effect the life of another in such a way... just erases the rest of it. The politics, the petty issues, the whatever-it-is that doesn't make sense in the given workplace, and there's always something.
But those moments, those precious, awe-filled moments, are irreplaceable and graceful reminders: I am here to serve. These are my people; this is my community. And I get to participate in their lives in such a powerful way. What beauty in that.
And to any and all teens reading this: stay the course. People will hurt you, belittle you, tease you, misunderstand you, be jealous, be uncaring. Just as much as your friends can be supportive, lifting, caring, loving, and will commiserate with you at a moment's notice. High school isn't forever. If you're one of those wandering souls, mind alight with fascinations and stories and bewilderment, just stay the course. Make it through, and the world will open. You will meet other people who see and feel the world in the same ways, and you'll connect with them. And you'll learn and grow and and look back on these days ... as a training ground. Stay the course. You're worth it, and there's a whole world of people, beyond the present circumstance, who really do support you and believe in you. xoxo