Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

A Girl and a Goat from Gaonli

Friday, January 16th, 2015

When I was four years old, a missionary from India came to my Sunday school class. I don’t remember her name, just her sari. I had never seen one before and I was captivated.

She told us stories of the faraway land of India, of monkeys and camels and elephants, of the crowded slums of Mumbai and a woman named Ramabai Mukti who founded an orphanage and school for unwanted children.

It was a lot for a four year old to digest, but the woman and her stories made a huge impression on me. For years I was obsessed with India. I studied the country, its culture and history. I read alot about Ghandi. I asked my mom to take me to Devon Avenue in Chicago, where I purchased a sari of my own.

From the time I was 4 until I turned 16, I told everyone I met that I was going to be a missionary to India. As a religious kid in the Midwest, that seemed the best option to me for visiting this exotic land. Certainly my family would never have the money it took to travel to a place like that–we went to Indiana on family vacations.

And besides, I wanted to help. Even as a really young kid, I was struck by the idea that somewhere across the world, there was a girl like me.

But while I was born into a family who loved me unconditionally and encouraged me to follow my dreams, whatever they might be, this girl was born into a culture where she had no worth, no value, and no options. It seemed like a very random assignation of destiny to me. Why me? Why her?

 

As I got older, simple answers like, “Because it’s the will of God” didn’t work anymore. And although I renounced my future career as a missionary in my mid-teens, my fascination with India remained.

And finally, 37 years after I first heard of India, I set foot on its soil.

Last November I traveled to Jaipur with Tea Collection. My colleagues were there to shoot an editorial catalog for our Spring 15 collection, which is inspired by the beauty and culture of India. I was there as the storyteller, to record the sights and sounds and smells of our visit. To take notes on what it felt like to be there. To observe, to ask questions, to internalize the experience so that later I could make it real for readers who hadn’t come along on our journey.

But I had a second purpose. Tea Collection partners with the Global Fund for Children, and I and my coworker Jessie were to spend a day visiting a GFC grantee in Jaipur, an Indian-run nonprofit called Gram Bharati Samiti.

The day we spent in rural villages with Bhawani, Kusum and Sarita was the best day of my whole trip to India.

Better, even, than my birthday two days later when I was surprised with a chocolate cake and a gorgeous photo taken by our photographer Hideaki Hamada.

The people I met that day, the staff of Gram Bharati Samiti and the girls and women in the villages we visited–their faces will stay with me for the rest of my life.


I wrote a blog about my experience for Tea–you can read it here, and please do. You’ll find all about a 6-year-old girl named Buja and the amazing gift (baby goat!!) I was given by another girl named Rekha. It’s the best story, really it is.

 
Hardly a day has gone by since I came back without me thinking of those girls, those villages.

Someday I’m going back. I’m going back and I’m taking Bruce and Lucette with me.
We’ll ride elephants and tour palaces and go back to Gaonli village to see if Buja’s still there.

And then we’ll hop on a plane and head south to Mumbai. I want to see where it all began for me, I want to visit Ramabai Mukti.

 

 

 

-Lo, who can’t believe 2014 went by without one. single. word.

 

 

Famine

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

It’s easy to take for granted the way
the phosphorescence of solitude
ignites a thousand poems.

Not all of them good, of course.

In truth and hindsight,
most were un-notably awful
and overly enamored of lank-haired boys
who didn’t rate a reciprocal glance
much less a rhyming couplet.

And yet.
The unremorseful exuberance
of so much twentyish angst is
impressive.

Would now I could
dredge one bullion ounce
of such lyrical fervor.

-Lo, attempting a comeback.

Life Is What Happens

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

cornfed

Damn. I mean, Damn!

I have never neglected this space for such a long time. In fact, I used to post a minimum of once a week fairly effortlessly. But then, there are a lot of things I used to do that have become past tense.

If there are any of you out there still reading, I apologize for the long silence. It was an unintended sort of thing. A month would go by, and I would think, “I need to update the blog.” But then I would get busy, for there are a million and three things on the to-do list, always. Or I would be too tired (see aforementioned list). Or I’d get distracted by a tiny corn-on-the-cob waving lass (see above photographic evidence).

Or I would just think, “I have nothing to say that anybody wants to hear.”

And that may still be true. Or maybe it never was. But in the end, I’m doing this for me. I’m reclaiming this space to reclaim a small part of myself that feels lonely and lost.

Around the time of my last blog post, some six (gasp!) months ago, I began writing a poem which in drafts has alternately been titled “Heart” and “Lost” but will likely not be called either of those things by the time it’s finished.

I began it in a haphazard style, having awakened one day with an idea for a new cinepoem blazing in my brain. But the poem must come before the cinepoem. So I wrote, awkwardly, as you do when trying to wake a sleeping limb.

My brain felt numb and the words felt heavy and I struggled through five lines. And then I put it away and thought, “I will come back to this.”

And now it’s July.

Anytime I would think of the blog or the poem, (in between scrambling eggs while the tot sat in her highchair banging a spoon and chanting “eggseggseggseggseggseggseggs!” and trying to race down to fling blankets and tiny PJs and multicolored socks into the dryer before the tiny PJ owner noticed my absence and going to work and coming home and remembering to say hi to Bruce and squeeze in a “Howwasyourdaydear?” In between all of that,) I would think, “Oh, it hasn’t been that long. Surely I’ll have some time tomorrow. I’ll carve out an hour.”

And now it’s July. No-one is more surprised by this than I.

This day isn’t any more or less busy than any other day, but this is the hour I’ve managed to seize. And perhaps it’s true that I have nothing to say. Nothing anyone other than me finds fascinating, anyway.

But it IS fascinating to me. This life with all of its chaos and tumble and rush. It’s endlessly fascinating.

The way she says new things, every day, that show a little mind whirring and buzzing and becoming. The way her hair grows in frantic ringlets all over the back of her head but on top, and in front, it’s perfectly straight. The way she climbs to the top of the tallest ladder on the playground, fearlessly. The way she brings me books and climbs into my lap and says, “Sit here a minute, mommy.” The way she runs, with graceless toddler bravado, arms flailing, pigtails boinging. The way Bruce and I will catch each other’s eye over her head at random moments and just grin at each other like, “Can you believe this?!”

The silence of the past months, it seems, is an indicator not just of busy-ness but of becoming-ness. Of tired-ness. Of happy-ness. Of all the -nesses that make up a life.

And someday I’ll write all about it. Someday the words will catch up.

In the meantime, I’m going to grab an hour when I can. And I’m going to finish that poem and name it something ravishing. And I’m going to shoot a cinepoem. Soon. Like in a matter of weeks soon. (Really. Shel and I have a shoot date on the calendar.)

And if you’re still here and waiting, you’ll be glad you did.

-Lo, full of wishful hopeful thinking.

From Russia, With Love

Monday, December 26th, 2011

russia_saratov

In mid-November, I received an email from Ekaterina (Kate), a high school English teacher in Saratov, Russia. She and her students had found the cinépoems, and “Alice is my middle name” was their favorite.

The class had a school competition coming up, and they wanted to memorize and recite the poem, so Kate asked if they could have my permission to do so, and if I could send them the text of the poem, since transcribing it from the video was difficult.

I was astonished to discover that the cinépoems had traveled all the way to southern Russia. It’s just one more way the internet has made the world a much smaller place. Amazing.

Of course, I gave her my permission and sent the text of the poem straightaway. I also helped them find the music we used for the cinépoem.

And yesterday, I received the most lovely Christmas present ever.

This is a video of Julia, reciting my poem “Alice is my middle name” in her English class the day before the competition. She borrowed the blue Alice dress from a local theater.

julia_alice Alice in Saratov

Kate told me that Julia was nervous when they shot this video and “didn’t feel like an actress.”

I think she’s lovely. And she must have done well at the competition the next day, because her performance won 3rd place!

Congrats to Julia and all of her classmates, and a huge thank you to Kate for seeking me out. I’m so glad Alice made it all the way to Saratov.

Here’s the poem that started it all, for all you Alices out there:

Alice is my middle name

The light turns green and I’m off again
out looking for my wonder land
searching every rabbit hole
turning over every mushroom bowl

the clock gets louder
with each passing year
it stares me down
it finds the fear

so I shuffle up a hand of hearts
I pour myself a stiff blue dress
and the light turns red
(it’s all in my head)

but the plates keep spinning
and the cats keeps grinning
and that most important date
just keeps showing up late

it’s never the right time
it’s never, ever the right time

when the charge runs down
(as it often does)
I jump start my heart
to the marching band,
to the ticking tock

sometimes I could swear
I hear the sound of clouds
slamming on the brakes
slowing down to watch

and every time the sky turns blue
I stop somewhere
I wait for you

and every spring the grass turns green
I take that leap
of faith again

(You go further
when you get a running start)

Watch the original cinépoem

-Lo, who finally did find the right time after all.

The Elusive Muse

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

mood: antsy | drinking: h2o

rust_bird

Every writing workshop I’ve ever attended encourages you to carve out a hole in your schedule: an hour in the morning, a chunk of the afternoon, and sit there with your pen and paper, your keyboard and screen, and wait patiently for the muse to show up.

Sometimes, they say, just sitting there writing nonsense, pouring out your stream-of-consciousness rambling, will suddenly turn into something productive. Something that you’ll read later and say, “By Jove, there’s something good going on here!”

And it’s true. It works. If you can force yourself to find the time and then sit there, quietly.

But there’s another tactic that I’ve been considering, since my quiet times with blank pages have been few and far between of late. I’ve decided that perhaps you need to get off your ass, go out there, hunt down your inspiration, drag it home by the tail and make it your bitch.

Sally forth, armed with pocket-sized paper pad and tell yourself, “Today I WILL find something to write about. I will inspect every nook and cranny of my day until a whisp of an idea creeps from the corners and makes itself known.”

Perhaps I’ve decided to go on the prowl because it sounds easier, somehow, than adding another task to my to-do list that says, “Sit still.”

Perhaps I’m in denial of my need to stop moving, stop doing, just stop for a second.

Perhaps.

I’ve been so busy, for the past several years. Poetry book, cinepoems, film festivals, new job, new house, and, of course, the ever-expanding bun in my oven.

But even if I weren’t busy with all my various and sundry extracurriculars, I’d likely find a way to fill time.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how all these time-saving technological wonders have spawned such a wealth of ways to waste time.

Facebook, while a great way to connect with long-lost friends, enemies, and people you barely remember, is also an incredible time-suck. Even if you don’t subscribe to the Farmville/Mafia Wars/Vampire Attack drivel.

It’s like the more we invent to make our lives easier, the more we remove ourselves from the actual living part of life.

We had friends over recently and at one point in the evening I looked up from my laptop to see at least four of us with heads bent over computers, and the other two had their iPhones out. Yeah. We’re a fun bunch.

I’m not against the interwebs, obviously. And I’m not against smart phones, either, although my own phone remains a small, sad little phone-only device. (I don’t want to be constantly connected.)

I just think that unless we consciously unplug, disconnect and shut down for awhile, we might miss out on something truly spectacular that’s happening off-screen.

I’ve been unhappy with my poems lately. They have slowed to a trickle, and all I seem to be able to write about is the unknown little person inside me who is slowly but surely rearranging my life.

I suppose it’s not really a bad thing that my poems have such a singular subject–after all, this is a pretty monumental thing that’s happening inside me. But there are other things happening outside of me that I’d like to pin down on paper.

So perhaps I’ve just talked myself in a great big circle back to the beginning of this post. Perhaps I’ve just convinced myself to sit down and shut up and see what the muse brings to the table.

Or maybe I can do both… Maybe I can be aggressive and hunt my inspiration down one day, then sit passively by and listen to the ether the next day.

It’s worth a shot. Let’s try it and see what happens.

-Lo, who just likes to say that she’ll make something her bitch.

The Trouble with Poetry

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

mood: Billy Collins-ish | drinking: raspberry tea

statue

I’ve been taking my sweet time reading a book of Billy Collins’ poetry aptly named The Trouble with Poetry. I’d like to borrow two of his poems to share with you here — they just seem to fit the day.

Statues in the Park

I thought of you today
when I stopped before an equestrian statue
in the middle of a public square,

you who had once instructed me
in the code of these noble poses.

A horse rearing up with two legs raised,
you told me, meant the rider had died in battle.

If only one leg was lifted,
the man had elsewhere succumbed to his wounds;

and if four legs were touching the ground,
as they were in this case –
bronze hooves affixed to a stone base –
it meant that the man on the horse,

this one staring intently
over the closed movie theater across the street,
had died of a cause other than war.

In the shadow of the statue,
I wondered about the others
who had simply walked through life
without a horse, a saddle, or a sword –

pedestrians who could no longer
place one foot in front of the other.

I pictured statues of the sickly
recumbent on their cold stone beds,
the suicides toeing the marble edge,

statues of accident victims covering their eyes,
the murdered covering their wounds,
the drowned silently treading the air.

And there was I,
upon a rosy-gray block of granite
near a cluster of shade trees in the local park,
my name and dates pressed into a plaque,

down on my knees, eyes lifted,
praying to the passing clouds,
forever begging for just one more day.

Building with Its Face Blown Off

How suddenly the private
is revealed in a bombed-out city,
how the blue and white striped wallpaper

of a second story bedroom is now
exposed to the lightly falling snow
as if the room had answered the explosion

wearing only its striped pajamas.
Some neighbors and soldiers
poke around in the rubble below

and stare up at the hanging staircase,
the portrait of a grandfather,
a door dangling from a single hinge.

And the bathroom looks almost embarrassed
by its uncovered ochre walls,
the twisted mess of its plumbing,

the sink sinking to its knees,
the ripped shower curtain,
the torn goldfish trailing bubbles.

It’s like a dollhouse view
as if a child on its knees could reach in
and pick up the bureau, straighten a picture.

Or it might be a room on a stage
in a play with no characters,
no dialogue or audience,

no beginning, middle and end –
just the broken furniture in the street,
a shoe among the cinder blocks,

a light snow still falling
on a distant steeple, and people
crossing a bridge that still stands.

And beyond that – crows in a tree,
the statue of a leader on a horse,
and clouds that look like smoke,

and even farther on, in another country
on a blanket under a shade tree,
a man pouring wine into two glasses

and a woman sliding out
the wooden pegs of a wicker hamper
filled with bread, cheese, and several kinds of olives.

-Lo, sitting in the dark and waiting “for a little flame to appear at the tip of my pencil.”

the Ego and the Suck

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Mood: Ready to go
Drinking: Agua

Yesterday I was compiling a submission for a poetry journal when the Suck hit me straight between the eyes.

And now you’re saying, “What the hell is she going on about?”, so let me explain:
Every honest artist will tell you that, coexisting in their brain, side by side, are the Ego and the Suck.

The Ego (self-confidence, talent, pride, whatever) is that magical cold drive that sends you out into the world to staple your posters to light poles on urban corners and slam your poetry behind a microphone on a poorly lit stage. The Ego produces cinepoems and chapbooks, gallery shows and book tours. The Ego believes you are good enough, smart enough, and goddammit, people like you!

But her twin sister is the Suck (self-doubt, fear, etcetera) and even though she’s the ugly one, she’s just as charismatic. The Suck tells you that you’re not a bad writer, you’re worse: you’re mediocre. The Suck sends you cowering into couch potatoland, groveling in the audience at poetry readings, picking your fingernails to bits because you know, you just know, that nameless, faceless people out there somewhere will pick up your book and think that it’s trash. Or worse, vanilla.

The Suck tells you that all your teachers and mentors and friends and neighbors are lying. That none of them have the balls to tell you the truth: Your writing will never be good enough.

The Suck and I have done the dance before, many times. Ego usually arrives in time to pry us apart and impart a little reason. Then she gets to cut in for awhile. And round and round we go.

So yesterday, I opened the door, invited the Suck in to stay awhile. We had some tea. Talked about how sad it is that I will never be published or infamous or toasted about town. (The Suck cares very deeply about all manner of meaningless accolades, contests, and attendant shiny prizes.)

I thought if I just humored her for awhile, the Suck would get bored and run off to torment some other artist, down the street. But she’s added some new tricks to her repertoire, and so I made up the guest room and she’s going to stay for awhile this time.

She reminded me that I’m a white girl. From a good family. No childhood trauma. No secret incest. No parental abuse. No drug habits. No relationship drama. Hell, my parents aren’t even divorced.

I grew up on a farm, rode my horse at the 4-H fair, colored eggs with my Mom at Easter, decorated the tree with my Dad each December. My sister and I had bicycles and puppies and acres of land to explore, barefoot and screaming. I had braids and books and As on my report cards. I earned diplomas from high schools and institutions of higher learning. I won scholarships (banal and prestigious). I had my share of dating dilemmas, but none of my boyfriends were mean. Even the ones who cheated did it decently, if there is such a thing.

I married a man who is not only my friend but seven years later, he still thinks I’m cool. And pretty. And fun to hang out with. I’m surrounded with friends who adore me. And family who lets me be who I am. I live in a yellow house with red flowers out front. I walk my dog on a blue beach near the twinkling, frothy toes of the Pacific. I have my hands in so many creative pots right now, I can’t even find my fingers.

I am lucky.

And so these other poets, the ones from the barrio, the ones from the wrong side, the ones with the shit and the stink and the stories, they get lots of attention. They get book deals and accolades. And they deserve it. They have talent. They have style. They have so many terrifying tales to tell.

And me? Don’t look at me. It’s my friends. My friends who are gay or brown or both. My friends who have the needles and the glittering addictions. It’s my friends whose fathers kicked them down the stairs. My friends who were molested by strange men in the bathrooms of suburban shopping malls. My friends whose mothers fed them acid at age 3. Me? I’m vanilla. I’m well-adjusted. I’m doing just fine. So I write about them. It’s either that, or the 4-H Fair.

So am I jealous? Yes, of course. The Suck is here! So I am loved and blessed and busy and happy and lucky. And I’m jealous of the shit and the stink and the scars and all the stories they tell. The beautiful, painful stories.

But don’t worry. I’ve called the Suck a taxi. She should be leaving any time now…

-Lo, who believes that tall girls want to be short and short girls want to be tall.

Morning After

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

Mood: Placid
Drinking: Of course

I finally got behind a mic last night.

It’s been much too long. When I lived in Chicago, you couldn’t keep me off the stage. I grabbed a microphone every chance I could get. I slammed at The Green Mill (and won a coupla lottery tickets) and did the open mic there, too. I read at churches and tea houses and parties and concerts. I was addicted to the sound of a real, live audience.

And then I moved 2,000 miles west and shut up.

There were a lot of reasons for the silence. I packed a couple of serious life changes into a few month’s time. I left all my friends and history behind me for the promised land of fog and inspiration. But when I got here, I was bereft of all that anticipated inspiration.

It didn’t seem so at first. I’ll never forget the moment our U-Haul (bearing all our worldy possessions, including our only vehicle since we sold our cars–Boy’s old yellow motorcycle) rounded the corner and rolled out of the Waldo tunnel and we saw the red towers of the Golden Gate bridge shining up ahead. Boy and I looked at each other and grinned. “We’re home!” I said.

The first few weeks were full of the fun of finding a flat, exploring the city, starting a new job (downtown at a fancy agency that was spitting distance from the Transamerica Building). We were giddy. But not for long.

Just days after we signed the lease on a gorgeous 2 bedroom flat with an ocean view and a garbage disposal, the bottom fell out. Seems we had arrived on the west coast just in time for the dot com crash. And since my fancy agency was chock full of dot com clients, well, they crashed. And as the newest employee, my head was the first on the chopping block.

I was wearing pigtails, a miniskirt, big stompy boots and a David Bowie t-shirt (with glitter) on the day I got laid off.

All I could think as I sat there trying to comprehend the pitying looks and conciliatory tones was, “I should have worn something more serious today. I look like a 15-year old.” Followed by, “David Bowie is bad luck!”

I didn’t know, as I collected the requisite box full of office belongings and stood on the corner, whimpering and waiting for Boy on his yellow motorcycle, I didn’t know that this was just the first of four layoffs I would experience in a single year. The world was definitely crashing.

For the next couple of weeks I woke up with panic attacks and lay on the couch in flannel pajama pants, eating Tostitos and watching the sideburns grow on 90210. When I got laid off, Boy didn’t even have a job yet–we had moved west on my shiny new salary. Somehow he managed to land one quickly, but his monthly salary just paid our exorbitant San Francisco rent, with $2 left over.

We bought groceries with unemployment checks. I had never felt like such a failure.

I refused to answer phone calls from my friends back in Chicago. I didn’t want them to know. I didn’t want them to talk to me about giving up and moving back “home.” San Francisco was my home, and no matter how much it hurt, I was determined to stay.

For a girl who got through college on an honors scholarship, a teacher’s pet and chronic overachiever, being laid off was unthinkable. I spent hours at the Kinko’s on Sloat, copying my resume over and over. I sent out hundreds. But all over the city, all over the Bay Area, there were thousands of people like me, and we were all desperately applying for the same job.

I finally took a temp job as a secretary for a scary non-profit organization. And got laid off. I landed a job at an online radio station that I was completely overqualified for. They offered me much less than my old salary. I took it without blinking. I showed up for my first day of work and the doors were locked. Another dot com, bankrupt.

Every rejection, every defeat, just pushed me further into panicky blackness. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t write. And I certainly couldn’t get up onstage.

It’s been almost five years now since we first arrived and I’ve had the same job for two years. I started writing for myself again and making plans and working on projects and shooting cinepoems. But I still didn’t get back onstage. I visited the Berkeley Poetry Slam last fall, the one at the Starry Plough on Shattuck. I knew I could write circles around most of the poets who performed, but I didn’t sign up. I even told the host that I used to slam at the Green Mill. He got all excited and told me to come back. It took me six months.

When I finally returned, I got there early. I was the first person to sign my name on the list of readers. But they do a lottery at the Berkeley Slam. They pull your name from a hat, and they didn’t pull mine. So I sat there all night with a fistful of poems and a head full of adrenaline, and I didn’t get onstage.

But since that one wasn’t for lack of trying on my part, I just got more determined. And when I heard that local heroine Daphne Gottlieb (who kindly met me for drinks a coupla weeks ago, thanks, Daphne!) was reading at an open mic in the Castro, well, that was it.

I got to SMACKdab early last night. I signed my name at lucky #7. The fabulous Kirk Read was all smiles with his pink feather boa and made me feel right at home, even though I was the only straight person in the room. Way I figure it, there’s no better place for your poetic coming-out than at a gay men’s community center. And I was right.

The audience was warm, respectful and appreciative and my fellow performers were by turns adorable, hilarious and brilliant. (Some unintentionally so.) So, after 5 long years, I consider the cherry re-popped and I’m eagerly anticipating my next microphone.

Although this isn’t the poem I read last night (I’m saving that one ‘cuz she’s extra-special), this is a poem that I wrote shortly after the whole shock treatment of being laid off finally started to wear off. I actually wrote it at the request of Wil Foster (of Sheltershed), who sent me some music tracks from his “International Plastic” album that he wanted me to write poetry for. The track I wrote this poem for was called “Dreams”. (You can listen to the finished version in The Library.)

Here it is in print:

I am living in a dream
with skin on.
Vision formed of things to touch,
things to see.
And it is much more complicated now.

Once it was a someday thing.
(wish i may, wish i might)
But now it’s real and I am here.
(look and touch, taste and see)

What do you do
when the dream comes alive?
When the white statue breathes
and the marble flesh grows warm.
(does it come alive just in time to die)

Step down from the pedestal now.
Draw a deep newborn breath
and leave perfection far behind.
To be flawless is a dreamland thing.
(now we live and fall apart)

The porcelain shows pores.
The mouth opens sores.
And this is what happens
when dreams come true.

-Lo, who knows that sometimes the fantasy is better than the reality, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the fantasy is better for you.