Writing across Genres… or Not

Toggling. I think that’s the word. It’s got a good ring, anyway. Attending to one thing here, another there – specifically writing across genres – is giving my new meditation muscles extra gymnastic training. As I bounce between diverse projects with varying levels of responsibility and reward, I’m trying to keep in check all the concomitant emotional dashing about that my mind’s been doing lately. (I’ve taken from my foray into meditation – novice of novices I am – permission to write about my mind as a kind of third party. It seems a little weird but kind of fun, too.)

Harriet Tubman – Her Money, Your Money, and the $20

Harriet Tubman chuckling in heaven. That’s what I’d like to think as her response to the news that her face will grace the front of our new twenty dollar bill.

With no small bit of humorous irony, grace it will.

Portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman

Portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman

See, in the case of Harriet Tubman, her money was your money and yours and yours and yours. I’m not just talking about her years of enslavement. Even after she was free and could make and have money of her own, Harriet Tubman gave it all away in acts both small and grand. She used it, unfailingly, for others.

Harriet Tubman, Unlikely Patriot and American Icon

Who’d have thought that words such as “hot” or “trending” would refer to Harriet Tubman? Yet, there they are. Hers may be the face that boots Hamilton from the ten dollar bill, and her words graced Viola Davis’ historic Emmy speech. Friends knowing how my preoccupation with Harriet Tubman led to writing a screenplay Tell Mister Lincoln have been kindly quick to point out that – look! – she’s not so obscure after all. She shouldn’t be. Not now, or ever. Never mind that I’d forgotten about her for decades.

Portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman

Portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman

Be a Dog, Get Outside; It’s National Get Outside Day!

The din is deafening. It’s morning at our local SPCA, and all anyone wants to do is get outside. I plan as I drive there. Rico will go first, since his kennel is closest and he “holds it” longer than anyone would think is physically possible. Then, the little pair on the other side, the sweetest little lap dog ever and her chubster kennel mate, who need a break from theSPCA Brittany noise. The skinny hound Christoff is also heroically house trained, but I can’t leave him in an outdoor run — he’s a “fence climber,” they say, though a perfect gentleman on the leash. So I’ll get Miss Energy-Plus Brittany out and into a balls-riddled pen before walking him. She’ll be a great adoptee — lab mix and full of love — if only she can get enough exercise. Then to Tilly, whose kennel gets no window light and lies depressed until I stop at her door, bearing the promise of fresh air and sunshine. I map out my strategy; but when I open the main doors, all planning goes out the window. The air is thick with desperation. Each dog needs outdoor time. Now.

To Work with Heart

quote Marc-Chagall_I-And-The-Village_HD_768x432-16x9May the work of this day bear the print of your heart. Ah, Marc Chagall, thank you for this and for so many wonderful paintings! Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised to find Gibran’s The Prophet illustrated by Chagall, as it was Khalil Gibran who said, “Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”

Exodus the Movie, God, and the Power of Stories

Let me say right off the top that this post isn’t so much about the movie Exodus as it is about God… and story. Still, I should probably warn, “spoiler alert.” But the two biggies below that might preempt one’s enjoyment of the drama hardly qualify as spoilers, and they bear immediately on the whole point of this. One is that God is depicted in the movie as a little boy (a ragamuffin, frequently creepy boy — Stephen King by way of Dickens). The other is of course how the movie ends, but that’s been common currency for centuries, based as it is on a pretty popular book, The Bible, and recalled every spring the world over in the festival of Passover. (Exodus Cliff notes: ten “plagues” and a miraculous sea-split later, God has liberated the Hebrews under the leadership of Moses from their slavery in Egypt in order to serve God. This last part, the serve God part, does sometimes get overlooked.) Exodus the movie

Millet’s Calf, a Newborn Jesus, and God of Earth

Maybe it’s the way the light falls, illuminating the bed of straw like some upside-down and disheveled halo, all gold and shimmery, on which the baby lies – a baby cow, in this case. Or maybe it’s the calf’s beatific face, alert and looking straight out at us from the center of the canvas. I suspect part of it is the posture of the farmer and of his field hand, heads bent, and the care with which they carry the newborn toward the stone cottage (a human home, no doubt about that) and the little girls waiting there. Surely the mother has something to do with it — a spine-startling cow with skinny legs and modest udder, her head titled just so, her muzzle bumping the calf’s rear with that same attention to even the humblest body parts that a baby unashamedly demands. I don’t know why the woman is the only one with her mouth open – singing, speaking, calling, assuring…?Millet Peasants Bringing Home a Calf Born in the Fields

Friends, Partners, and the Creative Life

What is it about an other that can be so… well, whatever you wouldn’t come up with yourself? When it comes to creativity — making something new whether on canvas, with sound, in writing, or out of clay – most people work alone. It’s a solitary life, the way of an artist, isn’t it?superhero partnerships-istock-000016837868 Then again, maybe not.

When I read Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Atlantic piece about the creative collaboration of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, I admit feeling a mix of envy, nostalgia, and gratitude. What a partnership those guys had! But it’s not easy to come by. Psychologist Susan K. Perry parses the ingredients. Others like Bob Kodzis, who observes the power of difference as well as basic trust, weigh in on how.

Goosed – Adventures in the Sort of Wild

It was the Sunday of a holiday weekend, perfect for an extra long paddling adventure. I took off in the kayak with the wind at my back. I know, I know. Never do that. Always start by going uphill, upwind. When you’re tired, you can still get home. But I figured it would be incentive to go farther, push harder. Besides, it was hot. So when I’d be working hardest, I’d have a nice wind in my face. I debated leaving my shoes on the dock and decided to keep them on, just in case there were scary spiders in the kayak. I threw in a small notebook into which I have written over the past many years, and a pen, in case inspiration were to strike. Before it was all over, inspiration struck, all right. But the notebook was in no condition for recording.
turtles on a log I sped along with the waves. I passed a dazzling white ibis, turtles galore, a couple of blue herons. A falcon swept and circled overhead. Slow cows from an idyllic rolling farm ambled out under broad branches along the shore, and a blue swallowtail butterfly dipped and bobbed around the startlingly red cardinal flowers that bloom wild around here. There were just enough clouds to be interesting, a few fisherman, and plenty of space. Nice, nice, nice.

Literature and Exile

This morning, I ran across Cristina Peri Rossi’s State of Exile. Or rather, I learned of its existence, of her work, her experience as a woman without country… finding a way to live new. state of exile cover rossiI happened on it through Ginsberg’s Kaddish as published by the wonderful City Lights Books, San Fran in handy pocket size. Rossi’s book is part of that pocket series. To take with you.

Exile. It’s the thrum and back beat of the novel I’m writing, the experience of my protagonist (Cyrus the Great’s aunt Amytis) and of her cultural context — Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. This is the moment, some 2500 years ago, when particular songs, traditions, and stories began to take shape in an organic and dynamic collection that would become the Bible.