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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Live the questions now

"I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which would not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
-- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My beach reads

One of my favorite things about beach vacations (aside from the beach) is the reading time it affords. On my latest vacation to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, I had books loaned to me from two of my friends. One was “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I know, I know, EVERYONE has read that book. But I’m never one to read books when they are all the Oprah-induced rage.

But as I perused the stack piling up near my bed, I decided it looked well suited for the beach—somewhat light yet lightly introspective.

I didn’t want to like the book because it seemed so, well, popular. It was one of those books that women around the pool or beach would ask, “So where is she now?” “Do you like it?”

But as I read my way through Italy, India and Indonesia, there were some themes that resonated with me—the need to spend time doing for oneself, the desire to travel authentically, the pursuit of beauty and pleasure, the need to forgive myself for my many shortcomings, the need to find some spiritual connection and the quest to keep life in some kind of balance.

There were some beautiful passages in the book as well as a number that I found whiney and obnoxious. But it made me think and it made me feel and in the end, that’s what I seek in a book.

Here's a passage near the end that I found moving:

“I saw that my heart was not even nearly full, not even after having taken in and tended to all those calamitous weeks of sorrow and anger and shame; my heart could easily have received and forgiven even more. Its love was infinite.

I knew then that this is how God loves us all and receives us all, and that there is no such thing in this universe as hell, except maybe in our own terrified minds. Because if even a broken and limited human being could experience even one such episode of absolute forgiveness and acceptance of her own self, then imagine—just imagine!—what God, in all His eternal compassion, can forgive and accept.”

The other book I read was “Little Bee,” by Chris Cleave. This was a superior book in terms of voice, plot, character development and sheer language. The author writes from the point of view of two women in a way that rings authentic. His language is just gorgeous right from the very first paragraph.

“Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I could visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead—but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca-cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy, like lovers who met on holiday and forgot each other’s names.”

What are you reading? What moves you?

Monday, April 19, 2010

April is...

"April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain." -- T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cleveland is a time-saving city

I'm getting caught up reading my magazines. The April issue of Real Simple has an editorial focus on saving time. One of its features is a survey of the 21 Top Time-Saving Cities in America. Cities were rated on a scale of 1 to 5 on how easily one could get around, the health and safety, access to information and technology, green time-savers and lifestyle.

Cleveland is in a three-way tie with Dallas and Los Angeles as the 16th top time-saving city in America.

According to the survey results, we rate a 3.5 in both health and safety and green time-savers Our lowest rating of 1 was in lifestyle.

With the number two on-time airport in our survey and one of the shortest commutes (just 23.5 minutes), Cleveland scores additional points for its free downtown trolley and large number of farmers' markets.
What cities rank ahead of Cleveland?

1. Seattle
2. Portland, Oregon
3. San Francisco
4. Boston
5. Minneapolis
6. Denver
7. Washington, D.C.
8. Pittsburgh
9. Miami
10. Atlanta
11. Baltimore
12. Philadelphia
13. New York City
14. Chicago
15. Austin, Texas

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Natalie Merchant's enchanting music

I'm dating myself now, but there was a time when the 10,000 Maniacs was part of my life's soundtrack, a cassette regularly popped into my car stereo for driving music.

Natalie Merchant, lead singer of the Maniacs, has released a new album of children's music called Leave Your Sleep that I found absolutely enchanting to listen to at 6:15 this morning. Her eclectic collection of tunes is set to classic poetry from a variety of nations. The King of China's Daughter is a song that has stuck with me all day and reminds me so strongly of my niece Natalie. Here is the text of the poem.

The King Of China's Daughter

The king of China's daughter
So beautiful to see
With her face like yellow water, left
Her nutmeg tree.

Her little rope for skipping
She kissed and gave it me
Made of painted notes of singing-birds
Among the fields of tea.

I skipped across the nutmeg grove
I skipped across the sea;
But neither sun or moon, my dear,
Has yet caught me.

Music has always been a special language for my niece that I don't fully understand. As a child on the autism spectrum, she has profound insights that are expressed in unusual ways. She describes songs by color, just as she describes people as colors. I'm yellow she always tells me with a big smile. :)

I wonder if she would call this "a blue song." Think I'll buy it for her and see what says.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tread softly...

A beauty from one of my favorite poets.

"Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths [...] I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

-- William Butler Yeats, "The Wind Among the Reeds"

Sunday, April 11, 2010


As we quietly slip out of our vacation rental and into the blackness of the early morning, I’m a little melancholy at the thought of vacation coming to a close so quickly. The morning seems to reflect my mood. As we make our way across the bay bridge, there’s a sliver of a moon reflected on the water’s surface, only its edges and reflection are both blurred by morning fog.

My mind feels foggy, partly from the lack of caffeine but also due to its aimless wandering. Eventually my thoughts turn toward the realization that while I am sad to see my vacation come to an end, it also marks a beginning…a recalibration of sorts.

As we drive northward, the knot of tension magically reappears between my neck and left shoulder blade. My tendency to become consumed by my work has GOT to change. After having spent a week waking with the sun, sipping my coffee, reading, walking, playing with my family and yes even writing again, I realize how out of balance I had become.

My life has always been a quest for balance. The search for balance in living a creative life is why I started this blog six years ago. Why is it so difficult to find equilibrium? To find that blissful place between consumption and ambivalence?

As the sun rises above Alabama skies and we wander the back roads of U.S. 331, my thoughts turn to the past two years, how life has changed mostly for the good, but with some serious adjustments.

I returned to full-time work outside of the home (I qualify this because I’ve never really stopped working full-time) and while I managed a good balance at first, I’ve been consistently putting in 60-hour weeks for the past eight months. As the months ticked by, my view became myopic, only allowing me to get through the next task, the next meeting. I found myself thinking, “If only I can get through X, I’ll be able to breath easier.”

But what I’ve realized this week is that the work will always be there, as evidenced by my endlessly buzzing Blackberry, which I managed for the most part to ignore for the week. People will always have needs and requests of me because it's the nature of the position I now hold. I need to better manage my expectations of myself, to pace myself. I’ve got to set boundaries—AND stick to them.

So I’m going to start this week with small changes.

I’m already up early most mornings so I’m going to exercise three of those mornings. I'm too tired when I get home at 7 no matter how good my intentions are at the start of the day. I’m going to leave my office at 5 every day because I miss having dinner with my family. And I’m going to return to writing…some of it may appear here, but because I'm writing more for me, more will appear in my private journals. We'll see where it leads.

My oldest son turns 18 this year. We’re looking at colleges and getting him ready for his next big adventure. I want to enjoy every minute of that experience.

Finally, I’m going to find the time to better enjoy the people in my life—my family, friends and those people who have meant so much to me over the years. Maybe this time, I’ll be able to make the recalibration stick.