and live on the edges
on all the edges there are.
— Margaret Atwood
You would not have wanted to mess with Mother Teresa. She was tough. She meant it. Christopher Hitchens was not fond of her. Instead of a sweet, saintly, little old lady – the popular depiction – evidence suggests that she was a narcissist (albeit a productive narcissist, as Michael Maccoby terms it).
Her will was powerful, and she got shit done.
Mother Teresa, I imagine, had incredibly strong boundaries. She knew what served her purpose, and she could reject or let go of everything else.
She knew her deep Yes, and when to say No to protect it.
Because Mother Teresa knew where her edges were, she could go right up to them. She always knew when to draw back. She gave her love, her time, and her energy without giving away herself. She knew that you can’t give what you don’t have, so it was important to keep the reserve of her self filled up.
Structure gives shape to things. Structure creates a sense of identity. Mother Teresa knew who she was, and because of that self-knowledge she knew how to plug into the world: how to carry out the work of her soul. click here
To speak of wilderness is to speak of
wholeness. Human beings came out of that
– Gary Snyder
Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense any more.
Not long ago somebody left chocolate bars outside my front door.
“Somebody left chocolate bars outside your front door,” said the manny. “Do you know anything about this?”
He showed me a red drawstring pouch. It held a Crunchie, a Maltesers, and four or five Flakes.
I said, “Those are my exact specific favorites.”
I grew up in Canada, where you can get them at any convenience store. In the US, you have to make a little more effort. I will drive out of my way to a gas station in Beverly Hills for its rows on rows of imported candy, where I will buy my fix and leave without remembering to actually put gas in the car.
(When I do remember to put gas in the car, I then have to remember to take my Starbucks or my wallet off the roof of the car, which is where I tend to put things while I’m fueling up, before driving away.)
No one in my house seemed to know about the bars or how they got there. Everybody agreed it was a sweet, thoughtful gesture, and then reminded each other to lock all doors and windows in case I had a stalker. click here
“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.”
– David Whyte
At one point last fall, someone I loved was in emotional crisis. I drove to see him, both hands gripping the wheel, the freeway unfurling in front of me. It was as if the excess stuff in my life burned off layer by layer, leaving nothing but crystalline core: the sense of what truly mattered.
In that moment I knew who I was, I knew my purpose. That drive jolted me into being. I was focused and present. I was alive.
The crisis passed.
Things gradually became okay again.
I haven’t had that experience of diamond-edged clarity since, but it left a taste and texture in my brain. Life holds every one of us to a final accounting, and when that moment comes I will know if I lived fully and well: if I loved, if I contributed, if I was wise and savvy enough to recognize the beauty of the moment, and then to let it go; if I handled pain with dignity and transformed my wounds to light.
I can only imagine – except I don’t want to imagine – Elliot Rodger’s final thoughts, the life he was forced to account for just before he ended it. click here
“I think confidence is the way we meet our circumstances, whether they are wondrous and wonderful or really hard and difficult…It’s almost like a wholeheartedness, where we’re not holding back. We’re not fragmented. We’re not divided. We’re just going towards what’s happening. There’s an energy to it. I think that’s confidence. And it’s absolutely part of human fulfillment.” — Sharon Salzberg
Last night a close girlfriend and I went out to a little gallery on Melrose that was holding a fundraiser for Sandra Fluke in her run for state Senate.
Two young women – one of them Thora Birch of AMERICAN BEAUTY fame – gave speeches, intelligent, impassioned, thoughtful, informed speeches, and I thought again of this hunger that is out there for female role models who are not celebrated first and foremost for their hotness (or criticized for a supposed lack of).
The same friend and I had gone to hear Sandra speak at another event about a year ago. During the q + a someone asked how she felt about the vicious verbal attacks Rush Limbaugh and his ilk aimed at her when she spoke to the need for insurance companies to cover birth control.
Sandra expressed her relief that this particular spotlight had fallen on someone like her — with such a straight-arrow past that she literally had nothing to hide from the private investigators the Republicans hired to shame and discredit her — instead of someone who could truly get damaged. (“You,” one investigator told her, or something to this effect, “are one of the most boring people on the planet.” He meant it as a good thing.)
I liked this answer because it showed how Sandra recognized the impersonal nature of these very personal attacks. They weren’t going after her so much as what she stood for: the idea, or set of ideas, that she embodies.
She knows that those ideas are worth championing.
She is hooked into something bigger than herself.
I thought of Sandra when I went to hear Hillary Clinton speak at UCLA a few months ago. When her interviewer asked what Hillary’s advice would be to all the young people in the audience who want to change the world, Hillary spoke of the need for young women in particular to grow a very thick skin. When you try to change the status quo, she said, you will get criticized, sometimes even verbally attacked, by people whose primary goal is to make you sit down and shut up. (For women, these attacks still tend to circle in on appearance and sexuality.)
Male or female, though – unless we’re narcissistic or sociopathic – we generally want people to think well of us. It’s easy to say you shouldn’t care what they think, but it’s harder to actually do that when the part of the brain that registers a social slight is the same part that registers a physical blow. We are social animals, and once upon a time isolation from the herd meant probable death. To lose approval in the eyes of others can be, to our ancient brain, as much of a survival threat as something crouching in the bushes to eat us. click here
I tweeted a link to the Atlantic article proclaiming that men are more confident than women.
A woman tweeted wryly, In other news; water is wet.
Think about the kind of body language that signals confidence.
Confident people take up space: with their body, their presence.
They assert their opinions. They’re not afraid to interrupt (although hopefully they are not obnoxious blowhards). If they’re sitting down, they’ll steeple their fingers or put their hands behind their head. They are not overly expressive; they are calm, even stoic. They do not engage in constant approval-seeking behavior (excessive smiling, constant nodding, head tilting, flirting).
In other words, confident body language is coded as masculine.
A few posts ago, I referred to ‘the badass feminine’ and people have asked me what I meant by that. I honestly don’t believe that feminine badass has to be an oxymoron. The fact that our culture interprets ‘feminine’ as weak and submissive creates this belief that women have to become imitation men in order to be powerful.
I suspect it’s because of a confusion of sex and gender and body language, as if submissive body language is innately feminine and strong confident body language is innately masculine. Men and women both can find themselves in positions of power or powerlessness — and their body language changes accordingly. Women who act one way in front of other women might show up completely differently in a room filled with men (and vice versa).
As many women will be quick to tell you, a lot of so-called traditional ‘femininity’ is a performance, just like a lot of ‘natural beauty’ relies on fillers, makeup, style, personal trainers, strict dieting, expensive skincare, teeth bleaching, laser hair removal, good lighting – and I haven’t even touched on plastic surgery yet. Behavior that is aimed to please, placate, manipulate and soothe can be just as learned as putting on a pair of fake eyelashes.
Maybe women are biologically wired to nurture relationships and keep the peace – or maybe women have been acting the way people act when their survival depends upon the whims, moods, decisions and general approval of those who have more physical, social and/or economic power than they do. click here
I like this quote from soul-poet David Whyte:
“All good work should have an edge of life and death to it. Absent the edge, we drown in numbness.”
One of the best pieces of creative advice I ever got was in relation to the question of why you start a project at all, especially something as time-intensive and soul-consuming as a novel. “Will writing this book change your life?” the teacher asked me. “If the answer is no, then that’s not your real baby.”
Note that he was referring to the process, not the end product. He didn’t mean change-your-life in the way of accolades and Oprah and movie rights (although that wouldn’t suck). He meant what David meant: it should have an edge of life and death.
Which sounds dramatic, but here, the death is symbolic. (One hopes.)
I once had a dream in which I was beheaded – too many episodes of THE TUDORS – and as the blade went painlessly through my neck I felt myself leap into a different state of being. It’s the only dream I can remember that had me die, but the message seemed clear: I was entering a time of transformation. I would throw off one life, one identity, and be reborn into another.
The creative process changes you. Even as you’re making the thing, the thing is making – or remaking – you, and not just because click here
Creativity comes from limits, not freedom. — Jon Stewart
Just recently, in a writing workshop led by Dani Shapiro in Positano (as in Amalfi Coast, Italy — it didn’t suck — ) we had a conversation about edges.
Dani was talking about defining the edges of a creative project – in this particular case, a memoir. When you can write about anything and everything, you need to find a space in-between: the points where your project begins and ends.
In the case of Dani’s memoir SLOW MOTION, she decided to write about one particular year in her life. Everything she wanted to communicate, she pulled through that period of time narrated in her memoir. If the material didn’t fit inside those edges, it got cut. By making the conscious decision to focus on that year, she took a massive amount of potential material and found the shape and meaning inside it. Otherwise she would have been left with a sprawling amorphous mass that not only would have lacked structure, but also a point (not to mention a publisher).
When she chose her edges, she framed her project. She knew what to put in – and just as importantly, what to take out.
There are many different ways a memoirist can find her edges. She can focus on a theme (her struggle with alcoholism) – or a place (Paris, where she moved after she quit her soul-killing corporate job in New York) – or a character (her gifted and self-destructive best friend, disfigured after childhood cancer took part of her jaw).
But one way or another, she has to locate those limits.
She has to decide what the story is not. And then subtract accordingly. click here
“I love those kintsukuroi pieces, as I love the scarred and mended humans. They are my people.” — Natasha Wozniak
Maybe you’re familiar with the idea of kintsukuroi. It’s a Japanese word that refers to the act of repairing broken pottery by filling in the cracks with gold.
Instead of trying to hide the damage, kintsukuroi illuminates it.
You do this, because you understand that mending is an art.
You do this, because you understand that there is beauty in the broken places.
Behind every scar is a story.
(We are made of stories.)
Maybe you’re familiar with the Significant Objects experiment.
Two guys named Josh and Rob wanted to see if the power of narrative could take insignificant objects and make them…more significant.
They got some writers together. They assigned each writer an object purchased from a garage sale or a thrift store. Each writer made up a story about the object. Josh and Rob put the objects for sale on Ebay, showing pictures of each item alongside its tailormade story (instead of a factual description.) click here
“I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” ― Anaïs Nin
I arrived in Positano for a writing workshop with Dani Shapiro. I was jetlagged, hungry and unprepared. I needed to sleep, eat, unpack and read through the manuscripts my group was about to critique.
So of course the first thing I did…
…was take a selfie.
To listen to some, you would think that the selfie is a Pandora’s box that we innocently (or not so innocently) opened to unleash evil, sickness and despair into the world. If you’re been known to take a selfie from time to time – or twenty selfies immediately deleted from your camera for every portrait of yourself you don’t hate – are you a narcissist? click here
“We all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize that we only have one.” ― Tom Hiddleston
I learned that someone I deeply respect might have less than a year to live.
This is not a proven fact, he was careful to say, and he doesn’t necessarily believe it. He’s been in this position before, in his twenties, when a difficult medical procedure saved his life. That could happen again — if certain circumstances fall into place. That is not impossible.
But when he thinks about the future now, he said, his voice rueful and matter-of-fact, he no longer sees himself in it. click here