More Coelho

I just finished the third Coelho book I’ve picked up in the past week. “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” is probably best described as a love story. But it’s not at the same time.

It’s hard for me to explain right now because the answer is just formulating in my mind. The better parts of me understand it–I can feel it–but my brain is always the last to figure these things out.

At any rate, the last question R. and I had three weeks ago was “Why St. Mary’s?” And this book definitely had the answer to that.

It’s about divinity. And the energy that is female that is often left out of beliefs about God. It’s an interesting theory, and something that has been coming to me in pieces like everything else in the last four months.

From that horror of that day awakening something inside of me. To a friend’s tattoo. To a dream.

I haven’t told anyone about this, but I’ve started having recurring dreams again. They’re not as frequent or painful as the desert ones, and I know exactly where I am in these dreams. Well, sort of. But I know who would know where I am.

There was a hike I took once. I had to be between the ages of 8 and 10. It ended in a canyon with a lake. And there was a small dock. My father took three of us and sat us at the end of the dock. He told us to take our shoes off and let our feet feel the water. Then, he told us to be quiet and listen.

He always made camping about God. I think that’s why I miss it so much. He wasn’t and isn’t too preach-y, but he would always say that “one thing” that I carry with me to this day.

Now, in the dreams I’m alone. And I walk to the end of the dock and take my shoes off. I sit there, and a woman appears. I didn’t know who it was until yesterday. I had an idea, but I wanted to be sure.

Sometimes she says something simple like hello. Most times she just sits with me. She always has a message though.

The female form of divinity.

I get it.

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El Santo Niño

My great-grandmother was devoted to El Santo Niño, and he scared me. The statue of the Mexican version of the Holy Child, Jesus, in the church in which I grew up was frightening to me.

There was a particularly bad day at work a month or so ago, and I left our school assembly saying that somewhere I was sure Baby Jesus was crying. And I’m pretty sure he was.

The job I have taken is in a Holy Child school. It was so interesting because I didn’t put it all together until my second interview there.

I was speaking with the head of school about writing about pain and dark subjects as teenagers often do. My response was that it’s important to teach young people that there is joy in pain. There is something beautifully human about pain, and that we are responsible for finding the joy. I said that it was especially important in writing because it provides a forum in which to reflect on pain.

So, I told the story of what I wrote when my great-grandmother passed away a couple of years ago. I told the story of how she insisted that mops were unneccessary and that she always cleaned the kitchen floor on her hands and knees.

I do the same even now, I said. My grandma said it was better that way. And even more importantly, there is a certain humility that is derived from cleaning on your hands and knees. Especially in the kitchen.

I can’t help but feel that somewhere in all of the this my great-grandmother and my grandmother’s hands have spun destiny.

ALL IN

I hoped it last night.

I knew it Saturday evening with the words of Paulo Coelho.

I figured it on Monday with the first call.

Not what was going to happen. Exactly. But what I was going to do.

When I was 12, I wrote my first short story. It was 60 pages long. When I was 16, I wrote my second. 72 pages. All I ever wanted to do was write. So I studied journalism and I wrote and wrote and wrote for four years.

Then, it all slipped away in a flurry of bills and life and education and love and travel. Things that were all very fulfilling (except for the bills), but things that left me feeling grossly unfulfilled. Except that I never knew why.

Last year, I figured it was because I wasn’t teaching. So I went back to it. Teaching English this time. It’s been a disaster. Not the teaching, but the experience. And I figured that it was a disaster for a reason.

At this time last year, I was offered a part-time job, and I panicked. I didn’t want to chance it.

But I took such a pay cut this year anyways that I learned the extent of my frugality, willingness to sacrifice and personal discipline.

So, that fear was erased partly. It was further erased by the knowledge that this simply is not the right way to be living.

Then, after this terribly awful week at the beginning of February, I walked with my best friend down the street and drank and drank and drank. The night involved a purple traffic cone and a bartender.

A bartender who has become one of the most inspiring people I know. He planted an idea in my head to discipline my writing, and since that moment it has taken off. Between that and his suggestions for reading, my brain has been awakened. And I see now that I could possibly do this. At the very least, I can come up with a finished product.

Then, a couple of nights ago. My mother said to me that my father always wanted to be a writer, and he regretted that no one ever told him it was possible. When I presented him with this half-baked scheme to destroy myself financially to write a series of novels, he said one thing to me: “Don’t just give yourself a year. Give yourself time.”

So, today when the opportunity was presented again. I took it.

I took the part-time job. Teaching writing this time. And it’s amazingly part-time. Six and a half hours a week. It’s mind-blowing that I will be able to shape my days around writing in a few short months.

It might be perfect.

Or it might be a disaster.

But at least for this one year, I can definitely say that I went ALL IN.

“Write Away”

When I went to the library the other day to pick up “The Alchemist,” I was on a mission to find one of the books suggested by that website that sponsors the write a novel in a month project. Of course, that led me to wander the section about writing by writers.

I picked up a book by Elizabeth George called “Write Away.” I will admit that I’ve never read any of her fiction. (Although, I will pick up one of her books now.) She writes mysteries.

The draft that I’m working on right now (which matches the word count on the right side of this blog) is far from a mystery. It’s more like a fairy tale. A fairy tale of something I’d love to do. My protagonist is a female manager of a minor league baseball team. I’m sure that I will finish this first draft in time for my self-imposed deadline.

I’m also sure that it’s garbage.

And I’m not saying that simply because I’m hard on myself, which I truly am–especially when it comes to my writing. I’m saying that because I realize there are a lot of the flaws in my the story. More importantly, I realize the flaws in my strategy.

I will say, though, that I knew that about fifty pages in. I also know that this has been a fabulous exercise in just “writing away.” The idea was to promote discipline, which it has.

This idea has been in my head for years. And by some weird, cosmic twist, I met someone who pushed me to start (and finish) and who has provided me with a wealth of reading material to get it done.

The best thing is that I know what I’m writing next, which is where George’s book comes in.

From landscape development (which was my huge, tragic failure in this first book) to character development (which is shoddy but not awful), I now know what the definite flaws are in the story. Of course, that could serve well for a re-write.

All of this aside, the MOST important thing to me was in the final chapters of George’s book where she described the way that she became a writer:
…instead went on to get my teaching credential in English and, later, my master’s degree in counseling/psychology. As you can imagine, all of this took years. As you can no doubt diagnose, all of this constituted an elaborate avoidance device. I call it the Divine Dance of Avoidance, and its steps are defined by the following truths: One cannot simultaneously teaching English at the high school level and write novels, since teaching English well at the high school level is generally a twelve-hour-a-day job. Also, one cannot write a novel while one is attempting to teaching English at the high school level and work on one’s master’s degree in an unrelated field. Cannot be done.

I realized what my Divine Dance of Avoidance was last Saturday around 3 p.m. No, seriously. It is that important to me. The second I closed “The Alchemist”, I knew what the problem was. What the problem has been for 6–if not more–years.

It’s the reason I couldn’t answer the question about bliss. The reason I struggle even when I’m doing something I enjoy. And more importantly, it’s the reason I’m fully prepared to be “all in” if things work out the way I think they may.

So, hopefully, my blog posting tomorrow night will be titled “ALL IN.” And at that moment the Divine Dance of Avoidance will have ended and Divinity in Motion (which has been posted over my desk at work) will finally kick in.

12 Feet, Nine Inches

I am thoroughly amused.

Outside my window is the entrance to a tunnel. As I was staring out the window this morning, as I do on a daily basis, I noticed two signs.

They are both bright yellow and call attention to the fact that the height of the tunnel is 12′ 9″.

For some reason, that really made me laugh. Probably because I figure if someone felt compelled to put those signs up right now, there must be a reason. And the thought of something stuck in a tunnel is amusing to me.

passions vs. bliss

A couple of weeks ago, the question was “What is your passion?” My friend helped me answer it by saying that it was teaching. I was–for a reason I didn’t understand at that moment–hesitant to agree. I think I said something like, “I’m passionate about teaching, but it isn’t my passion.”

I spent the four years of undergrad working in a high school. I was a substitute teacher, and I moderated a yearbook staff. Three months before graduation, I remember telling my mom, “Whatever I do, please don’t let me be a teacher.”

Three months after graduation, I was hired as a math teacher. With no real experience and no training, my first boss said that I was a natural teacher and she could teach me everything else. I enjoyed it immensely.

After three years, I made my first attempt to “never work again.” That attempt devolved into panic as I realized that writing and photography would not pay my bills, at least not at that moment.

So, I took another job that involved both writing and photography that I thought would engage some of my other passions and allow me to cultivate a personal business. Both ideas failed. I wound up in a bigger mess than the one I had started in.

After four months of unemployment, I ended up teaching again. English this time. And I loved it for the exact same reason I did the first time. It doesn’t have much to do with the subject at all. It’s more about watching young people grow. I feel as though I learn so much from them. It’s almost not fair.

I have realized that I have many passions. There are many things that light up my soul and make me feel alive.

But for my bliss?

I’m not so sure. I don’t know that I know that “one” thing that will make me happy for the rest of my life. Then, I think is that the goal? Do I need it to be for the rest of my life? Or is it enough for it to be for today?

The one problem is that I realize that I have never fully explored some of my passions. Teaching was easy. It’s easy for me to do, and it’s easy for me to achieve. It comes with steady pay. And I think that frightens me.

My biggest fear has always been waking up at 50 and being in the exact same place I was at 22. And I hate to say that because some of the people who I love more than life itself have done that. And they have perfectly content lives. And then I wonder what is wrong with me?

I know a lot of people who are not content in what they do. I know a lot of people who dream of something else. But I don’t know a lot of people who try to find that something else.

Perhaps it is my personal arrogance. Or that damn invincibility complex that I have.

But I think that one of these days I’m going to find that Treasure. I also realize that when I find it, it’s going to be the sum total of all these experience and that without them, it wouldn’t be as beautiful or as rich.

So…my passions: writing, meditation, teaching, baseball, music, photography, sunshine, travel, the desert, reading, politics.

In that order.

My bliss: to be determined.

The Alchemist

I read it today after it was suggested to me last week. And after I read “Warrior of the Light: A Manual” last night. I am desperately seeking answers. And for one of the first times in my life, I am listening. I see that there are messengers all around me.

I have had a lifelong obsession with the desert. The only person I know who has ever truly understood it is the person who put the obsession there: my father. My mother even laughs and says “you and your father.” Every other person I know, who truly knows me, understands one aspect about the desert that I do. But there’s never been a single person who gets why the very concept of a desert or the presence of the desert on the Earth is so meaningful to me.

Sometimes, I don’t even know that I fully understand it.

Then, every now and again, I read something that speaks so eloquently about the power of the desert. The life in it. The energy. The answers that it holds.

When I first started teaching, the last three months of that first school year were plagued by these dreams. It was the same dream every single night. Just an open desert. There was something there that I did not understand or could not see. So, night after night, it haunted me. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, not knowing exactly what I was supposed to be gathering from these sleepless nights.

So, I took them to a spiritual advisor. And through eight days of meditation and zero talking, except with him, I was able to get some answers. And I returned to Los Angeles by way of the ocean, thinking that I had washed away the desert.

Until it happened again. Another crossroads. And I remember this clearly. I went to my parents’ house, and I said that I was going to pack some things up the next day and go find my soul in the desert.

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