March 2009

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Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is the current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Meditations

Hello friends –

I hope your day is going well.  It is a beautiful one here, sunny and warm enough to have the windows open, cats lying in various belly exposing prostrations.  Very nice.

I wish my disposition were more like the weather, to be frank.  I am a little melancholy thinking about yesterday – the one year anniversary of the completion of my novel, Polite Society. It is a bit strange to think that I finished it that long ago.  The worst bit, and the one getting me down, is the fact that none of the many agents or publishers I submitted my work to has opened their doors to me, grabbed me by the shoulders in utter delight and said, “This is great!  Let’s get it published!”

However, as I sit with this and wonder what it really means, what I really want, I’m not so sure.  I finished a novel.  I really did, one that makes me proud and giggly at the same time.  That fact will never change.  As for what I want, sometimes I think it is money.  Other times, I think it is about having people read what I believe is a magical story.

Speaking to the money part, I have never made much, ever.  Most of the time, I am okay with this.  Other times, like today, I only look at myself in disappointment that I’m not contributing financially to our household.  That being said, when I was working for a dollar, I wasn’t very happy, actually quite crabby, a little bitchy, and awfully whiny.  Writing, however, I really like.  I love the conversations in my head, the accumulation of words and ideas.  Oh yes, I like it very much.

Why then, do I get so hung up on this?  Being happy is much better than having a paycheck.  Besides, how would having more money change my life, anyway?  Greg and I already live comfortably.  We spend wisely and have no debt besides our mortgage.   We travel, watch movies, eat good food, give to charity.  What else do I want?

For a while, I thought it was a house in the country, but have since realized that, social girl that I am, I would be a bit lonely.  As for our house, maybe we would finally get our bathroom refinished.  It is old and quite ugly.  The carpet upstairs isn’t it the best shape, and the basement isn’t finished.  So I guess I would like those things to be done, but I can’t say my quality of life would be drastically improved should this happen.

Now about people reading my work.  That’s already been done by several friends and some strangers.  (An aside here, my friend Maria did a great job of finding many, many typos here recently, some of which I had already corrected, many not.  I am very grateful.)  Anyway, everyone likes it, and I don’t believe any of them to be liars.

I guess the real problem is my silly head.  The only time I feel upset is when I start comparing myself to other people or idealized versions of myself.  In the grand scheme of things, I am the only one who can make me happy, ever.  No amount of people reading my book, money, or success can change this, not one bit.

Oh goodness, finally, I am smiling.  More money and a popular novel might make my bathroom look nice,  take me on a book tour, and give me a slot on the New York Times best seller list, but it won’t give me what I already have:  a wonderful marriage, a great home in a city that I love, good friends, cute and cuddly cats, the list goes on.

I think what is really on order is a bit of patience and some kindness toward myself.  There is no rush here.  If the doors open, I’ll be delighted.  If not, I’ve already got it pretty good.  Thanks for listening to me work it through.

In a perfect world, this post would be a short film.  You would see me lying in bed, eyes dark with the fatigue of my thoughts, deep in conversation with the hubster.  The soundtrack would be “Come to Me” by Bjork.  Do it if you can.  See me, hear my voice, put on the music.

I’ve always been a pretty introspective person.  I listen, sometimes too well, to the world, my inner thoughts and feelings, analyze them, ponder how to move forward.  Usually, it is a seamless process and I move like a leaf drifting joyously in the current.  Other times, I feel more like I am tumbling hard down a talus slope where certain death awaits me.

At these times, I find more questions than answers, none of them easy.  I look at my life, deeds, and words and make a vain attempt to piece together something valuable from a collection of days that seem so insignificant.  Is this how everyone feels, but only few share it?

Then, as grace would have it, I got an answer.  My friend Bridget e-mailed me, saying this afternoon felt like one for a movie, so we headed over to the Laurelhurst to see Synecdoche, NY.  The story touched a place deep in me, almost like I was hearing for the very first time, so much so, that I took my notebook and pen from my purse and wrote my impressions (thank you Charlie Kaufman!).  Yes, I was the kooky lady scribbling furiously in the dark, yet in the light, for all the questions of my day, and these past few days, were illuminated.  Here’s what I wrote:

Maybe this is what we do?  We construct what we think is.  Our life is composed of sets, real and imagined.  We play parts, but are any of them the real versions of ourselves?

Things happen over and over again.  Is it penance or just a pattern to be repeated?  We love, suffer, feel lonely, experience joy and wonder.

Can we construct our reality beforehand, make the set what we desire?

Are we dead or not yet born?

We compress memories and shift time.

Do we come to a point at which we drift, someone else’s hand at our back, gently guiding us, giving us our words?  Is this happening now?

I got answers and questions, but mostly a sense of relief.  Yes, Colleen, we all do this, in similar and vastly different ways.  You will encounter these questions again, but that is what life is, and until someone whispers “Die” into your ear, you can make it what you like.

I first saw this book, rather appropriately, in a shop window in Santa Fe.  I was immediately drawn to the beautiful cover.  I bought it as soon as I got home, though I hardly knew anything about it.  I just had a feeling.  Thankfully, my intuition didn’t let me down.  The Hummingbird’s Daughter is a fantastic story of knowledge, power, faith, family, and healing.  It is also a story of Mexico, steeped in history, wonderful food, cowboys, outlaws, and corrupt government officials.

Luis Alberto Urrea has written a grand story based on the life of his great Aunt Teresita.  It is a wonderful tale of a woman achieving knowledge about her own gifts as well as the pain and power that accompanies such an endeavor, for Teresita’s gifts aren’t of the pedestrian variety.  They are miracles and mysteries, the kind that illicit the distrust of the government and devotion of the masses.

As we watch Teresita grow up, learning the ways of the curandera, we also watch Mexico change.  There are new people and new ways of living:  some of which are simple, like the difference between a corn tortilla and wheat, others undermine and uproot all that has been known – like the simple dusty life in small rural towns.

It is part history, part fairy tale, and entirely absorbing and interesting.  I learned much about our neighbor to the south while also exploring what it means to have incredible faith and devotion.  As someone who is deeply spiritual but hardly religious, I enjoyed learning about the Mexican traditions that combine a bit of mysticism with Catholicism.

Thankfully, too, the text is beautifully crafted – easy to read, full of humor and wit, very easy on the eyes.  I hope you think so, too.



It is good to be just plain happy;

it is a little better to know that you’re happy;

but to understand that you’re happy and to know why and how…

and still be happy in the being and the knowing, well

that is beyond happiness, that is bliss.

Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi


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