Freedom and a Playlist

How can it possibly be the 4th of July already?! Seriously. 

This morning I took Oliver for his walk around the neighborhood. Six different times, Oliver stopped to greet passing strangers. These kind neighbors commented on his festive mood, his holiday spirit. He's always this way. I think if Oliver were on FaceBook he would have more friends than me. This is not a complaint - merely an observation. He's not the shy, small puppy I brought home almost a year and a half ago. He used to be afraid of everything. These days, he stays clear of bikes and skateboards on the sidewalk and at home, he avoids me when I have a squirt bottle in my hand.

Today, I am staying home, cleaning house, playing music, maybe a little quilting... the fireworks will be 2 blocks away and I don't want to lose my parking space: #beachcityproblems

Lately, I've been obsessed with Lord Huron on Pandora... maybe I'm late to this party, but these are a few of my favorite songs right now:

Sunday

Today was all about walking and talking and it's not over yet... I started the say with iced tea (it was 90 degrees here) and a walk with Sarah... there was window shopping and girl talk... we talked about important things like how early is too early to put up Christmas decorations. I love the sisterhood we have shared over the years. And I love that she came all the way from the westside to spend time with me. 

Then, I went to a former Professors (Sandra Tsing Lo's) home for what is usually a reading by a local author... this time is was a chance to meet and chat with Patt Morrison (formerly of KPCC). This vibrant community of people is such a surprise to me... makes paying back student loans worth it...

And the day is not over yet!

Story

Flannery O'Conner once said, “Learn to write a story, and then learn some more from the story you’ve written.”

On a day that seemed long I felt a bit under the weather I wondered if I would find something to be thankful for and then I ran across this quote in an email inviting me to a welcome back reception at school.

Today is day 15.

I'm so grateful to be in a place that esteems the power of stories. I have no idea what will come of this story but I am grateful for the journey.

20110816-074727.jpg

Worth the Fight

I've been packing and changing my address on forms with the post office. I've been arranging Salvation Army pick-ups and wrangling friends into helping me move. (I really do have the best friends.) I've put most of my stuff in storage and rented a big room at the back of an old house with french doors that open onto a patio, a back yard, and a fire pit... this is just for the summer. Because I can. Because I am allergic to the house I was in for almost 5 years. Because I needed a change.

Reading this over it almost sounds fun. Is moving ever fun?

Before that I was in Thailand and recovering from the jet lag. This is the first I've written in several weeks. I've missed this.

Independence Day came and went in a flash. I had breakfast with a friend on my patio but other than that I don't even remember what I did with myself. I took a day off. I told myself I needed a break.

I've been thinking about my freedom, our freedom, as Americans. I think I actually had to leave the country to realize that this freedom is unique. Most of the world has never known this type of freedom. This freedom was born out of bloody battles. This freedom was worth the fight.

Until I went to Bangkok, I had no idea how important it is - within the human soul - to be able to identify yourself as a member of a country... to hold up a flag and know that you safely belong within its borders... to lock your door at night and know that you are home.

While in Bangkok, we visited the Immigration Detention Center, (the IDC). It is basically a jail. You surrender your purse, camera, and passport while the guards pat you down and usher you into a covered patio area split down the middle with two different sets of iron gates. A guard paces between the gates while another guard shuffles the detainees (prisoners) in for their visit. Visiting hour is 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and mainly consists of screaming your conversation through the bars and over everyone else's conversations. While we were in line and the guards were processing our paperwork, we met a man from Pakistan who was there to visit his sister and her small son who had been in the IDC for several months. He was there to deliver paperwork to her caseworker.

It was close to 100 degrees and humid. Miserable. I had no idea there would be this many refugees. We waited for the people we had come to visit. A couple from Pakistan, a man from the congo, and a  man from Nepal. But there was a computer glitch and it was 10 minutes after 11 before they came out. While we waited, I saw the man from Pakistan visiting with his sister, I craned my neck to get a better look and caught sight of her 3 year old son. I went straight to him. I couldn't help myself. He was a beautiful little boy who had no business being in a place like this. His eyes were huge and dark like his hair. His face fit through the bars. We spent time making faces at each other until he noticed that we were both wearing colorful plastic flip-flops. This might be the only thing we had in common but for a little while, this was enough.

I wanted to cry, but no one else, not one of these detainees (prisoners) was crying. They were just glad to be with other people. Even this little boy was laughing and telling me things in a language I could not understand. Who was I to start crying in a place like this when I get to leave when the visiting hour is up? So I didn't cry. And I couldn't speak. And for the life of me, I can't get the picture of that little boys face out of my head. Last week I finally let myself cry about it. I took out a pen and opened up my journal and sketched what I remembered of his perfect little face.

little one

It is such a foreign concept to see someone behind bars when their only crime is that they do not have a country to call home. A country that will fight for their freedom and safety. I did not walk away from that experience compelled to adopt that little boy or any of the children I met. I could see that they had loving parents who escaped terrible situations to give their children a better future with more freedom and opportunity to become who they really are.

Instead, I walked away with a reminder:

A persons freedom is always worth the fight.

Speaking Up

I'm about 5 hours away from boarding a plane for Bangkok Thailand... I'll be there for 2 weeks, working with

Speak Up For The Poor

I'm so excited and can't wait to tell you all about it. For now, keep us in your prayers:

There are 8 of us flying over together and we will be meeting with refugees from about 7 different countries as well as Thai Law Students who have committed to working for the marginalized/exploited people in their own country. It would mean so much if could you keep us in your prayers over the next 2 weeks!

First of all, for a safe and uneventful plane ride and customs inspection... no lost/stolen luggage... we are bringing toys to the kids and can't wait to give them these gifts... We'll be taking lots of pictures.

Next, for our relationships with one another as we spend more than 40 hours traveling together and 2 weeks experiencing all that is happening on the other side of the world, in a place so different from here. And, for the people we will meet, that we will find ways to help and encourage...despite a significant language barrier.

And, that all involved would come away from this experience with a renewed sense of our own futures...

Also, for our health and safety while we are away. It is supposed to be very hot and humid and the day we arrive, is the anniversary of some governmental crackdowns and security could be tighter than usual. Still, I've been told many times that there is nothing to worry about... I'm not worried. I'm excited. I can't wait to show you the pictures!

Mad Hatter

A few weeks ago we through a Mad Hatter birthday Bash for Debbie. I have talented and inspiring friends! I have so many pictures to go through but I thought I would post a few here for now...

This is Laura
Laura is Poppyhill

And this is her handy work:
Poppyhill Center Piece

Poppy Hill flowers is a company she started this year and you can see more of her work on her blog: Poppy Hill Flowers

Hannah and I emailed our girlfriends asking for words that best described Debbie and then we made them into rather loud streamers...

Decor

Decor

Andie made the desserts! Ryan made the meal... You can never go wrong with 7 Cheese Mac N Cheese and pulled pork sliders!

There are more pictures. I will post them soon!

Needle in a...

Yesterday, I sat on my porch to finish quilting that twin size quilt and found a knitting needle on my porch. That means I have too many projects going. My spinning plate trick continues. I've also been slowly working on a set of hand towels, wash cloths, and a bathmat for my next place. I'll post pictures when I eventually finish them.

I ended up staying up until 1am working on the binding of the quilt. Today, I am tired and my fingers are aching. Still, I am itching to see this quilt finally finished and washed and useable at last. Instead, I will work on the homework that is piling up. Wish me luck.

Catching Up

It's been a while. Life has been filled with meetings and doctors appointments. As it turns out, all those questionable blood tests finally revealed that I am completely healthy. A happy ending to a rather inconvenient and stressful month. I've noticed that stress makes me stream old sitcoms on netflix. 3rd Rock from the Sun is currently in my queue.
3rd Rock from the Sun Clip

Now there are new things on my list. The Los Angeles Times Book Festival is coming up and I will be presenting on a panel devoted to teaching creative writing in public schools. I'm excited and nervous. What will I say? What will I wear? Will anyone even come to this? Then there are the unknowns of where I will move to in June. Also, I will be traveling to Bangkok the last two weeks of May. Adventures await. Hopefully not international incidents.

In other news, I've been gluten-free for one month and I'm starting to feel a lot better.

In two weeks I will be giving a reading, along with the rest of my Personal Essay class, as a final project. I still need to write that essay. There is a lot of work to be done.

Asking For It

Yesterday while teaching a creative writing class at West Adams, I asked my ninth graders to make a list of the things they love and another of the things they can't stand. This usually produces surprisingly funny and honest writing. Yesterday was no exception. But, when I asked them to read aloud... Over and over, the thing they can't stand more than their siblings or parents is teachers who make them write. I guess I was asking for that one. Good thing my students don't determine my ego strength!

Tomorrow I'm going to make them write even more!

I Think The World Is Shrinking

Like most mornings, I woke up well before my alarm. Unlike most mornings, I woke with a sense that something bad had happened somewhere. Before I could even name that feeling I was checking the news on my trusty iPhone. (I swear I don't sleep with my iphone. It sleeps next to me on the night stand.)

My hunch was confirmed. An 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan. I laid in bed and thumbed through the headlines and marveled at how immediate my (and the rest of the world's) sense of time and information has changed. When did this happen?

I laid in bed fiddling with my iPhone until 7am. The Today Show was starting and I found comfort in the fact that Ann Curry and Al Roker would have a handle on the situation. Can I blame these guys for the fact that the world seems smaller and faster? Is it their stellar news coverage?

I listened for the familiar, "This is Today on NBC" as I pulled a blanket around my shoulders. Then Al, kept tossing the reporting duties to a guy who was standing on the beach in San Francisco. It looked like a gorgeous day with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. He was talking about a tsunami warning for all of the west coast and how all the beaches have been closed. So, why was he standing on an apparently doomed beach? Did he lose a bet?

I was hooked. Transfixed. I didn't move for another two hours. I could not tear myself away. About an hour into the broadcast, I realized that I was actually watching water move across the planet. I was also waiting to see if this hapless reporter on the beach would be swallowed up by the sea. He wasn't.

The images of devastation and the Cal-Tech guys in Pasadena made it seem like the world was ending long before the waves hit our coast. It made me think about how vulnerable we really are... even in these days of smart phones, even in these days of the news traveling faster than a major ocean current, we are all still subject to the weather... just like all the humans who have gone before us.

My prayers go out to the people of Japan.

Braving the Elements

This school year I got involved with a fantastic organization:

PEN USA

And along with my teaching partner and fellow USC classmate, Krishna, we have been teaching creative writing in Mr. Abrahams' 9th grade Life skills class, once a week. This past wednesday, after weeks of working with these students, Krishna and I got to give each of our students a book filled with their creative work, an anthology. We staged a reading, complete with punch and cookies and lots of photos.



Braving the Elements

The title of our anthology: Braving the Elements. This was also the theme of our time together... the elements of story. Every story, true or imagined, has four basic elements: Context, Character, Challenge, and Change. Everyone has a story to tell and this class was no exception. Seeing the looks on these kids faces, when we handed them a book filled with their work, watching them look for their name in print... I forgot how nervous I was to show up in their classroom just a few months ago.

Early on, walking into that classroom, in downtown Los Angeles, with more than 30 teenagers staring back at me, I struggled with the thought that I may not have anything relevant or helpful to say. I comforted myself with the thought that I was taller than they were and could drive a car... they can be a tough audience... but from the looks of the picture, I'm not that much taller! Yikes. (I'm the only blonde female and these kids are still growing. I'm not.)

Bravery was another theme that came up a whole lot. When Krishna and I started working with this class, we set three goals for them: to be better writers, published authors, and to be BRAVE. It's tough to share your creative work out loud and in public. I think Krishna and I have been learning this right along with the class. These students rose to the occasion and I am so thrilled with the result. I could not have done this without Krishna or Brandon (Mr. Abraham) and I can't wait to see what the new quarter of students will bring.

Have Wheels. Will Travel.

So far, this year has been about making plans. Not just any plans. Big plans. The kind of plans that require blind leaps and risk and commitment. Plans that are not for the faint of heart.

But, in the middle of dreaming up these plans I've found  answers and open doors. It's kind of a long story but I ended up with a new car (nicer than the one I had been driving). The best part is, I got to pay cash for it and my Dad did most of the hard work, like test driving and negotiating! Thanks, Dad!

There is also an opportunity to go to Bangkok this summer with an organization that rescues people from human trafficking...and a way to pay for the trip entirely thanks to a rather large tax return that I was not expecting.

To celebrate, I bought a piece of luggage that I found on sale at target. I can't wait to see where these wheels will take me this year.
Luggage

New Car

Brand New

I've been easing my way into 2011. Going slow, taking my time... until it felt right to start using "2011".  I've been hatching ideas and circling them. Rolling them around between my fingers and generally talking to myself, more than usual.

So, I came up with a logo for myself. I carved a piece of wood to (hopefully) resemble a typewriter key.

block print logo

Then, I spread ink on it and stamped it:

Alogo1

I've discovered something about myself, recently. I am happiest when I am sharing my own creativity and helping other people live more creatively. Whether it's through my writing or knitting or block printing or even painting the furniture. And, I'll admit it, I love facebook and twitter... social networking suits me. My plan is to harness these things, share what I love and who I am, and help other creative people like yourself,  reach an even wider audience. I have a few ideas about how to go about this... the main one being that in the next few weeks I am going to start offering my services as a social networking manager... that's right, you or most likely your company can hire me to "tweet" for you... There is a lot to do and I can't wait to get started. I will post more details very soon.

Here's to a creative 2011!

Cheers!

How We Mend

The following essay was submitted for publication to Darling Magazine. We'll see if they like it...

How We Mend

I’ve noticed something about knitters. Knitters love people and want to keep them warm. This is not a bad thing. The world needs more people like this. In fact, There are quite a few charity knitting groups that knit hats only for preemie babies. Others, knit blankets to send to villages ravaged by war. Still others that teach men in prison to knit because of the natural anti-depressant effects the rhythm of knitting has on the human brain. Knitting is what keeps me normal.

I picked up knitting at a time in my life when I was at my lowest. I don’t remember exactly how it came about but somehow I got it in my head that if I could teach myself to knit, via the internet, I might be able to accomplish the more pressing and necessary real life stuff I had not been capable of exploring. I had no idea I was seeking refuge, a measure of grace from a length of yarn. Finding rhythm in the familiar when nothing else in my tiny little world made sense and I felt like a stranger to myself. I did not understand then what is now the most shining and obvious thing. There was beauty in a series of neat tidy stitches when I could not for the life of me see the beauty inside of myself. There was risk and surprise in the limitless possibilities of what I could create from a single strand of yarn… a hat, a scarf, a purse, a blanket, a sweater… when I could not find the strength or confidence to understand that, I too, could become anything. The singularity of who I am, is most definitely enough.

I love the satisfaction of finishing something and being able to wear it or give it away. I love fingering all the different kinds of yarn, all the color possibilities and the seemingly endless number of projects. I love the clicking of the needles when things really start to hum. I love being able to decipher a pattern and make it happen. Knitting has given me a certain patience with myself. It forces me to sit still. In life, I want instant results. Knitting continually reminds me that I cannot skip ahead. If I want it done right, I must be willing to take it one knot at a time. Every single knot counts. No matter where I’m at, like it or not, I need to find a way to make the time I’m spending matter. And, if I don’t like it I can take it out. I can start again. It’s not a failure if I’m learning and growing. I tend to learn these lessons the hard way. I’ve always hated starting over.

But the time came when I had to seek out other knitters to answer my tougher questions and untie my larger knots. In the company of other knitters I’ve come to learn that I am much more normal than I had ever anticipated. This was shocking. I had always been told how original and different I am. When I found the comfort and company of other knitters, I found that I am an original, just like everybody else. I make the same mistakes in knitting and in life, as countless others who are knitting and living on this planet. For so long, I thought I was the only one who was over thinking things, anxiety ridden about the future, and martyring myself in jobs that I was too smart for and relationships to men who never really cared to look further than my blonde hair, blue eyes and ‘C’ cups.

I set a few rules in place to keep myself safe. I’ve never been real big on rules so actually, there is only one rule. No knitting for men that you are not related to by blood or marriage. Or, no premarital knitting. You may not believe this. Most women don’t. Just hear me out. When the relationship is over and the boyfriend is gone, you may be relieved and think you’ve dodged a bullet of sorts. But you will regret not seeing that scarf again. And you might find yourself wondering if he still wears that scarf with the woman he’s currently dating. Does he tell her who gave him such an extravagant gift? Hand made gifts mean something more. Maybe it’s the time spent. Maybe it’s the uniqueness expressed in a series of knots. Maybe there is an unspoken intimacy involved when you set your hands to work for one person in particular. Most men won’t get what you are trying to say with a hand knit scarf even if they genuinely love the scarf. It’s quite possible you won’t be sure about what you mean to say either. These misunderstood gifts are the kiss of death for relationships. Unfortunately the casualties are your heart and your beautiful knitting.

I’ve been told that I need to be willing to kiss an awful lot of frogs in order to meet a prince. Maybe the same is true for knitting. I need to be willing to risk a few scarves. A few beautifully unique hand made scarves that I sat knitting until late into the wee small hours of the morning, until my fingertips chaffed and peeled. Maybe I don’t always need to be the martyr. The truth is simple. We only grieve the things, and people, we truly love. Isn’t loving someone always a risk? Maybe it’s more about being wise and clear headed in light of the risk. Quite possibly, it’s the risk of limitless possibilities within ourselves that finally sets us free.

I took to knitting at the age of twenty-five, hoping it would save my life. What I found was a new sense of normal. Women have been knitting, keeping people warm and loving people well for centuries. And for centuries, we have also been risking our hearts and scarves. This is how we mend.

Making a List

The following was a writing exercise for class. We were to make lists... It's vague and open to all sorts of interpretations. This is a list of the noises I grew up hearing in our house on the top of 11th street under the oldest oak tree imaginable. Enjoy.

1. footsteps in the hall

2. Mom's Viking sewing machine running at a full tilt gallop

3. billiard balls being sunk into their pockets to the rhythm of steady hands

4. santa ana winds rattling the wall heater

5. the old light switches- heavy and loud

6. the clink and clatter of dishes being put away.

7. door than only slam, never shut discreetly

8. the toilet flush could be heard outside

9. Dad's old red Datsun- minus a muffler

10. the front gate creaks and scrapes against the uneven pavement

11. the freezer's ice machine at regular intervals

12. the heavy windows straining when opened and drafty when closed

13. Dad sweeping the driveway

14. the washer off balance at least 5 loads a day

15. the phone ringing always at dinner

16. laughter at bed time

17. music- saturday mornings while cleaning the house

18. sports on every t.v., all the time

19. table saw- when the house was under construction... it was always under construction.

20. table cloths be flung open and spread out on holidays.

L-O-V-E

It's been a while. I've been in a homework hole of sorts. I completely skipped valentines day... but I did have something to show you. While I was reading magazines at Borders one night... ( a common, and cheap, way to unwind), this was the cover story:

Scientific American Mind

I laughed but then, I did pick it up and read it. There is a large cynical part of me that believes love and chemistry are never black and white. There is a part of me that likes a little mystery and doesn't want to be told how certain things work...There are lots of things in my life that I consider mysteries. I'm ok with that. For example, How does a  fax machine actually work? How do airplanes fly when they are clearly so heavy and most paper airplanes can't make it across the living room. Not the ones I make. It's a good thing I don't make planes. And what are the rules of football? (Men keep trying to explain it to me, I still don't get it.) These are mysteries I don't mind living with. According to Scientific American, all we need to do is breathe together and make eye contact and hold hands and share experiences. How devastatingly simple.

I have been doing the eHarmony thing lately. And sort of collecting bits of info from everyone around me about dating...

To list a few:

Make yourself available, but not too available.

Make him chase you. Guys like that.

Be yourself but don't let all the crazy out at once.

Wear flats, don't be taller than him.

This one is from my sister, and it's probably the funniest thing I have ever heard...

"This is a very good sign. When a guy is excited about going on a date with you, he will spend part of that day cleaning out his car for you. If he picks you up in a spotless car, it's very good news."

Anyway, in one of the books I've been reading for class, I found this quote:

" It seems to me that love is best entered unaware; it best happens without thought, like a sudden plunge into deep water." - Lan Samantha Chan

I can put February to rest now and get caught up to March.

It's homework time!

So, it's been a while. I've been writing... I just haven't been posting it here because it's all homework. The word homework used to fill me with dread. Funny how things change. Homework is a lot different these days. From one class, the assignment was to write 18 -22 lines of a first person narrative poem. From the second class, We are supposed to write a 10 minute short film script dealing loosely with the subject of "Things we didn't understand as a kid"... I'm enjoying it and wishing I had more time to devote to it. My week is almost completely booked before it even starts.

Anyway, for the core writing class, the first part of the semester is devoted to poetry. These two little poems are what I submitted:

She is Fearless

She flies straight into the

Arms of the freeway

Blinding lights at blazing speed

Take her breath away.

She is fearless and wild

No looking back, watch her fly

Ask her to stay, she will throw

Her head back, laugh and say,

Don’t you see?

Wings don’t fit in a place like this

********

To Knit

When I was younger

I kept feeling like I might unravel

I blame boys for that mess.

So, I taught myself to knit.

When I was younger

I felt the weight of the earth

Creeping up through the floorboards

Pounding in my chest so, I

Held fast the weight of a skein

in my small hands and began letting go.

When I was younger

I was like a picture frame

All boundaries and edges until

A neat row of little knit stitches

Walked me back home and

Flipped a light on inside me.

When I was younger

I used to wonder what I should

Be, and how a simple length of

string can be made into almost anything.

So, I taught myself to knit.

*******

The funny thing  I've discovered is that, at least with these short assignments, no matter how good it is on paper... it's the way it sounds when it's read aloud to the class that gets the bigger response. What I mean is, what you've come up with and written down could be brilliant but if you aren't a good reader... it flops. The immediacy of reading your work to people you are just getting to know is something I never anticipated. I've surprised myself with how nervous I get.

More to come, soon. I promise.