Absence

I wrote this blog nearly two years ago and never posted it. I thought I would do so now in memory of Harpo who passed right around Christmas time two years ago. It is also for those of you who have experienced loss and are still feeling that strange sense of hollowness from it.

“Where there was something and suddenly isn’t, an absence shouts…”

I read that line on New Year’s Eve. I had stumbled upon a morning poetry retreat online; I honestly don’t recall how I got there. I signed up, having the fortunate foresight to know it would be exactly what I would need. The excerpt is from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Burning the Old Year.

Burn indeed.

That was my first inclination. Burn the year down. Purify. Start over.

The notion of burning prompted a lively discussion among the group. What to keep; what to release. Are some things just too precious to give over to flame?

Another line in the poem says, “So much of any year is flammable.”

When I got down to the part about absence –– about three-quarters of the way into the poem –– my inclination toward pyromania became clear. I wanted to burn away the pain of Harpo’s absence, an absence that is as loud as a gong reverberating an inch away from my ear. Yet, paradoxically still.

Harpo’s absence announces itself routinely though his energy is gone. It’s a heartbreaking combination. A constant reminder of loss.

But it is as it should be. I took so much joy in his presence. Of course, his absence would have such an effect.

In the middle of Nye’s poem, she says, “So little is stone.” Harpo was a gigantic rock, a central anchor in my life for 7 years.

Instead of burning off the pain, I will just have to let the pain burn. There’s no shortcut here.

“Only the things I didn’t do crackle after the blazing dies,” is how Nye ends the poem.

I can still hear a lot of crackling from my long list of things undone this year, except for one. Harpo knew how much I loved him. In addition to general care and nurturing, I hugged him, kissed him and told him with great exuberance that he was adored – every day. Not one day did I miss. Not one.

That’s a good feeling to start any new year with. I recommend doing it with the living stones in your life.

Hoshi works his star power

Hoshi is shocking white, as are all Bichon Frises; but he has yet another bright element, his brain. He’s so smart, in fact, a couple of nicknames have already been coined in his honor: Caninestein and The Great Hoshidini.

I’ve been writing about him for The Pet Shop since December, 2014, when my beloved Harpo—also a shocking white dog, but not a Bichon—passed away.

I’ve collected the links to my Pet Shop blogs to share them with you in chronological order. They’ve got their own tab, which I’ll update monthly with every new post.

I wish I could say this was my idea, but Hoshi, the celebrity that he is now, demanded his rightful place on Faun’s Wand. He’s already working that star power. That, or he just has good business scents.

Sanity in Space. Magic in Mud.

The land of writing is a beautiful and treacherous place, somewhere no one should traverse alone. Fortunately, I have a creative partner with whom I share a mission: to write a novel. For each of us, it will be our first. Because we both have demanding jobs, we find ourselves in regular conversations about what it takes to get those fingertips to go clickety-clack on half-inch squares.
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Through our process, we’ve observed that one thing is crucial above all others: to be able to tune into the magic.

What is magic? It is blissful synchronicity. It’s opening up to a flow that feels like catching the perfect wave. It that ecstatic sense of awe, that peaceful wonder. Most importantly, it is free of cares.

Why can it be so hard to get there? Simply put, we live in crowded times.

We’re crowded by work tasks that used to take ten people to do and still needs at least five. Crowded by instant and chronic access to our persons. How many hours of the day are we actually offline or otherwise unreachable? The rising price of everything jams us up, too, especially when wages have not kept up. Even when our bodies are not busy doing, our minds are busy planning, tracking and making mental notes of what we missed today that we must do tomorrow.

MoreThanHumanlyPossibleIn short, we have become a compacted culture, riddled with anxiety.

When our mental cavity is full, there is no room for creativity to bloom. And things like writing novels can easily fall away. Maybe a few weeks later it hits us. And we ask ourselves, how did all that time go by?

What we need is space. Space is the portal to magic.

How is it possible to create space for magic in the midst of this reality? There are many ways. The one that has the most lasting power, however, is by making a personal paradigm shift.

This, admittedly, is far from easy. I know because I’m in the throes of letting go. Attachment runs deep in my DNA.

I can’t quite release what I was raised to seek: a good job where I could excel, kids, pride in nice things, a house financed through a bank with a 30-year mortgage, What’s worse is that I’m having a harder time letting go of what I associate with my adult identity. I wasn’t just programmed by others growing up; I’ve also done some programming of my own.

Perhaps you are in a similar spot?

If so, join me in a journey into space. On this journey, we will reduce, recycle and remember. We will reduce compulsiveSpace1
obligations; we will recycle hope for self-actualization; and we will remember that we are much more the sum of our thoughts, physical body and emotions. Each one of us is a life force. This is something my yoga mentor taught me ten years ago. I am astounded by its truth still today.

For me, the first tangible step in this process is to ready my house for sale. I absolutely adore my home. I put a lot of energy into creating a comfortable and aesthetically-pleasing environment. And I had checked a big accomplishment box that made me feel safe and like a grown-up at the same time. But because my lovely dwelling requires so many resources to maintain, it is also sucking the life out of me. I want that part of my life back.

The second step is to not just dream about a Cob home, but to get my hands dirty. To this end, I’ve become a member of the Cob Collective and will be learning how to build and rehab with natural materials.

Their vision and mine coincide: to create space for a quality life. Foremost that means sustainable and affordable housing for all. The kind that has soul; the kind that is the antithesis of institutional. Like the old days of barn raising, Cob homes are built by a community of people. That kind of intentional sharing forges a deeper connectedness.

My theory is that if we can’t immediately change the system that is crushing us, we can help it to evolve by creating something better at the same time. Something that others can witness and choose to embrace.

And then perhaps I can exhale and give birth my novel. It is, after all, a part of me that is meant to live.

Post 3. “In the Mud” series.

I’m Dreaming of a Cob Castle

Growing up in Southern California, I spent most of my summers at the beach. Along with my lunch, I’d make sure to pack a 7-Eleven “Big Gulp” cup. It was the most important item next to my brightly-colored beach towel and polarized sunglasses. Big Gulps were perfectly sized for two very important activities: digging trenches and building sandcastles.

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Sandcastle towers made from “Big Gulp” cups

Remember those?

They are probably the first thing most California kids create right from the earth.

And as kids, we didn’t think there was a downside to getting muddy. We were so immersed in playing and creating, it didn’t dawn on us that we may look a mess or that our clothes might need washing. In fact, getting dirty was fun. And fun was all that mattered.

That changes as we get older, as it should. But do we really need to throw the baby out with the ocean water? I’m thinking, no. Or, rather, NO!

We can be responsible and whimsical. We can provide for ourselves and others and still stick our fingers in the mud. We can even manifest a more sustainable life and planet by doing so.

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Tiny home

A friend introduced me to the concept of Cob when I was exploring the idea of Tiny living. Tiny homes are portable and leave a smaller carbon footprint, as they are usually between 125 and 400 square feet. Many are also self-sustaining, meaning you can live off the grid. They force you to simplify. Being an artistic person, however, left me with a lot of questions I couldn’t confidently answer. Would I be able to sew, do costuming and jewelry-making? Where could I store my fabric and supplies? Must I give up Taiko?

And, certainly, there’d be no room to choreograph.

But I really want to simplify, to live in greater harmony with the earth and most importantly, release myself from the indentured servitude of working incredibly hard just to maintain my household. Barely.

When I looked up “Cob homes,” the answer to my dilemma was delivered with tremendous resonance.

What is a Cob home? It is a home made from natural materials. Once the frame is set, the walls are sculpted from a mixture of clay, straw, water, and yes, sand.

Did you catch the word, “sculpted?”

A Cob home is not just a place where an artist can be green; it is, itself, a work of art. As you can imagine, it is less expensive than what has become traditional housing. And it can be tiny or not.

That’s why I’m dreaming of a Cob Castle. A place of beauty that reflects my deepest values is a dream. My goal now is to make it a reality.

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Japanese Cob home

Cob foyer

Cob foyer

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Cob kitchen

 

Post 2: “In the Mud” series.

 

A Diamond in the Mud

Mud has so many possibilities. You can sling it; slide around in it; and fall in it, not so gracefully. You can smooth it all over your body to reduce inflammation and relax in in its cooling properties. You can also build with it.

Lately I’ve wondered if mud isn’t a metaphor for personal evolution. First—perhaps by some error, misfortune or blind spot in our seeing—we slip face first right into it. Our shock keeps us stuck there for a while, and well, it’s just hard to get up out of the mud. Emotionally we’re too embarrassed or frightened and physically we’re weighed down (that stuff is heavy).

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When we get up, we may be so enraged as to start throwing mud toward a hastily-chosen target. Anything to give us relief from feeling our own limitations and powerlessness. Then, there are other times we embrace the mud. We willingly lather ourselves up in it. We love the feeling of the earth all over our bodies and feel joy in the connection to nature.

And then if we’re lucky, really lucky, we become one with mud, using it as a source of creation.

Four stages of mud: Falling. Freezing. Throwing. Creating. I’ve been slogging around the first two for more than two years. But somehow, despite how messy my life is, I intuit that mud is the way out; even though, ironically, it is the very thing that pulled me down in the first place.

Does that make mud a trickster, or life serving up an opportunity to grow? I’m placing my bet on the latter.

Now, part of me still feels perfectly righteous in slinging mud wrathfully at those I blame for keeping me lodged in its gooey mess. But that won’t get me unstuck; if anything, it’s likely to sink me deeper.

I have a vision of mud that goes beyond metaphor. I see it manifesting a magnificent new life, a life literally derived from mud. Just what does that mean? Journey with me and find out. Assuming you don’t mind getting a little dirty along the way.

Post 1: “In the Mud” series.

Somebody hand that girl a journal

I’m that girl.

The worst thing a writer can do is leave town for any length of time without their personal journal. Forget the computer. I’m talking bound sheets of paper sandwiched by thick, protective covers.Journal

And that’s just what I did. En route to a funeral 3000 miles away, I was bereft of my confidant. Trust me, words do not flow from heart to keyboard the way they do from heart to cursive.

The tactile difference between handwriting and typing is akin to the rhythmic precision of a marching band and the graceful figure eights of a belly dancer or the circular movements of waltzers. The former is mechanical; the latter two, melodic.

When I am in keyboard mode, I am already editing. The automations of my left brain kick into gear and expend loads of energy getting everything just right. I have a name for this mini marching band of mine: The Fingertips. They are effective at delivering an end result: a feeling well-explained, a story one can follow, an ad well-written.

But to lead with The Fingertips is like opening minus a warm-up band. It’s better to start with Cursive. Cursive is reflective. Breathy. Anticipatory. Naturally geared toward total immersion in the moment. No extra effort needed. Cursive is the porthole to greater understanding and creative inspiration.

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Simply put, before type, I have to write. When I don’t write, the whole world turns to noise.

There was so much to absorb during the first day of my west coast trip. I entered a misty white church with a flower spray, a casket and a nearly life-size portrait on an easel. The burial site was serene, yet unexpectedly abuzz with movement in the background. I met dozens of cousins for the first time. There were so many women who had my eyes.

Nine more days ahead. Some were filled with the most audacious behavior I have seen in a long time. This is the Los Angeles most people expect but it is not the Los Angeles natives know. Most people who grow up here, like myself, do not act out in “typical LA” ways. When I see it, it still shocks me. But those moments aren’t the ones I’ll carry with me. It’ll be the precious ones. Like having dinner at a family-owned Lebanese restaurant with old friends and standing on the bluffs at Terranea Cove.

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I feel fat with the absorption of 10,000 sponges but I have not fully processed more than a couple bits of it. Nope, not without my journal.

The day before flying home, I walked into Papyrus, plucked a shiny new journal off the shelf and dug into my purse for plastic. But, then I paused and thought, is it worth interrupting the chronology of my existing one when I’ve held out this long? And couldn’t that $20 plus tax be put to better use, like parking, gas, a meal? I did a pivot turn and placed it back where I found it.

But if someone had handed me a journal right then, my pen would have found the fresh paper in an instant. And with great relief.

Quirky writer.

Winter Solstice: Brighter days ahead

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Today I washed Harpo’s bowls for the last time. After placing them on the drying rack, I realized it was exactly one week ago — almost to the hour — that Harpo and I made our final visit to the vet.

Coincidental synchronicity. Except that I’m not sure there is such a thing. I believe that something more was at work under the surface, moving me to act in ways that were deeply symbolic.

The grieving process is far from over but I have taken a another step in releasing my furry friend, who was also one of my greatest teachers. He made me laugh every day, too. Even in the last week together, when I mostly cried.

It’s not easy.

But today is the Winter Solstice, the day with the least amount of sunlight. That means there will only be brighter days ahead.

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And that makes me feel better.

That thought also came to me during the dishwashing process, a task that I find immensely cathartic in the morning when I can see the woods through my kitchen window. It’s where I can gaze upon Harpo’s grave now, too. It’s a happy grave, with a petite headstone and a flat pavers stone that looks like paw prints marking where Harpo was placed in the clay earth. I planted some pansies just because store had them and I wanted some flowers to brighten the grey rocks. When driving home post purchase, I belly laughed. Harpo was such a pansy! He’d bolt at any loud sound. During thunderstorms I’d find him in the closet. He’d slink by any new large object in the room.

Another example of synchronicity at work. This one, more amusing. And I appreciated it: A little levity was just what I needed before lowering Harpo into the ground. I decided to point him toward the house so we are always looking at each other. Often, I imagine us nose-to-nose.

Brighter days. This will be a mantra I take into my heart along with the memory of Harpo’s proud prance, silly smile and joyful spirit. But branded onto my big red muscle most is his big puppy eyes. They always talked to me, drawing me to look directly into them (tossing all caution from canine experts about the dangers of doing so out with the doggie waste).

Harpo’s eyes held an uncanny combination of innocence and knowingness, sweetness and sadness. A beautiful contradiction. Like the Winter Solstice, where the darkest, shortest day is a gateway to the longest and brightest.

Have a beautiful Winter Solstice. I wish you many blessings.

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