Monthly Archives: July 2006

narrate, narrating, narrative

I started the Vein of Gold this week. I love that Julia Cameron (JC) starts things off with a bang. Just my style. Why save the challenges for the end? The first assignment is to write your life story. She says it may take you 50,000 words. That’s the size of a small novel. It doesn’t have to take you that many words, she assures. Some people feel they are complete with 10,000. I’m hoping cause I’m young my requirements will be fulfilled on the smaller end of the spectrum. I’ve given myself three weeks to complete it.
It’s not supposed to be a literary work of genius. Just get the facts down. The point is to rewrite your own life. Blocked creatives are notoriously rife with everyone else’s opinions about them, and everyone else’s version of the events of their lives.
Exhibit A: When asked about my scholastic performance during my junior year of high school, my parents would probably cite the B minus I got in Calculus. I, however, would focus on the fact that I won the Shoreline Writing Awards and had my piece performed before an audience.
Know which one sticks with me more? The B minus in Calculus.
The point of writing your personal narrative timeline is to tell the events from your point of view. Not your mother’s. Not your instructor’s. Not your friends’. As JC says, you may find that the loss of a pet parakeet registered more intensely in your life than the birth of a baby brother.
I started my timeline last night by writing out a list of each year and the age I was, as well as what grade I was in — during my school years, or which apartment I lived in — during my adult years. I don’t remember numbers in my history. I don’t know off-hand what year it was that I lived in room 818 in Myles Standish Hall or how old I was, but I could tell you that the window overlooking Kenmore Sq. had twelve panes of glass and the wood was worn, pale paint flaking off onto my bed. That the window ledge had a smiling sun made out of wire, and when I photographed my favorite portrait ever — Kara with two fistfuls of daisies — the sun was immortalized in the back of the picture. I could tell you that the room smelled like sandalwood, because of a candle I bought at Quincy Market when my parents came to visit, and the rug smelled of Herbal Essences because my ferret Pez dragged the bottle out of my closet and ate the top off while I was in class. The conditioner sank into the industrial carpet and semi-masked the overwhelming smell of Parliament Lights. But I can’t tell you, without consulting some written record, what year that was.
I do have a selective memory. Last night, staring into my computer screen, I simply couldn’t believe I remembered the name of the first horse I rode (Flying Saucer) but can’t recall the name of my roommate from a couple of years ago. Not even her first name, for chrissake. And she lived in my house for a year! I remember the license plate of the car belonging to the family of the boy I had a crush on in seventh grade (845-EAV — it was a champagne Honda Accord), but damned if I can remember the name of my college advisor. I don’t know if it’s a quirk unique to my mind. Despite hours of racking my brain and performing Google searches, I can’t recall my third grade teacher’s name. I do, however, remember the black bathing suit I had when I was four that said “beach bum” in fruit-flavored colors all over it. And I can smell the fresh chartreuse paint on the big letters my dad cut out and hung on my bedroom wall when I was six: K R I S. I remember that I used to rearrange them so they read R I S K, which sounded infinitely more exciting, even then.
What was striking me most last night as I began the skeletal outline was the revolving assortment of friends I’ve had throughout my life. Every school year, it was a new group of people because the old group had screwed me over big time. Growing up, my family insisted it was my fault, that I was a bad friend, or didn’t play well with others, and I grew up believing there was something inherently wrong with me on a social level. Meanwhile, my “friends” stole things from my room and then lied about it, started vicious rumors about me and a boy I liked and then proceeded to date him just to irritate me, and a long list of other mean teenage girl accusations. I can rewrite my personal narrative so that I was the one who was sane, who was a faithful friend, who was right. That these unhappy people who relied on ridiculing others to make themselves feel worthy of love had nothing to do with my own self worth.
Yes, a lot of these wounds are decades old and totally inconsequential to the life I lead today. But it is interesting to look back on some of my old mishaps with the eyes of an adult. Truths that were hammered into my head don’t apply. I was not an irresponsible student who was just plain stupid when it came to math. I was elected parliamentarian of the honor society. I graduated fourth in my class. It’s curious that I remember Mr. Ciocinne embarrassing me endlessly in front of the eighth grade algebra class because I was in the gifted and talented program and had to miss his class once a week. But I often forget that in fifth grade, Mrs. Lovelace enjoyed my novel so much that she spent a month reading it out loud to the whole class, one chapter at a time.
The project of writing out my narrative history is going to be interesting, I can tell already. I have to be sure to come at it from a different angle than that of, say, a substance abuse counselor. Because it could easily disolve into a grocery list of my misdeeds and impropriety from ages 18-25. And years ago when I did a fourth step, I had to do just that. I’m not really interested in those details. I want to know what music I was listening to, what books were moving me, when it was that I started my insane quest to document each day of my life via words, pictures, audio, and video. I want to know who my creative heroes were at 14, and I want to remember vividly the sound of crickets in my backyard in Connecticut. I want to permanize the emotional outpouring that occured yesterday while putting together a memorial of my childhood cat Fig, who just died a couple of weeks ago. I want to remember what it was like to actually believe that anything was possible.
I have an unusual source of information taking up a seven foot tall bookcase at Wishville; I have documented every day of my life since sixth grade — age 11. It began when I saw a copy of Memos To Myself When I Have a Teenage Kid by Carol Snyder. I never read the book, but I thought it was a brilliant idea. My very first journal entry ever starts, “Memo: to myself when I have a kid: I hate when parents bug me about boys.” It has a New Kids on the Block sticker on the front.
Mortified really brings this kind of experience to life. Literally. This American Life featured a few inspirational pieces from Mortified. I almost peed my pants. I could see myself up on stage reading the entry in which I swore to god and the angels above that I would never have children so they wouldn’t have to endure a childhood plagued with the evil genes that made me six feet tall in the eighth grade. “Take my ovaries away!” I wrote in red block letters. Along with the day that The Jessicas snuck over in the middle of the night and hung a 20 foot banner across the front of my house that said “FUCK THE FLUFF CHICKS!” — the name of our stupid little clique. Actually I never found out what prompted one of my former close friends to do such a thing. I should go ask her. I’ll let you know what I find out.

two lips!

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New G A L L E R Y update!
In April, Mon Frere came to visit and we drove up to Skagit Valley for the Tulip Festival. Before we went, I was all, “Yipee. Lots of flowers. Big deal.” But it was actually a big deal. And the flawless weather made for some ridiculously beautiful photographs that look like the ones they put on monitors to show off the resolution and vibrant colors. I just couldn’t take a bad picture. And I had nothing to do with it! Anyways, I hope you enjoy these photographs.

jasper’s gallery, at long last

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New G A L L E R Y update!
I was getting considerable grief on the homefront that Delia, Luna and even Willie had galleries but Jasper had been left in the (digital) cold. Inspired by the lightning quick speed of my new computer, I’ve finally paid public tribute to my favorite boy cat and his antics over the past year aboard the S.S. Octopus of Love.

inspiration on demand

Inspire Me Thursday

I found this site called “Inspire Me Thursday” last week while browsing various fountains of creativity.
I really want to do Julia Cameron’s Vein of Gold journey, but no one wants to play with me. I’m not quite sure why. I will end up doing it by myself, which is fine, but not nearly as much fun. So the Vein of Gold is like the much-lauded Artist’s Way, but a little more challenging. For the uninitiated, the Artist’s Way is a 12 week creativity program during which you follow weekly assignments that help you get unblocked, or unstuck, or inspired. It’s especially good for people who used to do art — be it music, painting, writing, jewelry-making, photography, etc. — but stopped for one reason or another. The one reason is usually because someone else told them it was a waste of time. The other is because they told themselves the same thing. If I stopped writing every time someone told me it was a waste of time, I would have put down my pen at age seven. Though I have had some close calls with what Julia Cameron calls “monsters” and creating my “Monster Hall of Fame” was quite empowering. Still haven’t been able to pick up the novel again, but I guess that’s what I’m after with this round.
Also included in the 12 weeks are two tools called Artist Dates and Morning Pages. Artist Dates are fun, and must be done alone. They are a trip to an antique store to discover old post-cards, or a photo session at the beach, or trolling through used book stores in search of a long-lost children’s story. Most people enjoy them and do them once a week as required. But the Morning Pages is where one finds the most resistance, and also the most healing.
The first time I did the Artist’s Way was in college. I think it was the summer before my junior year — maybe earlier, but around that time. Julia requires you to write three long-hand pages every morning before you do much of anything else. Before work, or before school, or before chores or TV or commutes or errands. Or even before doing some other form of art. So you sit down with a pen and write in this notebook three long-hand pages (which for many people is something totally new, in this digital age). They have to be long-hand because it moves a different part of your brain. And our brains and hands have evolved together to move at the perfect harmonious speed. Typing isn’t the same waltz. At first you don’t know what to write, and that’s okay. Some mornings you’ll know exactly what you need to write. And then you’ll hit the string of mornings where you don’t freaking want to write a goddamned word that bitch Julia whose idea was this anyway?! If you push through that feeling, and do it anyway, that’s where the real magic begins.
But most people don’t push through it. They abandon it, and never really get the benefits of the practice. I know cause I didn’t make it through the first time. My first run ended with “Julia that bitch whose freakin idea was this anyway…” and it was sadly over. But months later I picked it up again, and actually finished it. I have been writing Morning Pages ever since. Out of 100 mornings, I think I do them about 90 times. For the past eight years I’ve been instinctively setting my alarm clock an hour earlier to make time for them. And more often than not, the pages number more like twelve than three. They are pure therapy, and I would never give them up. I’ve gotten to the point where I guard that time with my life. I have filled over 100 notebooks.
But it’s hard to get started on. Most good habits are. So I recommend employing Steve Pavlina’s 30 Days to Success during which you do something every single day for 30 days in order to ingrain a habit.
The beauty of the morning pages is that you don’t have to ever read them again, and you never ever show them to anyone else. You write them, and put them away. The idea is that you get out all the garbage that’s residually floating around in your head before you start your day, so your creative channels are open. Some mornings my pages are a whole lot of expletives and cranky dream-rememberances, sometimes shopping lists sneak in, and often it’s just stream of conciousness.
So the Vein of Gold is a little more intensive than the Artist’s Way though it still uses morning pages and other familiar tools. This program (that’s not really the right word) has lots of hands-on activities that are so fascinating. Mask-making. Ritual doll making. Collaging. Tribal drawing. Letter writing. It’s so lush and challenging and I can’t wait to dig in. I just wish I had a group to do it with.
I looked online for any groups following the book, and found none. There are a million of them doing the Artist’s Way, and a widespread trend is that a group will set up a blog and post daily and by the time they get to week five, most people have dropped out, and by week six, the entries stop altogether and the site hasn’t been updated in a year. You have to commit to do it, even when it sucks. Because if you push through the suckiness, the brilliance on the other side is blinding.
I set up a Vein of Gold site for myself, originally hoping I could find others to join me. But I think I may just update about it here. Maybe even share some pictures of what comes out of it. I’ve been mask making and it’s a strangely powerful experience. Try making a mask that represents your enemy. Then put it on and write yourself a letter from their perspective. That’ll open some flood gates.
If anyone is interested in joining me in the Vein of Gold, let me know. Hell — I’d even do the Artist’s Way again if someone was interested. You can get both books used on Amazon for about three bucks. If you don’t have time right now, I seriously recommend doing it sometime in your life – the sooner the better. If you have a single creative bone in your body (and everyone does) it will change the way you look at the world. I promise.

seafair, canines, early birds get the worm

To be fair to V.VB, whom I challenged to a duel yesterday, I thought I should update with some of my own words and not rely only on the crappy words of some crappy journalist writing crappy news about my favorite cafe ever (the Daily Caffe notwithstanding, rest its soul).
Tonight is the 56th Annual Greenwood-Phinney SEAFAIR Parade! I get to March 20 blocks holding a sign reminding you to cut your dog’s balls off so that I won’t have to work weekends anymore. That is, representing PAWS. I’m so not in a parade kind of mood, but it’s beautiful out, and cool and sunny, so I’ll buck up and do my part for the animals. The shelter is very dogist. They treat the employees at Cat City like a collective group of crazy cat ladies. Which many of us are, given. But I sense an underlying hostility there that’s palpable. And covered in dog saliva. This is ironic, because it is Cat City who we are representing by marching in the parade since we are the ones located in the Greenwood neighborhood.
My contract at my temp job is up next week, and today I scheduled a meeting with the new incoming VP whose decision it is whether or not to hire me as an actual employee. I did a bangass job of setting up his trip next week, so he’d be a silly fool to deny me. Even if I did a lousy job, he’d be a fool to deny me. After all, I’m ME. Come on. And he’s from Boston. Actually, he said Boston, but he meant Brookline, and I said, “OH! Smoke-free, fun-free no-parking Brookline!” Nobody got it but me.
So this 30 updates in 30 days idea was spawned by Steve Pavlina‘s “Personal Development for Smart People” site, which is fecking incredible, and I’ve been reading it for a month now, hours a day. I’ve become an early riser as a result (most days, unless I’m kept awake by a feline having a 2:00 AM petting-emergency) getting up at 5:00 and going to the gym, and then going to Victrola to write Morning Pages. Getting to work at 8:00. It’s incredible, and if I can continue this, it will seriously change my life. Because after work, I didn’t have to feel guilty or try and convince myself to go to the gym, or do something knowing I should be writing instead. Basically, it rules.
Okay I’m off. I have to head up to Phinney Ridge … one more time.

excuse me while i go throw up

In Somerville, Someday May Be a Memory

Regulars at the Coffee Shop in Davis Square Express Outrage
SOMERVILLE — Call the Someday Cafe in Davis Square a coffee shop, and regulars stiffen.
It is not “just a coffee shop,” they retort. The Someday is a “place of healing,” where the dreadlocked server behind the counter asks, how are you, and “actually means it.”
But come September, the shop’s threadbare couches, local artwork , and strong macchiatos could be gone, replaced by a new eatery, Mr. Crepe.
Just days ago, residents learned that Someday’s owner, Gus Rancatore, had failed to renew his lease — he says he forgot — and that the landlord was on the verge of signing Mr. Crepe, a purveyor of thin, European-style pancakes, soups, and salads.
Someday’s pending demise has sparked an outcry in Davis Square, where the Someday, Diesel, and Starbucks up the street form a popular caffeinated triumvirate. Since learning of Someday’s plight, some customers said they will not patronize Mr. Crepe. A couple even threatened to move out of Somerville.
On Wednesday, about 50 people packed a meeting of the Davis Square Task Force to vent.
Loyalists assailed the building’s landlord, Richard Fraiman, for not reminding Rancatore to renew his lease, and pleaded with Mr. Crepe’s owner, Peter Creyf, to go elsewhere.
“The only way you can get what you want is at the expense of hundreds of people,” said Lisa Williams, 35, who met her husband, Evan, at Someday 11 years ago.
“It’s wrong,” Williams told Creyf, a 41-year-old Belgian immigrant, who looked back at her with wide eyes. “It’s morally wrong. Don’t sign that lease.”
Rancatore took responsibility for his oversight and asked for a compromise, offering to share the shop with Creyf.
“I hope we can work something out,” he said.
Fraiman, however, said the matter is settled. “Someday is out, and Mr. Crepe is in,” he said.
A trio of college buddies opened the Someday Cafe about 13 years ago, hoping to capitalize on the coffeehouse trend that had swept Seattle. Jeff Hale, Glen Wallace, and Steve Stevens started the business in a cart in Central Square.
When the shop opened in the heart of the square, it was quickly embraced by coffee aficionados eager for quality java and by city officials anxious to turn around Davis Square, where small businesses had been struggling to bounce back from the economic lag of the 1970s and ’80s.
Today, the coffee shop draws a diverse group of tattooed artists, students and professors, die-hard sports fans, and retirees, who mingle easily while sitting on the shop’s armchairs and battered couches. Most customers know each other by name.

medusa, medusa

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I love this photo. I found this while archiving some material off my old laptop. It was an accident — the camera was sitting on my desk and I hit the auto timer button as I set it down, so it unexpectedly took a photo, pointed at the ceiling. The green and red lights in the bottom left corner are the eyes of the snakes on the Medusa head I’m wearing — many of you will remember my Halloween costume from a couple of years ago that took me six weeks to make and involved the use of complicated electronics and a sottering iron.
Oh, how I miss that cracked plaster Somerville ceiling.