Look at This!

I’m a pretty upbeat person.

No, really, I am! I believe in positive thinking, in realizing your dreams, in doing whatever it takes for any of us to make our lives the most wonderful and fulfilling as they can be. I believe doing what I can to support other people in their efforts.

But I just hate inspirational shit.

You know what I mean. The kind of thing some determinedly cheerful person would slap on the photo above that’s meant to draw our attention to beauty and joy and the angels singing.

No no no.

This is possibly tied up with my issues about being nice. I’ve just never been very good at it. At the same time, lately people have been telling me how helpful I’ve been to them. I can see that, because sometimes being helpful means that you can’t be nice. The Taoists say that you have to be very careful about helping people because it’s difficult to know what people really need. Sometimes people need something really terrible to happen to wake them up to their real dreams. Like the proverbial story of the business man who ignores all but his career until the devastating event, after which he quits his job, sells everything and becomes a painter.

None of us wants to be the devastating event. Fortunately the universe generally takes care of that.

So, most people resort to the cheerleader method of helping. The rah rah, you can do it! variety of helping. It’s innocuous. You can’t really lead anyone astray doing that, not like saying “you should really quit your job, sell everything and become a painter.” We all love hearing our supporters cheer us on and it feels good to cheer for other people. It’s all good until someone decides to start making money off it.

This is where the life-coach types come in.

Yeah, the life-coach types bug me like inspirational posters bug me. And lately they’re infiltrating twitter. It’s like a termite invasion, where first you see one, then two, then the walls are covered with them.

Clearly someone pointed out to the life-coach types that twitter is a great place to market themselves. They can post pithy 140-character inspirational sayings (along with a link to their site). They can RT each other and convince us we need them. There’s more of them, too, as people seek careers that will bring income without being dependent on a corporate structure.

What bugs me most – and obviously I have issues here – is that they use command language. Think about this! Be happy and productive! Where you or I might slap the gorgeous sunset pic on twitter and say “gorgeous sunset in Santa Fe last night” they’ll say, Look up more often! See what you are missing??

Oh yeah, I unfollow them. But then people I do follow retweet them, because they think it’s just a happy, positive thing.

It should be a happy, positive thing, but somehow it’s not. It smacks of intrusiveness to me. Of manipulation. At worst, of playing god in other people’s lives. Nobody else can “coach” us into following the path we need to follow. That’s part of the deal: we have to find it for ourselves.

The best we can do is give other people help when they ask for it.

And cheering. Lots of cheering.

One-Eye Blind

I didn’t notice, until I went to take this photo of the pretty flowers, that St. Francis is now blind in one eye.

Apparently some sort of insect has built a cocoon or egg sack in the cavity and sealed it over. I can’t decide if St. Francis’ love of all animals extends to insects. You don’t really see him depicted with, say, a preying mantis on an outstretched arm. Still, life is life and I’m inclined to let whatever it is develop as it will.

That tends to be my philosophy on most everything. And not just because I’m lazy.

I think that’s why Taoism fits me well: just let it flow, swim with the tide, ride that wave into the shore.

It’s how I write, too. I usually have just a general idea of what happens, but not exactly. For example, right now my characters are visiting this sacred altar. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to get to, being secret and sacred and all, but I wasn’t sure what the tricks and traps would be. I found out as my characters went along. Now that they’re there, I’m not sure exactly who or what occupies the altar. It hasn’t jumped out yet, either, which gets kind of frustrating.

I’m really not sure what I think about this kind of thing. Robin McKinley, who I just love, and who writes this nearly incoherent, stream-of-consciousness blog that I can only sometimes bear to read, writes here about why there’s no sequel to Sunshine, a book well-loved and which clearly ended begging for a sequel. She does the thing some authors do, saying that the stories come to her and she can’t make it happen. Other authors talk about their characters talking to them. The pre-plotters brainstorm it all out ahead of time and then, depending on their technique, either write it exactly that way or let the story wind around that structure.

I don’t know if I believe in the “stories are given to me thing,” though it fits within my Taoist inclinations. I don’t know that I think it all up myself, either.

I do know that the answers don’t come to me unless I’m writing what’s happening to the characters. Or letting the scene play in my head – that sometimes works. I think sometimes that it’s a combination of both, like most things. I point the imagining part of my brain in a particular direction and let it run. The neurons pull the energy from wherever they do and spin the story. Part of me can see it and part is blind.

Quite remarkable really.

Taoist Excavations

A dramatic arrival that produced nothing in the way of storm-action. And here I was hoping for a real gully-washer.

I spent some time this weekend digging out the culvert at the end of our driveway. We have dirt roads out in our community. Long driveways feed off the main roads and lead to the houses. Like most of the desert Southwest, we’re subject to ferocious rains. Monsoon storms drop relatively huge amounts of water, which all runs down washes that are normally dry.

In this case, water would all run down the dirt road that connects to our driveway, primarily in the borrow ditch next to the road. The only problem with that is our driveway would be in the way of that. Thus, all the driveways here have culverts at the juncture of driveway and road, to allow the water to run under.

This works just fine as long as the culvert isn’t filled with dirt.

Actually, I had two problems: a dirt-filled, neglected culvert yes, but also a wayward Direct TV van. I kid you not.

See? And you all argue with me when I say TV is evil.

During one of our last big snowstorms, a Direct TV service van slid off the dirt road and into our borrow ditch. Many people here treat deep snow as an opportunity to drive fast on crappy tires. It’s mind-boggling, really. So, this guy comes barreling down the road – yes, I saw him do it – slid all over and into the borrow ditch. Then he tried to get out. Mud fountaining up through the wet snow. We watched, since we figured our mailbox was not on his radar, but really didn’t want to have to go out and help. Finally a couple of passers-by who were much nicer than we are pulled him out with a cable and a pick-up truck.

(Incidentally, the Direct TV guy, once liberated, then attempted to pull a U-turn, though there are several ways out if you just follow the road and manage to stay on it. But no, he had to do a U-turn, that turned into something like a nine-point turn and nearly got himself stuck in opposite borrow ditch. If he had, we’d have been forced to go out and hurl his keys into the storm.)

It’s too late to make this a short story, but the end result was our ditch got torn all to hell and gone, with enormous (now dry) furrows. I seriously considered calling Direct TV and telling them to come fix it, but I decided it would be infinitely less aggravating just to dig it up myself.

Besides, I need the exercise.

Now, when I was a little girl, I tried to build a pond in the back garden. I built an earthen dam and canals, various channels, waterfalls and progressive lakes. It was a thing of beauty, I tell you. Which all promptly dissolved into sludge when I added water. My first experience with Taoism.

The great thing about Taoism is you learn lessons by observing nature. This time I paid attention to where the water would want to go and dug accordingly. Eventually I want to line the culvert area around our driveway with rocks, to make it look a little more “on-purpose.” So I cleared a space for the water to run. It doesn’t look great right now, but I have high hopes that a good gully-washer will clear the way.

If I did it right, nature will help me out this time.

It will be a thing of beauty, I tell you.

Credit Where It Isn’t Due

We haven’t had a (serious) New Mexico wildlife shot in a while.

But now that the weather is warming up, the critters are starting to emerge again. This is a coachwhip snake. The photo doesn’t quite capture his lovely reds and pinks.

I got credit for first live snake spotting, much to David’s chagrin because he’s the king of snakes. (Isn’t there something biblical about that?)
No, seriously, in his misspent youth, David used to collect rattlesnakes for Reptile Gardens in South Dakota. For those who’ve never had the pleasure, Reptile Gardens is part zoo, part sideshow, part tourist trap. Kind of the biggest ball of twine of snakes.

And they paid by the pound. Not a bad gig for a nice kid from northern Wyoming with a knack for wildlife.

At any rate, David’s been revved to see the snakes of our new home, but so far had seen only one dead snake. I don’t get a bunch of credit for this one, though – when I rolled out the garbage can to stuff it full yard detritus, he was under there. Turns out they’re nocturnal snakes and not terribly fond of sunlight. He just laid there, all sleepy while I called David and the snake was duly identified and photographed.

It works that way sometimes – you get credit for luck, for happenstance, for stumbling upon something cool. And sometimes the things you labor over, hunt for, craft lovingly with care, no one ever cares about but you. The universe’s way of putting us in our place, I suppose.

One way to interpret the Tao Te Ching says that only those things achieved without effort are one with the Tao. The implication is also that only those things that are one with the Tao are valuable.

I think both points are debatable.

Really it all depends on what value you assign to the thing. Both what kind and how much. There’s something to be said for both the stories that drop into your lap and the ones you wrestle out of the ground. Other people may read them and assign their own values, but only the writer knows what the story means to her.

The wise writer would be thankful for both the gifts and the stories bought with blood.

Not So Zen

I suspect that I’m frivolous.

Or shallow, at the very least.

Easily swayed by immediate gratification.

There’s this whole idea that if you enjoy the gratification of doing something well, then that’s ego and dangerous to continue.

So, for example, knife-throwing. I know! Exactly what you were thinking, too, right? If you’re truly Zen, or one with the Tao, or enlightened or what have you, then you enjoy the moments that you miss the target just as much as when you hit the bulls-eye. The thrill of a perfect throw means nothing, if you’re truly throwing the knife from a pure heart. The act of throwing is everything. The end result nothing.

Clearly I’m not so enlightened.

I confess to loving the gratification. And I find myself gravitating towards whatever’s giving me the most gratification at any given time.

Right now, it’s work. I’m workin on a project that I helped to create. That I set out years ago to help envision, hire the personnel for, plant the seeds in peoples’ ears — kind of a gross mixed-metaphor there — and coax into life. And people treat me like I’m insightful and they want my expertise.

I know I shouldn’t want it.

But I do.

A couple of areas of my life feel less gratifying right now. One I’ve labored at and some people are unhappy and others are happy for things to go smoothly. Which isn’t a recipe for feeling appreciated. You get flak from the one group and nothing from the other.

And we all know that writing is one of those things where you labor unnoticed for 99% of the time and are showered with admiration for the other 1%. Starving in a garrett and all that. Much more drama than anything else.

There’s supposed to be a pleasure in knife-throwing that exceeds the desire for a perfect result. Peace in the moment. Joy in the attempt.

But, oh my, I just love it when I hit the bulls-eye.

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I had this teacher of Taoist philosophy who insisted that, if you were working with the Tao, then things would feel easy.

It’s like the joke about the Rabbi, the Priest and the Taoist approaching the raging river. The Priest kneels down and prays to God for safe passage across the river. The Rabbi divides the water and walks through. The Taoist steps into the current and gestures for it to keep going in the same direction.

Okay, it’s not a FUNNY joke.

But it does illustrate a principle that, while some religious philosophies seek to control or change the world, Taoists try to find which way things are already going and ride that wave. So, the corollary to this is, if what you’re trying to do is really difficult, you’re fighting the current. If you’ve found the current, things are easy. Just float along in your inner tube and drink your beer.

I’m not sure if I agree with this or not.

There are certainly good examples in our lives of things falling into place, not the least of which our recent serendipitous switch to moving to Santa Fe instead of Victoria. That was certainly the case of knocking on some doors and seeing which one opened. And every-damn-thing fell into place. It was truly amazing to watch.

I have long been accused of taking the easy way. Of cruising.

I was a naturally good student, so rarely studied. I read books in class because I could always answer the question the teacher’s asked, no matter how they tried to catch me out. I could get A’s without trying, so why try? In college I had to try harder, but I didn’t kill myself by any stretch, to my advisor’s dismay. My PhD advisor was even sharper in his disapproval, often castigating me for not pushing myself, for doing just enough to get by.

So, I can see it. I’m not a hard worker. I’m a grasshopper by nature and generally at peace with that.

But with this ruthless revision — the one you’re undoubtedly sick of hearing about — I’m trying really hard to take the time to do it right. I’m working HARD at it. And feeling a bit sulky about it, to tell the truth. I want to see if it’s true, that if you put in all that effort that all the theys want you to put in, will it really result in a hugely better product?

I’m at this point in the book where I got stuck when I was drafting it. It’s about 80% of the way through. I solved the problem then by jumping in the river and letting the current take me. Turns out we meandered past some neat scenery, but ended up in a stagnant pool.

So, now I’m consciously directing it. Thinking thinking thinking. With lots of second guessing. And it’s making me tired. I know that sounds silly, but I’ve been doing this writing a couple hours every day/working full-time career-type job all day deal for years now and this push is draining me. Sleeping 11 hours a night draining.

Which makes me worry that I’m fighting the current.

Maybe its my Catholic ancestors, whispering in my ear that I should confess, purge and pray. Maybe its the Pagan ones before that, telling me to sacrifice to the spirit of the river.

Maybe I should just get back to work.