Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones, has a great subject for writing practice. List your obsessions. Then she says, go beyond that. Use them. Harness their power because they are going to show up in your writing whether you want them or not.
The past three weeks my obsessions have been showing up bigtime. Not so much in my writing as in my life in general. Moving house shakes everything up. All that organized chaos lets things loose and drops things in unexpected places. It pulls off the covers of everything that has been hiding and that has been hidden.
I have not written a list of my obsessions for a very long time. It is obviously time that I do.
I am making a rule for this list. Each obsession has to be one word. Otherwise I can see me trying to explain or deny or qualify the obsession I am listing.
One word gets things down to their essence.
Do I want to set a number to stretch myself? I have to list at least x number of obsessions, or should I just write until I can’t think of any more? Write until I can’t think of any more. Okay, that is two rules for my list of obsessions.
Here goes. List my obsessions. One word for each. Go!
I have three songs running through my head the last several days. Put Your Hand in the Hand, Let ‘Em In, and Power of Love.
Trust. Allow. Love. That’s what these songs are about.
The Universe is doing it again. Talking with me. Telling me to trust big. Then telling me when something or someone shows up, open and allow the gift. And telling me love is the power and love is my power.
I have a soundtrack constantly singing back up in my life. The songs that show up are always a message I need to hear about what I am doing or thinking or believing or feeling. About a choice I am making or that I need to make. The songs come to me as information, inspiration, support, and play.
Play. As in laughing and lifting my spirit. The morning after we found our new home, I wake with the thought about how much I hate moving. Not really the best mood to begin the day. I need music, I think.
I turn on the 70’s radio station that comes via our cable. The song playing is ‘Movin On’. I laugh when I see the title there on the screen. Yes, the Universe definitely has a sense of humour, and every time I think of movin on’ that morning, I laugh again. The Universe knows I do not appreciate moving house, but I do appreciate a good laugh. And laughing gets me through.
Back to the three songs I am hearing lately.
Put Your Hand in the Hand, by Gene MacLellan, is from 1970. I don’t recall when I first learned the words and melody. I sang a lot as a child and teenager. The song could have come through family or friends, church, school, choir or music lessons, Girl Guides, or the radio. My mom always had the radio on. I was a busy kid and I loved singing, making joyful noise alone and with others.
There is wisdom in this song. The song is pop-gospel and spiritual, yes, but it is the wisdom I am drawn to. The song tells me I am not alone in life. I can choose to be but I don’t have to be. It tells me life is full of miracles, all I need do is watch for them and there they are. It tells me to love myself, and in doing this I will love others as well. It tells me, trust life.
Let ‘Em In is a Paul McCartney and Wings song from 1976. The song begins, someone’s knockin’ on the door, somebody’s ringin’ the bell, do me a favour, open the door and let ‘em in. This is exactly what I am doing now, opening the door and letting the words and ideas flow in and through me. No judgments and no limits, just an invitation to play. Saying out loud, ‘Here I am, pen in hand, stack of paper on the desk in front of me, let’s write!’ And I do.
For me, this song is about being open in all of my life. Not just open. Willing. Allowing. Saying yes. Open hearted to what is offered and to what I choose. It means being present to my life. It means always listening and keeping up my half of my connection and conversation with the Universe.
This song tells me create my life big and welcoming.
Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News is from 1986. It tells me, of course, that love is powerful. It also tells me that love is mine if I want it and if I choose it, and that choosing love is powerful and creates me powerful. My power is love. Our power is love. It can’t get any clearer than that.
So this is what the Universe is singing to me right now—trust, allow, and love. It could just sing love, since trusting and allowing are part of loving. But I need reminding sometimes about how huge love is and all it takes in. I try to do small love occasionally, which does not work well. I should know by now I can’t limit love. Love is not made that way.
Trust. Allow. Love. I am being invited to sing my life into being.
I choose this. I choose trust, allow, and love. I choose let my life sing. Let our lives sing. A chorus. A choir.
Thank you, Universe.
Mentioned in this post:
Song ‘Put Your Hand in the Hand’, Gene MacLellan, 1970
Song ‘Let ‘Em In’, Paul McCartney and Wings, 1976
Song ‘Power of Love’, Huey Lewis and the News, 1986
It takes ten days and counting to unpack and put it back together again.
It takes three trips to the recycling, garbage, and share shed to let go of what no longer fits and what is no longer needed.
Some things stay the same. I am writing, imagining, drawing, creating. I am grocery shopping, bill paying, meal making. But all these same things have shifted. They’ve changed shape and changed place. I have to do them slightly differently. Stop and think about which cupboard is hiding the measuring spoons. Stop and study the words next to the buttons on the washing machine, and search for where the soap goes.
Nothing is automatic right now.
Writing is what is saving me. I have a different view from my studio window. I have a different studio. But the writing is the same. I have a place to stand that is familiar. From here, I can see the whole picture and find myself in it.
I will find my balance again.
I like my new space. Lots of windows, lots of light. Room to move and imagine.
My new address starts with the word ‘Downstairs’. I like that. It is an actual place, Downstairs. Unlike a random number and street name that never conjure a picture for me, Downstairs gives me a space I can imagine.
I am now the writer Downstairs. This is good, and I’ll tell you why.
Stephen King’s muse is a guy who lives in the basement. True. Just read ‘On Writing’. In my copy of the book, he is on page 144. This muse-guy has awesome ideas, as in a constant flow of.
My theory is Downstairs must be fertile ground to grow ideas for writing. So here I am, writing (and living) Downstairs.
Next door to the boys in the basement, there is now a girl creating whatever she pleases and writing wherever the words take her.
Mentioned in this post:
‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ by Stephen King, Scribner, 2000
Friday last week, I am in the local bookstore, wandering the aisles, pulling books off the shelves to thumb through. This is one of my favourite things to do. It relaxes me, clears my mind, opens and inspires me, shows me what is possible to create with words and love.
I am in the children’s section. All picture books, colour and play. What joy here, image and word on every page of every book! I am in one of my versions of heaven. I move from shelf to shelf, slow, taking time. Then, there in front of me, eye height, is ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ by Crockett Johnson. 50th Anniversary Edition, it says on the front cover.
I remember reading this book in grade one. Six years old and discovering that I can create my world. All I need is a purple crayon or any colour of crayon, and my imagination, loud, wild, galloping and romping wherever it chooses like a herd of wild horses.
At six years old, joy is a fistful of crayons and a pad of paper.
Harold and the Purple Crayon is my favourite book. I read it over and over, watch Harold create an apple tree with a dragon to guard the ripening apples, a mountain, a balloon to float in, a bedroom window to see the moon from, a bed with a blanket to draw up and sleep under.
Soon I have the book memorized, but I keep putting it into my weekly stack of borrowed library books anyways. I love it so.
I am teaching myself how to create my world, although I do not know it then.
The moving-house last weekend unexpectedly resulted in no phone, internet or tv, up until an hour ago when I became connected to the world again. One thing about having none of these things–I emptied all the boxes at warp speed.
There will be posts next week as usual. In the meantime, I am working on the last of the boxes and getting my studio in shape.
My memories are loaded with emotions. That’s why I remember them. The emotions make them stand out, make them stick.
What is memory anyways? It is nothing solid. Like all in life, it changes. I can tell that mine moves like a story told over and over. The essential points stay the same, but the details shift. Am I remembering more clearly when this happens, or am I filling in gaps, making things whole, putting clothes on the bones of what I recall?
I remember the Christmas Eve I was in grade 5. My sister and I were given night lights in the shape of genie lamps. All other gifts were abandoned as we carried our lamps around the house, Aladdins in nightgowns and slippers. I remember the two of us, whispering and giggling in the dark cave of the hallway outside our bedrooms. We had turned off the hallway light, and all was now mysterious and spooky as we moved around, genie lamps in hand, their blue plastic light covers casting shadows we couldn’t recognize.
This I remember clearly. What I don’t recall with any certainty is whether my lamp was the pink and black one and Carrie’s the aqua blue and grey one, or the other way around. When I picture us in the December dark, I can see either lamp in my hand. I remember them both.
I don’t know what happened to my genie lamp. I do know I loved it, played with it, kept it on the floor by my bed and close by on my dresser at various times. I suppose I eventually outgrew it, and it was lost deep in the big cardboard toy box Carrie and I shared. Perhaps, when I tired of it, it was given away to a younger cousin or to a daughter of one of my parents’ friends.
What does not shift in this memory of light in the dark, is the feeling of fun and play, laughter and enjoyment, friendship and love with my sister. I feel all of this now as I write. You can’t see me, but I am all grin like the Cheshire Cat, and I shake now and again as a laugh breaks through.
Here in this memory is joy and light and love.
When I am afraid and in the dark, all I need do is remember Carrie and me in that dark hallway, playing with the light of our genie lamps, giggling and whispering. If I trust myself enough to allow this memory and its feeling to fill me, body, head, heart, and spirit, I can see my way here, now. I can walk myself out of fear and the dark, back into light.
My mom-in-law, who does not know this story, found a genie lamp in a garage sale. She bought it and gave it to me. It sits here on my work table, a treasure among treasures. It is exactly like the one in my memory. Aqua blue and grey, like my sister’s lamp, or mine—that part does not matter. To my eyes, it is the colour of light and play and laughter and love.
I am in the midst of packing. We are moving house on Saturday. My studio is two-thirds empty. The last of the books, art supplies, my Buddhist shrine will all get packed up today, and this room will be empty of me.
Our house is in organized chaos. Our cat hates this. Yesterday he could not settle. He walked from room to room, upset, unhappy, tail twitching. He does not like his ordered life put into disorder. He does not like random and he does not like surprises.
He finally laid on my blue fleece blanket on the back of the living room couch, determinedly facing out the window, so that he did not have to see the changes happening around him.
I am very much like my cat.
I am packing and moving because I need to, not because I want to. I am a nester and I like my nest undisturbed and predictable.
That is not today, or the rest of this week, or next week either. Although next week I will be focused on making a new nest, and that always feels better than taking apart the old nest.
I will adjust and I will be comfortable again. So will my cat.
I think it must be the ancient survival instinct part of my brain that does not like this kind of change. Changing where I live means moving into the unknown, and my ancient brain thinks this means unexpected dangers. This is life threatening, it keeps saying. No wonder I feel this constant level of anxiety running under what I am doing.
This is not helpful. The anxiety, I mean.
So I have music playing, the gently soothing lyrical kind. I look out the windows once in a while as I pack boxes. Pause and take in the perfect snowy Christmas card beauty out there right now. The sun has even come out and the sky has moved to winter blue. This is beauty.
I have my two strings of coloured lights plugged in and shining in my studio as I pack. They will be the last things to go into the last box, so that I can see and delight in their bright colours as I work. This is beauty.
I have paused to write, to settle and ground myself in my life at this moment, the organized chaos that it is right now, knowing it will change to order and flow once again. This, too, is beauty.
Beauty in change. This is a gift I did not expect to see. I should have known it. I am a creator. Creating is all about change, from one state to another. From chaos to beauty, or the other way around. One of my favourite artists, Norman Yates, said that disorder opens a space.
He is right.
And now I have more boxes to pack. And more space to create.