This morning, I read our Future Friday instigation for the Quest as I was sitting in a car in traffic, going to a 9 AM business meeting. The car smelled like the doughnuts I’d just picked up for the client.
I’ll admit it. My first response to the prompt was overwhelm, even frustration.
What one thing will you commit to doing differently on a regular, near-daily basis that will help you enjoy your life more while you quest toward that goal? How can you invite qualitative slowness in your life – your own bella vita – perhaps to create more time, space, and openness to what’s possible that could help you both reach that goal and feel wonder-full upon reaching it?
A big part of that initial resistance was about doing so much already.
My routines and rituals have been built steadily over the years into a series of tiny, important, non-negotiable steps. I already journal. I have a special way I brush my hair, a mindful way I brush my teeth. Those rituals were a thing I enacted a year ago to emphasize gentleness with myself, and to enact daily, important self-care. I hold a forty-year-old, beloved doll to my chest as an act of self-love and treasuring. Each of these rituals holds special importance to me, and are thoughtfully prepared with the idea that I can do them even when my illness is in full flare. That I can self-care and self-love and listen to myself, even when I can do absolutely nothing else.
Part of what I’ve learned from my friends in the Quest pack – including Lora Jansson and Jennifer Louden (one of our visionaries a few quests back) – was that the most important promises we make, the promises we absolutely must keep, are the promises that we make to ourselves. That’s key to fostering self-trust.
To me, committing to doing something on a “regular, near daily basis” is a tall order. It’s a new layer. A new ritual. A new intention. It has to be rich enough to keep me committed to doing it. It has to be small enough that I can do it no matter how I physically feel. It has to support my goals and visions, or make room beside them. Ooof.
Flurries aren’t accumulating.
My thoughts are swirling. They are stirred up. They are fluttering around my head, chest and belly, but they aren’t landing. They aren’t coalescing into a shape-able thought. Writing is my means of getting flurries like these to land. So, I came to my blog. I’m here without an answer. Without a plan. That’s what the title of this post refers to. I don’t know this answer – but I’m pretty sure it’s there. I’m pretty sure if I just wait for it, and stay open to it, and write about it, I’ll learn what the answer already is.
A good quest, like a good story, or a good myth circles around on itself and returns and returns again to the same places as it spirals toward its own center. So, like an intrepid traveler, I shall return, then, to where I started: My devotion.
This year, I’m devoted to being heard.
I shout into the cold, bare treetops and listen for my voice to rebound back. I hear traffic and the light rail train, but not my own echo. Shuffling forward on this now-familiar path, I go to the next step: My vision.
I want to remember that creating and making things are a necessary part of self-care.
Now, I’m used to walking again, and I’ve hit a good, rhythmic pace. I step forward into the week we started with the theme of LIVING, and the Tuesday prompts and experiments.
I did walk nearly every day this week. And took this photo along the way of a thing I think is beautifully designed, even if it’s just a train station.
But walking – as much as I try to do it daily – cannot be my commitment. There are too many days where walking is a promise I cannot keep to myself, and I won’t set my ankles, knees, and hips up for that kind of disappointment.
I think, though, about my dream. About the Self portion who adds meaning and beauty and creativity to the doing, being and body selves. That is the portion of me that this prompt is meant to care for, to feed her, to give her something to work with.
I’m still swirling with these thoughts, what is a doable creative thing I can commit to? What would my Self want to do every day? Still flurries with no solid accumulation.
Enough instigation, time for inspiration.
First, I wandered over to the #WeQuest hashtag on Instagram, and holy moly what a treasure chest.
The two that I keep returning to are Millie Jackson’s goggles and this dancer from ecotextiles. One image is dark, mysterious, a little steampunk and alluring. It smells like leather. The other is light, full of air and movement. I can feel the swirling fabric around my own legs. I want to twirl and twirl and twirl.
Jeffrey calls for digital disruptions, to work with our eyes as Rodin instructed Rilke. To make space for wonder.
But that’s not what I read in his note. Instead, his note invoked a memory. Crystal clear, and breathtaking, heart-stopping, time-pausing.
In her Keys to Change group, Nancy Seibel refers to these as “aesthetic experiences” – moments that stimulate thoughts, feelings, senses, spirit, or intuition.
What I’m talking about is the granddaddy of those moments. I’m talking about the moments where art takes over your whole being for a few heartbeats and possesses you – either as a creator or as an observer.
A few months ago at grad school, I had the chance to hear Mary Antonia Wood Ph.D. speak about Aesthetic Arrest in one of our evening lectures. For me, Rilke’s poem to the Archaic Torso of Apollo is a droste effect of a moment of aesthetic arrest in Rilke causing moment of aesthetic arrest in me, his reader.
He encapsulates, in one twist of a line at the end of the poem, how it feels to be *zapped* by the universe via a work of art. To have a piece of creative work speak to your deep subconscious and bypass all of your logic and intellect as it flashes like a lightening bolt into your being. I remember the first time I read that particular poem in German and that last line – that moment – *zapped* me. I remember catching my breath and staring at the book, and feeling like I’d lost my mind.
Dr. Wood’s expressions of the ecstasy of creation reminded me of the first time I experienced creative “flow” as a fledgling novelist my first NaNoWriMo, and it terrified me. I was certain if I didn’t stop RIGHT THEN AND THERE that it would take over my life, I’d lose my job, and I’d be homeless on the street possessed by my science fiction characters and never able to function again. Yes, that seems like hyperbole now. At the time, that was how terrible and huge the experience of an aesthetic experience of creation felt to me.
Roll it all together
I feel like I’m rolling a little snowball of ideas around in my lawn, picking out the dried leaves and hoping to make a Barbie-sized snowman. The only other thought that keeps swirling back around is how, about 2 months ago, I unearthed my identity as a poet.
It got buried under the novelist identity. Behind the leftover fabric from sewing projects and pipecleaners and glue sticks. I never meant to lose it. But I caught myself saying to a friend that my poetry was bad — and the thought struck a discordant note. My poetry is not bad. Sure, some of it still needs work. But by and large, it’s not bad.
On my way out to Pacifica in November, I read every single poem I had in my laptop. 89 documents over a 4-hour flight. I was cracked open on that flight. The woman sitting next to me had lost her husband to a mass-shooting hate crime. She and I cried and hugged and prayed together on that plane.
Then, my classmates and I circled the suburbs of LA trying to navigate around the Woolsey Fire in California. It turned a 90 minute drive into a 5 hour adventure. We had three days of classes, which are always cracking-open and filling-up.
On the way home, I had a run of cardiac arrhythmia that was the beginning of an entire month of tests, cardiologists, and monitors. I’ll have surgery in 2 weeks. Oh, and I wrote a new poem.
So what’s my commitment?
I still don’t know. It has to do with poetry. With being heard, and with treating creativity as a part of self-care. It has to do with aesthetic arrest.
There are a few poets among the Questers who write a poem every day. While that’s a bite-sized bit of creativity for a novelist, it feels daunting. It feels bigger than brushing my teeth or holding a doll. Can I keep that huge a promise to myself?
I also have to commit to well-filling, and to giving myself inspiration and art from other people to read and absorb. Do I read a poem every day? While that feels doable, it doesn’t feel particularly supportive of my devotion.
One of my favorite aspects of Jeffrey’s way of doing business as unusual is the idea of prototyping. You test something out, you learn from it and iterate upon the idea and the lessons. What if I commit to trying out poetry every day? Either reading it, or writing it, as the day and my energy allows. Seeking it or finding it. Playing hide and go seek with it. Dancing with poems. Maybe experiencing aesthetic arrest. Maybe creating it.
Yes. I can promise to do that.