Archive for October, 2007

The wall came down

October 31, 2007

Every time I had an image — a misty field, a haunting flower, a mysterious junked car in a field — I would scratch down a note to myself that was supposed to prompt me to write about it.

The notes collected on the wall beside my desk. The created a set of creative shingles — pink ones, white and cream, in all ink colors.

It’s been an obsession to keep notes of everything I think about, in case one day I run out of ideas or images. I have suitcases full of ideas for stories, poems or essays. That way, I reason, if I find myself unable to think one day — say illness or mental disorder — I’ll always have something to start from. Even if I lose the ability to create new ideas, I’ll still have something to write about.

The wall came down, recently. At the Tibetan Bazaar in Atlanta I purchased an inexpensive print of the mandala made by the monks of Drepung Loseling. I decided to set aside some money to have it professionally matted and framed.

I couldn’t put this new image on that papered wall. So all the notes came down. As I removed them, I read them, and remembered the images that prompted them and wondered, Will I ever get to put these in my novel?

The images now sit in a folder beside my desk. It’s not so important whether the notes are in a folder or on my wall. What matters is how well I can take everything I’ve seen and been curious about, in my entire life, and fold it into a story, at the instant I sit down to write, everyday.

Hearing voices

October 30, 2007

As a writer, I want to hear voices. That’s a good thing, really. It’s important for the people I write about to speak. When they don’t speak, I’m just imposing my own thoughts on them. At its best, writing creates characters who are so fully developed they create and act through their own situations.

There’s also another voice I want to hear. It’s the voice of narrative and it should be confident, without being arrogant. It should be conversational, but not chatty. It should never sit on a high horse, but it can’t be trifling, either.

Whether I’m writing fiction or magazine articles, there’s a voice I have to hear inside, a voice I have to bring to the desk everytime I make a sentence. It’s the concept of “voice” that is central to writing.

Sometimes, though, you’d like the voices to be more clear. Sometimes you’d like them to say more. Those are the days you just have to sit and wait for someone to cough it up.

Zen & writing

October 29, 2007

This time of year I say ‘No’ a lot. It’s not that I don’t enjoy parties. It’s just that even a little chaos sends me spinning into random orbit.

To stay focused and able to write requires me to maintain a fairly peaceful (some may say boring) life. Spontaneity is not a strong suit. Boisterous activity creates an inner storm that may take several days to recover from, as far as writing goes.

I enjoy fun as much as anybody. It’s just that to sit down and key in on a topic, and pull some meaning from it out of my limited cerebral resources, I need to be in a pretty settled mental state.

That may help explain why writers often have a reputation as hermits. Or even worse, grumpy hermits. For many of us, it’s simply a matter of preserving our inner calm by protecting our surroundings from the madness of living.

Other times, we plunge full force into life. Those are not usually the times when we get a lot of writing done.

Always there is a balancing act between living and writing.

Writing in space

October 27, 2007

I’ve probably written too much already about cleaning my house, but for me,it’s a first step to any writing day. My office has papers, pads, books and pens everywhere, but I try to at least have everything in piles with loose physical boundaries when I stop work at night and when I begin each morning.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s not sheer terror that keeps me busy with organizing, sweeping and dishes. When I actually sit down, especially when I’m working on the novel, I find the sudden void in front of me a little scary. A blank sheet of paper is “the square white judge.” A computer screen is even worse.

Sometimes, though, if I can just make myself sit still long enough, the images and thoughts will begin and I’m lost in them. Soon it’s several hundred words later and I’ve managed to describe something that may, after several revisions, be worth reading for someone.

Other times, I manage to write one or two sentences that seem to have no life. Those are days when I’d rather wash windows for a living.

Sticky wicket

October 26, 2007

How did this happen to the noblest of purposes?  I wanted to try a more sophisticated blog than this one, which once seemed just fine. Now, I am drawn into a bigger world, of “blogging tools” and one called WordPress.

I tried to activate it on my Web site to no avail. Calling for tech support brought a rainstorm … and someone recommending that I learn about MySQL and php editor. “It will bring the universe to you,” he said.

I wish I could!! Even talking about it for more than a few minutes made my head spin … though another blog would be very attractive, it is not writing. Computers and Web sites, for a writer, are a vacuum cleaner, a black hole, a pit. They can suck the hours out of a day. Writing already claims enough hours of any day through the same draining process.

For now, I’m stuck with this blog. I may at least get rid of the green circles, but I’m not sure the replacement template will be any better.

By the way, my husband has an outstanding blog and Web site at

Rain at last!

October 25, 2007

This morning I woke at 6 a.m. to the drumming of hard rains and it felt like Christmas. There was thunder, lightning and a steady downpour, what I grew up to call “a frog strangler.”

Yesterday I bumped my way back to real life after spending some time in the misty places with His Holiness. One meeting, lots of phone calls. With local elections in full swing, I am trying to do whatever I can to promote the park on 10th Street Extended (at Portertown Road), greenways and green places.

I sent an e-mail message about a candidate social on Sunday, and am encouraging park supporters to make sure to vote. In the end, that is a precious right we have in this country. I don’t think I ever realized just how precious it was until recently.

I have found a new Web site … … it has writings, speeches and biography.

My goal is to take up meditation to try to cultivate some inner peace … seeing what His Holiness has achieved gives me hope. He says that by having “inner values” the outer world and our actions will more likely be compassionate and productive in a positive way. Guess I have my work cut out for me.

Greenville again

October 24, 2007

Arrived home about 6 p.m. Tuesday. So tired from the drive my head was spinning, but I raced into the house to give a hug to Greg and the animals rushed me at the door!! There was a lot of slobbering and tails wagging and then I finally got to give Greg a hug.

I found myself yammering on about what I heard, what I experienced, and wondered if I shouldn’t better heed the old Buddhist principle about avoiding chatter, but I’m not there yet.

The most unexpected effect: Everything looks different. The physical world seems different to me. I walked into a grocery store and instead of feeling bombarded by all that stuff, I just got what I needed, which seemed like less than usual. The gossip and women’s magazines I usually feel drawn to seemed unreal. Here’s the scariest part: the women on the covers looked like skeletons to me!! (Usually I think, Wow, I wish I were that thin.)

Today I am back in the frying pan with work pressures and demands. Thankfully, it is overcast and raining, which has helped protect the peacefulness I’ve felt inside. I guess I will need to get a meditation regimen up and running really soon so I can build on the wisdom and peace I feel I’ve been part of for the past few days.

Tibet for a day

October 23, 2007

The clouds came down to turn Atlanta into a little Tibet, and Centennial Park into Lhasa. A fresh, cool day, the buildings surrounding the park shrouded in mist became mountains, shedding their concrete nature for a few hours and giving us a break from the known world.

More than 7,000 people crowded the park and they sat on blankets, many with their children, other couples and people of all ages and walks of life.

His Holiness spoke of love and the importance of inner values, compassion and kindness, and said he would serve others until his death.

I have been in the presence of an enlightened human being. It gives me hope of what is possible by strengthening inner values and positive human emotions — compassion, affection, love — and discouraging the bad ones.

Today I pack up and head home, the long, eight-hour drive back to Greenville.

His Holiness

October 22, 2007

I spent yesterday listening to His Holiness and it was probably one of the best days of my life. He does radiate joy, peace and love — I was prepared for disappointment, because really, no hero is genuine, right?  The difference with His Holiness is that he’s a hero for his  humanity, and not because of other reasons, like so many of our heros, who are presented as flawless, beautiful, unerring demi-gods.

No, His Holiness is simply a human being and arrived at his place of wisdom through a lifetime of hard work. That work has allowed him to develop deep understanding and acceptance for the world and all of us sharing it.

A few moments before he was scheduled to appear, the gymnasium fell silent,the colored lights that were twirling everywhere stopped and no one moved.

I hardly knew how to prepare myself, so I just said let me have a clear mind to understand this great man of peace.

When His Holiness walked onto the stage, I knew my fears that I would somehow be disappointed were groundless. How could I be disappointed?

He walked with a gait that reminded me of my grandmother, only quicker and more steady. Still, there was a sense of age to his step. He smiled constantly as he held the hands and hugged the monks there, bowing to them, as if they were the honored guests and he just an ordinary visitor.

He wore the saffron yellow and burgundy robes of a monk and on his feet, flip flops. They made no noise, however, as he walked around the stage greeting everyone.

I felt warm inside, deeply reassured not only that my hero was genuine, but somehow that the entire world wasn’t such a bad place after all.

In the afternoon a peacebuilding summit took place … more tomorrow … but when I left the gymnasium, I walked into a bright, crisp autumn afternoon. Everywhere I looked, I saw joy — people playing soccer in a field, friends walking together to the Tibetan bazaar that’s set up under the white tents, people carrying their small children.  I felt awed by the beauty of everything.

Sacred Music Sacred Dance

October 21, 2007

Last night, it was my honor to attend the musical performance by the Mystical Arts of Tibet, a group of monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery in India.

It took place in a methodist church on the campus of Emory University, which is a Methodist university. The Emory-Tibet Partnership is bringing these two cultures closer together.

When the monks walked on stage and began their rituals, I didn’t know whether to cry, convert — or have a panic attack. It was as if I were transported into an entirely different universe, unlike anything I personally have ever taken part in.

Their performance was called Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing. It was the monks’ most sacred ritual dances and music for casting our evil spirits and reminding us of our temporal nature, that we — and everything — will pass.

It’s hard to describe the performances. It felt as if these 10 monks were allowing us to share their personal, holy world. They began with chants, holding three notes at the same time, opening the chants with the long, bellowing horns.

For the dances, they wore vivid costumes, of royal blues, saffron reds and yellows, with layers of silk and brocade. During one dance, a monk held a mirror and turned in a circle, to represent the fleeting nature of the world and everything in it. The Dance of the Skeleton Lords also reminded us that we will pass — but they were not just skeletons, they are also protectors of truth.

During the Snow Lion Dance, two costumed monks recreated the snow lion in a playful fringed costume. It moved me to tears. At the end, from the snow lion’s mouth, a banner reading simply “World Peace” unfolded.

Before my arrival yesterday, His Holiness took part in a day-long scientific panel, Mindfulness, Compassion and the Treatment of Depression. I’ve heard that His Holiness listened intently to presentations from others on the benefits of meditation.