Kerala

From the air, if you’re high enough, the green carpet of trees could be anywhere. It could even be home. But as the plane descends the coconut trees begin to distinguish themselves. The river cuts into the earth in a way that is different to what you’ve known. Banana plantations define themselves in stiff squares of land. The roofs of homes are not the familiar red clay tiles you remember but are instead the bright blue color of tarps stretched across cinder blocks and corrugated tin. Yet, in the distance, an ornate and sparkling church calls the eye.

This is not home. This is unlike any place I’ve ever been. This is Kerala.

Kochi

The sunlight in Kochi is diffused by heavy, moist air. The December heat keeps my skin sticky and my ankles puffed. But it’s a beautiful light – intense and muted at the same time. It brightens colors and softens the edges of the Chinese fishermen nets that, since the 14th century, have pulled fish from Kochi’s harbour. The nets are fascinating structures built from teak and bamboo. They’re cantilevered and require nothing more than the weight of a man to lower themselves into the water.

Along the embankment men dressed in lungis, their heads wrapped in wet and frayed cloth as protection against the sun, prepare to sell the fish whose gills still move, desperate to find water. Interspersed between the fishmongers are stalls filled with wares available to purchase for the tourists fresh off cruise ships in port from Mumbai and Singapore. Follow the cobbled path from the nets to the jetty and you’ll find fish for your supper, leather belts, straw hats, toy tuk-tuks for the kids at home, plastic pasta makers and hand-held sewing machines the size of a stapler.

Nearby is a respite. The Church of Saint Francis is a short walk from the jetty. Built in 1503 and the original burial place of Vasco de Gama, it is a beautiful but unassuming building.

Its stone interior, lined with dark wooden pews, is cooled with a mechanism built of rope, pulleys and embroidered fabric attached to poles that run the length of the nave. The poles are lowered and when they swing the congregation is fanned by the movement of the fabric.

 

 

Munnar

The first two close calls were flukes. It was only after I saw my life pass before my eyes for the third time that I began to question our sanity. By the time we were in our fifth hour of winding switchbacks on a road so narrow we frequently stopped to accomodate traffic barreling down the steep grade toward us I knew we were doomed. We were headed toward a former hill station in Munnar now named Windermere Estate.

Just before we arrive at our destination we cross a one-lane bridge. The river is a good thirty feet below and calm. It’s difficult to believe that four months previous the same river turned violent and rose high enough to cover the span. Munnar was devastated in the floods that killed over one hundred and fifty people last August. Windermere Estate was cut off by landslides for fourteen days. There is still evidence of the landslides but with the exception of road damage evidenced on the long climb life has returned to normal.

It’s beautiful here. The air is warm but fresh and we awoke this morning to the song of the red whiskered bulbul and not the noise of car horns. From a vantage point reached by climbing a set of stairs cut into stone we have a view of mist covered tea plantations, deep valleys and a rugged mountain ridge on which, we’re told, wild elephants sometimes roam into view.

Our one day at Windermere is a day of rest. The grounds of the estate are too beautiful to contemplate leaving. With the exception of one short walk to a small village just below the estate grounds, we are content to watch the world go by from the little porch attached to our room.

Tomorrow we’ll make our way back down the mountain to Alleppey.


Singing Dragons and a Better Me

Putting together a ‘little something’ for a blog and wanting to be a published author are different mental activities. I arrived at this obvious conclusion two different ways. 

On August 8, 2018 at 5:00 PvTOk5zX4QYi1IByBEiHxVAM I submitted my first book proposal to the wonderful Claire Wilson at Singing Dragon Publishers. I met Claire at SYTAR, the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research I attended in Virginia last June and from where I  wrote my last post for Practically Twisted. The process of creating a non-fiction book proposal is intense, time consuming and, at times, thrilling. It is also a process that forces you to question your goals and motivations. The process asks you to look at what is real and what might be possible.

I pressed ‘send’ that afternoon and am now waiting. I feel a little empty – as if the act of creating the proposal drainedany desire to write anything ever again (as I, of course, sit here writing).

After I submitted the proposal I began to ask myself questions. How would my life change if Singing Dragon picked up my proposal? Where would I find the time to write? How long would it take me? Would I have to quit teaching? Abandon private clients?

This long list of irrelevant questions, instead of rooting me in the present, dragged me into a unpredictable future. They interrupted the flow of oxygen and almost extinguished the little flame that keeps me searching for a way to tell my story.

Today I found myself, at 6AM, still in bed, sipping coffee and scrolling through the news headlines. Remember when I vowed to break this habit? I intended to build a better me. The truth is, I’m not comfortable with the idea of a better me. It implies that the me I am isn’t good enough. But another truth is that I miss those dark winter mornings when I wrapped myself in words to stave off the cold. 

And so, here I am again. 


If You Want to Write, Read

CIMG1201

A list from a 2011-2012…I’m exhausted looking at it.

It may have been at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference about eight years ago where I was told that if you want to attract readers then you have to be a reader. Not only that, but you have to be a reader that leaves comments. That seems fair enough. But it’s a huge cyberverse with ‘billions and billions’ of blogs. Navigating our way to the stories that mean the most to us – the words that either inspire, educate or entertain – is like trying to find glitter glue at Walmart. You have to walk past plenty of dreck before you find the craft aisle.

I follow a healthy scoop of blogs written on topics that are of interest to me: art, yoga, writing and wellness. New posts fill my inbox every Monday morning. I read with reasonable regularity just two, on a good day maybe three of over a dozen blogs. The rest – and I’m cringing as I admit this – I delete. And the comments I leave on those blogs I read are few and far between.

What can I say? Life is short. And I’m a bit of a curmudgeon. One too many adverbs and I’m outta there. If this is self-sabatoge I’m willing to take the risk.

I don’t believe there’s any way of knowing if my ignoring the advice handed to me at SFWC changed the trajectory of my non-existent writing *ahem* career. I’d like to think good writing is good writing whether or not there’s a thread of replies (I’m not just a curmudgeon – I’m a naive curmudgeon!). If I practice and polish my craft it shouldn’t matter how many blogs I read or how many comments I leave behind.

Should it?

On the other hand, writing is lonely. It doesn’t hurt to make a few friends. With that in mind, here are the three blogs I read regularly. Two I’ve been following for some time. One is a new addition.

Caitlin Kelly writes Broadside. She’s a journalist and author whose writing is crisp and clear. I wish I wrote half as well as Caitlin. She posts on a variety of topics with humor, passion and conviction. Her latest post was an exploration of gratitude – a simple list of moments that make her happy. Prior to this she wrote about a recent health scare – a post all women should read.

Sawson Abu Farha is the culinary master behind Chef in Disguise. I’ve tried several of her middle eastern recipes. Her latest post teaches the reader how to make Sahlab, a sweet and milky elixir featuring orchid powder and orange blossom water. Warming and delicious, Sahlab is a magical moment of awe for the tastebuds.

Anonymous Sadhaka is the student of yoga I will never be. I don’t know the author’s gender or full story but I love reading the deep explorations into their personal practice. Struggling with a knee injury the posts seem to be written not with the reader in mind. In that way, they feel as though we’re given permission to break the lock on a friend’s diary.

I hope you’ll dip into these writer’s diverse body of work. I hope you’ll also dip into my not so diverse body of work.

Happy reading (and commenting).

 

 

 


I’d Like to Thank the Academy….

IMG_1802I’m inclined to play it all humble.  To hide my light under a bushel, blushing and mumbling “What?  Little ol’ me?”  But why?  How often am I going to win an award for writing?  Yeah.  You read that right.  I won an award.  For writing!

My essay, Memories are Made of This, was one among several essays presented First Place Awards from the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club.

You can read the essay here.


The Pen Collector

Just a few of my several dozen pens.

Just a few of my several dozen pens.

The thing about tolerating a cold is that in between blowing the nose and hacking up phlegm balls, you have quite a bit of time for thinking.

On November 19th a cold took hold at 38,000 feet over the Pacific when a stranger a few rows behind let loose with a wet and righteous sneeze. At the time I remember calmly telling myself, “I’m going to get that.” Repeated slaps to the forehead while silently screaming “NO NO NO NO you idiot WHAT were you thinking?!?!” were not enough to talk my immune system down from the inevitable and, sure enough, on the evening of Tuesday the 20th while watching a DVD with my friend, I began to cough.

By the following morning I had a full-blown excuse for staying in bed with the duvet tucked tight for the next seven days.

But, like I said, it gave me time to think. Perhaps it was feverish delirium, but the one thing I thought most about were the two flowerpots full of pens I keep on the right hand corner of my desk next to the twelve spiral notebooks I keep stacked at attention in the event I should have just one brilliant thought worth noting (there at least a dozen more notebooks awaiting active duty in a dresser drawer). “Why on earth,” I muttered, “do I have so many pens and notebooks?”

I’m a pen snob. I prefer an ultra fine Pilot G2 gel point in black. They have good glide.

I’m not as picky about my spiral notebooks, although I prefer the 9 ½ by 7 inch Callbers. Yes, I have a couple of those fancy black notebooks – the one Hemingway preferred – but I’m afraid of them. They’re a bit too pretty. I wouldn’t dare deface them with my chicken scratch – even with a black inked ultra fine Pilot G2 gel point.

Yes, I recognize my obsession with notebooks and pens is a symptom of something more troubling.

When I recovered from my cold I took a good look around me. In my medicine cabinet were six different brands of hair ointment all promising to do the same thing for my curls. In my closet? Sixteen pairs of shoes. There are three more pairs in a basket by my front door. Four tubes of toothpaste. Five brands of antiperspirants. An assortment of travel sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer.

You see where I’m going with this. I feel a little New Year’s challenge coming on.

I’m going to try to survive 2013 without making any new purchases.

Before you think I’ve gone around the twist, here are the guidelines:

Obviously I will need to pay rent, purchase food, gas for my car, electricity. I will also be spending money on books and tuition this year as well as airfare for a trip back East.

What I won’t allow myself to buy is any item bought to replace an item that I already have and that is still in good working order. I can only replace personal care items like soap, shampoo, deodorant and moisturizer when what I have is within a use or two of running out.

No new pens or notebooks.

No new clothes or shoes – I have more than I need.

But what about entertainment? Meals out? The occasional over-priced coffee?

I’m not trying to live the life of an ascetic. I still want to live well and enjoy life fully. I will set a budget over the next few days to accommodate life’s little frills.

This is a simple exercise in mindfulness. Ours is a greedy and wasteful society. I want to pay better attention to how much I waste and what I truly need.

Anyone care to join me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Perfectionism: The Voice of the Oppressor

Cover of "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions...

I don’t know that I could have picked two better books to read simultaneously.  If Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct is the brain of the operation, then Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is the heart.

I know everyone has already read Bird by Bird.   Most likely in 1994, when it was published. I was a little busy that year.  Plus, I have a stubborn streak and if someone says to me, Oh, you’ve just got to read this book! (or see this movie, or meet that person), I won’t.  Just to be stubborn.  It took me twenty years to see E.T. the Extraterrestrial.

Still, even if you loved Bird by Bird when you read it seventeen years ago chances are you’ve forgotten why. I’ll remind you:

Here are Anne Lamott’s thoughts on perfectionism:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.  It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.  I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.  The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Meanwhile, back on the pages of Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct we find studies that support Anne’s heartfelt commentary and advice on how to relinquish the desire to be perfect.  Kelly explains why offering compassion and forgiveness to ourselves instead of layering on the guilt for our missteps strengthens our ability to see the big picture. 

I didn’t expect Bird by Bird to make me smile as often as it has.  And I didn’t expect The Willpower Instinct to be so easy to take.  I expected an overly sweet Bird by Bird to have me in a literary sugar coma by page forty, but Anne Lamott’s practical advice is seasoned with just the right enough bite to balance the moments that bring tears to your eyes.

I thought Kelly McGonigal’s book would be like any other book I’ve read about goal setting.  I thought I’d be writing lists, repeating affirmations and by the end of the day – with few items on the list accomplished – calling myself a failure.

The truth is, Kelly’s book is about forgiveness. It’s about settling down.  Giving yourself a break.  And she has all the scientific evidence we need to see why this is important.

My intention was to break my Hulu habit by reading eight books in six weeks.  That’s not going to happen.  Why?  Because I chose an astoundingly unrealistic goal.  That’s typical of me and, according to McGonigal, typical for many of us.  But don’t blame Hulu. While I haven’t severed my attachment to Hulu completely (a once-a-week, twenty-two minute dose of The Big Bang Theory after a long day is medicinal) I’m certainly no longer sliding down a steep slippery slope toward a self-inflicted Hulu-lobotomy.

A more realistic goal is four books in six weeks.  Today Bird by Bird returns to the bookshelf.  The Willpower Instinct, however, is staying out.  Now that I’ve read it from cover to cover my intention is to go back and read it again – this time actively working through the exercises provided.  I’ll keep you posted how all that works out.

The book I’m beginning today is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. No, it wasn’t on my original list. I’ve chosen this young adult novel because I’m working on a young adult novel (yes, again). The book has a bit of buzz on it and I’m looking forward to digging in.

Next time:  An update on the meditation practice I committed to in January or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Whole Food’s Meat Counter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day One. Reading, Writing and Meditation

I’ll be the first to admit that I lean a bit toward the odd.  In a good way I hope, but still.  I allowed myself one last moment with Jimmy Fallon (“I Gotta Have More Cowbell!”) and then broke the news to Hulu:

“I think I need a break.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No, Hulu – it’s not you.  It’s me.”

“You want to spend more time with Facebook, don’t you?  I know the two of you are tweeting.”

“No – that’s not it at all, Hulu!  It’s just that…well…it’s just that I want to…”

“You want to what?  Go on, Mimm.  Tell me.”

“I want to read.”

“What do you mean you want to read?”

“You know.  Books.”

“Is this a joke?”

“No, Hulu, it’s true.  I want to read books. I have a goal.  Eight books in six weeks.”

“Don’t make me laugh.  You’ll never do it.  Two days from now when the latest episode of Glee is available you’ll come crawling back.”

“I don’t think so, Hulu.  Not this time.”

At that point I said good night.  I thought I heard a sniffle as I closed the laptop, and then I set my alarm, rolled to my side and went to sleep.

Today I determined that all eight books amounted to about 2300 pages.  I have thirty-six days to make it from cover to cover on all of them.  That means reading at least sixty-three pages per day.  No problem.  I hope.

I’ve begun with Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct.  Even though I had dipped into the book earlier, I decided to begin at the beginning.  Here’s what I discovered today:

It turns out my recent commitment to meditation is doing more than creating a calmer Mimmsy.  Meditation is helping my brain to build grey matter in the prefrontal cortex and other regions of the brain that support self-awareness.  In other words, my meditation practice strengthens my will power and bolsters any skill that involves self-control.  Like reading.

In addition to Kelly’s book I’ve decided to read a chapter per day of Bird by Bird, the wonderful book about our writing life by Anne Lamott.  Today I read the introduction.  I’ll leave you with a Wendell Berry poem, The Wild Rose.  Written for his wife but used by Anne to describe how writing feels to her sometimes – like a person – “the person who,” Anne writes, “after all these years, still makes sense to me.”

Sometimes hidden from me

in daily custom and in trust,

so that I live by you unaware

as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,

a wild rose blooming a the edge

of thicket, grace and light

where yesterday was only shade,

And once again I am blessed, choosing

again what I chose before.