Dita Parker

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday night's alright (for writing)

So I don't have a life. Or I have my friends' life and they have mine and the chances of making a simultaneous sweet escape are few and far between. Now that summer is here, it says so in my calendar and it is unseasonably warm, people with their surreally long vacations scatter like forest fauna fleeing fire. Away, away! You come back here, I say. Don't you dare leave me. Stellaaa!!! Ah shucks, she's long gone.

Every other person living in and around the capital seems to have come from somewhere else. I guess that's where they're headed and it is as if they could not get there fast enough. (Scandinavians are big on summer houses and cottages, preferably by some lake in the middle of nowhere. Amenities aren't necessary; peace and quiet are.) Or they're on a plane to Spain or Greece or Italy where they will run into the neighbors, colleagues, relatives etc. they were running from in the first place. (I've yet to visit London without running into someone I know who doesn't live there either. Small world? Microscopic.)

Hubby's working, the kids are sleeping over at his parents, and I'm living la vida loca sitting in our garden reading and writing. Ever grateful for the amenities, even more so for the peace and quiet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Secret garden

Who knew there was a story central hiding in my garden? Who could have imagined a city girl would enjoy roughing it in the bush and digging in the dirt this much? Hubby is Nature Boy, I'm only learning, and gawking openly at said shirtless guy's abs and chest and biceps gleaming and straining while he swings that shovel and it's getting hot in here and I digress but you would too just looking at him working or working out or just standing there. (I swear love is one major distraction no matter who you are or what you're trying to do.)

There we were, discussing perennials, or Hubby talked while I tried to deduce from Latin and the context before he caught on to my confusion what sort of plants might those be. And something came to me then and there, a storyline that had absolutely nothing to do with plants or gardening, and I was forced to excuse myself and leave poor hunk hanging in mid sentence while I rushed off for my notebook. He knows by now I'll drop anything except someone's baby when my hands shoot up as if I was about to catch a ball, my eyes focus on some distant spot and my mouth opens the tiniest bit as though I was going to say something. It's funny as hell, his impersonation.

It happened several times during the weekend and I don't know whether it had something to do with concentrating on some rather mundane tasks, from where the wind blew, me or him, but I got so much done in the garden and orchard as well as by way of filling that notebook with ideas, dialogue, questions, and even some answers.

I've noticed that doing things as a meditation is conductive for creativity. At least it works for me. One of my favorite torture racks and methods of getting my mind flowing: indoor rowers. Yes, I know there are gurus out there to teach you to do the same without moving a muscle but I'm a run for the bus kind of girl; I absolutely need to use mine or I will get cranky and restless.

I know what the guru would tell me is of the essence. It's all I focus on when I row row row my boat not so gently down the stream. Having nothing to concentrate on but your next breath, being able to concentrate on nothing but breathing can be oddly liberating. (And, shameless product placement: forget about the latest fitness fad, you'll outlive it anyway, try any Concept2 rower, it will outlast you, and get the best no frills strength-endurance work out ever no matter what your current weight or starting level. No, they didn't pay me to say so. Would they? If I asked nicely? No? Dita who? Damn. I still love those machines.)

I've found new motivation to learn the ins and outs of gardening. The fact that my kids get to eat berries, fruit and vegetables they've planted and tended to themselves is no small bonus. And we supposedly live in a city, the second largest in the nation. I don't think of this as a city, not compared to most cities I've lived in and considering we actually grow food on our lot. I've never had a garden like the one we have now. I love it. For the foodstuff, for the inspiration, and especially for its patient, loving and understanding head gardener.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What it feels like for a girl

I got into a debate over how little girls should be dressed. Gender neutral preferably, as a friend of mine wants. Her problem is that her second daughter is not the tomboy her big sister is. She is a princess in the making, loves all things pink and frilly and girlie. Her mother apologizes for her daughter's tastes. I said she really shouldn't. It makes dressing like a boy okay and being a girlie girl something to be ashamed of.

Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, because it's OK to be a boy, but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think that being a girl is degrading. So says Julie in the film The Cement Garden. (Yes, it's Charlotte Gainsbourg's voice in character in that Madonna song.) In the original Ian McEwan novel, the passage equals girls dressing as boys to a promotion. It was written some thirty years ago. That was then, this is now, right?

I know mothers who have bought baby dolls to their sons to cultivate nurturing tendencies. I know fathers who have refused to do the same so their sons wouldn't develop gay tendencies. Bah, humbug, I say; nature takes its course and it won't ask us for directions. Boys will be boys, girls will be girls, up to a point and always to some extent. Why not let women be women and men be men, and I'm not rooting for any Mars-Venus division.

I'm rooting for variety and the little differences that make the battle between the sexes a win-win mock war at its best, a man look at a woman in appreciation then look again, a woman compliment a man and leave it at that. Or not. And I'm not going into a discussion about equality. We're not quite there yet, and we're not getting there unless we treat equal rights as a human rights issue. Some rules apply to everyone, and it has nothing to do with what you decide to wear to work. Or the playground.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Working on a dream

I sit here writing, and freefalling. To the occasional observer spending a day at the beach and catching a passing glance, it may not be obvious whether I'm waving or drowning (cf. the poor soul in that Stevie Smith poem). Waving, my friends, waving.

I am fortunate to have a spouse who takes kindly to my aspirations. I have it easy, you say? No, I don't, actually. Any woman who wasn't married from her childhood home to the first man who asked (Hey there, Kev, it would've ruined everything, admit it!), who has led an independent existence before settling down, will tell you that it is a huge decision to let someone support you for any period of time. It has enabled me to get closer to where I want to be, but it brings up issues I suggest you take up and discuss thoroughly in advance, not suffer in grudging silence later on.

How could my husband stand for it, even for a little while? He knows what it's like to truly want something, work for it, and not have it fall on your lap, especially before you're ready to give it all you got. He has worked in fields that aren't easy to enter. They're also occupations where it doesn't matter who you know or don't know. What matters is how you do it, have you got it in you.

I don't have anyone to recommend me or help me make this sustainable. All the people I know in publishing or anything remotely related are people I came to know while getting my MA. People I consider close friends, people I have fun with. People who could not help me without risking me taking over their next project. Not that I probably could have; these are all professionals in their own right and successful in their chosen fields. They haven't offered, and I didn't exactly want their jobs or even to enter into the line of work they now excel in.

I wanted to write. No. I wanted to be a writer. Okay, so the former is a prerequisite for the latter, but you know what I mean. If you can't imagine it, it won't come. I wanted to think of myself as a writer, for a living, for life, introduce myself as one, not just as someone who writes.

I have support. I have tenacity. I have the chutzpah to say I have talent. If I don't believe in this, who else would? I know my strengths and I'm awkwardly aware of my weaknesses, in writing and life. I also know it's up to me to get this thing going, keep it rolling, keep learning and growing. Friends will be friends, and we'll keep it that way.

I don't want to shout to be heard, I don't want to strike out to reach out. I don't want to do things for show or effect. If that's what it takes, I might be in one humongous puddle of poo. I write to tell the truth; the emotional truth. You don't need to know more than that to decide whether I'm flunking it or dunking it. When I finally get that first story out. (I have a heaven sent editor who hasn't tired of my newbie questions and giddiness, yet.) When someone eventually reads it and rates it. Please tell me that's all you ask of me. That's all I ask of you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

If opportunity calls...the answer is 42.

I went through some shots taken on our last family vacation, yet another attempt to familiarize my children with the world and the places their mother knew when she was younger and still loves. I thought about how your childhood home gets etched into you; the good, the bad, the ugly, happy and sad. Odes to joy, monuments carved in happiness, unmarked graves in your heart. Some try to escape it, some escape into it, but it always remains a frame of reference, even when the neighborhood changes, and the neighbors.

It's not Eats meets West for me, it's North vs. South. It was in my childhood, it still is today. That makes for dichotomies aplenty. It keeps life interesting and leaves no space for tunnel vision. It makes me wonder how the other half lives, or third, or tenth. In the face of 'facts' or 'truth', it forces me to ask what if the opposite was true.

I'm good at making a stand; I'm terrible at taking sides. Sounds contradictory? No, it's not you, it's me. I'll watch a game and root for whichever team is losing and drive my husband nuts. Diplomacy is an admirable or an abominable trait, depending on who gets vetoed. I once asked the writer in me whether she had any use for a negotiator. Appalled by my sudden uncertainty and my suspecting that anything in this world and our psyches would not be worth studying and writing about, she deigned to concede that yes, maybe I was onto something.

As fate, the universe and/or the economy would have it, I suddenly had more time to read and write. (It's back to business now and I'm not sure whether I'm glad or sad. Both.) Serendipity granted me two pieces that made me go hmmm. Nadine Gordimer talking about a double process where detachment and disinvolvement mingle with empathy and sympathy for others, a process which manifests itself as heightened powers of observation. Keats praising 'negative capability', the ability of being in doubt and ambiguity without reaching after absolutes.

Eureka! Yes! Thank and praise those two passages for helping explain the compulsion to know the different sides to every story and still not go crazy when you're not granted straight and comprehensive answers to Ultimate Questions like Life, the Universe and Everything.

(I talked about this with a former colleague of mine. Her husband is into astrology and I suspect that secretly so is she because she listened politely, smiled compassionately then said "But you see, you're a Leo and a Leo rising with the Moon in Aquarius." Right... Back then, I did not dare ask, so those in the know: translation, please! Someone supposedly in the know said it's the third culture kid effect. And just so you know, labels make me ill at ease even if there's a modicum of truth in them.)

That compulsion is inherent, a part of my make up, my constant companion in life and writing. I guess you could do worse as far as aptitudes go. And Bob's your uncle, the writers among you say. Everyone and their brother mother sister lover can and should be able to go the Keats-Gordimer way if they want to write. If they want to be fit for human consumption, get a job and find a partner and keep them. Maybe so, but if it's the only way to fly, do we acknowledge it, work on it, work for it? What about our other traits and talents?

You have to value your strengths, honor and cultivate them, or take on whatever role is handed to you and read from the script. You have to use what you have going for you to the best of our ability, take it as far as you can. Of course you would first have to recognize what that something is, unveil and study it and decide how it will serve you and, with any luck, effort and inspiration, others. If you're not hurting anyone, run with it. It's yours, all yours. If opportunity sees you're busy with other things, it won't present itself. It will go out in search of someone not only waiting but prepared to be introduced.

And I'm starting to sound like morning after copy for some running shoe company. I'm all over the place with my thoughts this week, and with so much happening they're all over me. So let me wrap up by quoting and paraphrasing Miss Stefani's Deep Thought: Since life is short and you're capable, what you waiting for?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Put the fork down

Oh the restlessness. So much happening at once it's a deluge in a thimble. But it's the little thimble that could, can, Have figurative gun - Will travel. Methinks. Mehopes.

Hope. There's that word again, right up there with Pa Kent's truth, tolerance and justice. Short supply, great demand and Superman missing in action. Yet Hope Dies Last, as Studs Terkel will tell you. Pick up that book and be blown away by what that great humanist, humanitarian and oral historian dug up: everyman's everyday heroism, wisdom, faith, worth and dignity. Traits we all carry, qualities that sometimes make you feel you need that superhuman strength to live out and help face some cynic's or 'realist's' ridicule, characteristics that could easily pull us out and pull us through anything if we didn't dread so much and think so little of them.

I'm dragging that soapbox out again, I know, my apologies, but it troubles me. Not just the economy and the voices of doom and gloom. It's the people being deafeaned and downtrodden by them I'm worried about. You probably know one or two. You might be among them. Neighbors, colleagues, brothers, cousins, laid off or fired, looking for a job, graduating to unemployment, right, left and center. People who used to have places to go and people to meet with nothing but bills and loans to pay and creditors to negotiate with.

Some have never been in that situation, many never even had nightmares of such a thing happening, and now they're paralyzed by what they feel they didn't deserve and couldn't see coming. It's unnerving, the level of unexpectedness, or should we say incompetence. Anyone in the know: Tell the truth. By all means, tell it like it is and leave in all the ugly parts as they were. We only wish we'd been told a little sooner or that those who tried to do so had been listened to instead of silenced.

But you didn't happen to pick up some proverbial coals by the tracks when the coal train passed by? Or did you? Don't get me wrong, I have a fierce protective streak my loved ones and innocent bystanders alike are free to take advantage of twenty four seven. But I also happen to believe everyone could use a little more of the Superman mentality and a little less of hiding inside Clark Kent, to say nothing of Lex Luthor. Superman was born Superman, remember? Weren't we all until we were stuffed in a power suit, and I'm not talking about those primary colored tights?

You have to be self-reliant in the sense that you have to believe in yourself, look after your interests, yes, but look after your loved ones too since it has been proven time and time again no one else will. You can't count on your government or that trust fund to float your boat. What if it's in the hands of some mad dog or other? What if it runs out? Greed never will. If there's profit to be had, if there are people to be had, someone will always be waiting in the wings to take advantage. (You did snatch some of those coals, didn't you? I saw you; I was there, too.)

Accessories after the fact, enablers and people willing to look away; victims, underdogs, losers big and small. Aren't we all guilty by association? Avarice, remember? Most do, on some level, understand what makes the world go round. There can't be wealth without poverty, you can't advance without leaving someone behind, and Western progress now spreading through the East means the end of our planet as we know it. So tell the East to stop making progress or cutback and downsize the Western way of life like never before? Which would be easier? Which would be wiser? Which would be fair?

There's much to be said about globalization, but if anything good has come out of this new deal it's maybe a newborn awareness of how very interlinked our lives are, and how very similar our joys and sorrows. Centuries of living apart, of seeing others as not quite human, as Others, or at least not as good and righteous as ourselves, it has happened on all continents, on all sides. The borders are still there, some grudges haven't been forgiven or forgotten. But like a crisis is what it usually takes for an individual to re-evaluate things, the same seems to be happening on a global scale. Methinks. Mehopes.

Too bad if it turns out to be too little too late. Too sad if we don't make a conscious effort to walk a mile in each other's shoes, try to make this planet and each other's lives livable, learn to feast on kindness, stock up on compassion, hunger for some higher mutual ground. Lay down the cutlery when gluttony and silent despair are the special of the day and give Superman a fighting slash flying chance, or you'll find a dead end at the end of the tunnel, not the light you were hoping for.