and then there was light

Tomer's Lighthouse

Image by Tomer Tysowsky

Reading Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm germinated in me an unhealthy desire to watch a mega-storm; probably not on the water, but close enough to feel the tininess that is being human.

Over the last summer I ventured attempted to visit all of the lighthouses along the North Carolina coast, in severely illogical order:

light houses.pdf

Original image from Lantern Press, Lighthouse and Town Map, Outer Banks

I also went to the Wright Brothers Memorial near Manteo, and was struck anew by the willpower of mechanics and tinkerers who are hell-bent on figuring out that they had set out to figure out. Especially when your co-conspirator is your equally tinkering, equally dedicated, equally bachelor brother. And with the collective power of their frontal lobes, tiny humans strained toward a dream and took to the sky.

Naturally, the one lighthouse I chose to climb is the tallest: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at 210 feet, depending on your sources. There are pages of all sorts of terrible things that might happen, for which the government is not responsible in case they should befall you. An AED was located halfway in the tower; and the question remains, who shall deliver said device in its need?

I was fascinated by the Fresnel glasses, which in their own right, have grades much like diamonds. Apparently the lenses were also irresistible to thieves, although if I had my choice, acquisition of any loot should not increase my likelihood to suffer a herniated disc. I have no idea what sort of pulley system was called upon to transport the unauthorized acquisition, but that is one potentially deadly Rapunzel’s delivery.

The lighthouses seem arcane now: the light’s automated, and the buildings are arguably ornamental. But in their time, the lighthouses are human’s victories over nature, who unfazed by the darkness of a wild sea, created for themselves a guiding light. The tender to conquer storms are measured in men’s lives, but the human spirit seems to be immortal.

For more stories of tinkerers who won’t let up on their dreams, check out How We Got to Now. I have a moderate geek crush on Steven Johnson. 


I got stuck in the airport in Atlanta on my way in for Christmas Eve. A solid 14 hours of repeated flight delays, then cancellation, being told no flights are available, only to overhear two people behind me in line getting tickets, then stand-by’s which also ended in cancellations. When I got to Milwaukee, barely tangent on the cusp of Christmas Morning, my suitcase was completely soaked, a lot of the presents ruined, and my brain felt like the innards of a over-ripe pumpkin.

Airports sometimes symbolizes freedom, since you’re most likely going somewhere. But the polar opposite can be true too, especially when you have nowhere to go because the warm and cold fronts are having a marital dispute outside the oversized windows and consequently, your plane is stuck in some god-knows-where cornfield. It struck me how vulnerable we are to isolation when we depend on machinery to get to places, and how confined we are by our bodies. Having a car, a home, a place to be and a place to go, sometimes makes me forget that I am at the mercy of physics — that sometimes, I cannot go as I please.

As I groped through the fatigue fog –per internal human resource report, getting up at 3am after 4 hours of sleep is no longer agreeable with my body — and took in the throne of thwarted Christmas Eve travelers, I thought of the people who are homeless. I had a place to go, and people to take me in, but somehow spending 14 hours — almost the amount of time it would have taken me to drive from Durham to Milwaukee — in an airport imparts this sour taste of loneliness, of being invisible in a crowd. That visceral sense of being in an eternal moment suspended in time, going nowhere, and being nobody.

I don’t know if this is why we keep busy, so we don’t realize that we are lonely.

And the first real bout of snow stranded me in Milwaukee until today, when I was due to leave on Monday. Dear Midwest, I’m returning all of your snow; refund please. After the initial internal screaming, I decided to visit friends who were in the area; the whole kerfuffle ended up a blessing in disguise, really. And now I am back in a very rainy town, with a very leaky roof. I am glad and I am reluctant to be back.

And what really makes a home?

Somewhere in the world the water-child is stomping about, terrorizing all of the thrift stores for their hidden gems. The absence tastes like a frozen moment, a truth I daren’t touch but warily paces about its periphery, drawing its circumference with memories, and hope.


Diversion for myself in the upcoming year. Intercourse between brain-cramming for licensing boards.

living with goodbye

Ugly-cry was definitely not on my list for this weekend. But a man and his dog happened:

(For more of their story, Moon wrote this in The Inertia.)

The little wild child in me wants to live out of a truck and see the world. But I might die a little since it’s hard to receive mail on the road.

I’m living through a goodbye right now: maybe permanent, maybe not. Either way I feel like I am losing something: a friend, memories, a future.

Maybe growing up isn’t so much about how I can tough out the goodbyes; I’m not sure what it is about, though. Not yet.


Going salsa dancing sans partner usually involves me standing in a corner, nursing a glass of top-shelf water in between dancing with men at least twice my age, who have zero concept of personal space, or alternatively, with boys who smell overpoweringly of thyme and superbly make zero eye contact during the entirety of a 6-minute number.

But I keep going because the music moves me. Because I feel alive. Because I can laugh at my taking the cues that weren’t given, and my partner laughs at his stumbling feet. I am far less self-conscious, or feel the sense of incompetency, when I move to something bigger than me. When it empties me out and fills me over the brim.

Heaven help the American-born boy with a talent for ballet.

Camille Paglia

I went to the Viennese waltz hosted by the Duke Woodwind orchestra for this year’s Valentine’s day, and my escort readily agreed to go even though he knew nothing of ballroom dancing. I thought him incredibly brave, because most guys shrivel from the prospect of being on the dance floor having no idea what’s going on.

Things have been pretty rough lately. I’ve stopped writing, made little time to read, dance, or even make music. And my spirit is dry: I have been losing who I am to be more acceptable in someone else’s book. And the harder I tried the more brittle I became: tired and small. I’ve forgotten–or at least neglected–the machinery that makes me tick and tried to re-vamp the entire system to please others who cannot be pleased. And the harder I tried the more vehement the accusations became.

I know I am imperfect. But no one should have to be perfect in order to be loved and accepted. And I only have one of me.

Writing after a hiatus is kind of like using a leg that’s been in a cast. Awkward and floppy and lacking all neuromuscular coordination. The sentences buckle when I put weight on it. Reflexive twitching of quasimodo thoughts. But writing helps me think and waters my spirit and word by word I walk back toward God. A funny two-step.

A dance of one in body. Two in Spirit.

The wisdom of Anne Lamott: about commencement. And forgiving pants.

Via Anne Lamott’s Facebook page:

I gave the undergraduate and interdisciplinary studies commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley ten years ago. A number of people asked for a copy of the speech, and I told them I’d post it on Salon, where it ran:

I am honored and surprised that you asked me to speak today.

This must be a magical day for you. I wouldn’t know. I accidentally forgot to graduate from college. I meant to, 30 years ago, but things got away from me. I did graduate from high school, though — do I get a partial credit for that? Although, unfortunately, my father had forgotten to pay the book bill, so at the graduation ceremony, when I opened the case to see my diploma, it was empty. Except for a ransom note that said, see Mrs. Foley, the bookkeeper, if you ever want to see your diploma alive again.

I went to Goucher College in Maryland for the best possible reasons — to learn — but then I dropped out at 19 for the best possible reasons — to become a writer. Those of you who have read my work know that instead, I accidentally became a Kelly girl for a while. Then, In a dazzling career move, I got hired as a clerk typist in the Nuclear Quality Assurance Department at Bechtel, where I worked typing and sorting triplicate forms. I hate to complain, but it was not very stimulating work. But it paid the bills, so I could write my stories every night when I got home. I worked at Bechtel for six months — but I had nothing to do with the current administration’s shameless war profiteering. I just sorted triplicate forms. You’ve got to believe me.

It was a terrible job, at which I did a terrible job, but it paid $600 a month, which was enough to pay my rent and bills. This is the real fly in the ointment if you are crazy enough to want to be an artist — you have to give up your dreams of swimming pools and fish forks, and take any old job. At 20, I got hired at a magazine as an assistant editor, and I think that was the last real job I’ve ever had.

I bet I’m beginning to make your parents really nervous — here I am sort of bragging about being a dropout, and unemployable, and secretly making a pitch for you to follow your creative dreams, when what they want is for you to do well in your field, make them look good, and maybe also make a tiny fortune.

But that is not your problem. Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.

At some point I finally started getting published, and experiencing a meager knock-kneed standing in the literary world, and I started to get almost everything that many of you graduates are hoping for — except for the money.

I got a lot of things that society had promised would make me whole and fulfilled — all the things that the culture tells you from preschool on will quiet the throbbing anxiety inside you — stature, the respect of colleagues, maybe even a kind of low-grade fame. The culture says these things will save you, as long as you also manage to keep your weight down. But the culture lies.

Slowly, after dozens of rejection slips and failures and false starts and postponed dreams — what Langston Hughes called dreams deferred — I stepped onto the hallowed ground of being a published novelist, and then 15 years later, I even started to make real money.

I’d been wanting to be a successful author my whole life. But when I finally did it, I was like a greyhound catching the mechanical rabbit she’d been chasing all her life — metal, wrapped up in cloth. It wasn’t alive; it had no spirit. It was fake. Fake doesn’t feed anything. Only spirit feeds spirit, in the same way only your own blood type can sustain you. It had nothing that could slake the lifelong thirst I had for a little immediacy, and connection.

So from the wise old pinnacle of my 49 years, I want to tell you that what you’re looking for is already inside you. You’ve heard this before, but the holy thing inside you really is that which causes you to seek it. You can’t buy it, lease it, rent it, date it or apply for it. The best job in the world can’t give it to you. Neither can success, or fame, or financial security — besides which, there ain’t no such thing. J.D. Rockefeller was asked, “How much money is enough?” and he said, “Just a little bit more.”

So it can be confusing — most of your parents want you to do well, to be successful. They want you to be happy — or at least happy-ish. And they want you to be nicer to them; just a little nicer — is that so much to ask?

They want you to love, and be loved, and to find peace, and to laugh and find meaningful work. But they also — some of them — a few of them — not yours — yours are fine — they also want you to chase the bunny for a while. To get ahead, sock some away, and then find a balance between the greyhound bunny-chase, and savoring your life.

But the thing is that you don’t know if you’re going to live long enough to slow down, relax, and have fun, and discover the truth of your spiritual identity. You may not be destined to live a long life; you may not have 60 more years to discover and claim your own deepest truth — like Breaker Morant said, you have to live every day as if it’s your last, because one of these days, you’re bound to be right.

So I thought it might help if I just went ahead and told you what I think is the truth of your spiritual identity …

Actually, I don’t have a clue.

I do know you are not what you look like, or how much you weigh, or how you did in school, and whether you get to start a job next Monday or not. Spirit isn’t what you do, it’s … well, again, I don’t actually know. They probably taught this junior year at Goucher. But I know that you feel it best when you’re not doing much — when you’re in nature, when you’ve very quiet, or, paradoxically, listening to music.

I know you can feel it and hear it in the music you love, in the bass line, in the harmonies, in the silence between notes; in Chopin and Eminem, Emmylou Harris, Bach, whoever. You can close your eyes and feel the divine spark, concentrated in you, like a little Dr. Seuss firefly. It flickers with aliveness and relief, like an American in a foreign country who suddenly hears someone speaking in English. In the Christian tradition, they say that the soul rejoices in hearing what it already knows. And so you pay attention when that Dr. Seuss creature inside you sits up and says, “Yo!”

We can see spirit made visible in people being kind to each other, especially when it’s a really busy person, taking care of a needy annoying person. Or even if it’s terribly important you, stopping to take care of pitiful, pathetic you. In fact, that’s often when we see spirit most brightly.

It’s magic to see spirit largely because it’s so rare. Mostly you see the masks and the holograms that the culture presents as real. You see how you’re doing in the world’s eyes, or your family’s, or — worst of all — yours, or in the eyes of people who are doing better than you — much better than you — or worse. But you are not your bank account, or your ambitiousness. You’re not the cold clay lump with a big belly you leave behind when you die. You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders. You are spirit, you are love, and, while it is increasingly hard to believe during this presidency, you are free. You’re here to love, and be loved, freely. If you find out next week that you are terminally ill — and we’re all terminally ill on this bus — all that will matter is memories of beauty, that people loved you, and you loved them, and that you tried to help the poor and innocent.

So how do we feed and nourish our spirit, and the spirit of others?

First, find a path, and a little light to see by. Every single spiritual tradition says the same three things: 1) Live in the now, as often as you can, a breath here, a moment there. 2) You reap exactly what you sow. 3) You must take care of the poor, or you are so doomed that we can’t help you.

You don’t have to go overseas. There are people right here who are poor in spirit; worried, depressed, dancing as fast as they can, whose kids are sick, or whose retirement savings are gone. There is great loneliness among us, life-threatening loneliness. People have given up on peace, on equality. They’ve even given up on the Democratic Party, which I haven’t, not by a long shot. You do what you can, what good people have always done: You bring thirsty people water; you share your food, you try to help the homeless find shelter, you stand up for the underdog.

Anything that can help you get your sense of humor back feeds the spirit, too. In the Bill Murray army movie “Stripes,” a very tense recruit announces during his platoon’s introductions, “My name is Francis. No one calls me Francis. Anyone calls me Francis, I’ll kill them. And I don’t like to be touched — anyone tries to touch me, I’ll kill them.” And the sergeant responds, “Oh, lighten up, Francis.” So you may need to upgrade your friends. You need to find people who laugh gently at themselves, who remind you gently to lighten up.

Rest and laughter are the most spiritual and subversive acts of all. Laugh, rest, slow down. Some of you start jobs Monday; some of you desperately wish you did — some of your parents are asthmatic with anxiety that you don’t. They shared this with me before the ceremony began.

But again, this is not your problem. If your family is hell-bent on you making a name for yourself in the field of, say, molecular cell biology, then maybe when you’re giving them a final tour of campus, you can show them to the admissions office. I doubt very seriously that they could even get into U.C. Berkeley — I talked to a professor who said there is not a chance he could get in these days.

So I would recommend that you all just take a long deep breath, and stop. Just be where your butts are, and breathe. Take some time. You are graduating today. Refuse to cooperate with anyone who is trying to shame you into hopping right back up onto the rat exercise wheel.

Rest, but pay attention. Refuse to cooperate with anyone who is stealing your freedom, your personal and civil liberties, and then smirking about it. I’m not going to name names. Just send money to the ACLU whenever you can.

But slow down if you can. Better yet, lie down.

In my 20s I devised a school of relaxation that has unfortunately fallen out of favor in the ensuing years — it was called Prone Yoga. You just lie around as much as possible. You could read, listen to music, you could space out, or sleep. But you had to be lying down. Maintaining the prone.

You’ve graduated. You have nothing left to prove, and besides, it’s a fool’s game. If you agree to play, you’ve already lost. It’s Charlie Brown and Lucy, with the football. If you keep getting back on the field, they win. There are so many great things to do right now. Write. Sing. Rest. Eat cherries. Register voters. And — oh my God — I nearly forgot the most important thing: refuse to wear uncomfortable pants, even if they make you look really thin. Promise me you’ll never wear pants that bind or tug or hurt, pants that have an opinion about how much you’ve just eaten. The pants may be lying! There is way too much lying and scolding going on politically right now without your pants getting in on the act, too.

So bless you. You’ve done an amazing thing. And you are loved; you are capable of lives of great joy and meaning. It’s what you are made of. And it’s what you’re for. So take care of yourselves; take care of each other. Thank you.

end of semester 5

This occasion likely warrants a real update…currently, this sums it up nicely:

via Rebel Circus

via Rebel Circus

reblogged: Love Poem No.23, by the beautiful due


     While this gladly refers to the
friction of our bodies on one another
     it also points to a more magical union
listed under the heading: Mystery.
     Because we’re one we share everything,
maybe not completely but in part.
     Like if you’re happy, I am sort of too. And when
I’m angry, so are you, if only just a bit.
     This doesn’t mean we’ve lost our individual
selves but rather found one plus one can equal one.
     So if you get cancer one of these days
rest assured I’ll have traces of cancer too.
     Medical tests won’t reveal this because
such things are not designed to show the soul.
     And if I should slip into dementia then
since we’re one I just bet you’ll misplace
     a few thoughts here and there as well.
I apologize in advance if that last example
     should befall us. If so, please tell me the
stories about the two of us because
     they could remind me who I really am.

copyright, Trey Ratcliff,

copyright, Trey Ratcliff,

and round and round we go

I downloaded a tuning App to replace my warped metallic tuner. The one I have looks and works like a mini-harmonica. Pretty much as typewriter is to touch-screen.

One small step for woman, one giant step for…the same woman.

The world has been moving pretty fast for me: a spacecraft now rests on a hurdling comet, ebola is becoming old news, and Benedict Cumberbatch got engaged. I have mixed emotions about the last one. Side note: I had grand plans to savor the third season of Sherlock for as long as possible. As long as possible lasted 2 days.

I got to know one of the exchange students from Norway this past semester, and it will be weird to go back in January and not see her. We worked in a small group for the second half of the semester, and we had a lot of fun trying to figure out what to do as mostly-clueless therapists. Observation: when writing a collaborative report, brains will abort English mode after 6 pm, and be replaced by Norwegian or Chinese counterparts. Alas, semester 1 of year 2 of school is now complete, and I have no idea what to do with myself. Vacation: noun, synonym for “plan to accomplish too much then end up not accomplish much at all”. A perennial struggle.

I’ve also been binge-viewing Humans of New York. Either Brandon Stanton is an undercover hypnotist-psychiatrist, or NYC is filled with fascinating people, or I am doing a terrible job listening to stories of the humans around me. I know it’s easy to romanticize a place, or a period in time, when I am somewhere else, or sometime else, and I am sure nothing would be remotely romantic or exotic if I ever happened to be paying rent in NYC. In any case, end of the semester + HONY + feeling a bit anachronistic, and this poem came to mind:


De kommer mot deg på gaten, suser forbi med sykkel, ender opp i samme heis som deg, står og venter på gront lys i samme veikryss. De fleste har du aldri sett før, noen er bekjente, noen er dine beste venner. Sett ovenfra beveger vi oss som maur i mønster. Vi går de fastlagte veiene, på rad og rekke fra a til b med kanskje et stopp i mellom. Som i et kretskort, ferdig programmerte og forutsigbare. Og mens vi går der innestengt i våre rutiner og gjentakende tanker inne i hodet, passerer menneske på menneske, folk vi ikke ser, med hver sin unike historie og utrolige liv. Noen dager tenker du på en person en hel dag, og på vei hjem fra jobb møter du akkurat han eller henne. Vi kaller det skjebne eller intuisjon, en uforklarig sans vi aldri helt har forstått hva er. Det bare skjer tilfeldig, tror vi, utenfor vår kontroll. Men som små molekyler i vann henger vi sammen og binder hverandre til hverandre. Og mens vi renner der av gårde som en elv, ulenkelig knyttet til hverandre hvor hver lille bevegelse påvirker den andre og den andre ved siden av der igjen, så blir mønsteret både tilfeldig og opplagt på samme tid. Vannet renner en vei, men noen av menneskene vi møter kan plutselig forandre alt og sende oss i en helt annen retning. Da blir alle møtene vi går gjennom hver dag til potensielle skatter.

roughly translated:


They come at you on the street, whizzing past on bicycles, ending up in the same elevator as you are, waiting for green light at the same intersection. Most people we have never seen before, some are acquaintances, some are your best friends. From above, we move like ants in a pattern. We are the established roads, all in a row from A to B with maybe a stop in between. As a circuit board, pre-programmed and predictable. And as we go, trapped in our routines and recurring thoughts in my head, passing human to human, people we do not see, with their own unique history and remarkable life. Some days you think of a person for a day, and on the way home from work happens to meet him or her. We call it fate or intuition, an inexplicable sense we have never fully understood. It just happens randomly, we believe, beyond our control. However as small molecules in water we hang together and bind each to each. And while flowing off as a river, unlinked, linked, each small motion affects the other and the other adjacent, to where once again the pattern is both random and fitting all at once. The water flows one way, but some of the people we meet can suddenly change everything and send us in a completely different direction. And all of the chance encounters we go through every day are potential treasures.

photo credit: Eric Whitacre

photo credit: Eric Whitacre