Spoken Word Festival, my new girl crush, and Spring. Sweet Lovely Spring.

Hi Friends!  I spent all last week volunteering for the Calgary Spoken Word Festival and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. I’ll say straight away that I’m not a usual attender of Spoken Word events. I’ve seen a few artists and always thought it was kind of cool but I’ve never sought them out.

I love all aspects of this poster but I think my favorite part is the little red polka dotted shirt. 
The hat is also pretty great.

Well, I’ve got time on my hands and I saw a call for volunteers so I thought, Why the heck not?  I signed up for four events and the volunteer manager practically gave me a kiss she was so grateful. But as is usual when you give something of yourself away, you usually get it back in spades.

For those of you who don’t know Spoken Word is essentially poetry spoken aloud. But that’s just the simple explanation. There are infinite takes on the art form. I heard poems about Sasquatches and pudding, poems about activism and femininity and growing up as a gay poet in a Catholic Filipino household. I saw poets recite while standing on their heads, while twirling like a whirling dervish, in French and English. There were some who used keyboards, some who used guitars, some who sang, who beat-boxed, who looped their hypnotic voice as a foundation for their poetry. I attended a total of five events and I never got tired of it.

\

A poem by Chris Gilpin about the Sasquatch. One of my favorites.

Two of the events I attended were for groups of middle and high school kids. I gotta say it super neat to see teenagers engage with poetry.  They were hooting and hollering and laughing at dirty jokes. Spoken Word can be edgy or silly; it’s always thought provoking, and it spoke to the kids as adults. Yes, poetry is cool!

It was at one of these school events that I saw Rachna Vohra perform “Cover Girl.” There are a thousand lines I could quote from this, but I’ll let you see it for yourselves.

This poem made me want to jump up and down and scream “Yes!” The fact that it was performed before 12, 13, 14, and 15 year old girls made me want to run up to Rachna, hug her, and somehow time machine the performance back to my own insecure awkward dying to be skinny-and-pretty teenage self.  Rachna’s not only talented and stunningly beautiful, she’s also incredibly nice, and my new girl crush.

In the midst of these Spoken Word happenings, spring suddenly arrived. The sun–a warm sun–came out, I slipped into a tank top, and Dan and I are both sporting tiny sunburns this week.  We strolled aimlessly through the city, had noontime beers and lunch on a patio, a marching band passed us by in full Scottish regalia replete with bagpipes and swords. We walked by an accordion player and street string ensemble, cello, guitar and banjo.

It’s been years since I lived in a place with real seasons. The Bay Area does have seasons, but they’re slighter. This is so dramatic. The way the gulls are suddenly in sky, bird songs lilting over a warm breeze, the once desolate parks now packed with children screeching and laughing on the playground, dogs bouncing after balls, runners, bikers, people sprawled out on blankets.

Somewhere between the tiny green buds on the trees, the inspiring poets, and the unhurried time with my husband, contentment settled over me. I’ve been so worried about Life and Big Things happening, that I sort of forgot that the Little Things are just as good. A Saturday morning walk with a cup of coffee when the world is still quiet. A garden ready for seeds. A day with no plans. An unexpected instrument. Holding hands in the sun.

Another one of my new favorite Spoken Word artists, 
Brendan McCleod, is a member of this band, The Fugitives.

I promise not to forget. The little things. The big things. And everything in between.

Welcome Sweet Lovely Spring.

Some thoughts about Moms and Love

The day after I bought Wild I discovered that the dearly loved indie bookstore of Wayzata, The Bookcase, would be hosting Cheryl Strayed. Strayed is from Minnesota, so I suppose it made sense, but it excited me that one of my writer-heroes would be visiting my hometown bookstore—a place I can picture perfectly in my mind, next door to Caribou. Mom, Dad, Maddy, Charlie, and I would boat over in the summer, pick up a coffee and then I’d wander the bookstore and Mom would always offer to buy me a book.

Our little clan

I immediately emailed the readers I know MN, but my mom was the only one to buy the book and go. Knowing my mom read all those words that meant so much to me, made me feel close to her. Knowing that she went out of her way to see Cheryl Strayed, and even had her copy of Wild signed to me (!) almost made me cry.

I know I’m being sentimental. But Wild has a lot to do with mothers. Because her mom died when Cheryl was 22, “I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I wished she’s done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again…[her death] had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance.”

My beautiful Momma holding my baby sister Maddy.

Well I did get to grow up and realize my mom had done pretty damn good. In fact, she did better than that. She was spectacular! amazing!…as good as humanly possible. Sure, sometimes she forced my siblings and I to wear matching outfits beyond the point I thought it was ‘cute,’ but she loved me, and she gave me everything. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be loved like that until my late twenties. To have my mom tell me every year how the day I was born was the best day of her life because I made her a mother. A mom who woke up at 5:30 AM every day for years to drive me figure skating lessons even though I was only mediocre and had no future in the sport. A mom who never reprimanded me for my crappy grades my first two years in college (a clear result of too much partying) when she and my dad were paying my tuition, having faith that I would learn and grow on my own. And she was right. I did. She let me make mistakes. She encouraged me, supported me, she let me be stubborn and think she was wrong, when, in retrospect, she was almost always right.

Yep. She was right. These are cute.

I wrote her a letter after I finished Wild to try and tell her how grateful I was. How I was sorry for ever letting her down, for my own youthful arrogance. But it felt like a paltry effort. How could I ever tell her in words how grateful I am? How much I love her. It’s one of those things that’s just too big. Big like the universe.

Cheryl writes,“I had plenty of friends who had moms who would never give them the all-encompassing love my mother had given me. My mother considered it her greatest achievement… She’d come at us with maximum maternal velocity. She hadn’t held back a thing, not a single lick of her love.”

My mom is the same. I know she considers her love for us her greatest achievement.

I think it’s hard for kids to think of love as an achievement. Achievement is measured in grades, sports talent, extra curricular activities, then what college they get into, how they do there, what job they get and so on. But as I round the bend into my thirties, into the second year of my marriage, I am humbled by love.

Me and Mom on my wedding day

Love isn’t easy. It’s not a given; love is complicated. It requires work and a strain of generosity I am only beginning to understand, the kind where you hold another person in your heart with every breath. There is sacrifice involved. It is also our lifeblood, what heals us. Love is what gives all of this meaning.

I told my mom that if anything had prepared me for being a mother, it was her example. My greatest dream, and hopefully my greatest achievement will indeed be to pass on what she gave me. In the end, I know it will be love that made it count.

Someone once asked Sugar (Strayed) What’s it all about? Her answer was simple:

It’s all about Love.

Update:

Chris Marshall, a friend of Dan’s from Vancouver made a wonderful comment and attached this video. It’s so good and beautiful and tear-jerking that I’m posting it here. I love how it gets at the universality of motherhood. I love pretty much everything about it actually. Enjoy dear reader.

Girl Crush: Merrill Garbus

Yesterday, the tUnE-yArDs tweeted their new video for My Country.

The tUnE-yArDs are so awesome just thinking about them makes my heart thump harder in my chest. Their album Who Kill is a powerful thing, and they are even mightier live. Merrill can sing like a warrior. I’d say their music is not always easy to like (Dan says it makes him anxious) but I feel like it’s daring me not to like it, and then throwing its hands in the air and saying I don’t give a f*ck what you think! this is what I am and I love the tUnE-yArDs for making no apologies.

Their music is like a call for freedom and expression–and they are not always pretty about it. I find that refreshing.

The video is so defiant–from the fierce looks on the kids’ faces to the warpaint smeared over their noses. Just try and stop us! they seem pound out on the drums. I’ve always loved this song (once submitted it for Song of the Month) and the video raised it to the level of empowering battle cry. As Merrill reclaims the lyrics from My Country Tis of Thee, she sings about living in a country that is anything but a Sweet Land of Liberty.

“How come I cannot see my future within your arms?…
…I never told you what to do
but then you put me in some box.”

So Merrill takes her own words and turns them on their heads. Kids trapped in boxes, and yet shouting, banging, dancing, sticking their tongues out at us. They create their own world in that box. And it’s colorful and strange and beautiful, isn’t it? Of course at the end, they shake themselves free, pick up their heart and walk out the door. Merrill seems to want to challenge us all to do the same. After all, The worst thing about living a lie is just wondering when they’ll find out.

(another one of her this-is-who-we-are-we-don’t-care-what-you-think videos. I love the aesthetic she’s created.)

Reading Wild At the Cabin

Dan and I escaped to the mountains this weekend. I brought Wild by Cheryl Strayed with me. I spent my weekend as much with Ms. Strayed as I did with my husband. I was craving this book. I needed it. And I needed it now.

Ms. Strayed has already written her way into my life as Sugar, the brilliant and moving columnist on the Rumpus. She knows all the right things to say, for everything, it seems. She gives tough love when its needed, she gives permission for forgiveness. Most of all, she encourages all of us to reach deep, live large and be true.

So does Wild, her beautiful memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail four years after her mother dies. The subtitle to this book reads: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. And I’ve been feeling a little lost lately, a little needing to be found. I knew Dear Sugar would speak to me in that wise sparkling voice, not with answers, but in words that would illuminate those deep murky thoughts and ponderings: What am I thinking about? What do I want in this life? Those questions seem so simple to ask, the most basic—but the answers are not always clear.

When Cheryl hits the trail in the Mojave desert, she’s a bit of a mess. She’s fresh of a heated affair that involved half-love with a man accompanied by dabblings in heroin. Her divorce has just been finalized, and her immediate family is fractured by her mother’s death. Cheryl’s alone and out to sea. To say that Cheryl is underprepared is an understatement. Her boots are too small and her pack is too heavy. There are a million reasons at any given time that she should turn back and give up on her 1100 mile hike. But she doesn’t. “My mind shifted into a primal gear that was void of anything but forward motion.”

Forward motion. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I suppose there are times in all of our lives when we feel like we’re swirling around and around rather than moving forward. At least I’ve been feeling that way. In a new place, with few friends, where I can’t work. Where am I heading? I will often ask myself. Cheryl reminded me that at some point you have to stop asking yourself that question, point yourself in the direction you intend to go, put your head down and start walking, irregardless of the rattlesnakes, bears or heavy snows that may be in your path.

me with my own ridiculously enormous backpack

Dan and I stayed at his brother’s cabin in Panorama. There’s a big leather couch next to enormous floor-to-ceiling windows where the sun streams in all day, the view all mountains and sky. I would wake up, make the coffee, nestle in with my book and read for an hour and then another hour. Is there anything better than a silent sunny morning on a couch wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, the man you love sleeping not 20 feet away, a hot cup of coffee in hand, reading a sentence like this one: “I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.” ?

I knew eventually he would wake up and we would eat breakfast and ski and then hot tub with ice cold beers in our hands. But not yet. It was still morning and I was still reading, savoring every moment and every word as they passed, one by one. I love that feeling…when time is like honey: golden and sticky and sweet.

I have not been feeling gathered up inside lately so much as twisted. I admit I’ve been feeling the pressure of time—like there are certain things I should have done by now in my life, that there are certain things I need to do before I turn another age. Wild softened those feelings. Rather than seeing time as a narrow window, it unfurled before me, long and loose and open.

(a moment of mountain induced ecstasy in the Patagonian Andes)

Wild also reminded me that things are possible. Things that seem impossible. Years ago, at the age of 23, I decided to travel through South America alone. The idea of me, Sky, a sheltered Minnesota often-introvert, traveling alone across a continent was absurd and scary and indeed impossible for a lot of reasons. I felt as if I were standing at the edge of a cliff about jump, just praying that the parachute would open. But I did it.

Take Cheryl. She vastly underestimates how much money she’ll need on her trip and is often down to pennies (literally.)

“Before I left, I hadn’t calculated how much my journey would reasonably be expected to cost and saved up that amount plus enough to be my cushion against expenses. If I’d done that, I wouldn’t have been here, eighty-some days out on the PCT, broke but okay—getting to do what I wanted to do even though a reasonable person would have said I couldn’t afford to do it.”

Sometimes it’s good to be unreasonable. It allows for so much more than being reasonable. That’s when we take risks and careen head first outside of our comfort zones–into the blank unknown. I struggle with this always. But I remember what sparked to life for me in South America.

(feeling small in a great big world)

I learned more than I ever have about myself and about life on that trip. I am who I am because of it. It was a time of true magic, where the memories will always glitter. Wild was like a best friend whispering in my ear: we make our own magic in life. We write our own stories. No one can tell us who we are or how to live. It’s all up to us. It’s time to stop thinking about what to do or how or when, time to put aside our questions and fears, time to start walking.

I’ll leave you with a quote that Cheryl gives us as we embark on Part Five, the last leg of her journey.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?”

–Mary Oliver, “Summer Day”