I went here
and walked away.
It’s something after the month and a half I’ve had.
~Nikki, The Soul Reporter
I went here
and walked away.
It’s something after the month and a half I’ve had.
~Nikki, The Soul Reporter
Without the pain
I would not have found the poetry.
~Nikki, The Soul Reporter
Why do I suddenly care about the origins of stains on streets? Can't be water— the sun would scorch it and they would disappear. Am I poet like the dream-teller told me? I don't know how to write poetry. Is this it? Does it matter? Does it matter where the stains on streets come from? Just tells me there was life.
Nikki, The Soul Reporter
I travel to this space— a retreat space about an hour from Duluth, MN. A place, I heard Cheryl Strayed wrote a part of her book, Wild. It used to be run by nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the founders of my alma mater. Then, they’d prepare simple meals and leave them in your kitchenette prior to your arrival. Now, with the new owners, it is BYOF. Now, it’s less “we are here to acknowledge and support your retreat” to more “you’re on your own, but here’s the same space.”
There are seven cabins to choose from. Over the years I’ve stayed in three— the smaller ones because I always visit alone. Traveling here began as an escape— to run away from kids, my marriage and suburban life. This is the first time I am not here to escape anything (well maybe the instability of our world right now). Since the world events, my fantasy of a cabin in the woods has increased.
I am in an empty nest now and my marriage is more neutralized and maybe not having anything to escape from is why this visit feels different. This time, I chose The Woodlands, a small cabin that is more secluded within the forest. Immediately out of my car, when I arrived, I was swarmed by insects, and after a short hike I picked off at least 10 ticks. This is disappointing because one reason I came here was to hike the several miles of wooded trails. So far they’ve all been short lived and cause more stress than rejuvenation.
This brings me to where I’ve spent the majority of time so far— the screened in porch. It is modest, rustic and cobwebby. It supplies one small round table and a camping chair. But I don’t seem to mind. I listen to the wind through the trees, watch the sunlight sparkle and fade on their leaves and feel relieved when I hear the loud buzzing bugs have no way in. While I sit, I wonder why I am here if I am not escaping something. I don’t quite know but I sense I need to be, even if I don’t venture far beyond the screened porch.
I brought a lot of notebooks, along with my project calendar and my computer with the intent to write and schedule my summer writing projects. But, so far I’ve only opened my computer to buy a book and to watch Netflix. I just finished J Lo’s documentary. Now there is a woman who knows what she wants and go gets it. I finished it feeling slightly depressed. I went back to the warm porch. I’ll journal, I thought. Maybe draw and certainly finish the book I am reading. Then, I got on Twitter….
I’m sure you did what you could, now do what you actually want.@_moimichelle
Instead of bad news, I saw the quote above and it interrupted my amnesia (the whole who am I and why am I here thought pattern) and I burst into tears. This “tweet” is a two-sentence summary of where I find myself— a crossroad I have been on for quite some time, since the kids left the nest. I said: I still don’t know what I actually want. Seemed legit, but there’s more, another truth emerged both silently and loudly: yes you do. That is true. I do know what I want. But I’m playing like I don’t.
There is a comfort in the longing for what I actually want, but not actually doing it. But imagine if J Lo was only longing. I’ve longed long enough, haven’t I….?
If I actually want what I want, it is time to surrender the longing and relax into the doing, being and expressing. And I suppose, also risking and trusting.
It has been a long road of doing what I could, and it was exhausting. Hence, the retreats. But, now, like me in this one room cabin, there is just me now and the naked truth of what I actually want to do and the opportunity to do it.
The transition from what I could do, and did to what I actually want to do has left me wondering who am I? Where am I? There has been enough life, now that I’m 50, where scrambling to figure that out, making lots of missteps and mistakes along the way, is not necessary. Now I can be still enough to let it all settle— what was, what is and what I might actually still want.
This is why I am here at the Woodlands in June, in the heat with the insects— to settle.
I met a woman here, briefly, that was alone, staying in one of my earlier cabins. She stopped me on one of my short walks. I noticed her when I checked in. She told the owner there may be another person joining her, but when pressed she could give no details to when, or even if. Not long after her check in, she was packing up her car and that is when she stopped me.
“Have you been here before?” I gave her my stay history. She chocked up a little and said someone she knows is in the hospital and she might have to leave. “I’m a frontline worker and this is the first break I’ve had.” When asked if it was family, she said it was a co-worker and she’d have to leave to cover their shift. Seemed believable, but I sensed something more: fear.
It is not easy to go on retreat alone, in a cabin with no TV, where at night it is so dark you can’t see your hand in front of you. In my younger days I came with luggage full of anxiety, along with all of my OCD traits acting up, organizing my retreat and worrying about what was happening at home. Before I spoke with the woman, I watched her start down a walking path by my cabin. She stood there looking down the path, then turned around and walked away from it. I too have impulses to turn around and instead go where it is safe and known. But, more often than not, I listen to the part in me that understands in order to expand I have to keep walking the path, even when there are insects that might give me Lyme Disease. I understand I have to give myself space to stay in a place that is dark and unfamiliar. I need to be here, even if I am not writing or scheduling the writing. Even if I am not escaping anything.
I’m still not sure exactly why I am here, but what I do know is, this time I did not bring as much baggage. I’m unconcerned about what the husband is doing at home. I took a nap at 2 pm without writing one word. I have not OCD’d my retreat, and the anxiety that was once an intrusive roar is now a dull pant.
I’m okay and I am going to be okay. Also, if what I actually want is to create my fantasy cabin in the woods life, there MUST be a screened in porch. 🛖🌲🕷
~Nikki, The Soul Reporter
I had my final writing class last night- Intermediate Memoir: Forming (or maybe it is Shaping) the Longer Work. We ended with appetizers, snacks, wine and 10-minute readings from our manuscripts.
A couple of weeks ago, I put together 64 pages of a manuscript. This class helped me to finally, after 10 years of gathering material for my memoir, see a form that resembles a book. But, before I could keep adding to those 64 pages, I decided to take advice from a classmate and sign up for another writing class this past weekend.
By the middle of the first class, everything I thought I knew and was ready to implement into my book was breaking down and shelving my book, yet again, seemed like a good idea. But, I stuck with it. The instructor ensured us the first day was about demolition and the following day would be about building.
Demolition-the breaking down of ideas and beliefs is not easy. If we allow for it, we will move out of a space we are familiar and comfortable with and enter a new space. However, often before a new space appears, we sit in the rubble of what we thought we knew or was enough.
Joseph Campbell said, “The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form- all symbolizations, all divinities; a realization of the ineluctable void.”
I’m not quite ready for that void, but remain committed to the ever-expanding realization. I thought my writing, those 64 pages were good, that I was off to a good start. I was. I am- it’s further than I have been. But, before I could fully relish in this and get too comfortable, I took myself to a class, allowing for new knowledge. It causes me to question what I thought I was just coming to understand.
Even now, I see this post as being all inner monologue (a term I learned this weekend, which I do a lot of). The instructor says it’s not that interesting. I remember when writer Melody Beattie told me I can’t use my journals as my books. I was devastated. It was all I had. Hearing inner monologue isn’t interesting devastated me again.
So before I bore you any longer with my inner process, my take away (another term I learned) I want to give you, which is not something I am supposed to tell, but show- is we must live spherically, or go crazy, we shall.
I heard this in Under the Tuscan Sun, and it sticks. I don’t know what they meant by it, but I know what I take from it. We must keep expanding and opening to new thought inside and outside of ourselves. We do this for growth, to align with evolution. We do this so we don’t become crazy loopers w hen we are old.
What the hell are crazy loopers? Its something I am observing in some people lately-mostly people in their 50’s, 60’s and 7o’s. It would seem they have attached themselves to a certain story or aspect for themselves, and they loop within it over and over again. Read this piece from Elephant Journal I wrote where I go into this further.
For now, I think the link above (that is, if you click and read) will give you the rest of the message I want to share.
Here’s to living spherically,
Used you as pawn to earn me a living and give me a following. This is not your purpose. It is not how our relationship began, and it will not be how it continues.
All these years, trying to make you mean something beyond what you naturally do, has finally allowed me to see you are too sacred for such highjacking.
I could blame it on the interenet, I suppose. Everyone here trying to get fans, likes, comments. Manipulating posts and tags and pictures to be the “hot” article of the day. But, what does it really mean?
There was a time I thought 20 views was a lot. Then, almost 600 was like—and…? Now, I’ve reached over 1200 on one, and I’m wondering, again, what does it mean—and when does it stop? Nothing. Never.
It’s a circus out there. One I play with finally leaving behind. Do I want to write? Of course I do. And its time to go back to the basics. To make the work sacred again. Not to prosititue it for numbers and gains.
Do I want readers? Of course I do. But they will come or they will not without my using you. That is not why you are here. And honestly, I feel like keeping you hidden again—away from eyes. Maybe in this way, I can create something new. Reconnect with you again in the way I know is true.
You are like breath. Always have been. When I want to tell someone how I feel, I don’t knock on their door or call on the phone, I take out a pen and I open to a blank page. I write. It’s what I do.
You are whispering to me, reminding me of who and what you are. I’m listening—to you only. Not to the numbers. Or the web. Or voices out there or inside who manipulate for more views. I will listen, and I will write. Just simply write.
The Soul Reporter
I am called forward by the sound of a bird. It is the only sound I want to hear. Soon I hear them all:
traffic noise that I don’t want to hear;
a wind chime;
an old porsche- the driver pushing on the gas to get it to rumble;
a child’s laughter, and the sound of water hitting the car as its being washed by father and son;
a weed whacked.
a tiny lizard running deeper into a bush;
groceries being taken out of a car;
two friends talking loud. A young boy paaaes by on his cell phone;
a young mother walking her baby.
There are too many out today. But who am I? No one more special than the next.
More birds. A place in the shade;
they turned on their front yard fountain. No one home to listen.
All of these beautiful spaces with no one to sit and listen, to the fountain. The birds.
it is hot. Sun exposing me;
I have a great opening line. I’m afraid to go deeper;
I don’t want to see people or have them see me;
like the lizard that runs to the dark everytime a footstep is felt.
a writing room. The one I see in my imagination. More like a cottage. Moved away from the main house. I walk there with my tea. Smiling. Ready to enter.
selfish I’m sure. To want nothing but birds. Wind. Quiet. A cottage to write that only I enter into;
aware I created a life before knowing who I was. This life now makes me feel confined- in moments;
longing for a life that will one day come. But, only after the kids are raised and the money is raised. The career established. Or am I just being dramatic?
wandering the streets to try and find a space that is just mine.
I know the pursuit is selfish. The longing of it makes me unhappy. Soon I will enter my over priced rental. Family of four. No room to write. Only a wall space between the bedroom closet and drawers. My husband will probably be in there sleeping. It’s Saturday. I will feel pressure to join the family.
I hear be grateful being chanted from the positive thinking cult on my left, and on my right I hear some form of my dad and the Buddha tellling me it’s too bad I lost my desire to only be useful- and nothing else.
I find a place. I’ve been here before. It’s on a graffiti filled rock. Above the Rose Bowl. The only space where there’s shade. I see people have been here. But no one is here now.
What’s the rustling in that bush? Probably another lizard.
A month ago, I wrote a blog called True-Spirit Gifts. In it, I “outed” the part of me that seeks acknowledgment and praise. It resonated with Rhonda, writer at Believe. Dream. Love. I want to share her words as it is a true testimony of brave self-inquiry and finding how to live again by recapturing her true essence. As we do so, we can’t help but to give true-spirit gifts. Thank you, Rhonda.
From the blog, Believe. Dream. Love.
“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.” – Lyn Yutang
Why do you do what you do?
The past couple weeks I’ve been fighting a sinus cold. Despite my best attempts at positive thinking, healthy eating, vitamins, supplements and oil of oregano, I’m still not 100%. There is a lesson in this for me. I’m the type of person who likes to be busy. I have lots of things I want to do, and I feel guilty if I’m not doing something. I have problems just relaxing. In other words, I haven’t yet learned how to truly live.
A few weeks ago I came across a post by one of my favourite bloggers, The Soul Reporter. Nikki Di Virgilio wrote this incredibly honest and enlightening post called True Spirit-Gifts, and I have been reading it almost every day since I first came across it. I printed it. I have underlined certain parts. I have written notes all over it. I put it in my purse so that it’s always with me in case I feel the need to re-read it. It spoke to me so deeply and woke me up to thoughts I didn’t even realize I was thinking…..Continue to read by clicking here.
What is your safe purpose? What do I mean by this? Well, actually it came from my very wise daughter. The other day, I found myself smiling, more than I have in awhile, and I remembered days in which I felt full, and realized it is a full life, which brings happiness. At least for me. The day I found myself smiling, I felt full. And what was I doing? Laundry. Yes. Laundry.
I love laundry. I really do. In fact, and this I just realized, I could probably be happy having a job as a laundress. I think it would be extra wonderful if it were at Downton Abbey, and not some dingy place like, say a laundry mat. Yes, I see myself in the lower half of Downton, washing her Ladyship’s attire. In between the cycles of wash, rinse and dry, I read and write in my journal. I don’t have to make a living from writing because I have my living quarters there, and receive pay for doing laundry. A simple task, at least for me, which gives purpose and fulfillment, and is completley satisfying. Clothes are dirty. They are sorted. They are washed, and now clean. Folded, smelling good, and put away- and then more laundry accumulates. Does anyone relate? Or is this just me?
Does not matter- because I love doing laundry, and as I shared my love for this satisfactory task with my daughter, she says, “So laundry is your safe purpose.” Yes. By God, it is. “But,” she continues, “what is your dangerous purpose?”
I love doing what I’m doing, but while I’m doing it, I’m miserable. ~Viola Davis
That would be writing, something other than a blog post, which is another safe purpose. Over 7 years of writing them, I have learned how to compose a blog post, and in an instant I can publish. Satisfying. But, a book? A screenplay? A children’s story? Then, not only do I have to write it, I have to edit and submit it, and seek publication, and an agent, or e-book it, which I don’t want all my books to be e-books. Arduous. Can I just do some more laundry, please?
You have a talent that none of us have. Just find out what it is and do it. It’s doing nothing that’s the enemy. -Sybil in Downton Abbey
But, I am not a laundress, except every two weeks for my family of four. And unfortunately (and fortunately), something else has been put into my heart to do. An itch, that won’t be satisfied until I do it. When I sit down to do it, it’s often excruciating. I look for exits. Something easier. What I have in me to give, even in an attempt to give, looks weak in comparison to how I feel it inside, therefore I’d rather keep it inside. Hold it. But it itches, and it won’t stop. It wants to be freed. That dangerous purpose, wants to be realized, and because it is in me, I am the only one to free it.
And then, on a walk I realize how to free it. My inspiration? A man with a mop bucket. He’s working, and I envy him. He has work to do. It is work, which gives purpose and makes life full. No matter how long a process, to complete, or short. No matter how internal the work is, or external. It’s work, and I have lots of it to do. Laundry, and writing and who knows what else. To work satisfies the itch. To not work, as Sybil so suggests, is the enemy. It simply is, just time to move into that dangerous purpose, and work.
To get me started, I have a tip that might work for you too, and it begins with a question- could it be, the impulses I receive in a day, are clues about the work that is to be done for that day? If so, it is time I not just listen and take notes about those impulses- it is time I act upon them, and see them into completion. ***Beyond this, it is time to put the fantasy away- the image I have of me as said writer, writing, happily and consistently as a livelihood. The more I work, the fantasy becomes weak in comparison because it cannot not offer what is truly at the heart of wanting to be that writer- which is to help. To share honestly, and as one commenter said, to do this, and I quote her: “You articulated many thoughts I wasn’t even aware I was thinking.” This is why I dare to move into that dangerous purpose.
***These last few sentences were added after the “rejection” of this piece. Maybe with them, it would have hit that “sweet spot” they look for that combines spirituality and creativity, and it could have been published. The timing of the rejection was ironic, but of course perfect. I was just finishing up yesterday’s post about finding my voice, which I think does hit that spot, when I saw the email come through, and I immediately became anxious, but did not allow myself to read it until I accomplished the post, and shared it. I needed a victory, because somehow I might have known I was getting the old, thanks for your submission, but I am afraid….song and dance. I was not as elegant and strong as I thought I might be. First, my heart races. I am mad. I want to vent. I am angry. Bitter. Want to lash out and defend myself- what do you mean- me not writing spiritually.? I send my husband a text. I cry. This is all in 5 minutes or less of time. I turn off Pandora. My head is down and I ask my question from the last couple days: what can I embrace now? It turns out I am embracing this post, and the last words, the editor said to me: “That this piece didn’t come together for me is neither here nor there. Keep going.”
He’s right it is neither here nor there. I will keep going. Unfortunately, and fortunately I have to. #theartist’slife.
The Soul Reporter
In times of frustration, creative or otherwise, ask- what can I embrace now?
Yesterday, I wrote an honest post about my creative/work struggle (click here to read). My ending question was: what can I embrace now, until I’ve had enough- enough of the puppy’s paw on the nail- enough of the pain of my frustration?
I had no answer until I walked out of my front door, red umbrella in hand. It was raining and I had to pick up my daughter. Being carless since the accident, it is one of life’s mysteries and blessings, that her school is within walking distance. Now, one could think it was not one of life’s blessings, to have hail fall once I stepped out the door, as it did, but it soon stopped. Rain is not common in Southern California, so really how often do I have the opportunity to walk in the rain? I embraced it, and it was soft, calm, and in a strange way, purposeful and delightful.
There was something else I had embraced after I wrote that post, which was less obvious until it occurred to me this morning. While talking to my father on the phone, I embraced a rather embarrasing, yet persistent impulse, which was to ask him if I was a good writer. You know, those “singers” on American Idol who can’t sing, yet their moms and dads tell them they can, but they really can’t- was I one of those? But more than this, my little girl wanted to know- Daddy, am I good at something? Validate my purpose and talent, daddy.
And he did. “Yes,” he said, “you are a good writer.” In a way, the sad, neglected, little girl needed permission to do her art, and dad gave it. At age 39, his words brought a tear, and liberation to move even deeper toward me.
This is not to say, we need this validation to do our art. I’ve written hundreds, if not thousands of posts, and essays, unpublished, with no validation whatsoever, and in some cases we might not ever get this from our mom or dad or whomever would feed this most for us. But, what I am observing, as I push more and more of myself forward into some sort of artistic and helpful expression is, to bring all of who we are to it. This is where the magic happens. Where we speak deeply to others, where we feel the most alive, and at home.
When we do create something, what makes it move people beyond just the giving of information or our art, is when we put our whole self into it, and not just a part of our self. Especially, the part who thinks she should do it a certain way in order to be liked. To move, and be in the fullness of that creative current, that indestructible life force, is to bring our whole self. I’ve suddenly noticed how people write. I notice a certain generic style and this is fine, but I don’t notice a voice. A person inside the message. The life force vibrating within it. This is not necessary for us to learn or even be inspired, but maybe it is to be moved. Really moved.
We went to a screening last night of a movie that will be out at the end of March. It served the purpose it had- it entertained in the moment. It was funny at times and had interesting images to be taken in by, but once the lights came on, it was over. The movie did not linger. It did not stay with me, and this is fine. But the movies, which do, like Shawshank Redemption for me, lingers, and continues to teach me, and often shows up when I write. Rumi’s poetry lingers, and does more- it awaknes and enlivens. Once, on a cloudy Minnesota day, I sat outside and read an entire book of Rumi poetry. When I was done- my insides were swirling as it is said he did- the whirling dervish. In a way, I felt high. His magic literally moved me. It went somewhere deep. It’s rare, but it happens. And I guess as I write this out, I see this is the instrument I want to be. No small order.
My daughter who is an actor, admires Meryl. Yes, cliche- she is one, if not the greatest actress of our time, but not only does my daughter admire her, she wants to give what she gives. But she, will admit, wanted that yesterday. That’s the perfectionist. That’s the ego. Someone asked my daughter, what Meryl was doing at 19.
“Meryl was going to school,” my daughter said- and so is my daughter. If we continue to keep that desire within us, and allow that intetnion to move us, it will begin to reveal itself. We will begin to see not a copycat of Meryl or Rumi or whomever, we will begin to see ourselves. Our essence will be within what we give. Not just in our art, but to every person and experience we meet.
This is where the magic happens.
Once we find our voice, which means after some time and probably with lots of practice, a personality or a style emerges out of all the parts of our self. I had no idea the last seven years blogging was not about being followed and getting comments and having my blog turn into a book. What it was really about was turning a journal writer into another kind of writer. To turn my insights and stories outwards, first to practice so the reader understands, and than to find a style, a self- I did not even know was there.
That little girl, who I have often denied, who needed to hear her dad say, she is a good at something, can now be brought into the mix of what is me. The less afraid I am of all the parts in me, the less I resist and deny my parts, wholeness arrives and embraces the fullness of creating, loving and living, and that paw is gently removed from that nail.
The Soul Reporter