Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Readiness Is All

Torino, Italy - Photo by Ingi Erlingsson

I wrote an advice column in 7th grade, West Sylvan Middle School.  My fellow counselor was Maggie, the new girl in school.  Some deeply innovative and collaborative thinking led to the name of our column, “Dear Hilary and Maggie.”  I saved the letters we received – they were carefully folded and placed in a silver Converse shoebox, stored under my bed.  I don’t remember as much about the advice we gave as I do about the questions and worries and dilemmas our fellow adolescents shared in their queries.  

I was reminded of this – one of my first social service endeavors -- during my recent retreat in Colombia, where I read Cheryl Strayed’s collection of letters and responses from her advice column, Dear Sugar.  I devoured the book, Tiny Beautiful Things, over several days of yoga, tropical fruits, meditation, mosquitos, song, and consultations with oracles of various kinds – all the while among an impressive multi-lingual group of seekers from around the world.  We were disconnecting from ‘reality’ and reconnecting to something more fundamental that exists in each one of us, asking the same kinds of questions collected in Strayed’s book -- and even those submitted to me in seventh grade.  That I felt I had advice to offer anyone about anything at age 12 is, on one hand, ridiculous -- but on the other hand, kind of makes sense.  Perhaps at that point I wasn’t influenced quite as much by my mind and all its impressive exercises of thinking and consideration, and maybe instead had a little more connection to a different kind of knowing – one that generally has to be recovered in adulthood and requires more subtraction than addition, more simplicity and less complication.

Anne, who sees

The beach, Colombia

Earlier this year at a Brooklyn house party filled with musicians, I’d asked my friend Andi -- playwright, professor, mother, and wife of one of my favorite songwriters -- to be my manager; I wanted someone to ‘produce’ for me, boss me around and tell me to get over myself.  She gave me an assignment, I said I’d consider it, and Andi reminded me that ‘considering’ was bullshit, that I should stop thinking and just do something.  Of course she was right; I had to agree that all my careful consideration isn’t winning me any Pulitzer Prizes or Grammy Awards.
Advice from Andi
Coming from a commercially-sponsored tour of the UK and Europe to film various football teams in the service of selling electrolyte replacement beverages, I’d put most of my personal and creative agendas on-hold, including my assignment.  The time in Colombia gave me an opportunity to shed cumbersome winter clothing as well as other unnecessary layers – and reminding me of Andi’s words of advice: Don’t consider it; do it!! Now!  Don’t think! 
Madrid, Spain - Photo by Jayanta Jenkins

night time departure

morning departure

Liquid light, London

Producers, Madrid

Dream production team, Madrid

Producer, London

Before returning to winter, I journeyed further south to meet my friend Doug – who was nearing the end of his global tour while the rest of us acquiesced to darkness and hibernation.  After a long journey and four airports, I arrived before sunrise in Buenos Aires to a lovely sparkly-eyed PorteƱo named Fernando, who ferried me back to his tastefully-appointed town house in Almagro with my suitcase full of filthy clothing to meet Doug.  Fernando welcomed us like old friends as we occupied two of the three rooms he and his boyfriend offer on Airbnb.  I slept for a couple of hours and went upstairs to the roof terrace to join the hombres for coffee.  Was I still dreaming, or were two men hanging my clean laundry to dry? 

Colonia, Uruguay

Buenos Aires

Church, Buenos Aires

Deep-and-meaningfuls continued as I spent the next days with these gents. Fernando – with his fellow Argentines, – has learned to live with a lot of instability and uncertainty, and has found in his work as an architect and designer that perseverance wins in the end:  Do something for long enough and you'll probably reach a reasonable level of accomplishment.  Doug’s mantra comes from Shakespeare, the readiness is all:  We can’t control what happens to us, but we can train and shape ourselves to be prepared for whatever may come.  It is no coincidence that Doug and I met and became friends years ago when training in martial arts.  I suppose it is again no coincidence that readiness is basically the same ethos that governs production: make plans but also expect the unexpected, and be ready to handle whatever happens.  Without thinking too much about it, I would borrow a mantra from Bruce Lee: be like water.

Post-birthday-feast in front of the glorious i Latina in BA


Friday, January 2, 2015


Charlottenburg, Berlin

December in Berlin is grey and cold, and daylight is fleeting.  It’s further north than here.  By the time I'd showered and let my hair dry each morning, it seemed the sun was already beginning to set.  Nighttime lingered disproportionate to the day, but wore a cloak of luminance – a rain-glazed plaza reflected lights suspended in neat rows; a wide boulevard stood parted by bright sculptures and shimmering trees.  Night in Berlin was unlike the overcoat that wrapped the night in my neighborhood in Brooklyn – plastic nativity scenes erect before brownstones; blue, green and red, hanging and blinking in a window; streetlights casting a glow on pieces of trash escaped from uncovered bins.

My parents never put Christmas lights on the outside of our house in Portland.  We had one decoration: a large plastic Santa Claus that was stored in the attic most of the year, transported first into the house and then to the upstairs deck each December by my dad.  That Santa Claus had a light inside, and an extension cord that reached an outlet where he was connected.  There was also sand inside him, so he wouldn’t be carried off our deck and into the darkness by a strong wind.  He faced outward so cars driving up the street past our house might glimpse his friendly jolly countenance from below.  When we sat there in the evenings, we could see him turned on through the dusty curtains covering the sliding glass door in the living room.  We could feel his warmth, even while he turned away from us.  As I grew older and my belief in Santa Claus died, I came to appreciate the Pagan Solstice on December 21st more than December 25th The Solstice: the gradual return of the light, the lifting of obscurity.

I’ve never done the math or applied for a grant, but I figure I spend several hundred dollars every year keeping my small apartment ablaze with candles – soy, paraffin. . . some tall with sublime scents and others small, quiet and plain.  As a DIY teenager in Portland, I collected cans from frozen juice concentrate and transformed my mom’s kitchen into a colorful mess sponsored by Michael's Arts and Crafts when my supply was depleted. Yesterday I emptied my freezer of store-bought candle holders, liberated them from their wax and metal remains, washed and promoted them to the cupboard, where they would be reused as vessels for other essential life-giving elements.

Night contains the darkness and day contains the light – and each of us contains a little bit of both.  We try to hold them in their proper balance.  Sometimes, especially at certain times of the year, one overtakes the other – as in the northern parts of the world, depending on the season.  

Having a little sand inside isn't a bad idea, either, lest we be carried off by a strong wind.

Lucky seven: Charlottenburg, Berlin