Wishing Well

“Mimi, what do you wish for the most?”

I couldn’t speak. The question distilled my deepest desires down to sudden tears that stung.
Only later did I realize the knee-jerk response hadn’t been to play with The Royal Philharmonic.

I swallowed the truth that would sadden my niece. To deflect her attention, I whispered,
“What do you wish for, Golden Girl?”

She didn’t hesitate.
“For there to be only goodness and kindness in the world.”

What do you wish for the most?

field of words

photobucket.com

photobucket.com

this epicurean sea of wildflowers and opus
white blossoms stirs beneath the rising day

she spills seminal secrets as the bees and the
winds drive pollen grains and promise past
the velvet parting into stigma and style

with the marksmanship of knowing.

this field, voluminous womb, awash with prose
drinks the sun that climaxes overhead. a rain
of white sapphire upon silken spires that
indemnifies last night’s shower,

and the dandelion memories too much
for me in the wind perish in a panoply of filaments

but here i lie on my earthen bed pregnant
with poetry, the story under stories of the grass,
translating the anatomy of nature’s mystery and
indulge myself upon this, my field of words.

Men and Women: Another Difference, Part 2

Back in high school, a good friend said after meeting my family, “Your mother is so beautiful. What happened to you?!” I got a kick out of that. It was a good question. Part of Mom’s looks have been their enviable resilience to time, which she never took for granted. Korean women are vigilant against the insistence of gravity on their face, and here I am without the aid of benevolent genes. All the more I really should groom. Mom saw the family photos I sent and called me, the opening commentary on my husband. “He looks so good. He looks better every year. But…you! Take care of yourself!” she urged. She meant the face.

I came across a group shot of friends from five years back and was shocked to see how young we were. One guy is not yet 40 and has since gone gray. But he doesn’t look bad. Somehow his wife doesn’t wear the wrinkles so well. My mother still had to maintain her attractiveness with the diligent day-and-night regimen in a way Dad was free not to have to worry about. My husband is aging like wine. Me? I’m milk.

You men. Just how do you turn the card with the salt and pepper hair and crow’s feet? Dignified. They say you look dignified. Ugh. Not only are you spared angst over a biological clock that measures the worth of your manhood but you have a longer visual expiration date. To add insult to injury, all you have to do is shave and get a buzz and you regain three young, handsome years. As a statistic, you die before we do. Eye candy loses its sweetness and you’re gone. You leave us to our chores just when we could really use your muscle.

Several readers have asked to get together off the blog. I’ve taken a rain check for circumstances that keep me busy and close to home but I’m tempted to reconsider. God knows what I’ll look like in a year.

Here’s Part 1.

The Floor I Couldn’t Reach

Elmhurst was really a town back then, not too fond of change though the quiet was punctuated by noise you’d expect of a New York city. Depending on who your neighbors were, you got the occasional Mariachi outside your window or the Mexican bass throbbing under your feet. Elmhurst housed people in boxes, brick apartment buildings that stood like giant file cabinets. Our life filed under 1D, then 5H, before we settled into the roomier one-bedroom 3F. To get from one apartment to the next, you got in another box, the elevator. The door opened to hit you with the smell of the last occupants. Cigarette, curry, musky cologne. As a little girl I was afraid of the thin black space I jumped over to step in. I imagined somehow falling into the scary unknown.

It was a recurring dream I had as a kid. I pressed three in the elevator and hit the fifth floor, then watched helplessly as the numbers lit their way down. Past three. The door opened, but I didn’t live on first. I landed everywhere but the place I wanted to get to.

The funny thing is my house three decades later on the other side of the country is ostentatiously rectangular. Nothing to complain about with all the space I ever hoped for. But I wonder if the architecture of my childhood is why I’ve fancied homes with circular form and spiral stairs. Perhaps in such a house I would stop living the unwelcome dream. I long for progress in certain areas of my life. How I hate the offhand, “How are you?” because I’m always struggling, eyeing the place I can’t reach. I have been many things: tired, discouraged, overwhelmed, thankful, disappointed, hopeful. But never unmotivated in the blogging, never uninspired in the writing; it’s just these four walls of time. Writing is a montage of all the arts. It is painting, sculpting, dancing, singing, photographing, weaving – with words, all at once. I fill the empty draft page, my canvas of possibility. Press publish and I watch the numbers climb. I’m not deposited in some dreamer’s purgatory. Ceiling defers to sun and clouds heavy with promise, such air as I’d never tasted. This sky is the floor I could finally reach.

CloudsBlueGrey2

My Husband Threatened Me

Mr: I’ve had these thoughts on death. If I ever blogged, it would be a post. I think death is necessary because “….” What do you think, honey?

Mrs: Nod. Hmmm.

Mr: So can I guest blog on your site?

Mrs: Without missing a beat. Nope.

Mr: What did you say?

Mrs: Nope. (Writing’s not exactly his forté, as good as he is at everything else.)

Mr: Well, with the WordPress password you’ll be giving me, when you die I’m going to put up all sorts of poorly written posts with bad grammar.

*PROGRAM UPDATE*
So no one’s getting my password. I’d rather die and leave A Holistic Journey a sealed vault of aspiration than let anyone spill a careless word in it. If you don’t hear from me for three months, know that I’ve been dining with CS Lewis. I’ll be looking over your shoulder as you blog. Keep those standards up or I’ll get mad and rattle your window.

Related post Ode to My Readers

My Obituary

When she was young, she lived on her last dollar and books and dreams.
She worked as though her life depended on it.

She watched and smiled, said yes I’ll marry you.
She died and birthed her boy.

She played her heart on that piano and her husband heard
and loved her again.

She questioned, ate disbelief. She wept.
She prayed and prayed. She received.

She slow danced with ideas

She was frail, a leaf the wind turned over, and
a rock you couldn’t move in her convictions.

She sang blues and hymns and dreams.
She struggled to get off ground some days, and
wrote her way into the clouds, drank their rain.

She asked God for one more day because she erred, wounded, and grieved.
She loved deeply. She didn’t love enough.

She hoped her life was enough.

 

Comments all yours if you’d like to write your own here.

Genius

Two years and 11 months

Two years and 11 months

According to Malcolm Gladwell, behind the genius of high-achievers that leaves us awestruck you really have just 10,000 hours of practice.

Let’s see what this might look like for you as a drummer, Tennyson:

You’ve put in at least 500 hours thus far.

1 hour of practice a day, 35 free days in a year –>
330 hours
the next 5 years –>
1650 hours plus the 500 = 2150 hours by the age of 12

The next 12 years, double the daily hour –>
660 hours every year, a total of 7920 hours
plus the ones from the first 12 years = 10,070 hours by the age of 24

Unless an earthquake brings this house down or you find yourself with a single parent, you will continue to have every opportunity to play. And even in the tightest straits we will sell the furniture before we touch your drums. Every hour on the set you’ll get to exchange for more options as an adult musician. Every hour brings your dreams that much closer within reach. You easily played for an hour-and-a-half when you were five. It is up to you whether you want to hit your 10,000 sooner or later than 24. But a good idea to develop your art as deeply as you can, find its place in our world before you settle down? Keep those two hours a day sacred and you will learn self-mastery, excellence, and your happier self. We know the more we love our music, the more we love it, right? Play your joy and never make excuses. I don’t want you to end up looking on as Joe blows smoke out of his set, saying “I could’ve done that.” He just practiced longer than you.

Your biggest fan,
Mom

Ten Lessons In Case I Die

1. Don’t marry someone like your mother. Choose a woman who wakes smiling.

2. Use your strength for those who’re weak.

3. People don’t care if you’re right, especially when it means they’re wrong.

4. Try it again. Better or differently.

5. Keep singing.

6. Whatever you do, leave your signature on it. Without having to sign it.

7. Follow your gut.

8. Give without expecting.

9. Move on when people let you down. There is so much more to live for.

10. Things can be worse. Remember that you’ve had a mother who’s loved you beyond her ability.

I May Be a Man

What is UP with the drama? Look, I don’t need any. See me way over here sitting quietly on the end of the girly, feminine spectrum? My gravatar is a pathetic attempt to cheer myself up, comfort the ragged face in the mirror. I don’t wear make-up, hate shopping, clip these nails the moment they’re long enough to go. If you want to torture me, force me to endure a bridal or baby shower and make me play the games – your idea of fun. I have nothing to add to inane talks about your favorite TV shows because I’m a bore who doesn’t watch TV or movies. I’d rather be writing a book on the meaning of life. Are you getting this? My head’s in the sand, I’m not a busybody, I don’t know pop culture, I don’t gossip. And I still attract drama.

Because I’m a woman.

Ugh! The sad part is it doesn’t matter that I am confident and secure. Problem is the insecure mamas don’t like that. Whether it’s watching how I take care of my son or seeing that I would cook for them! I mean, who in the world would slam you because you sent over a surprise dinner made with love? Only women. Can you imagine men being so convoluted? They’re not multilingual. They don’t count facial expressions, pauses, intonation as their own language. So the first minute of chatting with a friend, guys haven’t just broken out in four languages. Oh, to be a man! When life is as simple as the pork juice on your chin and the beer bite on your tongue. To be able to say yes and no and know your buddy is not saying no and no. To enjoy the peace of mind that a few minutes of exchange will never spin into a saga. Why in the world did I spend those months investigating the sport of fighting, wondering why men punched one another and then hugged? I so wish I could use my martial arts on a woman who pisses me off, shake hands, know she’s good, I’m good, all is well with the world and then have some honest fun with her in a mean game of bball on the court the next week. Only with women could a BFFship of years dissolve in one hard acid day.

And how do you men take your nice, strong arm and sweep the clutter of To Dos off your mental table? It’s a gift – the amazing ability to check in with yourself, distill competing voices down to your need in the moment. Why did I ever complain of your one-track mind? Food, sex, game that’s on, sleep. You just roll over, close those eyes, and…”Honey? Honey? I was saying –” You’re gone. Way off in a deep sea of sweet nothingness. I’m jealous. I’m stupid. I mean, why wouldn’t I want sex or sleep? Ah, but I happen to be sitting on the million-dollar answer. Hostage to hormones. People say that time of the month like it’s one day. It can run a week, people. And that’s all just the fun prelude to the bloody show. Did you know many of us also feel discomfort and can get emotional when we ovulate? How many clear and free days does that leave us in the month? I’m pleased not to be one of those women who’re able to call up tears at will. But catch me on the right days and I’m a bawling mess. Weeks like this, I’m not sure which is worse. To be a woman or to have to live with one.

 

Your Place in the Virtual Revolution

This post is for parents, bloggers, Facebookers, anyone who’s stuck a foot out on Cyberland. In our talk about belonging, we seemed to think in terms of the social Haves and Have-nots. Many of you spoke of the self-consciousness of often feeling on the fringe. Some shared you were too fat or too this or too that to fit in, others that you never even figured out why you always seemed to find yourself on the outside. I wanted to bring to attention something that’s as right in your face as the computer or phone screen in front of you. The Internet has given every one of us the power to lead. It has made us all insiders.

It’s a new day, a global Do-It-Yourself culture everyone with online access is privy to. YouTube alone is an open platform where anyone can catapult himself into stardom and not hurt himself trying. You can post the silliest, quirkiest, most informative videos and reach thousands in the least – and make as much in dollars. My husband has had the opportunity to monetize his funky YouTube tutorial on how to make Man Kimchee (kimchee made by a man, unheard of in Korean culture. No, I didn’t edit the instructions. See? You can toss basic grammar out the window and still have a shot at good money). We all have watched publishing, newspaper, music conglomerates groan as they caved, giving up a share of the power to self-publishers and bloggers. Cyberspace has become the Great People’s Republic. Alongside the question of copyright; space, boundaries, relationships have redefined themselves yielding a new profile on leaders. Here’s a snippet of a TED Talk from Squidoo.com’s founder Seth Godin and my thoughts on the traits he believes leaders have in common:

1. They challenge the status quo. I’ve observed that high achievers in any field are always on the move, eyeing the next benchmark or creating one. They’re never static.
2. They build a culture. Leadership is less about giving orders as it is about connecting people over shared values and goals. It is the worldwide web, after all. Tribes are no longer bound by geography, no longer have to adapt to the dictate of seasons. Virtual tribes can build community across distance and time, and determine their own climate.
3. They have curiosityabout the people in the tribe, about outsiders. They’re asking questions.
4. They connect people to one another. Do you know what people want more than anything? They want to be missed. They want to be missed the day they don’t show up. Seth wasn’t clear if he meant that leaders help people feel valued or if they themselves end up missed where they leave a vacuum. But I found this a fascinating point. We want to know we count, don’t we?
5. Finally, they commit. To the cause, to the tribe.

Seth also describes leaders who have risen from the masses by sheer drive, people who outside their success are socially awkward. “You don’t need charisma to become a leader. Being a leader gives you charisma. You know, Bill [Gates] has a lot of trouble making eye contact. Bill has a lot of trouble getting a room of strangers to come around to his point of view. But now, because of the impact his foundation has had, people feel differently around him.” Interesting. People are drawn to success. Social Have-nots can actually get.

Seth points out that you don’t need permission to lead. I would add, to make a difference. “I’m not the best blogger there ever was, but I’ve been persistent at it. Anyone could’ve done what I did. But they didn’t. And we keep making the same mistake again and again where we say, Oh no, no. That’s not for me. Someone else is going to do that one. [We make] excuses from fear.” So it seems all that’s left if you hope for a voice and an audience is to deny yourself the fear and get out of your own way.

Last Sunday I hit 1000 likes on my About. A part of me finds it a pretty remarkable milestone for someone who didn’t know which way was up when she started out. If I can do this without the aid of other media platforms, you can get along farther than you think. But the rest of me isn’t starry-eyed about my numbers. Partly because I’m too tired to be impressed, partly because others out here have done that and more, partly because you quickly adjust to your new heights and press on to higher ground. Like those who’re not satisfied with just one medal, title, or mission. This last feeling is a point of transformation all its own for me because I’m not a born dreamer. I went wide-eyed as a baby blogger, seeing 200 follows on a board. And wow, how’d she rack up 75 likes? I wondered. But I’ve come to a point where I’m not concerned about the numbers anymore. They’re nice but they’ll take care of themselves. My focus is on delivering the goods and on my relationship with you. As for authenticity, at that time my About page walked itself right out of my head, decided it had to live. What in your life insists on its own breath? Give it sun and air. I plan to support my son in just about anything he wants to pursue when he’s older. But I’ll want him to stay persistent, skillful, and inimitable. Do what he wants to do beautifully, and in his own way. Leave a mark. It’s my job to provide the opportunities for him to hear what in his spirit asks to live and nurture the will for him to shoot it to the moon. The majority of us has limitations weighing on our dreams, but don’t let your self-talk be one of them. We stop making excuses for ourselves, license to achieve little, when we accept that the stars usually won’t align over our head or the red carpet run under our feet when we want to set out. We each have our pace, mine maddeningly slow most days. A dream to me feels like a painstaking tapestry of priceless minutes I thread here, braid there, working my way around this giant rock I resent that’s really just the stuff of life. We make do. Berlin isn’t the only place the Wall’s come down. We’re talking about leadership in any context but the virtual world has leveled the playing field. Take your place. Claim it. If you want to.

Lessons from My 30s

I learned not to expect anything from anyone – not even friends – but to give. Not because I don’t have amazing friends but because people are busy, have their own burden. I am grateful that anyone should stop to think of me in some way. Wish I had known earlier not to impose standards in my relationships, to free people in their weakness. Free God to grow them.

It was the decade I fell in love twice. With the man I agreed to marry and the baby boy I found myself cradling. I realized my guys have been my 30s. With an I.V. needling sustenance into my broken body on my 30th birthday, I had yet to imagine I would meet my husband the following year – on the dance floor. While some of the most excruciating trials darken this period of my history, these 10 years have been the best. That I should be given a companion to come alongside, hold me up and provide for me, depend on me in the mundane. That I should experience the ineffable wonder of growing a person inside and bringing forth that life from my own body. My hands, given to help fashion a mind and soul, feed and grow health in the person God had knit in my womb.

It was the decade I lost myself. When I plunged headlong into motherhood, Diana disappeared – in her stead a little guy’s personal Hometown Buffet. Everything-From-Scratch MOM. Homeschooler. Walking Unmade Bed, way too tired to care about looking presentable.

P1030732Better late than never: on the threshold of the next decade, I began to recover that self. I hadn’t realized how I’d let myself go until I lopped off the hair that was brushing my low back last fall. I—felt—human. Eating right did not exempt me from looking okay. A photo of me and Holistic Husband when it was the two of us presents a woman accessorized and made up. Make-up? I’d forgotten I not only once wore it, but sold it. Sigh. Last month I parted with the clothes I’d worn over 12 years. Closet bare! Thank God for Winter Clearance. With the testimony of earrings and a top that doesn’t hang on me just because it was a freebie from a friend, I now pass for a female. I blow the dust off the gifts that shape me, so I can serve God the way I was meant to.

With the intent studies in health and natural living, I came to understand how to eat the way my body needs to. Sixteen years in the formal education system impart absolutely no working knowledge of two of the weightiest matters in life: how to eat and how to manage money. I can see why Israel’s desert wanderings lasted 40 years. Some lessons take that long. I’ve learned the kind of care my body needs. How relationships and my response to life affect me.

I’ve developed a compassion entirely alien to my nature and temperament. Hard to go through near-death training and have no empathy for those who suffer. It’s been one dogged climb against a steady rain of impossible setbacks. One step forward for every 2, 3 in reverse. I can’t figure the math on how I’ve ended up on higher ground, except for the grace of God and the stints of running He’s blessed. I have plumbed unchartered dimensions of heartache and blackness. Laid bare the nemesis fear, have come to see just how deeply it runs beneath upsets.

It was the decade I should have known better. Paid heavily for some stupid decisions. But there is no stumbling block that cannot transform into a stepping stone.

Why I Run

You might run for the thrill. You sail into the zone, keep on like you’re under a spell. I wish it came so naturally to me, wish these limbs would move with knowing.

I run because I was terrible at it. And I’m less terrible the more I do it. I run to silence the aspiration for what’s easy. To teach my body to endure, hold on just a little longer. I run to meet my weaker self head on – conquer her on strong legs Treadmill2so I limp less under my load. I sprint for the fullness of being alive because I often forget how to live. I remember the power of simplicity. I jog to find my pace and cadence. I run to take ownership of myself and to stretch my reserve. I run to claim every day that is mine.

I run because good enough isn’t good enough.

 

See me wrestle? Why I Sweat

 

What If You Weren’t Afraid?

Fear dictates a lot of what we do, say, and don’t. Over the years, my husband and I have peeled back the face of harsh words, avoidance, and everything in between to lay bare this tyrant in the heart. The things I want from him will often lead back to my fear of finding myself out in the cold with hat in hand. In those moments I’m the little girl her parents let down, even while I now understand that they had done their best. Holistic Husband will hesitate to share with me what he really thinks, afraid of rejection. I am short with my boy for shedding clothes outside because I am afraid he will get sick. Not a 100 pounds, I could not relate to anyone with eating disorders. Until a few years ago when I showed myself I could overeat. I knew better. I was the health and nutrition consultant among moms, with over a decade of study under her belt. The worst thing you can do with your food is do too much of it. I realized something wild. Though my husband spared no expensive to meet our needs, the compulsive eating started from fear of going hungry.

There are many things we hold back from trying, scared to fail. We worry about what others will think and end up spouting dumb words or holding back when we should speak up. The wind of peer pressure blows on our kids everyday, right through the morning window when they decide what to wear before pushing them toward and away from other kids.

How would these things look different in your life, if you were not afraid?

Your relationship with your sweetheart
How you parent
The people you tend to befriend
The relational boundaries you draw
How passive or aggressive you are in conflict
How often you say no
How and why you study
What you would say in a job interview
Where you work
How you work, the hours you put in
Your relationship with your self, in exercise or ways you nurture your body and spirit
Your eating
Your career
Your blogging
Your art
Your dance
How and what you write
What you buy
The goals you set
Add your own.

Feel free to think before getting back to me.

Greatness, Part 1: MMA and the Art of War

DAWNING
Even in my happy indifference to athletics, I can understand the competitor who seeks to challenge himself. The Olympian urges his body on to the moment that will redeem the years and pleasures and normalcy he had laid on the altar of glory. He bests himself in going up against the unrivaled among the nations. But men who attack one another – invite the blows and blood – and go on to fist-five or hug after beating the brains out of each other? (Right, it is women who make no sense.) Baffling brutes, I’ve thought.

A year or so after my boy had started in Mixed Martial Arts and I too had learned some moves in self-defense, I was strolling past the octagon at the gym when the sparring in there took on a startling light. Suddenly, what I’d always dismissed as irrational violence made every bit of sense and the fluid logic of the moves blew me away with its beauty. So this was the art of war.

WONDER
I became intrigued by men who put themselves in harm’s way not in noble cause for their country but to test themselves under the most raw, visceral conditions they could fashion. Fascinated with these creatures of discipline – so many of them who I discovered are really nice guys – I went around the last two months asking fighters of all caliber in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, “Why do you fight?” But it was the questions under the question that pressed me. Aren’t you afraid? What do you do with that fear? What makes you spurn the bed of ease and slog through the path of greatest resistance? Are you born different from the rest of us? What is the stuff of warriors, are they born or made, and what inner battles are you fighting?

These questions played in my head during a mesmerizing rerun of the epic fight between Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the summer.

A minute and a half into the first round, and blood rains on Shogun’s face. He stays bloody to the end. By the third round, both he and Hendo have drained their reserve. Round Four, they pummel. And Hendo looks at the clock. An eloquent moment: two hundred pounds of muscle and he wonders when he can stop.

The men hang by a thread through the distance, the longest 25 minutes of their lives. As a fighter later said to me, it’s not muscle in the last round. Shogun and Hendo find themselves in the mental corner. They have given up their all and for one of them, it wouldn’t be good enough. What follows will ride on mind and will. Shogun gives Hendo a run for his money, but Hendo had done too much damage too fast from the first round not to win in the judges’ eyes. The call remains a technicality for many, fans the world over moved by the warrior spirit of both men.

Soon after, I caught some words from The Korean Zombie on the gym screen, a crash introduction to the relatively new but popular mixed martial artist who earned the nickname from his singular ability to plow through injuries and blows. Thrilled to his wildest dreams that he was slated to fight UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo, Chan Jung said, “I’m willing to put everything on the line…I would give my life to be fly1champion.” How stupid. How marvelous. Beautiful. I was enthralled. Three years he had chased the chance to take the title from the eight-year undefeated champion. I asked The Zombie in my head: What makes you define years of your life by a moment you hold in your dreams? Where does the confidence even come from, to disagree with the masses that your opponent is superior?

Aldo: “I don’t even see a chance of losing.”
Jung: “I push my opponent to his breaking point.”

I scribbled away the rest of summer, lit by the high voltage narrative.

FEAR
I had the recent privilege of reaching The Zombie in Seoul, Korea. His agent Brian Rhee took the time to translate the interview and grant me a more personal acquaintance with the star. Chan, like some of the other fighters I spoke with, ended up in martial arts because he was bullied as a kid. His aunt enrolled him in Hapkido. As to the qualms, he echoed the others, “There is always the fear, but mostly of losing.” Fear of injury becomes a minor concern. After the first blow they feel, they’re good (something I don’t quite get as a woman) – the anticipation over and the adrenaline on. Beyond any anxiety over a black eye, they’re afraid of letting the coaches and themselves down. The competitor works to free himself from the fear of fear. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor at our gym said he competes to face his fear of vulnerability and stay ahead of his insecurities.

Former UFC champion Vitor Belfort said it simply on TV, “Nothing can distract.” The Korean Zombie doesn’t just dream. He labors in the vanguard of those who breathe, beat, sweat that dream into reality with this laser beam devotion. These guys seem to live on a different plane altogether. I remain mystified. Because the art of the octagon happens out of the months and years and daily dogged minutes of self-denial. Though C.S. Lewis was speaking of spiritual appetite when he pointed out that we are far too easily pleased, his commentary captures the human spirit. We worship comfort, especially as postmoderners. I am blown away by the single-minded who take no excuses for themselves, repudiate mediocrity, forgive nothing substandard. In this case, fighters put themselves at a place that exposes what they’ve got, what they’ve worked for: they ran the extra mile or they didn’t. The cage door closes and you have two guys hell bent on winning. No one trains to lose. They force each other to their best. The contenders risk it all before a watching a world. And the months of toil can all go down in seconds. It hit me (pun intended) that this death grip on commitment resonates with me for the crazy work ethic Koreans have branded themselves by.

cameronTHE GLADIATOR
I had to puzzle out the deepest answer I sought from the interviews. The men told me, “I fight because it’s what I love. What I’m good at. The thrill of victory, the arm going up.” But why do you have to punch someone in the face to feel so good?

If man ever did evolve he stopped over 2,000 years ago. I realized MMA is not so new. I am watching the Spartan warrior and the Roman gladiator in the most primal fight for self-preservation. History is battle, the fiercest of physical arguments over land and power. My son has been learning, “Assyria falls to Babylon, Babylon to Persia, Persia falls to Alexander the Great.” The Conquerer has been redefining boundaries – of space and within himself – since ancient times and on he goes. Man’s quest for greatness.

LIVING THE DREAM
The current of the past carries these fighters on to their future. Competitor Phillip Brown is not only chasing his dream but living it. He stays present so that the training is not only a movement toward possibility but joy: “You wake up and realize it’s already tomorrow. You feel really alive. It’s a presence. All your hard work has paid off. All those minutes on the bag, all those tap-outs in practice. Tap-out means I need to get better. Martial arts is the art of bettering oneself. When that cage door shuts, I’m exactly where I wanna be: win, lose, or draw.” How many of us know exactly where we want to be?

THE ROAD AHEAD
Part of my fascination with these contenders stems from the mystery of the Other. They are as talented with their body as they look and talk so differently from me. After a year’s sorry attempt in Self-Defense, I discovered I have as much survival instinct as I do coordination. But I’m drawn to the sport for the resonance; I fill with hope and pride in people who seek excellence in their craft, partly for this very pursuit in the roles I have played as mother, as writer. Whether or not I have been successful remains a different matter. But what I asked the competitors were really parenting questions that continue to replay themselves. How much do I push my son in freeing him (to borrow from Gloria Vanderbilt) to follow his bliss? How do I encourage him to refuse distractions from his purpose? How to reconcile the wisdom of balance with the virtues I prize: stamina, discipline, passion? You lose, sometimes excise, a part of yourself for the greater gain on the hot trail of dreams.

Fighting doesn’t make you great.  Even winning does not necessarily, and indeed it is the heart of gold that marks the knight. Obviously greatness begs definition, but to offer one isn’t my goal in this series so much as to examine its different faces through the lives of achievers in their element.

“The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream.”  Benjamin Mays (1894-1984), American minister and educator

Enjoy the Wayfarer in MMA action here – most notably not in her element.

The Art of Blogging

We have some great blogs that teach us about SEO, tags, back-links, Google encryption. I will never outgrow them because I believe in the science of all things. You have to learn, at least be introduced to, the Rules. Know the proper form of a Lindy or a lay-up. Unlock the mechanics, drill, know what it means to be accurate in your field. The thing is, machines are built for precision. In fact, we can program synthesizers to play on their own.

But art is more than accuracy.

When my son and I run our eyes over the drum solo for the week, it reads a little like a foreign language. Each one he masters earns him pieces that are incrementally more challenging so they are hard at first. My goal isn’t for him just to play the notes right for his instructor in seven days. Once he’s figured them out, I want him to get the piece under his skin, hear and then answer what the composer is asking of him. Translate it (as he – not his classmates, mom, or dad) can, and sing it with his hands. His whole body moves differently when he gets there. If he were graduated to the next solo just for learning to mimic the notes, he wouldn’t be participating in the art. And that is the point of the music. We don’t watch Josh Groban for his technique. He’s got that. We want to hear what he does with it. We want to be touched by beauty. It is not for the intelligence of the chords that we close our eyes to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with reverence. It is for the pathos and longing they speak.

So is art something you can learn? How about the art of blogging?

In his book Fresh Off the Boat, Eddie Huang remembers 7th grade football when he was a social runt desperate to fit in. Listen to what he says about the kid he was pitted against:

For the next three weeks, literally every day, Coach Rock named me player of the practice. I was an animal. Other people couldn’t compete. They were playing a game but I treated it like life and death. The zenith was about six weeks into the season. We always played simulated games on Wednesdays, Offense vs. Defense, and that day I was lined up against this new kid, Jason…He was at least five inches taller than me, with long arms, but he didn’t know how to use them.

Know what you’ve got and know how to use it.

What does this mean for me as a blogger?

Waitress: So what can I get for you today?
Yours Truly: I’ll take Combo Number 6. But hold the sugar and MSG. Very easy on the sauce, please. Can I have some more greens? No, not broccoli. Not bell pepper. More collard, if you have. And no ice in the water. Is your water filtered? Never mind, then.

Yes! You thought you liked me. Duped you. Just be glad you don’t own the shops I frequent. Or homeschool in my house. But wait. You read this blog. You (actually…and really?) want to hang out with me. See, the flip side of my particular palate is the particular palate I blog with. This – my superhero ability to be a pain in the rear – is what I use in my favor as a blogger. I don’t want cafeteria food and I figure that though you may be easy enough, you wouldn’t mind something better either. I order it for you just so before you sit down with me. It’s my exacting nature behind the topics and every word I choose, and the goals I set, that has built this blog. Some of you have a profound gift of encouragement that shines brilliantly in the comments. Now that will get you far in the blogging. Are you a social butterfly? Or is it your insight, storytelling, wit, sarcasm, passion, empathy, knowledge, creativity, or personality that you have going for you? Whatever it is, you make me so happy when you finish your plate.

Ruthless Blogger

Mr: So if I start blogging would you proof my posts and promote my site?

Mrs: *Disbelief* You gotta build your own readership.

Mr: Hey, being married to the Holistic Wayfarer must come with benefits. I provide the house you live in.

Mrs: I gave you Tennyson. *Wild card never fails*

Mr: I contributed half. *Shoot*

Mrs: I slaved to build my blog. You think you can just ride on my coattail? I never mentioned A Holistic Journey in my vows.

Mr: *Ten minutes later* I want a cut of the blog royalty later. I’ve given you post ideas.

Mrs: Man does have a point.

Calling All Artists, Thinkers, Writers

After going through my posts on the writing process, Kevin commented that I seem to “write with intent rather than for ‘mere’ expression.” A lot of his poetry arose from the fun of it and the wish to express himself in a particular way. He also asked if I always analyze what I read, if I ever read just for the pleasure of it.

Which leads me to ask you: what is art?

First, Kevin’s question on reading. I don’t pick apart to death everything I read – in part for the small matter of time. As for intent, let’s visit some accomplished artists. I would almost kill to be able to ask Michelangelo, “Can art be a whim? An accident?” Did he ever “merely” express? Can art be spontaneous? My right-brain readers are nodding away. Can art be discovery? The Sam Francis exhibit that once ran at the Pasadena Museum of California Art showcases some extraordinary work by a most interesting painter. “Paintings are my thinking,” Francis said. “Not about anything…They perform the unique mathematics of my imagination.” Is there then such a thing as chance in the art of mathematics?

Could we consult the Ancients in their wisdom? To this end, I veer off a bit to share some relevant thoughts on my blogging and the homeschooling that converged two years ago. A few months into the blogging, I came to see that what I’d been drawn to exploring on this blog were truth and beauty. Not long later in a seminar on Classical homeschooling, the speaker elaborated on the model I had chosen for our family; it was in essence about truth, beauty, and goodness. I was floored. We went on to hear a podcast featuring Andrew Kearn of the CiRCE Institute on the goal of education, which brought to light the meaning of the liberal arts. I’ve scaled it down to highlight some parts that bear on this post. Which of these insights resonate with your work?

geo-roundel-flower-13Liberal spawns from the Latin liber [free]. Without these arts, we cannot know the fullest extent of human freedom. The Hebrews and a good many of the Greeks were the only ones in the ancient world who believed truth is knowable. Freedom is intimately related to perception of the truth. Education is learning to see deeply into the truth or essence of whatever is before you – be it spouse or garden. To see beyond the “accident of it,” the things that come and go. The lost tools of truth-seeking are the liberal arts: the art of grammar, dialectic, rhetoric (which make up the Trivium of communication); and arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy (the Quadrivium of calculation).

Harmony

The Greeks looked at how people communicate. What leads the community to truth, to harmony? If a good man or woman speaks effectively, that is the glory of rhetoric. The mind wants harmony. Math is the ability to find this in the universe. If I tell you 2 + 7 = 5, you feel the disturbance in your mind. Astronomy is the study of shapes moving. Planet literally means wanderer. The Greeks discovered that when you examine the movement of the stars, you see patterns. Your mind can be disciplined and ordered to see things you cannot see any other way. Same thing for reading or learning another language. If you can’t do either, there is no way someone can get you there virtually. The way you know a scientific theory is by its beautiful harmony.

This approach to learning took my breath away. And it happened to dovetail this post I had been mulling over two months. What is art? To what extent is achieving harmony or articulating the essence of something the goal in your dance, your sport, your music? What is it about your painting that begs visual utterance? Do you find you’ve been in pursuit of ancient and timeless virtues? Beauty is not necessarily happiness or cheerfulness. There can be great beauty in brokenness and sometimes, it is only among the ruins you find treasure. Years ago I looked regretfully upon some morose paintings by a gifted artist who had grown up in a nudist colony and believed she had a bipolar disorder. Her works were rich and told of a dark psyche. I felt they would reach her promise if her painful confusion were redeemed. I’ve said in The Writing Process, Part 1: Color that the darkness is an easy way in through the door of inspiration. But I now feel great art is more than bleeding all over the page.

Art is a process and need not be a solution or product. But does a story not have a point? A reader quoted for me from My Life and My Life in the Nineties by Lyn Hejinian, “the anticipation of the pleasure of making sense.” In my writing, this expectancy is the wee hours of dark that prelude the stream of dawn, the knowing stillness almost as thrilling as the satisfaction of breaking light on the landscape of my intention. The objective, to get across exactly what I’m seeing. Though a poem sings in metaphor, does it (should it not) sustain a coherence that draws assent from the reader? Is art random? Take the greatest masterpiece we can name, the human body. Illness is simply disharmony. As for the life in the womb, there is articulation. The little body forges ahead in full purpose. Though to elaborate would be another post entirely – indeed I find order, truth, beauty, goodness in our wondrous frame.

I’m thinking aloud for the answers, surveying the fields of virtuosity. Instinct whispers that there is a difference between war and the art of war. There’s straightforward violence. Or the boxer who flails struggling at the level of technique, trying to get the moves just right. But observe the fighter who executes with fluidity the right tactic among all the possibilities in that moment, and be enthralled by elegance. Through my brief time in mixed martial arts, I came to see the brilliance in the problem-solving we call fighting. I now understand the sense and logic of the art. It is geometry – angles, lines, space in motion. Just shift and turn to create the space your opponent wants to deny you and you can make your way out. Fighting is chess. I love the Greek appreciation of AgatasGuitardisciplining and enlarging your mind to possibilities. The thousand drills you hammer into muscle memory are the tools to conceive your art. The unspeakable beauty of ballet is borne of training and toil, from endless run-throughs that demand reflex and mastery. I agree with Miles Davis that more than the sight-reader, the musician is the one who can improvise. But you need to know the grammar of the music to be able to create at levels above, though some who have gone without the training know it by instinct. What I’m getting at is that art comes by merit. The endowment suggests a certain caliber of performance, of craftsmanship.

Which then incites the question whether something can be art at either the elementary or exploratory stage. How about your kids’ fun on construction paper? We don’t hold up the canvas of children’s imagination against the expression of Monet’s, but isn’t there, shouldn’t there be a standard of measure within a given range of age or capability? Here I circle back to my beloved. Standard.

As I set out in my writing and my son’s learning two years ago (as it turned out, upon the same road), I accepted the guidance of the virtues named in the Classical world. As marvelous our fascination with the Minotaur, so we cheer Theseus on and breathe again when he rids Crete of the senseless terror. The living nightmare makes for a great tale but we don’t really want to live in fear and endless night. We hunger for the true, beautiful, and good because for these we were made.

Photo credits in order of appearance
wildersoul.wordpress.com
agatasartcorner.com

Blessing Upon My Readers

Dear God,

Please help me bear with those who disregarded my wish and tapped like on the last post. I am provoked but seek grace to forgive them as You have forgiven me. May you show special favor to my loyal readers and bless their blogging. Watch over their coming and going this weekend. And please let me post next week.

Amen. And amen.

HW

The Evolution of Beauty

Likes are disabled.

Here’s a neat one-minute run through 100 years of beauty in Korea, an interesting history slide. Another Youtube mentions how the shifting political and economic climate shaped the country’s ideals of beauty. From 1910 through the 40s under Japanese colonialism, Koreans felt their overlords looked more attractive and sought to emulate their style. When the North and South split, the Communist ideology of industry and egalitarianism encouraged the picture of the happy, vibrant laborer while Capitalism imported Western glamor trends into a country that I would add was hungry for development and voice. Do you see your American or European wife, mother, grandmother in the video? I caught an NPR clip last month that noted how both frivolous and serious the world of fashion is. I’m seeing it isn’t just at the personal and cultural levels we make a statement by our appearance. Fashion is also a politico-economic expression of a country.

Once you tap in, the sidebar offers a look at 100 years of beauty in many other countries: