Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer Reading

The last day at the Arden pool was a beautiful day. More people than I have seen all summer congregated in the little hollow where the temperature is about ten degrees cooler than it is even in the pool's parking lot. Still the sun is hot and only a mad, humming soda machine stands to promise any kind of bought refreshment. Arden swimmers know to bring in their own water and watermelon. No snack bar here.

This last day is a weird one. We are all Fair Hungover. I don't mean the alcohol kind, but that is part of it for some of us. Lots of people in town worked so hard to get the pieces into place, often at the expense of sleep. Two days later we are the walking wounded. And too, we are the walking exhilarated. The 108th fair is in the books, and it was a glorious success.

At the pool's edge I am trying desperately to finish reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I have never read it and found the slim paperback when I was sorting through my bookshelf looking for volumes to sell at the Arden Fair Book sale. Now or never, I thought. I have been carrying this book around with me for far too long and hoped to make it my final tick mark in my quest for a book-a-week this summer. Kind of. My goal was fourteen books from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I did not finish the Bell Jar. Too many distractions at the pool on the last day--a memorial service for one. Above the pool, on the deck that wraps around the Gild Hall, well-dressed Ardenites stood watch over the mer-people.

They were saying goodbye to Chuck Conner, an Arden giant who, among other prominent roles, was the booming voice announcing all activities at the Fair for over 40 years.  Chuck and his wife Phyllis lived in a home and gardens they designed in Ardencroft on the edge of Sherwood Forest for over 50 years before they finally moved to assisted living around the same time we moved to Arden. I met Phyllis recently in July. But though I never met Chuck,  I feel an affinity with the family. We have a connection: They used to live in our house in the late 50's early 60's. And so, reading becomes tedious as I feel my energy pulled toward the full house--those throngs come to support the Conner family. I've witnessed the parade of people entering the hot hall and I know many of them.

And so, my summer reading goal is cut short by my inability to separate from real life. It is a condition I know all too well and the reason I made the summer reading pledge in the first place. Why have I had such a difficult time keeping my attention on my reading these last few years? I think I have finally figured it out. For years, I blamed social media for shortening my attention span to short clips. But this summer, I realized that isn't the case--at least not entirely. When I space out and take my focus away from my book it is because I am massaging the words in my mind. Often they are a springboard that makes me want to dive into my own work. Like seeing paintings in a museum or gallery and rushing home to pick up the paint brush. That is what it feels like. I start exploring and figuring out the stories I am working on. Even when I don't have a book in current work, I get ideas for new stories or new ways to develop characters. I am not a great analyzer of fiction--at least not consciously. I can't tell you what literary devices authors are employing to tell their stories. I can't even usually remember what I have read. It's really embarrassing. As an author I live in fear someone is going to ask me my influences or ask me my favorite book quote. I sincerely don't know.

In spite of my handicaps, I have managed to complete the following books. Some of them are physical books which are best for the hot sun and the pool. Some I read on my iPad. Some were audio books which helped me also get some summer walking miles in. Even in those listening experiences I got distracted often and needed to rewind and play parts over again. Since my goal was finishing books, I didn't put too much pressure on myself to choose anything other than books that caught my fancy, but I think it is pretty diverse little collection of titles. The list includes non-fiction as well as fiction, half by men and half by women, a memoir, some historical fiction, more than one time-travel book, and even a book narrated by a dog.

1. Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
2.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (This led to a clothing purge and a book purge which brought me to my Bell Jar challenge.)
3. Unhappenings by Edward Aubry (a friend of mine who took a writing retreat in Arden)
4. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
5. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
6. The Storyteller  by Jodi Picoult
7. Bathing the Lion  by Jonathan Carroll
8. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
9. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
10. The Grace That Keeps the World by Tom Bailey
11. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
12. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
13. Tuscany for the Shameless Hedonist by Ariela Bankier

And now onto a new goal of as many books by the end of the year. Life will dot my reading experiences as it does my writing. That's okay. It's how it should be.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Walking the Labyrinth: A Heroine's Journey

Just as I found out I was pregnant at age 27 with our second child, I landed myself in a group of magical women (and several highly evolved men) at our church. We had joined the UU Church of Lancaster when I was pregnant with our first child for the sake of raising our kids within a faith tradition, but little did I know that I would be the one reaping the benefits. I was taking some courses and  doing some discovery work with the divine feminine-- which is a very empowering subject to undertake while pregnant. I should have guessed that I was incubating a girl child, the first in many generations on my husband's side. All of a sudden I had sacred chants and totems to guide me through. The women I met through my studies were real guides in that they modeled Goddess light for me. In a society that is still patriarchal in nature, it was truly eye-opening and a major point on my personal path. If you have studied the Heroine's Journey (the feminist response to Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey), this would be the part where I met my allies: both human and supernatural.

Image of a seven-circuit labyrinth at night
One of these allies is Sarah Preston. She, along with many of the others I met, got together for the purpose of making a labyrinth for the church. I had not experienced labyrinths before, and I did not join the efforts of this group even though it included many of my new friends. I was thirty minutes from our church home with two small children, a full-time job, and a husband who travelled with his job. I do remember being excited about what they were doing and couldn't wait until their big project was unveiled. In the meantime, I bought some books on labyrinths to understand more. Labyrinths are unicursal paths (one way in and one way out) that are used in many cultures and religions (independently of one another) as a walking meditation. Labyrinths can be found in French cathedrals, Native American cultures, Scandinavian countries etc. Many incorporate sacred geometry into their design. For instance, a classic labyrinth has 7 circuits which correspond to musical notes on a scale, major chakras in the body, colors of the rainbow. Finally, the canvas labyrinth, a painted replica of the 12-circuit one in Chartres Cathedral was finished and open for walks. I took my mom to one of the early open walks. She was hooked as well. It became a catalyst for many outings together.

From then on, I looked for more labyrinths to walk. If I had to guess, I'd say I've walked well over 50 different labyrinths in about a dozen different states. Sarah Preston had a herb labyrinth in her back yard. From that labyrinth, she started her business Herbs From the Labyrinth in which she used the herbs to make lotions, salves, and other products, most of which had healing properties. Sarah is a healer.  (You can read about her here.) Her knowledge of the body and natural cures is extensive, and I've consulted her on many issues. While I lived in Lancaster County, I taught monthly journal writing classes in her shop and even co-convened a couple all-day chakra workshops directly from her garden labyrinth in conjunction with a local kundalini yoga teacher. 

Fast forward fifteen years. When the time came that Mark and I knew we had to move out of Lancaster County, I went on a writing retreat to Omega Institute in October of 2012. We didn't know where we were going to move, and I was pretty apprehensive about the mystery of our future, but every day I was at Omega, I walked the labyrinth on the grounds. I got still with myself as I walked the circuits, and let them do their magic. I didn't force it, but in the calm stillness I had glimpses of what I wanted my new life to include. By early December 2012, Mark and I were ready to call our realtor friend Cynthia to let her know of our decision to move to Arden, DE.

Art Map Poster of the Ardens with watermark
The night we saw our house the first time (we had signed an agreement before actually seeing it) and met the previous owners, we sat around the dining room table toasting with champagne and eating chocolate chip cookies. We discovered that the del Tufos were UU's also and that Keri was also raised in Lancaster County. That night, I told the group that Arden needs a labyrinth. I truly believed that walking the Omega labyrinth had directed me to live in this place. Keri loved the idea and enthusiastically agreed to help bring it into being. From that cold spring day in 2013, we allowed the idea to percolate. In June of this year we brought our plans of an Arden Labyrinth to the village meeting (to be voted upon in September).

I write this blog today because of two very exciting things that will happen at the Arden Fair on September 5th. The first is that I will be selling art maps that I designed for $20. All proceeds from these maps will help to fund the labyrinth project. Keri and I will be selling them out of Linda Toman's ceramics booth overlooking the Moonlight Theater. But I am also really excited to announce that Sarah Preston is coming to the Arden Fair as a vendor in the Peddlers, Potions, and Practitioners Marketplace at the Buzz Ware Community Center. She will have her full line of herbal products including bug repellent, lotions, baskets, etc. If she brings a tenth of the selection she has in Radiance, her Lancaster Shop, Arden is in for a treat. I hope that people will stop and say hello and make her journey worthwhile so that she will come again and again. 

The labyrinth is a metaphor for our life's journey as it bends on itself and repeats themes, circling in on answers, asking more questions in the process. I am hopeful about the prospects of building a labyrinth here, especially since the energy seems to be bubbling in that direction. And while we have not reached our goal yet, I am thankful for my many mentors and guides and who have bought me to this place at this time in my life.