What I learned during losar (the Tibetan new year)

On March 2nd, AKA losar, AKA the Tibetan new year, I drove out to Serenity Ridge, a Bon Buddhist retreat center on a mountaintop near Charlottesville, to participate in the celebration.

I didn’t know what to expect, since I’m not Buddhist and don’t really know the first thing about Tibet, which is shameful to admit in public but also true. (Incidentally, here’s a great read by my friend Laura on C’ville as center of Tibetan Buddhist community.)

I have a friend who works as an groundskeeping intern at Serenity Ridge, and he invites everyone to weekly open meditations on grounds as well as free webinars hosted by its founder, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, on subjects like “Calming you mind with meditation,” “Purifying your karma through mantra,” and, in the case of my visit, “Raising Your Windhorse—Good Fortune for the New Year.”  

So I was driving through the country on an unseasonably warm March day, and I crossed a road and turned a corner and found myself flying alongside a cloudy blue-green river. The road followed the river as it arched and curved through miles of sunny valley. When I rolled my windows down and inhaled the freshness of that air, I swear I relaxed about 50 points on the tension scale.

Eventually I turned onto a road that led up the side of a mountain. As my Civic hugged each sharp turn, the sun peeked through the clouds, and I honestly didn’t expect what I saw next:

serenity ridge

Tibetan prayer flags, giant ones, lining the road toward the few small dwellings that constitute the retreat center. In fact, there were prayer flags hanging from all the trees.

prayer flags in trees

Eventually I learned in person what Wikipedia could have taught me:

Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all.

As wind passes over the surface of the flags, which are sensitive to the slightest movement of the wind, the air is purified and sanctified by the mantras. Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.

I walked up the path to the main grounds and found a circle of about 25 people gathering to sing. We were handed sheets of paper with lyrics and translations, and I did my best to sing along to tunes I didn’t know and names I could hardly pronounce.

We called on deities in heaven and earth to forgive us for hurting the planet and each other and also to ask for good fortune in the coming year. One of the goddesses we sang to was Sipe Gyalmo, the goddess of protection, shown here with a plate of offerings and other ceremonial objects that I didn’t learn about.

goddess

As we sang, our prayers concentrated in the center of our circle and lifted to the gods in smoke from cedar branches placed over smoldering coals.

Throughout the ceremony, the son of one of the (American) Bon Buddhists fanned the coals. Afterward, those who wanted to purchase prayer flags purified them in the smoke, which is what’s going on here.

cedar fire

The ceremony included water sprinkling, conch shell trumpeting, and flour tossing, but if I try to explain more I will most definitely butcher a beautiful practice (assuming I haven’t already).

gong

There was also a gong. 

Suffice to say, the entire ceremony felt very foreign yet meaningful to me. I don’t feel more or less Buddhist after the experience, but I do feel like I contributed good energy to the world at large.

We had a potluck lunch while chatting and overlooking the mountains, and the final part of the day included a broadcast talk by Tenzin Rinpoche. From his basement in California, he described how 2014 was the year of the Wood Horse and how, in order to increase the good fortune of ourselves and the world to which we belong, we need to raise our internal windhorse. What the windhorse requires, he said, is fire, wind, and space, enough to create the smoke that lifts prayers to the universe.

He asked us to close our eyes and find room inside us, enough room for a warm wind to rise. Many people, he said, will have difficulty doing this consistently as we tend to fill our lives with so much stuff. Mentally, physically, emotionally. How can peace and light flourish if we don’t give them room?

When I left Serenity Ridge, I was suffused with a sense of peace. It started to rain just when I got in my car, fat drops from a warm sky that left marks in the dust on my windshield. As I drove back down the mountain and alongside the river, one idea surfaced again and again, and the more I’ve tried to honor it in the days since March 2nd, the more powerful it feels.

tibetan nomad hersman by reurinkjan

photo by reurinkjan on flickr.

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Books, bees, and the animism of art

It’s SPRING!
pink path

In Charlottesville, it’s also the Festival of the Book. We’ve got dozens of panels with hundreds of writers talking about everything from teen alien romance serials to MFA-minted poetry. Tomorrow is “Publishing Day,” and I plan to glut myself on upwards of four discussions on the future of books selling as a business model. Speaking of which…

Why we write books when the business part of it sucks

When I took a crack at describing the local authorial scene for the newspaper, I basically chatted with two of my favorite humans, who happen to be local writers, to understand their POVs of the market and the perks and pains of marketing yourself in this little blip of Appalachia.

 

This guy is hilarious.

This guy is hilarious.

I had a lot of awesome quotes (and much giggling as I transcribed Avery Chenoweth’s interview), but of course they couldn’t all make it into a 1000-word piece. So here’s a bit of yet-unpublished musing from a guy who’s been writing for 30+ years:

I write for myself, really. I don’t think about market. I think about it being entertaining, but it often seems to be like pulling a dream out of your head and making it real so someone else can have a dream very much like the one you had. It’s completely, obsessively, wholly absorbing when you do it….

Sometimes it’s like you’re putting a ship in a bottle and sometimes building ships to put in the bottle. Sometimes it seems like a lunatic way to live your life.

Being a writer gives you a real license to enjoy other people, to take another moment talking to people you don’t know and might never meet again. You’re not in a hurry to move on. Your mission statement doesn’t take . I spent a lot of time on these little byways. It’s the best part when you can enjoy what other people do. And not have to be back in the office behind your square tie doing what’s expected.

Read the full article here.

A task of translation

We also announced a new writing contest for Cville area residents, and I would appreciate it if one of my friends won since I can’t participate. Info here.

Jane Alison, UVA’s newest MFA in Creative Writing professor, will be the guest judge for the contest. She has a fairly amazing life story, reaching literary fame, i.e. Booklist noteworthiness, via a path that began with children’s illustrations and “a crappy D.C. prep school.”

The photographer went with a "books" theme. Just in case you missed it.

The photographer went with a “books” theme. Just in case that wasn’t clear.

Fav quote from our conversation:

[My latest book of translations] has nothing to do with non-fiction, but lots to do with language and translating anything into anything else, which is what we do as writers always.

You can read my interview with Alison here.

Inescapable animism

Last night I went to a panel called “The Future of the Literary Essay,” and one of the authors (also a fine artist and teacher) described art like the life-form it is:

You know you’re finished when the painting tells you to get out. As it comes alive it tells you what it wants to be. Art has its own life. Can we even take credit? It’s a form of animism.

Every article, essay, and piece of fiction I write follows this idea. Identify the story, then bring it to life. We are not creators as much as sculptors, seeing in the block of clay a form that we must uncover with careful fingers.

As the planet tilts and we pull out of  darkness, I feel the life-force animating all things–writing, you and me, the birds and the honeybees and the breeze–in the air and everywhere. These are the days!

2014-03-21 10.21.55 am

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Monkey mind at 6am

Yours truly, fresh out of bed. There's a reason this isn't a fashion/makeup/hairstyle blog.

Yours truly, fresh out of bed. There’s a reason this isn’t a fashion/makeup/hairstyle blog.

I took nap yesterday, so I actually woke up on time today, and I rolled downstairs and sat down and folded my legs into lotus-ish and set my alarm for 10 minutes and closed my eyes. Just me and the dog inhaling and exhaling in the darkness.

The chatter started immediately. “You’ve got to do this and this and this and this. Don’t forget to email this person. Don’t forget to send so-and-so a text. Figure out our your travel plans already because you’re probably annoying your friends at this point. Your back hurts. Maybe you should stand up more while you type. Also your foot is collapsing under the weight of your leg. Do you think you’ll have enough time to write both your clients before you go into the paper?”

Bfmreiovbslibnjo;fkmgv. I turned my attention to my hands; I tried to feel their “aliveness.” But feeling the energy of my corporeal body is easier at night for some reason, and I drifted. So I focused on my breath. In and out. Matching Penny’s as she snored on the couch.

“Monkey mind” is a Buddhist term that means “unsettled, restless, or uncontrollable,” according to Wikipedia. In Do the Work, Steven Pressfield calls it chatter. He writes:

In this book, when I say “don’t think,” what I mean is: don’t listen to the chatter. Pay no attention to those rambling, disjoined images and notions that draft across the movie screen of your mind.

Those are not your thoughts.

They are chatter.

They are Resistance.

Breathing out loud steadied me. Chatter slowed. I was able to see each thought like a stock ticker sliding past the glass screen of my mind. I felt each one linger just outside my periphery, so I began to release them when they slid by, imagining (as I have done before) gently pushing them out of the orbit of my brain and watching them disappear into the boundless black of space, like waylaid Julia Robertses.

I smacked my alarm when it started to ring. I sat in my chatter-free bubble for just a few breaths, but when I opened my eyes, it felt like a little victory.

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Luck of the Irish (or How I fell in love with St. Patty’s Day)

image from cardcow.

image from cardcow.

My love for St. Patrick’s Day stems largely from the fact that my mother is a creative genius. Everything we ate was green, for starters. Vegetables, yes, but green mashed potatoes and soups and even green pasta when I was in my buttered pasta phase. I was less enthusiastic about the green milk, but what else would you drink with green sugar cookies?

I wore green and did Irish-related activities in school, but the capstone on St. Patty’s magic came sometime when I was in primary school. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I discovered a tiny piece of paper stuffed into the crease between the backseat cushions of our car covered in scribbly handwriting, with feathery edges where the paper had been torn.

YOU GUYS, I GOT A NOTE FROM A LEPRECHAUN.

The words themselves are hazy now, but I’ll never forget my absolute certainty that a tiny green man climbed into my mother’s purse, ripped a bit of paper off one of her small spiral notepads, and hid a secret note just for me in a place where only I would find it. I had a magical friend from fairy land, and it was by far the coolest thing that had ever happened to me. He left me notes over the years and became my sister’s leprechaun, too, and we had so much fun with this shared secret.

One year he simply disappeared. No note, no clues, but that didn’t shake my faith that he was nearby sometimes, that one day I might catch a glimpse of a little green flash scurrying through the grass or climbing through the hedge to avoid the cats.

cairns & mystery. photo by aaron weissart.

cairns & mystery. photo by aaron weissart.

When I took a course in Celtic Narrative my senior year of college, I learned about fairy mounds, gateways to another world that dotted the Irish countryside. They are thin places, spots where the line between heaven and earth blurs, where the daily way of things slips and pulls away to reveal–something else. Thin places are scattered invisibly across the planet, and fairy mounds are notable for being so easily identified. “How blessed,” I thought, “are those Europeans with their ancient legends and corollary landscapes. Luck of the Irish INDEED.”

In his beautiful NY Times article “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer,” Eric Weiner writes:

You don’t plan a trip to a thin place; you stumble upon one. But there are steps you can take to increase the odds of an encounter with thinness. For starters, have no expectations. Nothing gets in the way of a genuine experience more than expectations, which explains why so many “spiritual journeys” disappoint.

That’s the truth of travel and seeing the world with new eyes: magic appears not where but when we least expect it. When we open our hearts and quiet our minds, the universe has room to surprise us.

In Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein wrote:

Magic Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I’ve had to make myself.

But safe to say, on St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been a bit luckier than that.

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Faith and fairy tales

chronicles of narnia voyage of the dawn treader painting

When I was little, I put faith in fairy tales.

Wood nymphs, naiads, you name it, I believed in them all. Maybe not in this reality, but I knew they were out there. I loved Greek and Norse mythology. I loved books that painted the stories of the world behind the curtain, classics like The Golden Compass and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I knew in my bones that a shimmering world existed just beyond the one that I could see. I knew it as deeply as I knew that love was good and fire bright. Nobody else shared this belief–not that I knew of, anyway–but that didn’t matter. As the saying goes, you know the truth when you hear it.

When I walked in the woods or stood by the sea, I felt so close to this other place. As if all it would take was turning my head or shifting my gaze, peeking around the right tree trunk, and there it would be. Beautiful and boundless and full of light.

Photo from montanarosepainter.

Photo from montanarosepainter.

I never stopped believing in the magic and the mystery. How could I? The world brims with it.

In time, I realized that lots of people loved the same stories I did. I wasn’t the only person who believed. But most people, it seemed, gave up believing in any reality beyond the one they could see or touch. Fantasy was not concrete or tangible, incompatible with the practical requirements of day-to-day survival.

I’m not sure when this shift occurred. Maybe when we stopped using playground as a time to run around and act goofy. At some point in middle school, a call seemed to go out, demanding that we pony up and prove our coolness and smartness and total maturity. Maybe magic reeked of babyhood and belief in Santa Claus.* Or maybe it came with the pressure of finding and keeping a job, of paying bills and doing the dance we thought peers and spouses and hiring managers wanted to see.

In any case, outright embrace of a multidimensional world fell out of popular favor. In my mind, I decided that it was truth in the literary sense, that only storytellers had the tools to draw the curtain back from fantasy.

But lately I’ve felt this connection to truth more strongly than ever before. I’m reading books and talking to people who describe it as a level of soul.

“Picture a fish swimming in one direction,then in a flash, all the fish change directions. The fish don’t think, ‘The fish in front of me turned left, so I should turn left.’ It all happens simultaneously. This synchrony is choreographed by a great, pervasive intelligence that lies at the heart of nature, and is manifest in each of us through what we call the soul.

When we learn to live from the level of the soul, many things happen. We become aware of the synchronous rhythms that govern all life. We understand the lifetimes of memory that have molded us into the people we are today. Fearfulness and anxiety fall away as we stand in wonder observing the world as it unfolds. We notice the web of coincidence that surrounds us, and we realize that there is meaning in even the smallest events. We discover that by applying attention and intention to these coincidences, we can create specific outcomes in our lives. We connect with everyone and everything in the universe, and recognize the spirit that unites us all.”

Photo by David Doubilet.

Photo by David Doubilet.

When you go to a good college and run in socially adept circles, the subject of religion rarely comes up. When it did, I always described myself as spiritual, not religious. In other words, I have deep faith that something greater than me exists, that I am connected to it, and it shapes the rhythm of everything. Now it occurs to me that the fantasy world of my childhood and the spiritual oneness I believe in might be the same thing.

These days, I sense the curtain thinning. I catch glimpses of light shining through. I’m again convinced that if I turn the right corner, a new world will be revealed. And if it feels like a fairy tale, well, so does everything.

 

*By the way, I still believe in Santa Claus. Even if he doesn’t come down the chimney, we’ve cultivated a story so powerful he exists as an echo of our energy and love. So if we hide presents for our children and sign “from Santa Claus,” we’re not telling them a lie. We’re making the story come true.

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On a field with the dragon

Photo from FitSugar.

NOPE. Photo from FitSugar.

Look at this. A lovely woman in flowing garments, radiant with a beatific smile and cocoon of ambient light. You know who she reminds me of?

Gwyneth Paltrow, a little. But not me, that’s for bleeping sure.

When I sat for 15 minutes this morning and attempted to meditate, my brain. flipped. out. “Let’s think about clothes and work and emails and your nagging concerns that you don’t know what you’re doing 99% of the time,” it said. “Let’s think about how much you need to blow your nose and wipe your eyes and scratch your head and stretch your back, and while we’re at it let’s think about your gym schedule and your day schedule and how you probably can’t accomplish half the stuff you want to including meditation right this second HAHAHAHA.”

Some mornings are like this.

I just began to read a book by Steven Pressfield called Do the Work. He leads with this idea:

On the field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.

When do we feel resistance, Pressfield asks? Any time we act in a way “that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.” The list, he says, includes but is not limited to: spiritual advancement; education of every kind; any act of political, moral, or ethical courage; the pursuit of any calling in any creative art, however marginal or unconventional; launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise; the undertaking of any endeavor whose aim is to help others; and any act that entails commitment of the heart.

I’m already in love with this book, and you should buy it and read it, but since I’ll likely be quoting its ideas for a while, here is one more thought:

Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North–meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.

We can use this.

We can use it as a compass.

We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or purpose that we must follow before all others.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

As I scratched and blinked and trumpeted my nose this morning, I remembered this. I don’t invite resistance into my life, but I routinely do things that make me uncomfortable, that seem to encourage it. And that’s how I know I’m on the right track. My overwhelming desire in the stillness of early morning to stand up and do jumping jacks or eat a box of Nerds is just a sign that I need that stillness more than I realize.

So NEENER NEENER, resistance, and don’t you fret, ego-mind. There’s a place in me where I’m always at peace, where I’m forever centered and calm, and all I have to do to find it is the work.

At the end of my 15 minutes, I opened my eyes and looked out the window. It was snowing. I was finished, but I hadn’t called it quits.

I’ll be back tonight and tomorrow. I’m following my compass.

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Awake, my soul

foxes and feathers

Photo from Foxes & Feathers.

About nine months ago, I took a field trip to the library. I thought I’d surprise its weekly teen writing group and recruit them to my creative writing summer camp, but apparently I misread the calendar and missed the group completely. So I browsed the crowded stacks in the white wooden building, bouncing from YA fantasy to adult self-help without a trace of irony. I picked up an intriguing title and skimmed the preface until I came to this:

Each of us is immersed in a network of coincidences that inspire us and held direct our lives. At this moment, my destiny has led me to write this book, to commune with you through the words on this page. Just the fact that you are reading these words now–that you walked into the library or bookshop, found this book, chose to open the cover, and are investing time and energy to learn about synchrodestiny–is one of those potentially life-altering choices. What circumstances brought you to this book? How did you choose this book over thousands of others? What changes did you think you might like to make in your life as you read through the opening paragraphs?

Seeing the web of coincidences in our lives, however, is just the first stage of understanding and living synchrodestiny. The next stage is to develop an awareness of coincidences while they are happening. It is easy to see them in hindsight, but if you catch coincidences at the moment they occur, you are better positioned to take advantage of the opportunities they may be presenting. Also awareness translates into energy. The more attention you give to coincidences, the more likely they are to appear, which means you begin to gain greater and greater access to the messages being sent to you about the path and direction of your life.

I took the book home with me.

When I realized the book narrated a cycle of weekly mediation exercises, I bought it. In the fall, certain writing exercises helped me explore the liminal edge between body and soul, life and death. I became more comfortable talking about these subjects with other people.

At the beginning of 2014, I began to meditate more regularly, following the exercises outlined in the book I’d set on my shelf and forgotten. Today I’m immersed in a process that feels both new and intensely familiar, a spiritual development that feels more like awakening than discovery. After months of reading, I need to write about it, and you, dear reader, are invited to join me.

Side note:

To get “in the mood” for writing, I inevitably turn to music. This morning I searched Spotify for “awake,” angling to listen to Awake by Tycho. After six loops, I backed up one song too far and heard Mumford and Sons. I haven’t heard that particular song in a  few years, but I have a quote from it tacked to the cork board next to me.

In these bodies we will live
in these bodies we will die
where you invest your love you invest your life.

The song is called “Awake My Soul.” Beautiful coincidence.

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Stephen Adly Guirgis on Writing: what I left out from my interview with the author of The Motherf*cker with the Hat

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis over the phone. Live Arts, one of Charlottesville’s main community theaters, was in production with the show that earned Guirgis his Broadway debut: the foul-named (waitforit) The Motherfucker with the Hat.

Guirgis grew up on New York’s Upper West Side under a variety of cultural and artistic influences. He went on to grind the grind like many artists do, and today he works as a playwright and member and co-artistic director of the LAByrinth Theater Company.

Live Arts liked my article so much they put it on an easel in their window! (J/k. Pretty sure they love Guirgis more than my writing. But I'll take it!)

Live Arts liked my article so much they put it on an easel in their window! (J/k. Pretty sure they love Guirgis more than my writing. But I’ll take it!)

I read Motherfucker to prepare for our interview, and it was a crack-snap-you’re-done experience. The fact that one of his shows would open on Broadway seemed to surprise Guirgis, and I found myself charmed by his humility, quick mind, and thick New York accent. Here was a guy who worked the trenches, who wrote when he felt bad and when he felt good, and by virtue of diligence and his knack for dialogue created a colorful, hilarious world in just 50 pages.

If 203 has been my year to act—to build diligence as a writer, to finish what I start—then 2012 was the time I focused on editing fiercely, on paring down and cutting back my words until only the truth remained. (These days, of course, I may not have the time to do the deep edits I love, but I know how to wield the razor blade. I have my red pen at the ready.)

When I look at the small heap of word-rubble that stands after my wrecking ball edits, I shed a small tear for time lost to my writing practice. But this is my way: overwrite, then cut. Farewell, useless words.

At the time of our interview, I was directing a staged reading of a friend’s work-in-progress. After a heated discussion with my friend on the subject, I decided to ask Guirgis how he felt about actors who “interpret” scripts—i.e. mess around with dialogue. Once an actor, Guirgis’s response was immediate and firm.

“Once I became a writer and understood what it takes to actually write, I had a lot more respect for the written word as it is written. Everything that is on the page took a lot of time and effort.”

Then he said my most favorite thing:

“It costs us something to do what we do. It costs me something to write a play, and it costs you something to write this article. The same way it costs an actor to give a great performance or a director to build a great show. But busy actors and directors can do three to five plays a year. If you’re very prolific, a playwright can write one play a year—really a play every few years.

“So if you think about it,” he said, “my life is shorter than everyone else’s. And if I told you how many fucking cigarettes I smoked while writing this play, you would know it.”

I didn’t need convincing, of course. We just laughed, two half-lives syncing for a minute on the phone line.

You can read my entire interview with Mr. Guirgis here

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True Tales from a Would-be Paranormal Investigator

Halloween in the woods.

Halloween in the Charlottesville woods.

I grew up in a beautiful part of New Jersey, a hook of land between ocean, river, and rolling hills. Though my hometown was established in 1669, its history hid beneath slick restaurants, McMansions, and manicured boutiques. Age manifested as rows of vast and stately trees, ivy-strewn estate houses tucked far from prying eyes, or crumbling chimneys and foundations in modest homes downtown.

When I moved to Charlottesville two years ago, I saw historical markers as frequently as I used to see strip malls. I passed marble statues of founding fathers on the walk to work. Historic battlefields outnumbered dance clubs. Markers of tragedy in bygone eras—war, widespread illness, sensational murders—peppered the ground I walked on. Coupled with the architecture and objects around which the lost orbited their lives, we’ve got to be living in one of America’s most haunted places.

Don’t we?

When my editor pitched the idea of a ghost cover story, I put up my hand and smirked to myself. This’ll be easy as pie, I thought. I’ll make a few phone calls, badda bing, badda boom.

I forgot that I don’t know how to made pie. And I found out our ghosts aren’t so easy to find.

*    *    *

Normally I prepare for Halloween the traditional way: by shoveling ghost-shaped Peeps down my maw as soon as they’re available at CVS and scouring Goodwill the night before a costume party in the hopes inspiration will strike. This year, however, I got in the spirit with something a bit more authentic: ghost hunting.

Yes, me. The girl who can’t watch Scary Movie (the parody) without hiding behind my hands. The girl who still lies corpse-stiff under covers if she thinks she hears a peep on the stairs at night. But I had this assignment, and local ghost stories weren’t throwing themselves themselves onto my laptop. So I agreed to learn the tricks of the trade and become a reporter seeking spooks or whatever goes bump in the night, and the part of me that adores all things paranormal loved every second of it.

ghost story

I love my friends in the Art Department.

Today, the issue with my cover story is available on newsstands, and I’m so happy I could spit. Granted, I found two typos (more like word choices that would only bother me), but after 5 weeks of interviews and 2 weeks of investigations and 7 days of 3am writing and editing sessions I couldn’t bring myself to re-read it that fourth and final time. Call it post-cover psychosis.

If you’re curious to hear what I learned and found in my travels you can click here to read the full article: http://www.c-ville.com/spirited-away-an-amateurs-foray-into-ghost-hunting-yields-spooky-results/

About 5,000 words didn’t make it into the final version. Plenty of those are better left unread, but after my turn as an incredibly amateur “paranormal investigator,” I  can’t help but share one last piece. Think of this as the field report that Mulder or Scully types up at the end of most X-Files episodes.

*    *     *

I left my foray into paranormal investigation with just a scrap of evidence. Yet strangely I knew, in the bones of my bones, that the rooms I had passed through were haunted. The fault, I sensed, lay not in the truth but in my ability to perceive it.

“There are thirty spirits to every one human being,” Rexrode had said, his voice lifting through Starbucks white noise. “You know what that means? They’re in the room right now.”

“We really don’t know how it works,” Lotts added. “But we know they exist, there’s no doubt.”

True believers are everywhere, I’d learned, just like the spirits they’ve chosen to seek. They have faithful families and spaghetti dinners. They sell cars and insurance. They look like your neighbors, your cousins and friends, and if you don’t greet them with open mind and heart, you won’t even know they are there.

But if you do—and you if listen—you find they share one story.

“In physics,” Alex McGinnis told me, “the Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. When we die, that energy has to go somewhere, and our job is to find out where.”

“Energy is in your body, and your body is just a shell. When we pass,” Angel May asked, “where does that energy go?”

“To me this is proof that God exists,” said Nan Coleman, “that if something comes after, there’s something more. I believe that I’ve been here before,” she said, “and since we’re here together, this is not your first time, either.”

I did take a walk through Maplewood Cemetery one night as twilight fell. I recognized some of the most powerful names from Charlottesville’s past and completely illegible headstones. Some graves were sunken and others fresh, plots for whole families and sad, child-sized stones.

I didn’t see glowing orbs or phantom shadows, just the quiet press of time. So many hands had fallen still, I thought. So much love had gone unsung.

But through another lens, perhaps, I would see another world: shimmering particles concentrated or scattered, energy of the spirit clustered without mass. After all, I was starting to learn, absence of evidence is not the same as a lack of proof.

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Two months in review (with photos!)

I’m sitting on a brick patio on the pedestrian mall downtown, and when I look straight up I see this:

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You’re welcome.

September is over, and I didn’t even get a chance to finish and post my yikes-August-is-over post. Between the clear blue sky, warm sun, and frolicking sparrows and squirrels (chittering at in my dog from the tree branches),  September 30 feels like the best part of summer right now.

It seems like forever ago that I made my lofty list of goals. I only managed to complete a few, so few, in fact, it isn’t worth counting. I did meet the most important goal I’d set for myself, though–I took more risks.

At the beginning of August I talked a big talk about planting flags and saying yes and gosh darn it, I did that. I said yes a lot.

I starred in a (6-minute) play (nine performances in three different bars around town!). I took a part-time job at the local newspaper (Assistant Arts Editor? Stop the presses!). I helped a group of locals start youth programming for school-age writers in C’ville and led bi-weekly open hours for the students. I recently directed my first (with many caveats) show—a staged reading of a friend’s play that will open to the public tonight.

In the resultant tidal wave of interesting projects and new clients meant I had to work. A lot. Cue twelve-hour days and missed sleep deadlines and a sudden, crippling addiction to the show Orphan Black and, now that I’ve worked my way through every episode, a rekindling love with The X-Files.

I also went to two weddings, both of which moved me to tears. So much love! So many beautiful brides! Old friend and glorious reunions and tiny tiny ferns!

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BAGH SO ADORABLE!

For our wedding on the NC/SC border, I stayed with the groomsmen in a farmhouse built in 1889. The property include beautiful trails in the woods, a coop of super-friendly, ready-to-be-fed chickens, and several bonfires once our weekend of fraternity bromance came to a close.

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I was the weirdo taking pictures of trees while everyone else shotgunned beers.

I also took a refreshing and relatively unplugged week at my native Jersey Shore. Ever since I came back, I’ve felt introspective. Lying in the sun for five days straight will do that: flatten you out with heat and light, tune your breath to an ocean breeze.

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As I sprawled on the beach or floated in the sea, I felt my mind bump against my eternal yin and yang: the need to root and the need to wander.

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Because we get one life, right? One life to do all the amazing, incredible things we dream of? Including nurturing families and friendships and homebuilding and travel?

When I try to compute the hours of all dreamed-for events as well as those wonderful live-in-the-moment activities—from workdays to dates to playtime to REM sleep—time virtually disappears.

I’m slowly learning that it is impossible to do everything this big bright world offers. That my desire to swallow it all is fruitless, is a spinning wheel that only pumps its own frustration. Beautiful afternoons like this one remind me that this isn’t exactly a loss. That thing I’m longing for is only awareness. Not the imagined future or the romanticized past. Just the press of sun on my shoulders and the breeze against my face.

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