Calling all garden enthusiasts

Please take pity on my black thumb.

Okay, it’s not really black. Still. I have, after all, managed not only to kill a cute little cactus plant some years ago, but I also apparently frustrated it enough to cause it to plot and scheme and finally find a way to puncture me with one of its devious needles before it finally melted into a pool of mush. (I shouldn’t have been lulled by its diminutive size.)

But a few years ago, I planted some gladiolas out front and was amazed at the mass of gorgeous blooms that decorated the house all summer. So I got a bit bolder, and put two rose bushes in the front, too. The next year, they burst the spring season wide open with 30+ (yes, I counted) fist-sized roses on each plant.

I couldn’t believe something I planted could actually produce such beautiful flowers. I thought I finally put an end to my horticidal tendencies. (I don’t know if that’s an actual word, but it should be.) But this year, the rose bushes are looking sad and forlorn, not to mention yellow and rusted and spotted all over. First I thought it might be black rot. Then I thought maybe an aphid attack. Then I spied Japanese beetles loitering around, the nasty goons. Now I think it might be all those and some other stuff just biding their time until their chance to pull an ambush presents itself.

My gladiolas aren’t doing too good either. Bolstered by the repeat blooms the following year even without digging up the bulbs, I left them in again the next year. Now there are significantly more leaves than flowers. It looks like I have a giant scallion bed. To make matters worse, the pesky chipmunks have managed to dig up just about every hyacinth and tulip bulb, leaving only a few daffodils looking quite sparse and friendless.

Oh, and four years ago, we planted a whole bunch of mums in every imaginable color, and those lovely little flower balls were such a happy sight coming up the driveway. And now? Don’t ask me how, but although the hardy little mums survived, they’re all the same shade of dark pink/purple. What happened? I planted an equal opportunity mum garden! Where did all the others go?

Are you feeling properly sorry and aww-shucks-y and there-there-y for me yet? Can you feel my black thumb tugging at your very soul, begging for some glimmer of hope in this dark brush otherwise known as my front garden? Can you find it in your heart and thumb and aching knee to help me?

Well, this time, I’ve decided to start from scratch. Yes, I’m pulling up all the gladiolus bulbs (every stinkin’ one of the 90+ ones out front). The daffodils will go too, but I’m looking to relocate them somewhere else because they’re still purty and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I’m on a mission to find some friends to play with my monochromatic mums, and am debating the merits of attempting to salvage my roses bushes versus simply giving up on them.

I’ll post some pictures of the area I need to re-design, but in the meantime, I’m desperate for suggestions as to flower or plant combinations. Our area is zone 6, and the front gets a pretty good amount of sunlight (more direct light in the morning than afternoon). But I do have one side of the house that’s shady, and it can use some sprucing up as well.

I know beggars can’t be choosers, but just in case you’re feeling particularly charitable:

  1. Stuff that will repel chipmunks, deer, squirrels, rabbits, mosquitoes, and giant crocodiles will always be welcome. If they can also attract a platypus, then they’ve got a spot in my garden. I’ve always wondered what those weirdos look like up close.
  2. Given the whole gladiola experience, I’d rather not put something down that I’d have to either dig up every winter or divide every year. I know, I know. I’m a bum.
  3. I need disease-resistant plants. Come to think of it, I need to be disease-resistant myself. I attract enough germs and pests as it is. Must have something to do with bum-hood.
  4. Since we’ve already established that I’m a bum, and bums don’t typically have wads of cash to spend on plants every season, then I guess it’s safe to say that I’m partial to bulbs and perennials rather than annuals.

I throw myself at your feet hoping that next year’s garden will look more like … like … well, let’s just say I hope it will look a lot less like the thicket it is now. (Unless ‘tumbleweed nouveau’ is slated to become the next new chic look, in which case maybe I’m just a landscape savant.)

Until then, I’ll sit back and suck my black thumb until I figure out what to do with the mess outside.

Or maybe we can just move.

(Please don’t make us move. I still have unopened boxes from my last move four years ago. But that’s another story.)

Beyond words

In his book A Way To Be Free, Ben Okri writes:

…the highest things are beyond words. This is probably why all art aspires to the condition of wordlessness. When literature works on you, it does so in silence, in your dreams, in your wordless moments. Good words enter you and become moods, become the quiet fabric of your being. Like music, like painting, literature too wants to transcend its primary condition and become something higher. Art wants to move into silence, into the emotional and spiritual conditions of the world. Statues become melodies, melodies become yearnings, yearnings become actions.

It made me think of my process of writing, which has always been mostly mood-driven. When I was much younger (and a more prolific writer), I had a seemingly endless well of new emotions and realizations that made for a great roller coaster ride and fed the writing frenzy. I used to always say that when the mood struck, I would grab my pen and start writing. But when the feeling was too strong, or too complex for words, I would head instead to the piano and write music. Instrumental music, mostly. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of songs I’ve written with lyrics. It used to frustrate me endlessly how I could only craft a song with lyrics if the words and the music came together. I could never set my poetry to music, or write lyrics for my melodies.

Later on, I realized it was because the feelings weren’t the same. It took a certain depth of emotion for me to write music, and if that was my sanctuary when the words wouldn’t come, then how can I hope to force lyrics into something that was beyond words to begin with? In the same way, writing poetry or prose meant I was able to come to terms with whatever the impetus was. The story would have finished itself on paper. I had no idea nor motivation to add more to it.

Which brings me to this post, because I’ve listening to some neglected tracks on my computer. They have lyrics, yes, but because they are either in Spanish or Portuguese and I speak neither, then these songs have the same effect on me as instrumental music. I am able to appreciate the voice purely as a musical instrument, and inject any meaning into the song.

So allow me to introduce you to Rosana Arbelo, known simply as Rosana. She is a Rosanasinger-songwriter from Spain, and quite an accomplished guitarist as well. I love the texture of her voice, and when she sings, I get the sense that I’m listening to some secret poem that is as simple as it is profound. It makes me wonder about what hidden truths I may be concealing from myself, as if they will only reveal themselves under the cloak of another language.

I’m not sure if I want to know what the lyrics mean or not. When I let my imagination work out the meaning on its own, it’s like hearing a different message every time the song plays. I like the magic in that. And, as Ben Okri wrote (hey, we’re back full circle), “Magic becomes art when it has nothing to hide.”

As a matter of strange and unplanned case of coincidence, Rosana’s latest album is called Magia. Oh, and NO, this has nothing to do with the recent Latin night at American Idol. Just sayin’.

Carta Urgente

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Llueve

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Si Tu No Estas

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Donde Ya No Te Tengo (acustico)

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Descubriendote

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Tormenta De Arena

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Bajo Charcos

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And to speed things up a bit, lest you think I’ve never known a funky mood, here’s a song that’s one of my favorite morning wake up tunes. I don’t care if it’s a typical and predictable chord progression. This song makes me get up and move!

Pa’calor

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Writing

 
A friend and much-admired writer (among his other titles, which include artist, songwriter, poet, photographer, journalist, and arguably just about anything and anywhere creativity can take an invididual) wrote this in his blog recently:

 

Writing is both a curse and a beam of grace. Before I actually start writing my weekly article for Philippine Star, I notice a heaviness building up in me. I am beset with fear, doubt and inertia about writing. I am stumped by the perennial questions most writers face which is, what to write about. What do I really want to say? But often, the moment I sit down and commit to write, something does happen. It’s like inspiration always shows up when we go through the trouble of asking Her to. And yet, the fact that it happens 99% of the time is not reassuring enough for me. Often, we fixate on the 1% that things will go wrong. I guess that’s the accompanying angst that writers go through. It’s a paradox. Without the accompanying doubt, the beam of grace like the cavalry that comes to the rescue, is worthless.

 
I go through the same paralyzing inertia the moment I think to myself, “Hey, it’s been a while since I’ve written something on my blog. Maybe I should fix that.” For me, it’s a war between structure and flow. When I’m away from the computer, certain events throughout my day trigger thoughts in my head that entertain me, often to the point of me thinking I’d like to write about it. Then, when faced with the screen and the blinking cursor, I freeze. What were those thoughts again? How do I put them down without sounding like a rambling idiot?

 
How can I organize my thoughts into a cohesive, flowing whole when I need post-its on my refrigerator to remind me to sort out my kitchen drawer?

 
Being a regular follower of Jim’s blog and having read all the articles he’s written, I was very surprised to find that he agonizes over every post or article. Each one is so well-crafted and insightful that I always believed his writing was an effortless art fashioned from a heightened awareness and sensitivity, an everyday man who found the secret to communicating universal truths and making them deeply personal for every reader.

 
I don’t have that gift. It’s usually hit-or-miss with me. Or, at the very best, hit-or-keep-trying. Sometimes, as a dear friend once put it, writing for me is “like bleeding for words.”

 
When I used to play basketball, I was a streak shooter. Half a quarter would go by and everything I threw in the air somehow found the basket. Then, just as suddenly, I’d get cold and start tossing bricks. My coach knew to take me out of the game then and let the streak find me again before frustration set in.

 
I think I’ve always thought of myself as a streak writer. When I’m in the zone, the words come easy. And they come often. I like those streaks and learned to wait patiently for them.

 

But often, the moment I sit down and commit to write, something does happen.

 
Perhaps therein lies my problem. I sit down and hope to write. Maybe it’s as simple as just committing to write. Maybe it’s not so much waiting on the sidelines for the streak to show up and get back in the game. Maybe I just have to show up, intent on playing.

 
Oh, did I mention I’m also a streak resolution-maker?

 
 

Out with the old, in with the new

Our garbage cans have been in a sorry state for some time now, so we finally found time to get new ones. We spent weeks searching for just the right kind. Was it sturdy enough? Do the wheels roll straight? Is the cover tight? Can we justify spending more than $250 on three cans to hold stuff worthless enough to throw away? Who knew shopping for something to dump trash in would involve so many decisions?

After finally heading home with the brand new cans, I looked at our old ragged eyesores and wondered: how do you get rid of old garbage cans? If you leave them out on the curb with a sign that reads “TRASH,” won’t the guys who come to collect it say, “Uh … you think?” And if it’s made of plastic, should you instead put it out with the recyclables? Should you cut it up first so they don’t leave it behind, thinking how can people stand having such sorry-looking cans?

And so more weeks passed with the new cans unused, until I finally called the town to find out exactly what to do with the old ones. Which I could have done much earlier, if not for inertia, the incidental entertainment of coming up with different ways to do it (there was comedy in it somewhere, I could smell it), and just plain laziness.

So the old cans are finally gone, but the whole thing got me thinking about other things in my life that I keep around simply because I don’t know how to get rid of them, or just don’t want to make the time to throw them away properly. (Of course I would extrapolate from the trash can incident. Otherwise, this would just be a boring story about disposing of some old garbage cans that would serve no purpose other than proving to myself that I got yet another trivial task done.)

I’m not talking about the material junk we collect, although I could use with some major sloughing-off in that area too. I was thinking of ideas, beliefs, and old habits that linger past their usefulness, beyond their initial validity. They have a way of sticking around, not for any real purpose or benefit, but simply because they’ve always been there and I’ve sort of stopped noticing their presence, or just tolerate their space because I can’t be bothered with dealing with the change.

Some I keep for sentimental reasons. Like old friends with whom I no longer have anything in common, but whose company I enjoy still because just being around them reminds me of my history, the past persona from whom my present emerged. See, those still have their value. They don’t just take up empty space and fill it with dead weight.

And then some are like those Fisher Price tool sets I played with as a child (I was a rebel; I refused to play with dolls). They were fine for that time, because, well, my pre-school hands were clumsy and uncoordinated, and the bright colors mattered more than their actual utility. You know what I mean. You probably played with the same toys as a kid. Maybe you still have your set in your attic somewhere, packed in an anonymous brown box that may never be opened again. But that’s okay, because you can’t use them now, and you’ve just about forgotten completely about them. Except when you see some child playing with a similar set, and suddenly remember how much fun you had with yours.

We, too, have ideas and rules that we’ve outgrown. They were fine for their time, and they’re good for those nostalgic walks down memory lane, but they should have no more bearing on our important decisions. That would be like trying to use your toy tools to do major construction on your home. You won’t get much done, and the little that you do finish is poorly made. You’ll be wasting your time expending so much effort for so little, and chances are, you’ll end up with some inane work injury in the process.

Life sometimes surprises us with unexpected bruises. We don’t need to add self-inflicted ones. We shouldn’t make things harder on ourselves.

I think I should set aside some time to take stock of my life’s inventory. Some need to be filed away for my life’s scrapbook, others need to be simply discarded. We accumulate so much clutter and forget that our space is limited. We may be hanging on to our old, ragged stuff because we’re too oblivous, or too lazy to throw it out. So that is the new entry on my to-do list. Spring cleaning for the soul. Never mind that the first day of fall is just around the corner.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the town’s recycling department said I should just leave the old garbage cans out with the rest of our regular trash, and attach a sign saying, “Please take this can with the trash.” Don’t you wish everything else was that easy?

Reach out and touch someone

Today I checked out the Indiana Review because I read somewhere online that one of my favorite poets – a Filipina by the name of Conchitina R. Cruz – had been featured there a few years ago. As I was browsing the submission guidelines (because I live a rich fantasy life), I came across something that struck me. It read:

“We look for poems, stories, and nonfiction that are well-crafted and lively, have an intelligent sense of form and language, assume a degree of risk, and have consequence beyond the world of their speakers or narrators.”

Have consequence beyond the world of their speakers or narrators. Poof! I believe that is the accepted sound effect of a fantasy bubble bursting.

I don’t think of my writings as having any consequence beyond my own world. Why should they? I write in my world, wage battles with my demons (which I admittedly am quite fond of, them being selfishly mine and sometimes the only company I keep) in my world, and yes, even that rich fantasy life of mine is entirely grounded in my world, or the one I create in my head. Which still belongs to my world.

I have my moments of larger consciousness, but I have this nagging feeling that it isn’t truly a venture beyond. Likely, it’s simply a result of my personal world expanding, stretching to accommodate new ideas, life-shifting revelations. Perhaps it’s just the slack created after having exerted so much tension expelling what no longer serves me. The way a rubber band never returns to its original size after an afternoon of “whoever has the least number of welts wins.” (Okay, so that’s not really a game, but it could be.)

I say to myself that the only way my writings will have consequence beyond my world is if somehow, there is someone out there on a similar journey, whose world closely matches mine, or at least shares a more-than-incidental bond. Maybe my demons have cousins or old college roommates somewhere, co-majors in Fair Fight Pretense 101, holding their power in check as an act of mercy toward that kindred soul.

I guess the trick would be to find a way to make my words reach that other not-so-doppelganger-but-close-enough person. Maybe something of mine will stretch the elastic borders of their world. Whether or not I find out about it should be secondary; the consequence is no longer in my control.

Perhaps that is why many people blog. Not just to document their lives, or show off their language skills. Maybe, in some way, we are trying to let our words reach the widest audience possible, increasing our chances of touching someone else’s world. Maybe this is our method of affirming our uniqueness while seeking a degree of sameness with another soul. Or maybe just the possibility of having consequence beyond our world is enough comfort, enough tangential company in an otherwise solitary existence.

“Aloneness is a state of being, whereas loneliness is a state of feeling. It’s like the difference between being broke and being poor.”

Townes Van Zandt

I thought that perhaps I write to purge my mouth of the words I cannot say out loud, to make sure they don’t just echo back to me across an emtpy space and confirm the suspicion that there is no one else out there. But maybe I just write to disperse the loneliness I feel, to create words that keep me company. Maybe that’s all it is.

Driver’s seat

2006-bohol-beach-club-row-of-coconut-trees.jpg

 
I just returned from a three-week trip to the Philippines. In some ways, I’m still trying to process thirteen years of change. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Places and structures look absolutely different, but the people, sounds and smells are all still the same.

I have lots of musings and thoughts about the trip, and even more experiences both funny and momentous (well, at least for me). But I’m not writing about those right now. Something else has been weighing on my mind.

I’m trying to understand why I’m so different when I’m back home. Not in the sense that I no longer fit in or can’t adjust. On the contrary, it’s like I’ve suddenly rediscovered my real self, or at least what’s left of it. It’s like part of me went to sleep when I left Manila, and the auto-pilot me took over running my life in the US. Which seemed like a sensible thing to do then, because the auto-pilot me is more practical, more sensible, and follows instructions beautifully.

But on manual mode, my old goals return, old plans set aside start resurfacing. Dreams reappear, giving birth to even more dreams made up as I go. I magically feel more hope, more promise, more drive to actually try and, in Joseph Campbell’s words, do what the push is out of my existence.

I visited old haunts, flirted with old ghosts. I saw old friends, who say I still look the way I did when I left. Okay, so maybe I just feel different. Then we talk, the usual, “so what are you doing now?” And then there it is. The look of surprise, or bewilderment, at my answer. Almost to a person, they say they would have thought I’d be doing something in music by now. Or poetry, literature, writing. Something creative. Anything in that world. And the sharp pang in my chest—this primal ache and longing and painful regret—tells me that somewhere inside, I’ve been wondering the same thing too.

So a dear friend says, Why not? It’s not too late. All you need is an arranger. And I start thinking, yes! Why not indeed? And the excitement builds, and now I’m singing my old songs in my head again, going over my lyrics, imagining how the piano solo will sound, or where a hint of strings will fit in. All the great things the arranger will do for my work. I tell myself it’s about time; I should have done this years ago. I’ve loved music since I was a little kid, been writing it since I was eleven. What in the world kept me from taking the plunge? Didn’t I always say this was what I should be doing with my life?

Now I’ve been back in the US less than a week, and already the doubts have crept in. I listen to some favorite songs, and think there’s no way I can even approach that. So okay, I tell myself maybe I can just write lyrics. Then I put on Ghost by the Indigo Girls, and am enamored all over again of the words and the brilliant use of imagery that I paralyze myself. I think, good grief, there really is no way I could ever do THATwith words.

So I start singing my songs a little less. Picked up my guitar, and put it back down. Sat at the piano, then the phone rang and that was the end of that. Now I’m back to checking email, catching up on work, getting back on track with chores. Slowly the music and writing plan is inching back to the “on hold” side, and sadly, I’m letting it happen again.

I need to be rid of the auto-pilot me. I need to take back the reins and start running things myself again. I need to remember what makes me truly happy, and completely alive.

And I need to stop just writing about it and start doing. Carpe diem. Carpe vita.

 

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Is this thing on?

<taps microphone>

Earth to Ivoryhut, earth to Ivoryhut. You still with us?

Okay, so I’m really bad at this blogging thing. I’ve been online an obscene amount of time lately, but have I made time for this blog? No. Too busy doing everything else but. Oh, to be in high school again, with only homework to worry about and the rest of the waking hours at my disposal.

So many things have been going through my head the past weeks. Reflections on the “new immigrant” experience, precipitated by a friend’s relocation to Australia. Reminiscing about that first brush with love, and the soundtrack of the whole crazy, wonderfully intoxicating ride. Mundane thoughts on why it’s such agony trying to come up with something new to prepare for dinner every night.

I can’t seem to hold on to any profundity for long. Other things keep barging in. Did I remember to put the wash in the dryer? Why are the leaves on my hibiscus turning white? Is that chicken defrosted yet or do I have to soak it in water? And just like that, poof! The epiphany’s gone. Worse, sometimes I don’t even remember what it was all about in the first place.

Thankfully, music’s been a real savior. I’ve been rediscovering the wonder of finding music that reaches inside you and nudges your soul awake. I’ve even started writing music again. I can’t believe how much I’ve missed this, the power to fashion one’s own salvation from the grind, the gift of creating a private sanctuary. Never mind that nobody else gets it. It may be perfect for me and only me. Even if no one else wants to share it.

Thank goodness I was too much of a child wimp to rebel against piano lessons. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t play. I’d probably resort to singing. Which would just be cruel to so many people in so many levels.

Welcome to the Ivory Hut. No, it is not made of soap.