Friday, March 13, 2015

I'm back. No really, this time I mean it.

Many hilarities and hijinx have occurred over the past year -- all of them quite fantastically good -- and for now, at least, I seem to be back in the land of narrative writing. This time, I'm focusing on science writing, which means I've got an assignment (a print precursor to a blog I'm launching, www.ordinarywondeful.com) and am both remembering how to be a journalist and teaching myself to be a semi-rigorous writer of things science at the same time. What hasn't changed after all these years is how messy the process seems to be, how time-consuming it is, and how much joy it gives me, all at the same time.
Since I'm back to writing, hopefully, I'll be back to posting here, too, detailing things like if an apparent journal article reads too much like commercial copy, chances are that's exactly what it is.
With writing science, too, I'm getting the additional benefit of reading primary research in a quest to sort it out for my readers. Sort of like being in school studying my very favorite things for free or even for pay. In short, life is pretty good in Ericaland.

Until the next time and to quote my newly acquired editor, five words and a comma,

Erica.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The joy file

Found this list of things that make me happy in my evernote collection today:

Dancing to star anna and friends
Mountain biking!!!
Being home and running into ppl in prescott
Friend melody
Friend andrea
Spanish club
My ten min workouts
elephants
smart parrots
bengali
Dancing
Finishing and shipping writing
Watching indie movies
Dancing to indie bands
Gardening
Seagulls
Watching kids in the sea center fountain
innkeeper
green chile
tequila
dogs
cats
deep red flowers
sunflowers

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The garden: Learning to curate

Last year, I planted seeds hither and thither in the patch of dirt at the front of my apartment complex. Plants came up, tall and short, motley and not. They bolted and went bust. Like a cat lady, but with plants, I didn't have the heart to cull any of them and as the season wore on, the garden went from ugly to hideous. In the fall, as the clouds rolled in and the Pacific Northwest darkness descended, I promised myself that I would curate next year's garden better. And I have. This year, I planted from tall to small, and in a mixture of colors. I allowed the plants to have their season and then I took them out to make more room for those that had grown up robust in their stead. This year, I get all manner of compliments on the garden, strangers coming up and telling me my garden looks good. My landlady says her friends comment to her about it. It worked; I curated and created something worth having.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The awakening

Estoy muriendo a esta vida y
despertando a otra.
Como flores, tenemos estaciones.
Unas para lograr, otras para amar.
Hoy amo, mañana amaré.

Estoy muriendo a esta vida, pues
nunca era mia.
Sino es la de los hombres, de gente
fuerte que lucha, que logra.
Tengo jardines para cuidar
Tengo niños que quieren
ver la luz.

Lo que queda es despertar,
crear, morir.

Estoy despertando a esta vida.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Damaged goods

Some of us came here rough. We don't have dulcet tones singing in our brains as we go. We fight for everything and our scars are shiny and tight.
We're in whipshape because we have to be, but we're a little too quick to go for the sword, too. We're the beautiful, dangerous ones -- the ones who require more forbearance and for all of that, can show you worlds you've never thought to dream of.
Are we better? No.
Are we more lovable? Hardly.
But we're a barrel of laughs, a snootful of adventure and despite the scars and the ticks, we have the biggest, truest hearts of all. We're the outliers: quick, exploratory, childlike, generous, impetuous, funny. We're beautiful, deadly, awesome creatures and once we love you, we'll protect you from death and harm. We'll keep you warm. We'll feed you and make you feel loved.
We burn a little hotter and we cut a little closer. For all the good it does us, we care a little more. So maybe we deserve love, or at least consideration. You could do worse than us.
It's up to you to decide if we're worth it. Some do and some do not. That is the way with us.
To apologize for who we are would be a denial of our gifts and birthright. It would insult God and shame our mothers and fathers.
We are who we are and who we are is complex and beautiful.
And we are here to serve. Always.

Friday, February 8, 2013

"You should write a book"

Funny thing happened today. Two different people from two completely different walks of life suggested I write a book. One of them didn't even know that I'd been bleeding at the altar of the written word for the past...oh my god...decade. And still, she said, she'd want to read a book if I wrote it.
I'm not sure what I want to write a book about. I watch my predilections flop around from human sexuality to relationships to all things science-y and consumable to urban design to behavioral neuroscience. People fascinate me, I guess. We're pretty remarkable creatures.
I could memoir, I suppose, but my memory for details, my regard for the past even, is so thin, that much of it would be fiction, intended or not.
And speaking of fiction, I could do that. I have been doing that, page after hand-scrawled page of a twisted fairy tale where no one isn't damaged but most people are pretty good anyway.
Art imitating life again.
Maybe the goddess is calling me back to the nest, maybe she's putting the pen squarely back in my fist. It's been too long, after all, and my soul is drying out on the edges. To curl back in her arms with some blank pages and the goal of spinning a book out of them might not be a bad thing.
And maybe this blog post is a reasonable start.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It stirs...it blogs...why it's gorgeous!

"Happiness is appreciating what you have, not getting what you want."

Last night, I went running in a new patch of woods. It was unutterably gorgeous, all East Coast hardwoods and meandering streams, small wood bridges and the occasional hot mountain biker. I was exhausted -- night after crappy hotel night having stolen my sleep for too many days in a row -- and I was resting by running. Hard to explain, but that's what it felt like because that's what it was. I rest, too, on the page -- fiction these days, stories of good people enduring strange turns of fate with fair degrees of grace.

This morning, I walked out of my hotel and saw dogs, dancing happy types, squirming with joy at the ends of their leashes. It was adopt-a-dog day in center city Reston and the joy was contagious. I know, because I caught it. A little while later, I saw a sole figure skater practicing spins in the slanting morning light. I've never seen a figure skater before.

These are the joys I've stumbled on so far today.

It's been a surreal go for a while. A lot of my life feels more strange than good, to be honest, and what's occurred to me lately is that no matter where I find myself, I need to walk in beauty.  That is to say I need to breathe in the beauty no matter where I find myself and to spread joy where and how I can and in the meantime limit the damage I cause to the smallest possible fractional.

Maybe that's the key to keeping the years from slipping away without consequence. In the absence of meaning, maybe moving with beauty is enough.

P.S. One more thought. I'm writing today, really writing, and doing it for a living. Granted, I'm in the office at 1830 on a Saturday night and pausing to blog, but still it's kind of the best. My writing life is the result of an impulsive marriage back in 2003 -- me to writing. Thought it was a thoughtless union at the time, it has borne many great things and countless moments of giddy joy (generally those come when I have finished a piece). On my deathbed, if I end up having one, I will say "I was a writer. I wrote" and no matter what else happens (and let's be honest, I've lived so goddamned much that I could die today and still have lived a full, amazing life)  it will have been enough.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Here's the best advice I've heard lately

From a page on the columbia.edu website: Read Strunk and White, Elements of Style. Again. My kind patron, Joe Coppick, and I got into a friendly Facebook war about Strunk and White last year, but regardless, I think I'm gonna keep on using an active voice, engaging in solid parallelism and omitting needless words until they pry the last dried up pen from my dead and wizened claws.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Oooh. I just really like this: A brief guide to life.


The brief guide:

less TV, more reading
less shopping, more outdoors
less clutter, more space
less rush, more slowness
less consuming, more creating
less junk, more real food
less busywork, more impact
less driving, more walking

Read more: breathe. | zen habits

GTD the Erica way

I've been sharpening up my systems for getting stuff done lately and thought I'd share a little bit of the latest iteration of my productivity system because I think it's cool, especially for people who, like me, have lots of thoughts and ideas and only a little teeny bit of RAM those thoughts in at any given second.

I like the bucket approach of GTD - essentially one bucket to rule all thoughts. That bucket, in my case, is a handy dandy voice recorder that avoids the little slips of paper that are a/my bane and b/my utter downfall. The voice recorder captures everything: phone numbers, ideas, books to read, grocery items, even the atta-girls I file in a list I refer to when I need a pick-me-up (lots of writers keep those lists. It can be a lonely, thankless profession). To make the voice recorder capture system work well, I download the notes every morning as I'm planning my day.

My to-dos (sorted by tags like @computer, @errands, @house) and someday/maybes live in .txt documents on my computer which I can open or reactivate with hotkeys. To that list, I've added, on a 'Let's see how this goes basis', a gotta-do list, which essentially holds the stuff that needs to happen today. Items on the gotta-do list need to have time-limits to a/create urgency and b/avoid the pitfalls of  Parkinson's Law which states that any task will expand to fill whatever time's allotted to it. Leave it open ended and you can find yourself spending all day on one stinking 300-word profile. For me, the most important attribute of the gotta-do list is that I actually plan it for the next day so I can hit the ground running, ideally with a writing project, before delving into email or other web-based delights.

The one challenge I'm finding right now is syncing my lists from my laptop to netbook and back. So far, I'm just being strict with myself and sticking to one computer or the other rather than moving back and forth. An online solution would fix this, but it wouldn't be as fast as calling up my .txt docs and I don't always have online access and am not anxious for my system to break down when I lack it.

For projects, I use system I developed while working at the South County Spotlight: a flip steno pad with the name of the project highlighted in the upper left corner of the page. The power of paper is that I can easily scan through projects for next tasks and write down ancillary notes and tasks and put x's next to the tasks I've completed and o's next to what I couldn't accomplish for whatever reason, , creating a record of what has and hasn't happened. When the project's done, I just tear out the paper, and stash it with whatever notes and paper the project generated. On my computer, meanwhile, I use the same project name on the associated folder so all project collateral is easy to locate for later reference.

What's your system? Drop a line/comment/tweet and let me know.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Learning to love myself, one plate at a time

It's an August Sunday morning and I'm in a strange house – the kind that was built in the 1800's but remodeled in the 1970's to bring in more of the blue Portland light through wood-framed skylights and bay windows. There's a pot of steel-cut oats bubbling on the stove, hot tea steeping and a pan of eggs getting ready to be an omelet. I text my friend Kyle, who's upstairs, "Hungry?".

This is me now. Six months ago, I couldn't really have fathomed cooking well in my own kitchen, much less taking the show on the road.

For years, I've known my diet was out of control. I'm a skinny, active bitch, so the only implications were internal - mood, health, aging. But even if no one could see it really, it was there, this thing where I knew what was good for me and not and I wasn't remotely acting on it.

Instead, I happily ate crap. Or I spurned eating because I felt like I needed to work and the idea of stopping made me anxious. The idea of self-care seemed indulgent. And while I didn't want to take care of myself, give me people to cook for and everything changed - garden feasts for 30? No problemo. I've always been able to do for others, to dote on them and to nurture them in ways I'd couldn't do for myself.

But then, back in July, everything changed. My doctor told me that I had to take some pills and spend six weeks eating a certain way to get rid of a candida infection. I took the prescription and filled it. And then decided to wait, wait for the cake we had in honor of my mother, wait past a couple of weeks of meals out that I didn't want to have to manage so closely.

One day, though, I didn't have any excuses left. I still wasn't ready but I had the bottle of pills - a 21-day course - and I popped the first one and thought to myself "Well, here goes."

Three weeks later, maybe I should be feeling different. I couldn't maintain the diet in the carb-free mode required because I was losing too much weight, so suddenly I went from the ultra-strict candida diet to a version where I merely was eating sanely and conscientiously. And that struck me as fine, too, even if the initial purpose of the diet was somewhat mitigated. After all, I reasoned, maybe a sane diet is just as good as a crash diet for restoring health.

Probably, I figure, it's better.

I keep eating this way because it's healthy - lots of vegetables, meat, whole grains and no preservatives or processed food to speak of — and because it intrigues me. Mostly I do it because it feels like a superpower to pass up the sugar and cheese that I always assumed I could never live without. Without them, I get to experience the subtlety of the food I eat, the textures and the colors. I get to notice what it's like to feel my feelings when I don't grab a slice of cake or cheese dip or a vat of macaroni and cheese to drown my sorrows. And I have to eat even when my grief tells me it's not hungry.

I'm investing time and money into myself to eat well. I'm no longer eating as an afterthought, cobbling together calories by the seat of my pants when it occurs to me that I'm on the edge of another round of low blood sugar, but rather having to think my meal plans through, early in the day. I have to eat more than just once or twice because my meals are no longer as calorically dense as they once were. The salads I eat are as big as my head and a project to eat. But I find myself looking forward to that project.

It is, I admit, a weird hobby.

I ran across a book at the store today: Women Food and God. Not anything too special, but its thesis intrigued me - that how we relate to life and what we believe about the nature of God is mirrored by how we relate to the food on our plates.

How I relate to food has changed radically in the last few weeks. It shifted more or less easily. And that makes me wonder: what changed in me or my life that made it possible to relate to food with more care, to love myself through what's on my plate? What made it possible for me to start taking time to nurture myself after years of refusing to do so?

How and why have I changed?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

One more thing to keep me on my game

Having written for lots and lots of life coaches over the years, I'm probably a wee bit more cynical about life coaches than the typical coaching neophyte — particularly when the phrase "Law of Attraction" crops up. And still, when life coach Silver Rose's newsletter arrives in my box, I always crack it open with a bit of anticipation.

Her words often remind me to sharpen my game, especially in the worry department. One trick I use is to let worry or anxiety be a trigger for me to refocus on a scene (hearing it, feeling it, seeing it) that represents a best possible outcome diametric to my worry.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

So I'm gonna try something different with this blog. For the last couple of years I've been posting article commentary via Facebook, and from the feedback I've been getting, a lot of my FB friends have enjoyed it. Which is great. It's fun being all witty and snarky and throwing out my take on things, but the problem is that the content I've been creating is helping Mark Zuckerberg sell those friends' eyeballs to advertisers (for an apparently pretty damned healthy amount).

I stuck with it anyway because I figured my reading base was more on Facebook than anywhere else. I did, anyway, until a coupla weeks ago when I decided to deactivate my Facebook account to see if life was any better without it. And lo, I discovered it was.

Posting to Blogger is a little more of a pain in the ass than posting to Facebook, but what's life if not one grand experiment, eh?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Portland: Full circle

Ever since I stopped having a job and a home, I've been taking surface streets around Portland instead of the expedient interstate highways. My perigrinations keep bringing me a little closer to full circle to the first journey I made to Portland last may.

Last May, I met Daniel and Colae Couch after travelling north on Greeley Avenue by bicycle. Yesterday, on the day their son was born, I travelled back down that street to meet some friends in St. Johns and toasted little Julien with a bottle of his father's homebrew.

This evening, after dropping Kassiane, the genius triplet, off at her house on the east side, I skipped I-84 and drove home, past the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens I visited twice last May and into Sellwood where I passed within calling distance of the above-bakery apartment I shared with a passel of Lewis and Clark English majors for two weeks. Over the Sellwood bridge I went, to my friend Neil's couch where I now sit typing this.

Yes, I'm free at last, too exhausted to think terribly straight about things and hoping that will change soon. I've met some amazing friends here and have had enough support in being me that I'm actually starting to believe that I and my path are ok. I have the high-quality problem of loving people here and in Arizona which means my heart will break no matter where I end up.

My experience in Portland is wrapping itself up with a neat little circle of ribbon, which begs the question, what's to unfold now that Portland's putting itself away?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Memories, community and sharing

Hiya. If you're visiting my blog with any regularity (and I know there's a few of you that are - Hello, Georgia! Eric, is that you?) feel free to drop me a line if you'd like and tell me how you are.

And if you stopped by to read the memorial I penned for my mother, I'd like to hear from you, too. It helps a lot to share memories and recollections and they'll come in handy for the writing I plan to do some about her haunted and amazing life.

So drop me a line at ericaryberg (at) gmail (dot) com or call me at 928-308-7650.

Or just be all webby 2.0 about it and leave a comment below.


How much would YOU pay to read the NY Times online?



And here's my weigh-in:

I'm a radically undercompensated journalist and a notorious cheapskate, and still I'm thinking if it wasn't much, I'd be more than happy to toss a few dollars in the kitty to keep reading the New York Times online. I know I'm probably not representative of most of the Times online readers, but still I say, if the payment system were easy and the price point was fairly low — maybe like $5/month — it'd be a deal to support and receive high quality journalism. Pluswhich, unlike the Wall Street Journal, which is a joy to read in cellulose (below the fold and middle column, especially), I get sick of seeing the daily carnage on the front page of the Times and prefer to read it online anyway.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The things we all deserve

Autumn is here. It hasn’t really cooled down, but the light is warmer and dimmer and yellow leaves are falling to the black asphalt. I always think I’m going to hate the new season but the change never fails to seduce me.

Today is a day where I’m dwelling somewhere between nostalgia and sadness. I’m in solid melancholy territory, really.

Face is hurting like it has for the last month. But the writing is coming easily today. Super bonus. Life got messier yesterday on several fronts, and I want it to be easier than it is.

But it’s not. And the thing is, it doesn’t have to be easier.

I talked to a close friend today and remembered how a year ago she and her children were in mortal danger. Someone was hurting her physically and tormenting her financially and emotionally. That memory reminds me that life for me isn’t actually all that tough. Yes, I’m in physical distress, but I have the power to change that. Yes, the job of my dreams requires draconian budgeting, but I. Love. It. And I’m on the right path and there’s a sense of rightness that comes along with that that beats the best white cake with white icing that’s out there.

Back to the joy of the changing of the seasons. I came into this life with a complex set of equipment — thanks mommy and thanks poppy — but that equipment carries with it a capacity for adventure, experience, kindess and joy. For hewing closely to life path and meaning. I’m a lucky woman. One of the luckier ones, maybe.

And so here it is. I look up above the horizon at the place where for me I can most easily sense the grand Divine and I think, 'I have so much to be grateful for and I deserve none of it.' Tears come to my eyes and they caress their way through my distressed sinuses.

It’s not so much why bad things happen to good people. It’s that good things happen to all of us. I’m blessed to a far greater degree than I deserve and today that’s giving me a great deal of comfort.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Trail magic strikes again: Mountain riding in the Gorge

The classroom in the jail could have been a preschool classroom. It had plastic chairs and windows to the hall as baby schools do.

And certainly, the man sitting across from the chaplain was taking his first wobbling steps towards a new kind of spirituality.

He described how he had tried to control everything, to fit the pieces of his ruined life together in a way that made sense for his son, for his son's mother. But it all added up to a stay in the county jail.

The chaplain spoke in scripture, urging the man to let go and let god. He said that God was fitting together a puzzle and that when all the parts fit, the best outcome was possible.

"A puzzle," said the inmate. "Oh, I get it. I totally get it."

The chaplain called it the Holy Spirit. Jung called it synchronicity. And yesterday, when a complete puzzle resolved out of disparate parts, I called it trail magic.

I was driving up the Wind River drainage in what the locals here in Oreg-inton call The Gorge to go mountain biking, but I’d forgotten my map and directions. So I was on a blind mission.

At mile 16 or so, I saw some mountain bikers and pulled over at the exact moment when they needed a shuttle car to save one of their number a trip to the trailhead. Another of their number needed a companion with a chain tool and a patch kit to ride the thing with him. That was me.

Ten minutes after meeting these new men, I was driving with three bikes on my car to a mountain biking route which was good enough that I spontaneously coined the term “trail-gasm” to describe it. Brilliant really.

The only dark spots were the ones I saw when I went over my handlebars and bashed my cheekbone and clavicle against a mossy rock.

And after hours of some of the best riding I have ever done, my trail buddy was driving me back up to my car when we came upon Sarah, who needed a ride up the shuttle area as well. She smashed in the front seat with me and another piece clicked into place.

I remember thinking on my way up that even without my notes, that maybe the ride would work out well anyway.

And now I remind myself to keep the simple fact of holy (a whole puzzle, all the parts) synchronicity in mind when I’m looking for the right place to live, the right person to love, the right story to report.

Everything, absolutely everything is lit from the inside with love. And that’s enough for now.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The 'What's up in writerland' official report

I'm a newspaper reporter now. I've been to the county jail and sat with murderers, to the county fair to celebrate kids and animals. To a hip-hop festival filled with musicians, children and members of Portland's gang task force.

Getting a decent reporting job was my goal when I left my friends and family in Prescott, but I took a circuitous route to get there - months as a de facto au pair (am I mixing language metaphors?), months pitching magazines and selling almost nothing. Months turned inward, learning about my mental equpment. Necessary months, in other words.

In June, three weeks before my job offer, it was totally unclear what was going to happen. I'd slacked off on looking for a reporter job because I wanted to focus on freelancing. But that was going only so-so because I needed more structure. I was at the point where I was looking forward to travelling in August as a vacation from the entirety of my flagging life. It was then I wrote the following in my journal.
So what now? Now that I'm 34, now that the negative space is revealing the form of a life, for better or worse? The most elegant choice is to continue. Failed or succeeded, it will be a life with form, a life resolute. And clearly a life fully lived.
Here's what I know, I'll be at this job for as long as it takes to get my kitchen chops, the reinforcement of journalism basics. I'll keep writing a bunch of stories every week and I'll get stronger as a non-fiction writer. And, six years into a writing career, I'll respect the sculpted form my life has taken and from there, I'll pretty much continue writing till I'm worm food.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Sunday bike ride and the zombie squirrel

I went to see my friend Rob in north Portland last Sunday. It required a 10-mile slog on a comfort bike but it was worth it. My plans later that afternoon fell through and so I decided to meander home at whatever pace pleased me. Was trying to decide whether to go left or right when my gut feeling told me to stick with straight ahead.

“Erg,” I thought. “I've already seen Denver Avenue.”

But I'm a good monkey when it comes to my pesky gut feelings, so I did it.

The yards were cool and flower-filled and the sun was hot and I was riding slowly south happy for my Sunday freedom — it being the only day I take entirely off. It was impossible for me not to be in a good mood; in my expansiveness I was saying hello to the trees, to the flowers, to the kitties, to the baby squirrel hanging from the wire...

I did a double take. What the hell was up with the squirrel hanging from the wire? He looked a little dead, but the then I realized if he were dead, he must be a zombie squirrel, because he was tracking my movements with his beady little eyes, moving his head just enough to maintain a creepy recriminating aura.

Aw crap, I thought. This guy needs help. But he was 20 feet up in the air. And I'm only 5'6" with my shoes on.

I'd seen a man park a kayak- and bike-festooned 4Runner up the block, so I went to see if he would help.

“I just now pulled in from Texas,” he said.

I offered to help him unload his truck so we could use it as a platform. He made it clear he was not my guy.

I considered my options. I could: A. Ride away and have an über-crappy rest of my day because I'd left some poor animal behind to die in distress. ~or~ I could B. plant myself in the middle of the street and heckle people until someone helped me rescue the squirrel.

Obviously, I wouldn't be writing this and exposing my shame if I'd chosen option A.

Option B was in full swing when two more bikers rolled up. I pointed up and they stopped and regarded the squirrel. Once I convinced them that the squirrel was still alive, they joined me in my rodent vigil.

The squirrel was just a little guy, clearly not injured, but just sort of ... stuck up there. Like he'd scampered halfway out on the wire and then lost his nerve.

A brunette in her late 40's came walking by, saw us studying the squirrel and said, “He's not going anywhere – he's been there since 11 this morning.”

Oh my god. It was 2 pm. “We're going to rescue him,” I told her.

She offered no encouragement. Actually she offered the dour opposite and went inside her house.

“Whatevs,” I thought. I ain't leaving until this squirrel has a happy ending.

Not that kind of happy ending.

For god's sake.

In any case, a much nicer lady came by and said she'd go get something to rescue the squirrel with. She didn't offer any specifics and disappeared around the corner.

The squirrel, meanwhile, grabbed hold of his own tail. I surmised that he was trying to mix things up a little. Only so much you can do when you're stuck on a wire.

At the end of the block there was some free furniture that could elevate one of us five feet in the air. On a nearby porch were some broomsticks that I felt I could briefly liberate for the cause. That would get one of us up about 15 feet, but that was still 5 feet shy of the squirrel.

I was feeling more and more sick about the whole thing. We needed something better.

Something better appeared in the form of a dude in his 60's with a bare chest and a 20-foot-long bamboo pole.

Because don't we all have 20-foot bamboo poles laying around for when we need to rescue acrophobic squirrels?

The old guy proffered the pole. The little squirrel didn't know quite what to do, and in his confusion, did a full 360 around the wire. The girl and I grabbed my fleece and held it rescue trampoline-style underneath our confused little buddy. But our squirrel champion was savvy and teased the squirrel onto the pole. Once the squirrel had a good grip, he gently lowered the little guy to the ground. Without so much as a backward glance, the squirrel took off running.

We, meanwhile, went wild with applause (muffled by bike gloves, but still).

“Did my good deed for the day,” said the old dude. “Guess it's time for another beer.”

And with that, he disappeared into the glare of sunny Sunday Portland.



The couple lingered and the man, whose name was Daniel, helped me return the bookshelf to the corner. As we dragged, I explained that I was from Arizona and wasn't sure where I was going to land.

I'll admit, when he said, “I hope you stay — Portland could use more squirrel rescuers," I got a little choked up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The life and business of writing - thoughts on place and patronage

I had a late coffee on a recent Wednesday with a woman named Sara Gray. Sara is a 25-year-old magazine writer turned wedding photographer who lives in west Portland with her IT consultant husband.

My reason for meeting her was to talk to her about her techniques for acquiring magazine clips. She shared stories of endless 10 hour days sending out 5 proposals per day and earning less than $4,000 over the course of an entire year. But through her stories she revealed herself as an entrepreneurially-driven woman who runs on grit, enthusiasm and determination — a woman who let nothing stand between her and her goals.

Nothing did until she grew tired. And still.

She wrote front-of-book magazine pieces to gain the trust of the magazines she targeted. She obtained the occasional feature assignment. Her husband kept them going while she chased her writing dreams.

She turned to photography as a form of respite and likewise threw herself into that. Studying and developing her skills were central --- her passion drove her to absorb 300 hours of conference classes over the course of 9 days in Las Vegas.

She thought she'd have to struggle as a photographer as well, but the clients came willingly and things started looking up for her. She still writes but doesn't have to burn herself out seeking assignments. She has, for the moment at least, found the right balance for herself and says she is as happy as she has ever been.

I ponder my own career and life on this rainy Portland afternoon. I'm in a sandwich shop called Kenny & Zukes whose walls are made out of glass. The rain outside keeps a steady cadence. I will bike in that rain before it gets dark, will stop on my bike and buy groceries to stock the flat I presently share with the Lewis and Clark English majors I found on Craigslist.

Earlier today, as I prepared to leave the apartment to meet Sara, I found myself posessed by a gut-deep, happy-dancing joy. I wasn't sure why it happend. This not knowing never happens; there's always some reason when I feel that happy. All I could pinpoint was how excited I was to get outside, to get on my bike and ride out into the rainy weather.

And so I ponder. Portland? Back to a car-free existence in a place I'm not ready to admit is probably my spiritual home?

In the model I've established for myself of late, the “where” is of little consequence. The “what” matters far more—that “what” being that I've thrown myself into a freelance writing career, have pared my life down to an almost capital-free existence. I've done this to buy some time. If I can work my way into a few magazine stables, get those editors calling me, then I have a chance at a sustainable magazine writing life. I have a shot at being that writer who gets to report the glossy 5,000 word microcredit article from Bangladesh.

The difficulty is that I am doing this bold thing and still there are details I haven't worked out. How long can I be on my own and living on nearly nothing?

Two and a half months is the current answer.

How much longer until the exhaustion from constant financial worry drives me back to a job?

Span of time: unknown.

But I'm not entirely on my own. The patron-artist model embodied by Sara and her husband is a hallowed one and the patrons I've had so far in my career have been many. There were the couches and trailers in that first year of serious writing. There was the three year relationship with the fellow writer; he was my patron and my lover and I still regard that time with a mixture of gratitude and guilt. Though perhaps I should upgrade that feeling to simply one of gratitude.

My latest patrons, the gentle, intelligent Coppick family, gave me space in their house in Washington, shared their hearth with me and generally opened up their lives to me. They gave me an office and quiet in the mornings and the necessary respite from quiet and solitude in the afternoons and evenings. It was an utterly elegant situation and within its confines, my writing thrived. I was useful to the twin girls while their parents ranged out of town for their careers. I was utterly isolated from the coffee houses and pubs where my friends might have forced my eyes upward and away from the page. It was, I felt, a life fueled by pure grace.

And then it ended. The invitation remained, but my usefulness waned. At the same time, I had a conference to attend in Portland and so I arranged to stay there for a few weeks thereafter to see friends and to get my bearings. I thought perhaps that I would go mountain biking in eastern Washington after that.

But the city of Portland is a green siren. She beckons with her art and her natural beauty, her urban trails and her cultured gardens. She opens up most days now that it's May with sunlight, raising warmth from the carpets of green and sprouting friendly people who are newly freed from their dour, gray bonds. I struggle to resist her call. I do not want to fall in love with a city like this, with any place so far removed from my beloved Arizona, but on days like today, my enthusiasm slips through the grate of my consciousness and I dance with joy without realizing why.

I'll decide soon whether to leave for Eastern Washington as I've planned or whether to linger for the summer here in the City of Roses. I once wrote that Portland was a good city, a place of green dreams, but don't think I sincerely meant it. I just had to pick a sustainable Northwestern city.

It wasn't going to be Boise, was it?

When I make it, it'll be an interesting choice. As always, the 'how' will be via instinct. The 'why' will be tougher to pin down, but there will assuredly be an intersection with my arch-purpose if I'm to say yes.

I left Prescott to seek my fortune and have found these several months later that its discovery is a daily unfurling.

That, at least, is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Travelog: In which Erica goes full feral in the Olympics

I've been traveling for more of this year than I have been home. I don't know where I'll end up and am deeply uncomfortable at the prospect of an open-ended itinerancy. But I see no other way.

That said, there are different grades of being on the road. For most of the last two months, my on the roadness was of the low grade variety, sleeping on the floor of a comfortable suburban cul-de-sac home. It's early May, and my travels have taken me closer to the heart of adventure, to a higher grade “Where the hell am I going to sleep tonight?” mode of travel.

I drive out of Puyallup and head through Tacoma to the Olympic peninsula. The Olympics have been calling me; they seem like an antidote to the conquered ruin that is Seattle and its suburbs. I sense healing there and its healing I need.

The last person I speak with before making my full descent into ferality is Billy, my ex-from-100-years-ago and my friend-since-15-years-ago. We share our recent love stories and he says some funny shit.

“I believe the technical term for the sort of romantic blind spot I suffer from is 'sucker,'” he tells me. I die laughing and tell him of my own latest misadventure. There's plenty to laugh at, but I'm still a little sore. Still, as I speak to Billy, I'm driving along a gorgeous shoreline and my soul is lighting up. Our call drops and I stop to eat an apple and peanut butter and put my feet in the clear and placid waters of the Hood Canal. My heart juggles both misery and joy, and then joy wins and I dance with it back to my car and drive a little further.

My friend, Geoffry Peak, told me about Dosewallips State Park and so when I see a sign for the park, I stop and go for a walk.

The trail starts in the woods and happiness joins me on my walk. After a while, the it drops near the Dosewallips River. I can see the rocks and water below, but the trail doesn't quite lead to them. The river calls me regardless. I ditch the trail and go down and from there, the walk gets fun.

The water's so cold it tortures my feet but I'm hopping giant dead trees, crossing the icy water on their backs and flirting with the river anyway. One log descends into an arm of the river and I hop off and wade to a bank. At its far end, I must cross again to continue on. I misjudge the water's depth and emerge with my jeans wet to the thighs.

I am happy that this is so.

I wander a dry side channel, tiled with river rocks, and rejoin the river up further on a lovely, isolated bank. The wind picks up. A storm from the west is blowing purple this way and wind whips the weather and river into a call and response. I watch the skies darken, my wet body far from the car.

Never better.

Regardless, I have three pieces of electronics on my person and only my fleece jacket to protect them. I enter the woods, with the intention of going back to the car, and come upon a set of signs facing the other way. Once I get beyond them say “stay the F out” (or some variation thereof – this coming from the back of the sign thing happens to me a lot). There's an arrow pointing back to the trail and emerge near a wetland bridge I've already crossed twice. I amble back to the park. All is well and I've made myself an appetite.

Inside the park, I run into Eric Hendricks and his side kick, Tracy. Park ranger folk. After a few moments of conversation, Tracy declares Eric and I siblings. We both have toured on bicycles the feral way, hiding ourselves at night and pushing forward without clear agendas by day. I ask him about camping and he says the dirt in the park costs $20. I ask him if there are other places and he tells me I can go to a spot high above the Dosewallips River's estuary. There I find the great grand-goddess of all stealth campsites. This campsite is so awesome that I decide it is possible to feel spoiled rotten by the gods.

It's a deep an narrow pad of developed land with a for sale sign out front. I drive the back of it and hide the car among the Scotch broom, those yellow flowered bushes so common to disturbed soil in western Washington. Beyond the bushes is a perfectly flat and concealed place to pitch my tent. From where I'll lay my head is a 20-mile view. I had tried to imagine goodness like this while I was driving, had worked to feel it in my gut as though it had already happened. Perhaps this has something to do with my good fortune. And perhaps Eric Hendricks is just good people.

I play guitar. Finish up an avocado that I'd started eating down on the Dosewallips tidelands where the flats went out half a mile at low tide. I had put my feet in the distant water canal down there and watched shellfish squirt water at my toes.

I snuggle into my tent, cozy and warm with the fly half-applied in case of rain. I leave the door wide open to the view, and read and journal and rest. I want to share how amazing this is and I want to be alone, too, and so I write. I awaken and it's raining and I partially drop the fly but leave the door open. The storm is to the back of my tent. I stay awake for a long while, long enough to watch the sky turn the electric blueberry of twilight and then the pink of day.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Green fuzz grows here and so do stories

Naturally, much has happened since I was in Reno. Ashland, Oregon, for example, happened. Synchronicity drove me there and wanted to keep me there. But I left and things fell apart all the way to Portland. Way far apart. And knowing I shouldn't have left Ashland poisoned me for awhile, because once I got to Portland, there was no turning back.

I wanted to drop a resume in a suburban newspaper in Portland, but I had to wait until office hours Monday, and I'd pulled into Portland on a Friday.

That's not to say that Portland completely sucked. The hostel 90 percent sucked, and the mountain biking in Forest Park all the way sucked plus a little - the all the way being that there were plenty of mountain bikers but - get this - no singletrack. The plus a little came from 12 different modes of weather from driving snow to rain to just plain muddy and wet. It took a while to warm my body after coming back an icy ball of mud.

But I did meet a man named Brad in the park with a black and white Great Pyrenese. Maybe one day I'll write a story about him and his trek from spiritual guy to materialistic guy and back. And my friends Chris and Christine took me to eat Cajun food at a place called Montage. Where I left my favorite hat.

I escaped Portland and drove to my friend Joe Coppick's house in Puyallup, Washington. I sort of expected to kick off of Seattle like a swimming pool and head back south to the high desert. What I didn't realize at the time that I would effectively be making the Coppick family's house my home for more than a month.

It's not the most obvious choice I could make. Puyallup is a suburb and there's almost nothing I hate more than suburban planning, than cul de sacs, than the banishment of wildness that occurs in places like this.

On the other hand, there's nothing I value more than family and friends and this was a family of friends. Joe Coppick has been a friend since 1989 when he started hanging out with my nanny. He was a 19-year-old Embry Riddle student with a passion for quantum physics and motorcycles. Many days, he'd pick me up on the latter and spend hours teaching me about the former. To this day, there's a juniper Joe brought growing in my father's front yard. It was 8 inches tall in '89 and now it's 8 feet tall. Stuff doesn't grow very fast in my beloved homeland.

As opposed to here in Puyallup where stuff not only grows fast; it grows everywhere. On the sides of rocks, in pavement crannies, on fences, up stoops and over road signs. The green fuzz is something I can't relate to. While some people would be charmed by it, I feel indifferent, and that indifference - combined with being stationed in the suburban mire - has driven me inward. It's been a month of thinking and visioning and following the thread of my destiny (if such a thing exists). I imagine the best possible outcome, see it in my mind until it settles in my heart and I smile. I do this for the stories I am to publish, for the home I one day shall have, for the penguins I'll spy as I approach the Antartic coast.

Don't get me wrong. Apart from the fuzz and the raging arterial traffic, life here is very pleasant, actually. Apart from chasing my dreams by day, I pass time in the evenings with the twins, 12-year-old Cayley and Maddie, and their mother, Andrea, who is an airline pilot. There are also two large dogs who pile up at our feet and a guinea pig named Doodle who whistles from the kitchen for carrots (Snicker died last fall).

Late evenings, I roll out the bed I carried from Prescott and sleep on the living room floor. I love my bed. And I get good sleep in the living room, so it works.

Mornings, I get up and task out my day. I try to spend time writing as well as writing letters to sell my writing. With enough persistence, I figure optimal results are only a matter of time.

And I've got about three weeks left here before I go elsewhere. Where to is anyone's guess. In fact, if you want to guess, leave a comment below.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My trip to Walgreens and a distant memory

I met a patient one day when I was still an ER tech whom we put into the cast room; an appropriate choice because he was dying of bone cancer. I've smelled bone cancer. It is so singular I can still call it up, 10 years later, at will.

He was black and had five children and a wife and they lived in a car together. But now he was in a hospital in Prescott Arizona in the cast room smelling of bone cancer and it was close to the end of the line. Homeless, and soon his children would be fatherless.

I remember this man, living - and dying - at the farthest margins of society and I think of the lady I met at Walgreen's today who showed me the way to the eyeglass screws.

"If we go to group health, those screws cost $10 each. Here," she said. "This eyeglass repair kit is only $2.99."

I was in a good mood today. I didn't bother to tell her how many of my friends would love to be able to complain about the challenges of group health, but we live on the margins - we like it there, to be honest - and on the margins, there is no group health.

On the margins, cancer can kill without a lot of grace.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brad from Portland, drop me a line!

I'm working on a story and met a man with a two-tone Newfoundland on a frozen mud trail above Portland. Realized belatedly that he fit in perfectly to the story, didn't get his information; maybe he got mine. So Brad, if you're reading this, drop me a line, erica.ryberg@gmail.com, leave a comment on this blog or call 928-308-7650.

And have a nice Portland day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reno does double duty as a white morass

Ok. I admit it. I'm writing this post to kill some time while I download some gypsy jazz given to me by a player in Reno. Dan left some iPod equipment behind and I told him he'd only get it back if he came armed with gypsy jazz.

Which I'm currently downloading at the Java Jungle in Reno.

The Java Jungle is a friendly damned coffee shop. It sits right in downtown Reno with mile-high casinos breathing down its neck on every side—a little refuge where I've already met a pile of nice people. I think it might even be a friendlier place than the shops in Prescott. I would have earlier claimed that's not possible, but there it is. Makes me wonder if I shouldn't be friendlier as well, and anyone who knows me knows I'm already pee-on-the-floor friendly.

In any case, Dan was saying that his friends are playing down at the Raven in April. Turned out to be the same band that my beautiful friend Candace wrote about at ReadItNews.com. And please know Dan and Candace both say you should go see 'em if you can.

Reno snowed me in and I'm still not sure I'll be seeing the other side of the Sierras anytime soon. I've sent out a dozen resumes to all corners of the country so far, but I think I'll have to belly up to a few publications to get the jobby of my dreams. Bellying up is, in fact, my dominant reason for being out here. I sort of wish I'd stayed home in Prescott for a few days to mountain bike in 70-degree weather rather than skulking in Reno coffee shops, but the fact is, only a deadline would have gotten my ass out of Prescott. And that deadline was last Saturday.

Still, I'm bummed with the stupid snow. Strong words for a devout snow lover, but there you are. And now, I'm off to buy chains and to call an award-winning editor of a Sedona pub.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Erica leaves Prescott and finds rain in Reno

“Pet friendly
Cookies
Free Internet
- Hotel Sign in Tonapah, NV
Er sez: Cookies?”


In the last two weeks, following a not-unwelcome layoff, I packed, sold and stored my entire life.

Friday's yard sale was resplendent. I made a pile of money and the last truck pulled out at 1 pm with the last bit of my life loaded in the back. Incredible, or as my roommate Carol put it, auspicious. I'm in Reno now in a downtown cafe plotting my next move. I'll be a reporter somewhere, preferably at an award-winning publication with a strong, savvy editor.

Leaving Prescott was wrenching. I have to push through that pain to keep my eye on the future, but it's difficult. Like jumping into cold water. I had to do it and do it quick (life sorted, sold and put away within two weeks of being laid-off) and it's a deep shock to the system. Who in their right mind would leave everyone they love to seek their fortune? Me and every fairy tale hero, I suppose.

My mama always said, though, that nothing is written in stone or blood. I can always come back. That softens the pain a little, but not much.

The drive through Nevada was exotically weird. I crossed Hoover Dam away from my beloved Arizona saying the best prayer I could muster and crying my eyes out. But then I looked up and saw that Homeland Security is building a bridge up high across the gorge and well away from the dam and it was all lit up and little men (they looked little) in orange vests were crawling all over it—it being an incomplete arch suspended by wires—and I was like....whatzat? Like a little kid, I forgot to cry anymore. I'm guessing that's what this trip will be like. Struggling to let one season go, and then remembering that change is exciting, and that air that carries a new scent is always intoxicating.

When I passed through Vegas, it was Vegas, shiny and vulgar. My old schoolmate Lance lives there with his wife Natalie, and together they extolled the virtues of a place where possibility is the singular god, where anything can happen as long as it can turn a profit. A cool sentiment, but still, I gotta say Vegas is not for me. Too much hyper-stimulation for one thing.

The next day, I drove through an old mining town called Goldfield. It's in the middle of freakin' nowhere and the gas station there is also the diner. The creamer they serve is powdered. Goldfield is the kind of place that was absolutely kicking in the 1800's and the worn-out vestiges of gold rush largess remain. Goldfield is one of those worn-in spots, one of those places where the stakes are just not that high and so things are allowed to settle in. It has lots of tall, expensive brick and stone buildings and cute little cottages half-falling down – signs of life remaining just like alligator junipers whose normal growth aspect is one of healthy half-death. It's the kind of place I'd be happy to live.

I think of my last, fleeting boyfriend, the one who liked to find and sequester gold in the grand old tradition that sprouted places like Goldfield. There's nothing left from us but a polished, carved piece of jasper in my wallet and a chest full of doubt and relief, but the memories are fresh and they follow me across Nevada, a half-heeded whisper.

Forgive the digression, but it's my opinion that death is the most powerful and possibly the most positive force in our lives. We have to say no to far more than we're able to say yes to, and still everything ends. Those points of termination provide a preciousness and an urgency that will push me soon enough out of Nevada and into the Pacific Northwest. I've got my rain jacket donned, my résumés in hand and and a bellyfull of hoka hey – the sentiment that it's a good day to die.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mountain passes and the blackened nose

“I crossed so many rivers in search of crystal fountains,
I found the truest paths always lead through mountains.” - Kate Wolf

“Choose the best pain.”

“Be bold and feel the wind on your skin.”


Been struggling with the blog lately. You can tell from the fact that 2009 has seen no posts. Had one rolling around in my head like a rock, but it came out flat. Something about how problems and challenges can elicit a 'Why me?' sentiment or, perhaps better, more of a 'I'm climbing a great big mountain and it's cold up here and my nose is half-off from frostbite and that's why it hurts so bad' sentiment.

So yeah. It's cold up here. But maybe not as steep and weird as it has been. I say that despite the fact that I'm caught up in the trappings of that latest economic craze, the Great American Layoff. In three days, I'm taking off up north to seek my fortunes as a writer. Figure it's time to finally get into a newsroom and cement some honest-to-god feature writing chops. Got the wind at my back, too, what with how thrivy the newspaper business has been lately. The powers that be are doubting the mighty Murdoch for his love of print. But whatever. The long and the short of it is that a clear cut adventure beats the hell out of a flagging job any day.

So I'm off. More posts forthcoming, no doubt.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My mother, Nancy Whitcomb Weber. 1947-2009

Nancy Whitcomb Weber
November 22, 1947 to December 29, 2009

My mother Nancy Weber came into this world in Clovis, NM. She was a late third child of Anne and Thomas Evans. When she was 2 years old, her father died in a commercial airliner crash. Her upbringing thereafter was difficult and its effects marked all of the years of her life.

When she was a teenager, she attended a Catholic boarding school popular with wealthy Mexican families. She learned Spanish while at the school and used it professionally in her work as a chemical dependency counselor.

My mother was beautiful, charming, witty and compelling. She had a formidable command of the language and depending on the situation, she used it to elevate or decimate.

My mother first met my father when she was a child. Their families lived several streets apart at the same house number and her brother Tom and my father both became geologists. When my father came back home to visit after college, they began a romance. I was born when she was 26 years old. They were divorced two years later. My mother retained custody until I was five years old. At that point, my father won custody and from my sixth year to my 13th year, I didn’t see her.

When I did, she had gotten sober and married Jim Whitcomb, the love of her life. They lived in Chelan, Washington. He was a drug and alcohol counselor and she was studying to become a drug and alcohol counselor. They were together until his death on Valentine’s Day, 1991.

My mother was a dynamic leader and though she deeply mourned his death — I was living with her at the time and was there to see how it hurt her — she eventually built an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment business and did very well. She loved her work and, I think, was relatively happy.

She remarried in 1994 and continued to work in her business and at the state level in drug and alcohol issues. She had been sober for many years at this point. During this time, she took trips to faraway places like Africa and brought back exotic artwork which she still had when she died.

In 1997, she was in a devastating head-on car crash. She almost lost her foot and had to fight her way back to walking. She was, I think, never the same after that. She and her husband, who was dealing with mental health issues, moved to Spokane. She worked as a CD counselor in a prison there and met Barbara Peterson, who remained her close friend literally to the end of her life.

My mother had a huge heart and loved animals. In whatever community she lived, she was known for this and people would seek her out when they had animals in need of care. She loved to travel and brought back art from Africa and scarves from Harrod’s in London. She lived large, well and kindly during this period, and that I will always celebrate.

After my mother divorced her last husband, she began struggling with alcohol again. Her last decade was a terribly difficult one and when she died, it was a release of sorts. She spoke frequently of wanting to be with Jim, and I pray with all my heart and soul that she’s in a better place with him now.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Girling up at the close of the millenium's first decade.

Sometimes I'm so full of sh!t it hurts a little. Yep. Like f'rinstance, contrary to what I claimed in an earlier post, I'm back on Facebook. Not as bad though. Maybe a break's all that I needed to redirect my focus.

Been feeling a little melancholy - probably a holiday thing, or an end of the year thing, or a making my way through my mid-30's and losing the only currency that society openly values thing. You know what I mean.

Got my cat with me, a pile of books, tea always close by. All the collateral native to a full-fledged spinstery. They give me comfort. I need it, too. Long relationship that hurt my soul (not because it was bad - because it was good, great even, but not what the old vital principle was calling for). Short rebound that did it in. And now back at it. With something like the OCD drive that makes me shop and shop and shop for a stereo till I find a really good one for a really good price. Except stereos don't take time and work and either make you happy or rob you blind.

Regardless, I need to sit down and catch up on the journal that I've been keeping all year, the one I record the events of every day that passes. Haven't written much since before Christmas. During that time, the old tinsel wrapped elephant in the living room, Christmas, damn near trampled me and my debit card to death. One friend slipped away to Flagstaff and another to Phoenix. Danced alone in my room to activist rap and a Tears for Fears cover. Frenzied around the house getting it back in shape for my dear roomate to come home to. Hiked, watched sunsets and climbed a steep hill in horizontal rain without a hat.

Walter, my ugly little sweet darling dear friend, and my beloved journalsAll that, I'll write down before I sleep tonight. It's important. It keeps me from being too full of sh!t, from re-writing my own history as my memories drift and reform themselves. No. With my journals, I can look back and trace the blood spilled, the cries I've kept to myself, the ones I've shared and shared loudly. Honestly, those journals would be the only things besides my ugly little cat that I'd take with me if the house were fixing to explode. Not that I know any of the signs of a house fixing to explode. But still, if I smelled gas, I'd grab my cat and journals and run.

So yeah. Melancholy. Time of year, boatload of stress, too much going on maybe. God only knows and she's not telling. Blogging helps me girl up, so expect to hear from me a little bit more often for a while.

And in the meantime, make it a Happy Chrismahannakwanzstice and a Merry New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My integrated spiritual system: Gratitude and Acceptance

"Hello, goodbye." - Heidi Wilson

This morning I got up before dawn to walk and to watch the darkest night of the year fade into its shortest day. There's a wash behind my house. It runs perhaps half the time. Fifty yards up from the house is a grotto I visited frequently through the summer and fall. There's a little spring, coyote willows choking around it, the smell of water in the desert. One day, I sat down and spent time with a garter snake who made no effort to flee.

This morning, I noticed that the willows were gone. Someone and their heavy equipment had eradicated all the vegetation around my hidden spring. Its secrets lay exposed, the smell of its water dispersed over the open ground.

I felt sad and rued the stupidity of the fool who removed the native stabilizing vegetation from a flooding wash. And then I remembered my integrated, complete and user-friendly spiritual system of gratitude and acceptance.

I feel grateful for all those moments of escape and grateful for the time I helped the moth with the moisture-pinned wings escape from the side of a clear puddle. I placed him on a branch in the sun and watched him flutter away a few minutes later. He seemed to resent me with that casual entitledness that's charming in children and animals. We trust, it says.

I feel grateful, deeply so, that I spent that time in that eradicated space. Precious shade gone from the desert. And I accept it. Hello, goodbye. Change happens. Health fails, bodies age, and even the halest among us dies. Life is for living, I heard recently, and no matter the misfortune, most of us live it with gusto. We lack eyes, some of us, love, others. But we keep on living. Our bodies fold into wrinkles and our beauty falls away, and yet the joy of watching children and dogs at play remains. The first bite of a good meal, the subtle, unassailable joy of solitude. It remains.

Until it doesn't.

And until we don't.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Living life out of buckets: Notes from the skinny front

A little over a year ago, I attended Money Camp in Santa Barbara. My stated goal was to be as savvy with one dollar (which was roughly what I had in my possession at the time) as I would be with a million.

The whole premise was that lottery-winners, inheritors, bubble home sellers and the like don't automatically know how to manage their money, and as a result often lose it. I figured if I knew how to manage my money like a true millionaire, I might by default end up there.

What I came away with, in part, was the idea of putting my money (at the time it was of the low-quality, sporadic variety) into buckets. No matter what comes in, it gets divided into the following accounts:

IRA/Healthcare Savings: 7.5 percent
I'm not saving a lot for retirement right now because my priority is paying down a few dollars of debt from my adventures with the magazine formerly known as Read It Here.

Giving: 5 percent
There's some serious happy happy to knowing that, no matter what your financial situation, you have something to give. My favorite place to give right now? Q2 Youth. By knowing there would always be money coming in my account, I was able to pledge $500 to their 2 to 1 matching grant. Which means I was able to give a leadership organization for a segment of at-risk youth the equivalent of $1,500. Bodacious.

Rent/Credit Cards/Extra Money Fund: 60 percent
I keep $1000 in an account at Arizona State Savings and Credit Union that pays 5% on up to $1000. Once I've funded that $1000 (if I've had to dip into it for necessary expenses, like shattered bones, car repair, etc) and I've covered rent, the rest goes to pay those tiny, little, infinitesimal credit card balances accrued by buying entire print runs for my diaphanous formerly-in-print magazine.

Daily Needs/Spending Money: 20 percent
Groceries, shampoo, cat food, $40/week walking around money. The basics we all need.

Sunny Day Fund (Mad Money): 7.5 percent
This was originally my savings fund for a motorcycle, but I decided that small treats like a decent stereo, beautiful original art, and of course, some new clothes (Yay!) might make my life a happier place to be than 8 months of enforced austerity so I could buy a dirt bike. But that bad boy's still in my future - just a matter of time.

If you feel yourself blanching at the thought of discussing money, you're not alone. Most parents would rather talk with their children about sex than money. I, however, am utterly fascinated with the dynamics of money, and sometimes run my budget through my head for self-entertainment. I'm so much into money these days, in fact, that I have been marketing a mutual fund and last week, scored my Series 65 license.

Oh so yay.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A new passion is eating the corners of my brain.

It's pushing 11 pm on a work night and my blogging ideas have been running a bit low lately.

So how about a status update instead?

These days, I'm feeling wicked interested in learning how to write better fiction - which makes reading it both more exciting and more of a pain in the ass.

'How finely formed that paragraph!' I say to myself. 'How the hell does he know to do that?'

So, today being "I do nothing unless I feel like it" Sunday, I went to fellow writer Susan McElheran's Old Sage Bookshop (in the St. Mike's Alley - 928-776-1136) and picked up a copy of Raymond Carver's short stories. Might make for good WC reading next to Good to Great and Emotional Intelligence. And yes, it may possibly serve as inspiration to eventually create a decent short story.

Started working on one tonight, focusing on creating scene and on telling through action rather than description. It's mysterious stuff at this point.

Despite the tens of thousands of words of fiction I've scrawled out in bits and bytes, each of my efforts still feel nascent and tentative. I guess I just need to focus on the journey right now.

One exciting development is my acquisition of a new micro-cabin (I'm now renting just slightly less house than I need) and the certain introduction of a writing desk into said millieu. Perhaps I can work fiction back into my early morning schedule or into my evening unwind.

In any case, leave your bright ideas in the comment section regarding how to create well-formed fiction. I'd be grateful.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Impulse Factor: Hacking the novelty-seeking brain

Maybe you can relate. I was raised by aliens and so I know little of social norms. I usually guess and then I beat myself up rather than consider that my equipment is more or less normal.

Or at least I assumed it was normal.

But then I ran across a book, The Impulse Factor, which posits that about a quarter of us naked monkeys process dopamine poorly. That poor processing causes us to misbehave in search of the dopamine jolt we sorely need in order to feel normal. The book's author says the mutation behind the dopamine problem coincided with the diaspora of homo sapiens from Africa; in doing so, he joins a legion of non-fiction authors who claimed to find the one 'it' that drove the formation of human civilization. Earlier 'its' include coal and salt, so I'll let that pass.

What's especially intriguing for me, a poster child for those who bear the mutation (witness: can't sit through a meeting, pedalled cross country by myself, will try anything but heroin and meth once) is that short deadlines make our faulty little brains work really, really well. So all that procrastinating was actually just me biding time until my smart brain kicked in.

So now I'm toying with how to use the power of the smart brain without screwing myself on short deadline. There's a great essay on Structured Procrastination that meditates on how to use said downtime for good rather than for evil. Last night, I experimented with deliberate, structured procrastination by reading 200 pages of a friend's manuscript. I think the approach might be a winner. Instead of watching crappy ol' TV, or trying to play keyboard in my freezing garage apartment (don't ask) I could find inspiration by reading another human's work of art, rest my brain and prepare for a productive next day.

And the next day, when I did sit down to write, I knocked out 3,000 words of—get this—pleasurable prose. Incredible.

Now I'll be the first to admit that all these lifehacks work sort of OK some of the time. Productivity and flow, for me at least, are moving targets. Sometimes it's the bottom of the hour hack, sometimes it's the avoiding of all the evil timesucking web sites hack, and sometimes it's just reading late into the night and filling the proverbial well.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The end of FaceBook

Ok. Not really. But for me, yes. Three days ago, I decided to go cold-turkey from Internet surfing. That means no visiting my news stashes, MySpace, or Facebook at all. Nyet. Nix. Finis. So far, I can honestly say the results have been lovely. More time at work for social interactions and...well...productivity. More time in the evening for reading, music, being alone and content.

The bottom line is that life is really, really freaking short, and being here on earth is really, really freaking cool. Without the slightest doubt, when I'm on my deathbed I won't lament my lack of time-spent Internet surfing. But I will feel the satisfaction of having learned an instrument (when it happens), another language (Que suerte!), having taken walks and long naps outside, having spent time with friends, with kitties, with good books.

I will miss the plugged-in, hyper-aware media hound I was last week. But it's worth the sacrifice. I went to Walden, and it looked a lot like the world pre-1995.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The 3 building blocks of happiness: What writers need to know to make it through the day

Martin Seligman posits that there's more to mental health than the mere absence of the mental wackies. For more than 30 years, the director of the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania has been studying the psychology of happiness, and happiness, he maintains, is the result of experiencing meaning, engagement and, to a lesser degree, pleasure in one's life.

The meaning piece explains why parents of children, be they flesh or creative, can sport those haunted, tortured expressions and still claim to be happy. Seligman's ideas also illustrate why engaged Golgafrinchans who create no value in society—think motivational speakers, day traders or middle management—say they're pretty happy despite the fact that they occupy a near vacuum of meaning. And why a brilliant steak dinner at the end of the day tastes so good, but it doesn't go very far in creating happiness in the absence of an engaged, meaningful life.

Trying to find a dynamic balance amongst the three seems the way to go. Enjoy flow (the ultimate sense of engagement) when it happens, and don't sweat it, writerly crowd, if the writing hurts most of the time. At least it's meaningful. And if the going gets too rough, pull a pleausurable pint of Guiness or grab a bag of Dove chocolate and try to relax. It might only be a small dose of happiness, but even a small dose can be powerful.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Last 15 Minute Lifehack

I've found something that works for the ever-common, ever-insidious Internet-itis. It's the Last 15 Minute Lifehack, wherein you wait till the bottom of the hour to succumb to such follies as Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, MyYahoo! and Nerve Scanner. And even then, you try to keep working if you can.

The way I see it, if you only really suck for a quarter hour every hour, you're doing pretty damned well.

Now the challenge is to set up a system to create targets during the other 45 so that I'm definitively rolling forward with my myriad writing projects. Call these targets artificial deadlines; they're still a work in progress.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What happens when you barely Google me

Holy cow - when you type erica + writer into Google, I'm the top two hits. This is a very, very good day. Now I need to go be an ericawriter.
erica writer - Google Search

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Introduction: A person inside my head.

Somewhere inside of me, there's a little black girl of about 8 or 9 years of age. Her hair is caught up in ties, little balls of fluff on all sides of her head. She knows that she's not meant for anything fine the way she knows how to breathe. And she draws with a stick in the dirt whenever she gets the chance, draws her family such as it is, draws the sycamores around her, and sometimes, with her mind, she draws shapes in the clouds. She is barely aware that she does this. She does this because creation is as much her birthright as the wind is.

I don't know how many more years this girl lives, what children she bears or whether her life ends as it began – in slavery. I just know these bare facts, know her unconscious acceptance of the circumstances of her short life, the art she makes in the simplest of forms, the wind on her black skin, the hard work she endures and the losses she suffers as a matter of course.

We have these birthrights, these few things: The capacity and impulse to create, skin that feels the wind, the opportunity to love, if only to love ourselves. We have inner workings that accept the gifts of the world – the calories and the oxygen. The workings by themselves tell this truth: We belong. We utterly belong no matter what; we were longed into existence by a force greater and truer than ourselves and then, regardless of appearance or contribution, we are loved every single day of our short silly lives.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Jumping into the cold, deep water on command

Greetings from the land of the great, cold lakes. I'm not talking about Minnesota. I'm talking about the land of writing on command. When you're not into it. Not feeling it. When all you're feeling is the hot, fetid breath of the deadline on your neck and the sweet lure of what you'd prefer to be doing calling to you.

I was on the last leg of my roadtrip driving towards Flagstaff, when sweet anchor client lady called and said can I do one little thing today, can I, can I? I tell her I'm going through Albuquerque and of course I can stop off at a little coffee shop and whip it out.

Which is where I am right now, creating an essay on unity, the spirit of oneness and the elephant in the living room (a concept I grabbed on a high hurry from here of all places).

Writing on demand works. But it hurts. The question I sometimes ask is why do I do it? Why can't I just climb out of the deep end and live a normal life like nearly everyone else?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Colorado, trail magic and the tyrolian

Here's what I was up to last week:

I departed Denver on Saturday and headed north and then west towards Nederland, CO. I was warming to the habit of stopping anytime something looked interesting, so a parking lot with two cars and a pile of boulders seemed worth exploring.
Boy was it.
Beyond the innocuous granite was 1000 feet of relief leading to a cataract and ...oddly... A railroad track. I made my way to the edge, but even from a stable position, I felt dizzy and lightheaded. On my way back from the edge a man on another boulder pile shouted "You think it's going to clear up?"
I had a rain jacket tied around my waist, but he seemed to want clear skies, so I answered affirmatively.
Six hours later, I was hanging upside down from a wire in the near dark staring at the river sloshing 30 feet below me.
It was awesome.
How I got to experience a tyrolian is a matter of trail luck. I walked over to where the man and his posse were waiting out the drizzle and after some conversation they asked if I had a harness.
Oh yes, I replied. A harness AND shoes. I come prepared.
We climbed two pitches near the cars. Ron and Randy, the two best climbers, tackled the one that looked for all the world like plate glass. The rest of us did the one with the three separate overhangs. I made it up to the first one, having hit some moves that for me, after a year of no climbing, I felt pretty damned proud of. And then I came down, all four points quaking like the Populous tremuloides growing around us.
This wasn't THE climbing area, though - that was 40 minutes away by foot, down a hill, over and along railroad tracks, across the cataract by cable and back up a hill. There were six of us, including Latifa and her boyfriend Jeremy, both new to climbing but already strong and leading and Ron's sister Deb, fresh off a plane from New Jersey.
Ron was astonishing. He had the kind of face that on a man can be a little too pretty if he didn't take care. And he didn't. He wore his hair in the manner favored by members of A-Ha circa 1987. With highlights. By design, a lock of hair dropped into his right eye at all times. And for all of that (and all of that included a tall, tan bundle of muscles that most celebrities can't come close to achieving), he was a terribly laid-back dude. Just a nice guy. Whodathunk?
So. To get to the climbing area, we hiked down to the the tracks and along them for 1/3 mile. Then down a trail so sketchy that my best efforts couldn't spare me a bashed knee.

The trail started at the mouth of a railroad tunnel. Before descending, Randy, the late 40-something environmental attorney and I walked into the tunnel (along tracks I'd seen at least 6 trains travel already) until neither entrances were visible.
Terr. If. Ying.

I scampered as lowly as I could out of the tunnel and down to make my appointment with the rock that bashed my knee.
Our destination was a wire where each of us would perform a mysterious maneuver called a tyrolian. To get there, we hiked over slick, down-tilted rock above an exceptionally ugly looking set of rapids. I'd lost faith in my aging Chacos by now - they'd failed me and my knee only moments before.
And getting three or four solid points was nearly impossible. My consolation: five people had just successfully made it over. They were waiting. I could to it too.
The setup: A thick cable. A pulley. Someone's rack of quick draws for pulley ballast. And a fluorescent pink string. Ron slid over and Randy reeled the pulley and its stabilizing ballast back over with the string, each of them in turn clipped their harnesses into the pulley until it was just Randy and me. They made it look so easy.
And it really, really wasn't.
"Ok," Randy said, "Just clip in, flip upside down and go across."
I sputtered with incompetence. He took pity and hooked me in. I went across, taking what felt like frequent smoke breaks and nearly gave up 8 feet from the end. My stomach muscles were scorched. I made an out loud promise to myself to start doing sit-ups.
The trip across the river yielded a beautiful walk along the river. Wildflowers profused. One stretch could have doubled as the set for A River Runs Through It. I could hear my erstwhile sweety, Art, yelling "Trout!" He would have loved being right there, and he'd trained me well to spot a good stretch of trout river. The climbing area, alas, was not along the river. It was 1000 feet back up the canyon wall. I led the way up, thanking the sweet lord that I'd hit my inhaler before leaving the parking lot. Call it instinct.
We set up two ropes. These were ostensibly easy climbs but everyone seemed to find them challenging. Not a good sign for little ol' me.
We ate snacks; I watched them climb and when it was my turn, I hit the harder route. I tried the true line for a while without success and then went right to accomplish some actual ascension. I made it up to a crack and jammed my right foot in it facing east. And headed west. My foot was completely stuck and the line of the rope led away from it. I was feeling rather screwed for a moment and then I got it unstuck and scrambled over to a ledge. I looked down.
Down went on and on.
My nerve fled and after some arguing with Randy, who was belaying me, about whether it was a good time to quit ("It gets really fun right there," he said. Right there was an overhang), I came back down to the sweet, solid earth.
It was getting dark. Latifa was still cleaning a route that her boyfriend had worked very hard to lead. I watched her with admiration until Randy gathered me and Debbie up to make the first flight across the river.
I was to go first, which meant I'd have no one to receive me at the other end. Fear was fast becoming the day's regular theme. But it had to be done. Halfway across, I realized that pushing off with both arms yielded less painful results. It was a good thing, too, because the string broke and I had to come back.
With the string reattached, I started back across, but it was knotted and I could go no further. I rested in my harness. Thank God. Sitting in the harness, I surveyed the river upstream and down. This doesn't suck, I decided. It was deep twilight and there was nowhere, nothing, better than this.
Debbie and Randy untangled the string and I made it across and was freeing myself just as the second flight arrived. Randy came over, then Deb. He sent us up the uber-scary, knee-basher of a trail with Latifa following close behind. At the top, my two new friends and I peed together. Very bondy.
Walking back along the tracks in the dark, I think we all felt some strain of adventure accomplishment, cut by varying degrees of exhaustion.
The trail led off the tracks and uphill to the left. Ron and I were in front (for my part because I wanted to avoid the use a a headlamp - hate hiking with lights even in the moonless dark). Ron tripped and fell - a fairly spectacular occurrence, given his size. At the top, I dressed his thumb which was bleeding freely. He fretted about the 5 hours of massage he had booked for Sunday. Don't know if he was able or not.
In the distance I heard one of them say, "I thought she was a writer." Ha!
_______
We parted with the ritual exchange of cards and I drove to Nederland in search of a friendly spot to camp.
Both Randy and Latifa had offered to put me up, but I was adamant that i wanted to sleep outside. Driving up a road labeled the way to Caribou, I started wondering if I'd turned away the proverbial two boats. My concern only heightened as I turned on a narrow double track with an apparently endless drop off on the right side.
Fear again. I thought about backing up - I'm good at that - but with the spare tire/bike combo, I wasn't feeling the love. I could back up in the morning if it came to that. Forward. Trees pushing into the road on the uphill side, black abyss on the downhill. Two boats.
Bits of terror. Finally, a spot on the left allowed me and my car to leave the road. A bit of flat beyond that served as my bed. All was well and the critters that night never approached.
In the morning I awake in a field of flowers with wild asparagus growing near my head. A good day.

Friday, August 1, 2008

WTF is the problem?

I wrote a query back in June and just sent it today. It was a good query - simple, direct, to-the-point. And I'd already completed it. For some reason that I can't begin to explain (other than bone-jarring terror at putting myself out there), I had kept it back until just today.

So please...please leave a comment if you have any ideas about why I'm so frickin' silly.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Moab and the illogic of friends

Made it to Moab, spent a couple of hours working on a commercial project at a coffee shop and proceeded to the Amasa Back Trail for some true slick-rock riding. I can't explain why I feel this way, but I will never, never again ride Moab by myself. I mean, it's not like my bailing off a cliff is going to hurt less — or be any less fatal - if there's someone friendly there to watch it happen. But there you are.

Stayed the night in Moab and woke up with the burning desire to get some miles behind me. And so, after a couple of days in Utah, I rolled into Denver where I've been working on commercial projects in my friend Bill's sensory deprivation tank/apartment ever since.

I think that after several months of romance crazy, moving crazy, and what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life crazy, I just needed a quiet place to crash and be isolated.

But tomorrow I head back into my life and into the great wide open. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mountain biking is a laboratory for life process

In June, I told everyone that I was going on a roadtrip. Then I house-sat for three weeks and forgot I told everyone I was leaving. Fast forward through a bunch of surprised reactions at Prescott's coffee shops, stores and pubs and I've finally hit the road.

The framework: An open-ended (anywhere from a week until I draw my last breath) driving trip aimed at places I can ride my mountain bike.

I rode the Rocky Ridge trail in Flagstaff on Wednesday. Unlike the lonely trails of Prescott, this trail swarmed with people. I saw an 8-year-old kid going over technical terrain on a bmx. Impressive.

In any case, for a while now, I've pondered the similarities between mountain biking and navigating my way through life. Or at least the lessons mountain biking offers.

Disclaimer: Mountain biking, while fun, is a singularly selfish, self-serving sport, so don't imagine that I'm trying to elevate it in any way shape or form.

That being said, it comes down to this. When you mountain bike, you MUST look where you want to go. Choose to look where you don't want to go and you go there, typically with painful results. Even if you want to go elsewhere, you'll always go to the exact spot where you put your attention. I'm pretty sure this holds true in life as well, but it's less noticeable because you don't break a collar bone every time you focus on what you don't want.

Also, sometimes when you get into a hairy spot, the only way to avoid disaster is to not only keep pedaling, but pedal HARDER. Do that, and you often surprise yourself by getting over something you would earlier have told yourself was impossible.

I'm in Moab today, so I'll keep you posted on the life lessons of slickrock.