Monday, March 17, 2014

Stories Along the Way

(From The Way-Back Files -- Connecticut Muse, Autumn

The morning was cool for August...but, then, it was always cooler at my grandparents’ farm up in North Canton.  I wandered out into the side yard with its giant weeping willow and played-out fruit trees.  I was a month shy of ten, and my father had been rushed to the hospital late the night before following a heart attack.  All of us kids, except my oldest brother, who was in college, had been sent up to our grandparents’ place:  I’d been sick shortly after we’d arrived and was still feeling washed-out and wobbly-legged.
              I stood by the porch steps, staring at my grandmother’s pink and blue morning-glories.  There was a rusty drainpipe lying alongside the unpaved driveway, spilling its water out onto the sand and pebbles.  I picked up a yellowed willow leaf and set it down in that stream.  Entranced by the burbling sound of the water, I followed my leaf friend as he bobbed along, making up a story for myself about where he was heading and what adventures he was having....Then I decided he might be lonely, so I found a “lady” leaf  to keep him company.  And when I’d made up all the stories about them that I could possibly come up with, I let them live happily ever after.
            Thirty-one years later, that memory-picture is still vivid to vivid that I’ve often felt as if I could step back in time right into it.   It was the first time that I clearly remember making up a story to help me through something that was very frightening to me.  Creating that story comforted me in the wake of my dad’s heart attack.  Oh, I had scribbled stories before (little stories about my cats, lavishly illustrated in red, black, and green ink, or endless sagas about the characters in my favorite books) but nothing that had ever given me the sense, as that story did, of what makes writing magical for me:  namely, the ability to step outside of yourself into other worlds, other lives -- even if they’re the lives of two yellowed willow leaves -- and, paradoxically, heal your own pain and loneliness.  “The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them,” says Badger in Barry Lopez’s book Crow and Weasel.  “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
            I needed that story.
            Twenty-four years later, the powers that be gave me the opportunity to learn that truth anew.  Granted, it was not an opportunity that I had sought -- indeed, it was one that I would have given anything to give back.  On July 11, 1995, my husband, Tim Spooner, was killed in a freakish car accident, tearing our world -- the world that we had created for ourselves and our three-and-a-half-year-old son, Zeke -- apart with the intensity of the bombing of Hiroshima.  Leaving me feeling that I, like the people at the heart of that terrible blast, was nothing more than a shadow burned into the sidewalk.
            But blasts are peculiar things.  I remember reading that the very same bombing that reduced innocent bystanders to shadows etched in concrete also damaged the eyes of a young Japanese boy.  His eyes eventually recovered, and he grew up to be a photographer.  But he saw things differently than he had before -- was intensely alive to subtle nuances in color and form that had always escaped him before -- and his photos reflected that.  And I found that the same held true for me as I struggled out of my own personal wreckage and slowly, painfully began writing again.
            Less than a year after my own personal Hiroshima, I began writing a time-travel novel, Souleiado.  My recently widowed artist heroine, Miriam Souleiado, has been chosen by some particularly restless spirits to solve a mystery that ruined their lives:  traveling back to the late 19th century, she finds out the truth for them as well as a few home truths for herself.
            Always in my writing before, I had stopped short, unwilling to push myself that extra distance and focus on what most needed focusing on.  I’d been able to dazzle most folks with my word-play and make them think I was being completely open and forthright with them.  “How well she describes feelings,” a published poet had written to a friend’s father after he’d shown her some poems I’d written back in junior high.  And that was the truth of it:  I had described feelings, not put myself right in the midst of them.
            In short, I had been hiding behind my own words.  And doing it very well, I might add.
            Not now, though.  Miriam gave me the mouthpiece I needed.  Through her, I could finally give voice to all the grief, pain, and loneliness that were surging through me like so many electrical currents, and I did not hold back.  And during the three years that I spent in Miriam’s company, both in our own time and in the past, her healing became my healing. 
            Funny, but when I stop and think about it, both those stories, crafted so many years apart, were about just that -- finding what my highly intuitive little son used to call  “yes” at the end of the tunnel. Miriam’s story was obviously (and infinitely) more complicated than that of the little willow leaf making his way down the stream of water.  But both Miriam and the leaf were on journeys: and telling their stories helped me along on mine.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Creating a Vision: Astrid Uryson

     But sometimes magic takes a little longer to get where it’s going.
                                            -- Cynthia Rylant, The Van Gogh CafĂ©

About 14 years ago, Astrid Uryson was cleaning houses and making pottery on the side in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I had a very small apartment at the time,” recalls the artist, who was born in Argentina. She now lives in Killingworth, Connecticut. “I was a single mother with a teenager and a toddler….I wanted a house.”

Then she met a feng shui practitioner who suggested a trade -- housework in exchange for lessons in feng shui. The practitioner taught her the basics: how energy moves, working with colors and a vision board, and creating a protection bubble round her front door. Six to eight months later, Uryson was approved for a loan for the first time in her life and bought a house for her daughters and herself. And, as soon as she could, she began taking feng shui classes.

Today, Uryson owns Feng Shui Co-Creations and guides her clients “in creating art objects specific to your desires.” She has studied at the Ayurvedic Polarity and Yoga Therapy Institute in Santa Fe; has an advanced certification in soul coach Denise Linn’s “Interior Alignment” feng shui; and roughly 30 years’ worth of experience working with aromatherapy, yoga, and shamanic healing.

All of this helps her tremendously with her work, naturally. But talking with Uryson, you can’t help feeling that she brings more to it than all that. There’s her artist’s eye. A keen intuition. And a whole lot of life experience that keeps her very grounded.

“I really loved cleaning houses,” Uryson says, looking back on her earlier life. “It was the beginning of my feng shui, helping people clean and de-clutter.”

She learned to go with her strengths. She remembers sitting down with a life coach and putting together a list of what she could do – gardening, cooking, cleaning, and yoga. And, oddly enough, those were the things that led her to Mike.

Divorced, Uryson also began focusing on “my feelings about relationships and what I wanted.” Within the year, Mike, a widower, moved to Santa Fe. He happened to go to a meeting that her life coach was at; and during that meeting, he stood up and asked if somebody could help him get settled.

Uryson could. It was love at first sight for him. “Though, of course, he didn’t show it at first. We went shopping for furniture -- it was a lot of fun. Eventually, we became best friends.” They spent every day together. “He would take me to the park, and we would read poetry. He enrolled me in being a true lover of the heart. He became a real advocate for me….Yeah, he still is. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.”

Marriage to the right guy freed her up. Feng Shui Co-Creation took shape much the way that the elements in a story come together for a writer. Traditional feng shui "didn’t resonate with my heart”; instead, she found herself drawn to Denise Linn’s work.  Sacred Space and Feng Shui for the Soul appealed to the artist in her. “I was ecstatic that there was something that encompassed many traditions as well as common sense and intuition,” Uryson recalls now. “When I was reading it, it was like ‘Oh, right, this makes sense.’ I felt I understood, and my whole body went ‘Yeah.’”

So she took a more fluid, more individualized approach. And her clients appreciated that. “I witnessed her circumnavigate her varied talents but was fascinated to watch her put many of them together in her new practice of ‘Interior Alignment’ feng shui,” wrote one such client from her New Mexico days. “She has helped me in my own home several times, and her sensitivity is profound and accurate, without embarrassing me with the depth and intimate nature of what she notices! I think she has definitely found a practice that embraces her whole being, and one that she can aptly embrace.”

Uryson has continued to build on that. What she would really like to do, she says, is something “which, in New Mexico, people are more used to”: a salon or workshop for the more spiritually inclined. A sort of feng shui house party, as it were. The difference here would be that “you’re buying the package. You’ve already got me there in your home. People can talk to me afterwards or even before. You know I am flexible.”

In a few words, she sketches it all out for me. “First, I would give a little introduction on feng shui to give the relationship between the environment and us. I would do a fun exercise with movement to loosen them up. It would be tailored to their needs and wants.” There would also be a writing exercise that would help them “release all the clutter they have in the moment – all their concerns, whatever they’re thinking that is in the way of their being present. They’d get something right away -- they’ll go home with something. They’ll know the basics of feng shui.”

But there’s more. She’d have the host tell the guests in advance to bring magazines or pictures they’re drawn to, Uryson explains, her voice burbling over with enthusiasm. She herself would bring a few boxes of magazines, boards…and paints, just in case “somebody is artistic.” And they would work on vision boards, the way she did when she was trying to create a new life for herself and her daughters.

Other workshops would focus on creating water fountains or mobiles. The fountains “would bring the energy of water into their space, and the mobiles would bring the energy of air. You would hang your intentions onto it [the mobile]. Sometimes, when you have too many things, you have to work balance in.”

Uryson then tells me about a workshop that she once did with some Native American teenagers in a New Mexican school. The subject: mobiles. “They were very reserved in class – didn’t ask a lot of questions,” she recalls. “Then when I saw what they did, I could see they were engaged….I want people to be self-motivated – to be there because they truly want to learn. I love it when people are engaged, and they are truly present. I don’t want to herd cows.”

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