Tuesday, December 30, 2014

7:30 BELLS: The Bells of Swept Away

So this was my last week of the year. The week when the wind rushed; the bells rang; the ideas came from my dreams, which came from my ideas, which came from living with the heart of the world. This was the week when everything resounded. I am writing and making sculptures as my very heart itself seems to be made manifest in the world. Manifest of the world.

I live for such weeks, such days. So forgive me, because I don’t want to stop the making or the writing to do a 7:30 BELLS post.

Wait! This is the epitome of a 7:30 BELLS post. This is ringing. This is being alive. So now back I go, ringing and rushing into the New Year.

Until next week—next year!

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on January 14 for a guest post with author Nikki Grimes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

7:30 BELLS: The Bells of New Beginnings--by author Holly Schindler

Author Holly Schindler's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post is perfect for this time of year, when we're all ringing into the New Year.

What fuels me, always, is a new beginning. The excitement of the unknown, of possibility. Opening a door and not knowing what’s on the other side.

I am, in all honesty, a junkie, an addict, when it comes to beginnings. I adore the set-up in a novel: those initial 50-100 pages when we are introduced, as the readers, to the characters and their conflicts. I love the lights-down moment at a movie theater. I love the split second before the needle hits the vinyl, and the opening chords of a new album fill the room (aw, come on, there’s nothing better than vinyl).

There’s nothing quite like a new beginning in my own work, either—the eyes dilate, the heart picks up pace, and I do, in fact, feel my own internal bells going off like mad. Mostly, the bells ring with the initial “ah-ha!” moment. That “this would make a great book!” moment. And no part of the actual novel-writing process is as exhilarating as penning the opening chapters. Not even coming to the conclusion of a project. Really, I don’t think seeing a finished book on the shelf is as exciting as either the “ah-ha!” moment or creating a new file and beginning to type chapter one.

This can be a blessing, of course (I’m never without new ideas for books), but it can also be a detriment—especially when I’m trying to actually finish a book. When I first became a full-time writer, I would hit the sluggish middle of a WIP and find myself drawn to shiny new ideas, to that lovely feeling of starting a new project all over again. I even tried to convince myself I could work on multiple projects at once, in order to justify indulging in that “new project” feeling. Doesn’t work. It only resulted in finding myself in the midst of about fifty unfinished books.

I now know I have to write my “ah-ha!” moments down in my “Book Ideas” notebook, then get back to the task at hand, knowing that the new project with be there waiting for me when I’m done with my current book-in-progress.

Of course I want to write my ideas down so that I don’t lose them, but I also would never want to turn the ideas off completely. Doing it this way—letting the new ideas come in, recording them, then putting them aside—isn’t in any way distracting. It’s energizing. I think once you get in the habit of letting ideas pop, it can help with your WIP. After all, even in the middle of a project, you need new, fresh ideas, mini I “ah-ha!” moments about established characters or sub-plots. Finding fresh insights regarding a current project—finding ways to come back to those internal bells—can certainly make you feel as though you’ve hit your second wind, carry you through to the end…

Holly Schindler is the author of four traditionally published books: A BLUE SO DARK (Contemporary Realistic YA, Flux, 2010), PLAYING HURT (YA Romance, Flux, 2011), THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY (Contemporary Realistic MG, Penguin / Dial, 2014), and FERAL (YA Psychological Thriller, HarperTeen, 2014). Her work has received starred reviews in Booklist and Publishers Weekly, has won silver and gold medals in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year and the IPPY Awards, respectively, has been featured on Booklist's Best First Novels for Youth and School Library Journal's What's Hot in YA, and has been a PW Pick of the Week. In 2015, she'll be branching out into hybrid author status, publishing additional work on the independent platform. The first planned release is a New Adult Romantic Comedy.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on January 14 for a guest post with author Nikki Grimes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Starfall on Waterfall

At night, I sit outside ringing at the wonder of this waterfall in a friend’s yard. Sunlight collected by solar panels shines on the dark water. What does the sunlight think, finding itself shining again in darkness? Is it like coming home again? Being reborn? After all, sunlight is born from a burning ball in this immense, dark universe.

The play of light on the water enchants me—watch the video. What is the light that falls, and what is the light that rises? What is the darkness that falls, and what the darkness that rises? I don’t know. 

I only know that now, a week from the winter solstice, I am wild for light, any light. I feel like an immense dark universe. I take courage from the sun illuminating this night waterfall. Here is the sun’s chance to make something else a star. How can I capture whatever light I hold and shine it back onto the world? How can I be starfall on a waterfall?

Ring out, bells, ring!

Happy Solstice to all.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on December 23 for a guest post with author Holly Schindler.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Winter Bell, author Lauren Wohl

Lauren L. Wohl's luminous guest post, like her picture book THE EIGHTH MENORAH, resonates between the past and the present.

One of the great joys of Chanukah is the way it connects me with my grandmother. She was the family cook, turning out masterpieces in a tiny Brooklyn apartment kitchen that was always just a little too hot. (That oven was always on!)

For Chanukah, it was potato latkes. Always big baking potatoes – russets or Idahos. Peeled; soaked in cold water until it was their turn to be grated; then grated hastily by hand – so the potatoes would not turn color. Not too fine, not too coarse.

As the grated potatoes mounted in her yellow-ware bowl, Grandma would make room for more by spilling the extra liquid through her fingers into the sink.

I do the latke-making now, imitating every step. Lining up the ingredients and tools on the table, all in the proper order -- right down to her old yellow bowl As I cook, every sense takes me back to that old kitchen: the feel of the potatoes in my hand as I rub them across the grater; the smell of the grated onions as they blend in with the potatoes; the look of the batter when it is just right – not too lumpy, not too smooth; the sizzle the batter makes when I pour big spoonfuls into the hot oil. 

But it’s when I drain the excess liquid through my fingers that my grandmother is really with me. For my hands are replicas of hers, with arthritis turning the third finger in an altogether wrong direction and the fourth finger bent out of shape and out of alignment with the others. As I watch the water pouring slowly from the bowl, I can’t help but feel her hands on top of mine, guiding every step.

For that moment, she is right next to me, encouraging me in Yiddish. I don’t understand much Yiddish, but it sounds like music. I am lifted by the sound, by the connection.

And I am hungry.

Now comes the tasting: crispy, hot, melty. Some of us insist on applesauce, others sour cream, and a couple of purists, just a latke, no dressings please. “Just like grandma’s” my cousin says. There is no higher praise.

It is a powerful – and empowering -- connection: as long as she is guiding my fingers, I know I won’t make a mistake. The latkes I make will be as good, as tasty and crispy -- and as thick with history and story -- as hers.

Lauren L. Wohl is the author of THE EIGHTH MENORAH, a picture book for Chanukah that celebrates the relationship between a child and his grandmother. 

Wohl has worked in children’s book publishing throughout her adult life, for a variety of publishers, from start-ups to venerable houses. She is now a consultant, continuing work with publishers, but also involved with a literary agency and mentoring in a MFA program. She lives in New England and in South Florida with her husband – a bookseller. And she’s always writing something…

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on December 23 for a guest post with author Holly Schindler.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Winter Bells ~ Announcing Six Upcoming Guest Bloggers

I'm thrilled to announce these six creatives--artists, poets, and authors--who will share what makes them ring, resonate, and feel alive. This winter 7:30 BELLS will feature two guest bloggers per month, on the second and fourth Tuesdays. And here they are . . .

Lauren Wohl
December 9

The author of the picture book, The Eighth Menorah, Lauren L. Wohl has worked in children’s book publishing throughout her adult life. Now a consultant, Wohl works with publishers, a literary agency, 
and mentors in a MFA program.     

Holly Schindler
December 23

Holly Schindler's four books, including Feral and The Junction of Sunshine and Luckyhave received many awards, including starred reviews in Booklist and Publishers Weekly. They've won silver and gold medals in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year, and the IPPY Awards.

Nikki Grimes
January 13

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her many books include theALA Notable book What is Goodbye? and the Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade.

Linda Robertson
January 27

The Methow Conservancy published adult poet Linda Robertson's Letters from Julia, a fine press book designed by Ed Marquand at the renowned Paper Hammer Studio. Robertson is completing her MFA from Chatham University.

Brent Hartinger 
February 10

Brent Hartinger is a prolific author and playwright whose 2003 gay teen novel Geography Club
was a feature film released in November 2013. His tenth novel, The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know
 will be released December 15, 2014. 

Iskra Johnson
February 24

Iskra Johnson's "restless and experimental" nature has led her to flourish as a fine artist, printmaker, photographer and lettering designer. Widely exhibited, Johnson is represented by SAM Gallery, Prographica, and Bainbridge Arts & Crafts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

7:30 BELLS: “Praisegiving” and Thanksgiving

How is praise different from gratitude? Thanksgiving sets off the rounds of giving and expressing thanks for what is good in our lives. But I must confess, these recitations of the “be-gratitudes,” have always made me feel a little “squirrely,” as my father-in-law would say. When my turn comes at the table, the turkey steaming expectantly, I want to bolt. I’ve never understood why. There is nothing wrong, and much right, with saying things like:

  • I’m grateful for the sun and all this glorious world.
  • I’m thankful for the hands that prepared this feast.
  • I’m grateful for the heart that holds love.

Only when I began reading the work of the ecstatic poets such as Mirabai, Rilke, Dickinson, Whitman, did I understand why recitations of gratitude made me “squirrely.” The ecstatic poets essentially praise the world, people, objects, and whatever their conception of the divine is. Praising flows outward, and seems less self-oriented than gratitude. It’s about the world instead of me. Notice how you can drop the subject, I:

  • Praise the sun, and all this glorious world.
  • Praise the hands that prepared this feast.
  • Praise the heart that holds love.

Now this type of giving thanks I love and could do all day. So this Thanksgiving, I’m going to try “Praisegiving,” aloud and in silence, and see if that is my way to resound with the day. So I will start with the Lore of the Bell:

Praise the bells that ring and ring

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.
7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month.
Winter Bells will be announced next week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Unleaving . . . The Price of Coming Home

The golden leaves on this tree are a threshold—so I thought as I stood beneath it in the wind. On the frontier of transformation, magic happens that enables the fall from one life into another. The leaves are unleaving . . . first leaving green behind, then turning gold in a grand exit before leaving the tree forever.

We fear such moments of change, even when we see them coming. I know I don’t like the uncertainty and the discomfort of the inbetween. Here’s a list of a few of such moments: 

The gold is when you leave one home or place, for another.
The gold is getting married.
The gold is having children.
The gold is leaving one kind of work for another.
The gold is leaving one love for another.
The gold is dying.

What courage it all takes. But when I look at this tree, listen to it, and think what I might become, I'm determined to find the courage. I want this moment of gold, want what it leads to. So I’ll pay the price. 

What is the price? Unleaving . . . leaving our current connectedness, whatever that may be, and for awhile become disconnected, marginal, outside. Bearing the discomfort of being a threshold person, and learning to value it,  in a society that doesn’t.

Anthropologist Victor Turner talks about this in his book, The Ritual Process. A threshold person endures not only the loss of their identity, but also their status in the world. They are considered outsiders, outcasts.  I think it is because threshold people make us anxious, make us secretly fear we might be living an unexamined life.

 But a threshold person emerges from transformation to re-connect with the world in a new way.

So when it’s your time to turn gold, don’t hurry. Savor it. Become a vessel for the ambiguous state. The golden door is the one to walk through in order to move from an old life into a new one.

 In this season of change, may we all find the courage to ring with gold when need calls, and then fall with our own grace into whatever awaits us next.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.
7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month.
Winter Bells will be announced soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: The Body as Bell, by Martha Brockenbrough

What a privilege to share this post by brilliant YA author Martha Brockenbrough. Prepare to bedazzled!

I’m a sucker for a show of any kind. Give me a darkened theater. Turn on a spotlight. Transport me some place new and magical.

I expected this to happen that night ten years ago when I went to my first Cirque de Soleil performance. The tent was huge: sapphire blue and sun yellow on the outside, dark as night within. We had seats close enough to the stage to read the expression of the ringmaster, whose presence was utterly magnetic.

But what truly took me away were the acrobats suspended from the ceiling on wide ribbons of silk. The way they could make it look effortless to weave their limbs through the cloth—something I knew was extraordinarily difficult—made me wonder what it would be like to so fully inhabit my own flesh that way.

I’d become something of a head in a jar in my adulthood. Although I’d spent my childhood playing soccer, swimming, and running, I’d left the competitions behind when I went to college to focus on other my future.

It had always felt like my future would depend on my mind, after all. I had this notion sealed the summer I worked as a strap cutter in a golf bag manufacturing company, holding on to strips of nylon as I lowered the hot blade with my foot, an experience that convinced me that the more of your work you could do with your brain, the better.

And yet.

Life is not all work. And while it is a fine thing to feed your mind, it’s easy to forget there is a body that is attached, a body that hungers for movement, a body that is perhaps capable of mind-changing things. I wanted to return to mine.

And so, after that Cirque de Soleil show I signed myself up for yoga classes, which required me do move in ways I’d never moved before. I also took mixed martial arts classes and learned how to kick and punch. How to strike a target with kali sticks in each hand. I took up weight lifting. And lately, I have started a form of exercise called suspension training, which brings me as close to the acrobatics of Cirque de Soleil as I will ever get.

Hanging from a pair of straps like the ones I used to cut in my factory job, I jump. I balance. I pull myself skyward. It’s often painful and always exhausting, and I look nothing like the ethereal acrobats in a tent glowing with artificial stars. But it feels magical deep inside my cells. My muscles burn. My heart pounds. I breathe deeply. I drip sweat. My whole body vibrates like a bell that has been struck.

Invariably, I work so hard that I cannot think. And in these moments, it feels as though I have ventured out of the mind that rules me. But this isn’t quite it. It’s more that I have built up the kingdom I was always meant to inhabit: the one where I am both a brain and a body, a complex and complete human being striving to be better, stronger, smarter, more fully and deeply myself than I was the day before.

Martha Brockenbrough is the author of Devine Intervention, The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy, and the forthcoming young adult novel The Game of Love and Death. She grew up in Seattle, where she played the viola in string quartets and symphonies. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, teacher, and entertainment journalist. A lover of games, she also wrote questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. She founded National Grammar Day, volunteers with Readergirlz.com, and lives in Seattle with her family of musicians and their two tone-deaf dogs. Learn more at:


7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on December 9 for a guest post with author Holly Schindler.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Bridges in the Pea Patch: Creating a Discipline of Attention

In this community garden in West Seattle, mosaic tiles are tucked among the vegetables. Can you hear the exuberant conversation between the red stones and the red rhubarb? I love finding places like this, places where someone else’s vision creates a bridge that already leads halfway to the bells. All we have to do is notice and step across to hear the bells ring.

All we have to do. Sometimes that “all” is a pretty big one. How do you keep paying attention to what makes you feel most alive in the middle of all the grit of life?

There's a reason why religious orders like monastaries call practitioners to worship many times a day. (Matins. Lauds. Vespers, Compline, etc. . . . ) With all the distractions of life, we need to keep what is most important constantly in view. So 
I’m creating a disciplined practice in my life to facilitate paying attention to what makes me feel exuberantly alive.

Places do, certainly, but also books, art, ideas, kinds of work, and certain people. Commit every day to doing one thing that makes you feel alive. Reading a poem. Reading a book that points you in the direction of your passion. Dancing. Looking at a tree. Walking in the park. Meditating.

Look for the bridge.

People can be bridges, too. In this age of hyperactive connectivity, it’s important to maintain bridges to many different experiences. But I need my home place. I need to live where I can sing my best life song. That means being with people with whom I feel most at home, people who value my edges, who honor what I am trying to become. People who are bridges to ringing.

A practice of paying attention helps create bridges where there are none. This is useful not only for getting where you want to be, but also for escaping somewhere you don’t want to be. Instead of paralyzing yourself with the enormity of building a Golden Gate Bridge, just throw rocks into the water and hop across. (Mosaic stones through vegetable gardens work just fine, too.)

I want to live in a place where red rhubarb talks to red stone. Live a life tuned to hear such conversations when they happen, a life with people who know such conversations are possible and help create bridges to them.

Create a discipline of finding what brings you alive
and the bells will ring on their own.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 11 for a guest post with author Martha Brockenbrough.

Friday, October 31, 2014


A scary poem for Halloween . . . .

Passing the Knife

Here come the hands
without a body,
wielding  a knife
that cuts off my hands
and seizes my body.

Here come my hands,
without a body,
wielding  the knife,
searching for . . .

Dia Calhoun

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

7:30 BELLS: When It’s All Been Said Before—Times Two

Curses on L. Frank Baum for sentimentalizing rainbows. I woke up this morning to see this double rainbow arching across the Salish Sea. I threw my jacket over my pajamas and watched on the windy deck. The foundations rose from the most churning part of the water. The bells rang inside me at this beautiful transitory thing the world had made. But how could I possibly write a 7:30 BELLS post about rainbows? It’s all been said. 

And then I thought, not every beautiful sight has to come with or be expressed by some personal or divine revelation. Sometimes it is enough, even for the poet, to simply stand there in witness and wonder.

Soon the rainbow faded and I went in to warm up.

Not five minutes later, a second double rainbow appeared, this arch more complete and brilliant than the first. Again the jacket flew over the pajamas. Two double rainbows in five minutes. You know what, Dorothy? Birds don’t just fly over the rainbow. Birds fly under the grandest most triumphal arch in the world. That’s the way I want to go. Not over, but deeper into the world.

There. You knew I couldn’t leave it alone, didn’t you?

Even when its all be said before,
let the bells ring.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 11 for a guest post with author Martha Brockenbrough.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

7:30 BELLS: What Leaps Toward the Unknown

As night fell, this unexpected image caught my eye: a silhouetted dolphin (on a weather vane) rising from the trees into the sky. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a dolphin leap from the trees.

I love this image. I love it because it exploded with meaning that resonated for me.

Usually dolphins leap from the sea, symbolically like something flashing into consciousness from the unconscious, unknown deeps. So what does it mean for a dolphin to leap from the trees into the sky? Some might say this is the proverbially “fish out of water.” But to me, it seemed like an evolution. 

That’s because, being an intuitive introvert, I filter everything I see through the subjective filter of my experience. Trees have become powerful symbols for me in the last year (for more on that see this earlier post).

Also, this dolphin perching on a weather vane suggests that the weather of my life, or the weather of the world, is giving the dolphin a chance to soar into a new and unknown element. Who knows what luminous experiences of life await a dolphin swimming through the stars?

Poems emerge from such suddenly apprehended, unexpected images. Think I’ll work on one now . . .

Oh, and do I even have to tell you that the bells are ringing?

Interpret unexpected images through the filter of your life, 
and the bells will ring.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 11 for a guest post with author Martha Brockenbrough.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Author Turf Interview

What words of wisdom do I have for beginning writers? 

What kind of store I would open if I could? 

What makes me laugh AND want to throw up? 

How do I know when a book is finished? 
I'll answer that one--When I have thrown the book on the floor and stomped on it so many times, I can't squash it any further.

But for answers to the previous questions, and any other questions about me that you were afraid to ask and probably even more afraid to have answered, please read my interview on Author Turf with Britney Breakey.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Holding a Sacred Bell by Marc Calhoun

With the days turning dark and rushing toward the sacred holidays, I'm so pleased to offer this guest post by author/explorer Marc Calhoun who has spent twenty years exploring the Hebrides and written two books about them published by The Islands Book Trust. (And he is my big brother!)

It is amazing the impact a good author can have on a reader: for me, one of those authors was Alasdair Alpin Macgregor (1899-1970). He wrote lovingly about Scotland and instilled in me that same love. One of the first books of his I read was a collection of folk-tales called The Peat Fire Flame (1937); a book that kindled an interest in the history of Scotland and its early Celtic Christian Church.

A chapter in The Peat Fire Flame titled Bell Lore, describes some of the handbells used by theearly Celtic missionary saints in Scotland.

A saint’s bell was his prized possession; used to call the faithful to church and rung at certain times during Mass. I learned that one of these ancient handbells is still to be found in situ, standing on the altar of a church founded by St Finnan in the 7th Century.

It took two attempts over a period of five years to visit the church of St Finnan’s Bell; 
for it lies on a small, uninhabited island in a remote Scottish loch. It was a cold spring morning when my wife and I finally set foot on Eilean Fhionain, the island of St Finnan. We climbed to the top of the island to the ruin of St Finnan’s church. And there atop the altar, coated with a fine green patina, stood a small bronze bell.

I gently picked it up, hoping to make it ring. As I did, the clapper fell out. The bell looked fragile, so after re-attaching the clapper I slowly set the bell back on the altar. Although I did not hear it ring, I did not need to. Just holding it in my hands let me hear its message; one it has been sending throughout the centuries, a message that had brought us to a very special place.

There are a few other saint’s bells still in existence. Inscribed on one is a message that proclaims the power a sacred bell-ring can have:

Funerals I toll,
Lightnings I break,
Sabbaths I proclaim,
the Slothful I rouse,
the Winds I scatter,
the Cruel I appease.

Holding an ancient holy bell on a remote Scottish island was a memorable experience, one I owe to an author who wrote something 80 years ago; and whose work, like a sacred bell, still rings down through the years.

Marc Calhoun, a retired systems engineer, lives in Seattle with his wife Shawna. After developing an obsession for the islands of Scotland in 1989, he has visited them nearly every year. His two books describe those journeys of discovery: Exploring the Isles of the West – Firth of Clyde to the Small Isles, and Exploring the Isles of the West – Skye & Tiree to the Outer Isles (published by the Islands Book Trust, 2012). He also blogs about the Scottish islands at marccalhoun.blogspot.com. For several years, Marc Calhoun also wrote a regular column for the Robinson Newspapers about growing up in West Seattle, and his next project is a book of those columns.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday of every month. Join me on November 11 for a guest post with author Martha Brockenbrough.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

7:30 BELLS: "Best of the Bells"--The Golden Hunt

I run "Best of the Bells" to share popular posts from the past. This one from last fall is about hunting for chanterelle mushrooms in the woods.

Knife in hand, I prowled the mossy wood, searching for gold. Not gold nuggets, not gold coins, but the golden caps of chanterelle mushrooms. Some hid under Oregon grape, humus, and fallen leaves. Some, like those in this photo, sang out against the green. I walked, scanning the ground, thrilled each time I spotted gold. I knelt, my fingers probing for the stem, sometimes loosening the dirt and twigs around it before cutting. After double checking the species, I dropped the chanterelle in my bucket and began searching again.

Every sense intent on finding treasure, I thought of nothing else. My bucket half full, I glanced up from the hunt. At quiet woods. At streaming sun. At the first day of Autumn. My husband’s bucket clanked in the distance. And I heard the bells ring, slowly, steadily, with the somberness that comes from sanctity. I smiled.

Then I returned my total attention to the hunt, looking for food—and being fed.

The Treasure is the Rapture of Attention

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on October 14 for a guest post with 
explorer/author Marc Calhoun.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

7:30 BELLS: The Dragons of Bells

Ancient mapmakers who didn’t know what lay beyond the boundaries of a kingdom wrote, Here Be Dragons. Now substitute the word dragons with bells.

Sometimes the bells of our longing, the harbingers of what will bring us more alive, ring only faintly, at the edge of our hearing. We might hear a haunting sweetness on the air and look up to listen. But the sound fades, and we’re suddenly uncertain if we heard anything at all. So we shrug, and return to whatever we were doing. But the bells’ calling leaves behind some strange restlessness or yearning.

I once thought such bells rang faintly because they weren’t important. But over the last few years I’ve discovered the opposite is true: faint ringing is the ringing I need to heed most. The bells are only faint because I can’t clear away the obstacles in my life that are stopping me from hearing them. Obstacles like the towers of distraction, fear, numbness, and especially, strategic thinking placed before heart thinking—all the many reasons we stay safely at home. Sometimes it is wise and necessary to stay home. But doing that all the time leads to the death of whole-hearted living.

So follow the ringing that come faintly on the wind. Follow the bells which call you out of your comfortable dwellings of body and spirit. Follow the bells until you stand beneath them in all their bronze glory and hear the now clamorous ringing that compelled you to find them. If you do, you will find that boundaries of your kingdom—your heart, your life, your soul—have been pushed outward.

We will never discover all that’s waiting for us. There are still bells waiting, calling, and that’s the joy of life. But take one step at a time. Bell by bell. Find your new dwelling and hunker down with a cup of tea. Until that faint ringing stirs on the edge of the wind again . . .

Oh, and be sure to tell the mapmakers that your kingdom is bigger now.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on October 14 for a guest post with 
explorer/author Marc Calhoun.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday: Self Portrait

Self Portrait

Tree still standing—
     after rain,
     and many axes.

Tree still singing—
     of rain,
     and many axes.

Everything essential
for a life alive.

Dia Calhoun
September 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Equinox Bells—The Marriage of the Cosmic and the Personal

Last week I walked the hills of my childhood, beginning at the craftsman house in West Seattle on Wright Avenue where I lived from age five to eight. The first tree I ever loved stood in the big, wonderful yard. When I lived there the tree had a flat top, its crown lost to a wind-storm.

The day we moved to a house five blocks away, I threw my arms around the tree and cried. I took a piece of its bark which I treasured for years. The new house had only flighty ornamental cherry trees and a pocket handkerchief of a yard.

As I grew up, I often climbed the hill east of Lincoln Park to a set of hill stairs that connected two streets. I loved the view of Puget Sound, the Olympics, and below, the old tree I loved. The flattened top made it easy to spot.

Last week, as I stood again outside the Wright Avenue house, I saw the tree had grown a new crown: a little tree springing from the flattened top. I wanted to sneak into the yard and throw my arms around my old friend. But I left, cut through Lincoln Park at the end of the street, and climbed the hill to find the hill stairs. On the way, I discovered Solstice Park—a park established after I grew up. 

Sunset on June 21, 2011 at 9pm Credit: Jason Gift Enevoldsen
Three stone markers—one for the Summer Solstice, the Winter Solstice, and the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes—point toward the horizon where the sun sets on each of those cosmic occasions. Because the fall equinox was only days away, I stood on that stone. In years, too, I stand at the Autumnal Equinox of my Life. 

Looking out, I saw important markers of my life. Puget Sound. The Olympic Mountains. My elementary school. The Kenny Home, built like Independence Hall with its high cupola. Lincoln Park. Both neighborhoods of my childhood. And I could see the first tree I ever loved with its new crown.

The bells inside of me began to ring. I felt a rush of insight as the cosmic markers converged with my personal ones. And a rush of rightness. Everything was here. Everything had always been here. For forty years I’ve been trying to return to the first tree I loved—to what I love most at the deepest spiritual and psychic level. This marriage of the personal and the universal has lately become the theme of my life. I believe we all need this kind of deep connection to the world, in whatever form it speaks to us, to find strength and meaning. 

Someone wise once said that human beings are the universe becoming conscious of itself. Yes.

As I looked down at the worn words on the stone marker--Autumnal and Vernal Equinox--it struck me how they are the same stone. I feel that in many ways. Spring has burst forth in this autumnal moment in my life. And like the old tree of my childhood, new growth is springing from the old.

I aspire to a crown of green.

When the cosmic and personal converge,
new bells ring.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on October 14 for a guest post with 
explorer/author Marc Calhoun.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Wanting the Unwanted

When the neighbors planted a cherry tree along our south fence, I barely noticed. As the years passed though, the tree blocked more and more of the squeak of sunshine in our patio and yard. Now the true is three stories tall.

In summer, my patio now gets only five hours of direct sun. No more sun loving annuals. No more potted tomatoes and basil. I loved trees, but not this one. I glared at it with dastardly thoughts of round-up and girdling.

In the last two years, symbols of trees, presences of trees have flooded my dreams, life, and creative work. I am still figuring out what this means. This summer, for boring reasons, my husband and I switched sides of the bed.

One windy night last week, I woke up at midnight. We had forgotten to close the blinds completely. Outside the second story window, back lit by the full moon, waved the unwanted cherry tree. I watched it for a long time. When I wakened in the morning, the tree greeted me like an old friend.

Now I leave the blinds half open every night. Even without the full moon, the cherry tree is back lit by street lights. The tree is the last thing I see at night, and the first thing I see each morning. I now love this tree. It took sunlight from me, yes, but it made that sunlight into something splendid that grew into my life at just the right time.

I have come to believe that many things in our lives are like my experience with this tree—relationships, jobs, tasks, places. The very thing you once disliked, can become something that makes the bells ring out, because wonderfully, everything is always growing and changing.

I need to remember this.

When the unwanted becomes the wanted,
the bells will ring.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on October 14 for a guest post with 
explorer/author Marc Calhoun.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Recording Dreams

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I record and follow my dreams. Several people have asked since about my methods. I don't write my dreams down--too slow. Instead I speak them into the note-recording function on my phone as soon as I wake up.

Speaking dreams helps you remember more because it eliminates the middle man of writing. Writing by hand switches on a more executive part of the brain that plows right over those flitting dream memories that can vanish oh-so-fast.

And speaking your dreams allows you to ramble. Rambling also helps recall. In the middle of recording one dream, I may get a flash from another. So I interrupt the current dream with words like: "new dream coming in about a cat with wings." Then I either go on recording the first dream or plunge into the new dream. Either way, I have a quick notation I can return to for a memory trigger. Sometimes the voice to word translation is incorrect. But I don't even watch the screen as I record--again--reading is an executive function that whisks away memories. And I can always make corrections when I review the dreams later. I keep a log for a week, then e-mail myself the file and put it in a dream log.

I also find it helpful--perhaps this is the author in me--to give dreams titles to trigger memory. Sometimes I do this at night if I wake up and have had a dream I want to remember to record in the morning. First thing in the morning, before recording any details, I will list all the dream titles I can remember. Because sometimes in the depths of recording one dream, I will forget another.

Because speaking your dreams is faster, you are more likely to keep doing it. So why should you record your dreams? After six months of this, I can say with certainty that my dreams are trying to guide me. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, says dreams are like "letters from home."

I think this is true. In my dreams I've seen characters, themes, stories develop over time. I've learned about my own personal slant on more universal symbols, which you don't see well until you watch your dreams for a while. This then provides you with more accurate information about what is going on in the landscape of your mind.

And here is the really fantastic thing. The more I pay attention to my dreams, the more helpful they've become (sometimes the scary figures in our dreams are trying to help us.) By being more aware of what is happening in my subconscious, I am better able to understand my motivations and actions in the outer world. So my entire pschye is more on the same path which makes life straighter.

 I highly recommend Clarissa Pinkola Estes' wonderful one hour audio CD on beginning dream interpretation. And Carl Jung's book Man and His Symbols.So follow your dreams and be prepared to be astounded by the world inside you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Author Justina Chen's Heart Rings on Machu Picchu

Justina Chen, whose award-winning YA novels always dare into the deep reaches of the heart, rings us into the Fall season from high on an ancient mountain . . . .

Machu Picchu. More than a bucket list item, Machu Picchu called to my soul. For years, I had intended to visit the mystical site, perched high on a mountain. But then my life was overturned and my savings evaporated along with my ex-husband. The idea of bringing my kids to the place of my dreams felt daunting. For one, money was tight. And for another more embarrassing reason, this particular adventure required navigational skills. Serious navigational skills that geographically dyslexic me had always relied on my ex to handle.

Yet there we finally stood overlooking Machu Picchu, my kids and I, years after I had planned our visit. To this day, no one knows the why or how of Machu Picchu. What was its purpose—summer resort for emperors or grand temple for priests? I stared stared stared at the sunlit ruins of what once, irritated by that mystery. Surely some archaeologist or anthropologist had solved it by now.

Suddenly, a wind ripped the veil of clouds overhead. For one perfect moment, the sun beamed down on me along with an idea for a new novel. A girl who wants to be a photographer, but can’t see her own life clearly. A girl with a serious blind spot for boys.

The why and how of inspiration is a mystery no different from the why or how of ruins—those found on mountains and those in our lives. All I knew, standing before Machu Picchu, was that I had to accept the inexplicable.

The bells rang so loudly inside me, I was afraid that my heart would crack right open. But I did not step back. I did not close my eyes. And I did not plug my ears.

Ring away, I dared instead, as I stood before the treasure of ruins that is Machu Picchu.

Ring away, I thought, flanked by my children, the treasure of my life.

Ring away, I told myself, lifting my eyes from the rubble to the clouds. And so the bells rang. And as I listened, I knew what I was hearing: the sound of my heart being knocked open to love again.

Justina’s fifth novel, A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS, was inspired by her trip to Machu Picchu and was named as a Top Romance for Youth by Booklist. Her novel, NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, was a Kirkus and Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Year. She is the co-founder of readergirlz as well as a story strategist to executives. Please visit her at www.facebook.com/AuthorJustinaChen and follow her on Twitter @JustinaYChen.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on October 14 for a guest post with 
explorer/author Marc Calhoun

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

7:30 BELLS: From Bell to Bell Marks the Way

When we leave an old path in our lives to stumble toward a new one, we long for clear signs that we’ve found the right track. Personally, I hope for a signpost with a big, flashing green arrow that’s inscribed: TURN RIGHT HERE. My mind understands such familiar signs. When we’re forging our own path though, instinct and intuition are often keener guides. But they can be subtle and harder to read, especially because we haven’t been taught to trust them.

Nor have we been taught to bear the discomfort of holding uncertainty for any length of time. We want to know RIGHT NOW. Following instinct and intuition require looking at everything more closely. Quiet helps with that. So does extensive solitude, reflection, and paying attention. All of these are contrary to the instant and shallow forms of connection our culture now values.

That means I’ve had to work very hard, and displease some people, in order to hear where my intuition and even my dreams are guiding me. (I’ve been recording dreams for five months. If you’re any good at understanding metaphor, watching your dreams over time is eye-opening. Themes unfold, characters develop . . .)

Because I’ve been tuning myself to heed subtle signs, yesterday a tiny marker at last affirmed my new path. I saw someone else’s way open from the work I’ve been doing—as though sound waves from my own ringing bells, from my own struggle to find a new path, nudged another person’s waiting bell and made it ring with such sweetness that I wept.

That tiny marker was brighter and bigger than any flashing green arrow. So my new path is clear—at least, for now.

You’re on the right path when
your ringing bell inspires someone else.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on September for a guest post with 
award winning author Justina Chen.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fall Bells! Line-up of 7:30 BELLS Guest Posts for Fall 2014.

I'm delight to announce the Fall Bells--writers who will share what makes them ring, resonate, and feel alive in 7:30 BELLS Guest Posts on the second Tuesday of each month this fall.

September Bell: Justina Chen 

Award-winning YA author of five books, 
strategista, speechwriter, and storyteller,
Justina Chen's newest novel, A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS,
is just out to terrific acclaim.

October Bell: Marc Calhoun

Marc Calhoun is the author of two books
 about twenty years exploring the Hebrides--
Exploring the Isles of the West: Skye and Tiree to the Outer Isles, 
and Exploring the Isles of the West:: Firth of Clyde to the Small Isles. 
(Published by The Islands Book Trust)

November Bell: Martha Brockenbrough

Award-winning YA author, journalist and grammarian, 
Martha Brockenbrough's YA novel Devine Intervention 
is a rare cocktail of wild imagination, humor and heart.

Join us the second Tuesday of each month this fall
for these exciting writers' 7:30 BELLS Guest Posts.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Thriving in the Wasteland

Twisted and battered, this aspen grows in a barren lava field in the Central Oregon Cascades. How deeply its root must grapple down through the now cold fire rock, seeking water. Some would say this tree is a survivor, to exist in such desolation. Survival implies scraping by, managing. But as I stood looking at this tree in awe, I saw much more than survival.

I saw a tree made uniquely beautiful by the circumstances in which it found itself. A tree that had become elemental and fierce. If this tree lived in a gentle canyon by a gentle creek, straight and tall in the company of a dozen other straight and tall trees, it would not have made the bells ring in my heart. This tree thrived as itself.

So embrace the desolate rock. Embrace the wild wind. Let them sculpt your heart, self, and spirit into a beauty all your own. Grapple deep. Drink from whatever underground spring you can find. And thrive.

Difficult times can 
sculpt us 
into something uniquely beautiful.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. On Thursday I will be announcing the lineup of "FALL BELLS" 7:30 BELLS Guest Posters for September, October, and November.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

7:30 BELLS: Falling over Rocks Makes the White Joy Fly Upward

I sit by the giant stone steps of Greenwater River, beside the trail near Greenwater Lake. The river roars over the stone steps, tossing frothy white banners. People say froth is unessential, probably because it is ephemeral and ever-changing.

I disagree. I disagree because as I watch the whitewater, the bells inside me ring wildly.

The lacey banners that crest the rocks are more than gilding. They make the river beautiful by bringing it alive. I especially love the exuberant white droplets flying up in bursts and bounces. Even though the current flows over the same rocks, the droplet patterns are always different. They are like the tracery of our lives. All is movement, all is change. The froth makes visible the ever-changing nature of the world and our lives. And it is helpful for me to remember that bumping over hard rocks makes the white joy fly upward.

So this is my best hope of eternity: ever-changing like the flying droplets, ever the same like the flowing river. Duality conquered.

And all this is brought to us by froth, thank you very much! So get thee to a river. Open a bottle of champagne beside it and celebrate each ephemeral bubble.


Ephemeral effervescence makes the bells ring

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: BELLS RING THE JOURNEY by author Kim Baker

Thanks to award-winning author Kim Baker for this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post
sharing how bells in Edinburgh became markers in her life.

After Dia’s invitation to post, I brainstormed significant bells until I traveled to the United Kingdom with my husband and kids, and everything not to do with the trip went on the back burner. It was the first trip for our kids to my husband’s homeland. They greatly enjoyed familiarizing themselves with their British heritage (albeit mostly by sampling candy). We visited my lovely in-laws and showed the kids landmarks from my husband’s childhood.

At my request, we stopped in Edinburgh, Scotland for a couple of days between family visits. I lived in Edinburgh for a year in my early twenties, and I loved it. It was my first time far away from home, before Facebook, and Skype, and all the other ways that we can connect from great distances. I was often scared and lonely, but I learned that I could take care of myself, discover new connections, and, well, survive. It wasn’t easy. 

There wasn’t a minimum wage in Scotland then, I was sick a lot, and anti-American sentiment was high. I found jobs waiting tables and tending bars in pubs. It was a 45-minute walk to each of my jobs, and it did manage to be steep climbs uphill and downhill both ways. The memories of walking to and from work in the winter are especially vivid. Darkness, cold, rain, and slippery steps in worn out work shoes. If the church bells on the Royal Mile chimed after I had passed the statue of Greyfriars Bobby I was fine, but if they chimed before, I was probably late. I usually had sniffles and chapped cheeks from the wind. I was lean from all the walking, along with not having much money for food. But, still. I was mostly happy to be there and my memories of that time are almost all happy ones. Despite being sick and hungry and poor, I felt like I was the person I wanted to be. And despite worrying about lateness, the bells reminded me that I was on my way to work. I struggled between paychecks, and I was grateful to have work. 

Flash forward mumble-mumble years, and I was back there last month. It was warm and sunny. I retraced old steps from my flat to an old job with my family. I hadn’t thought of the bells in years, but they rang through the old streets of the city, and the sound stopped me in my path. Things are different now, but I still feel good about where I am in life. I’m not lean anymore, but I know my capabilities (most days). I can take care of myself (most days), and I can take care of others now as well. But even with the differences and (ahem) maturity, I’m still on a journey. When we left Edinburgh we vowed to come back again, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll be on my path the next time I hear the bells chime. 

Bells ring out our journeys through life

Kim's debut middle grade novel, PICKLE: THE FORMERLY ANONYMOUS PRANK CLUB OF FOUNTAIN POINT MIDDLE SCHOOL (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children's), was one of the New York Public Library's Best Books for Reading and Sharing, a finalist for the 2013 CBC Children's Choice Awards, Book of the Year for 5th-6th grade readers, and the recipient of the 2013 SCBWI Crystal Kite West award. She lives in with her family in Seattle where she reads a lot, makes stuff, and thinks about ways to entertain her pets. She can often be found in the woods, despite a chronic fear of bears.

Learn more about Kim Baker at kimbakerbooks.com

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on September for a guest post with 
award winning author Justina Chen.