I Am Still A Person Who Makes Things

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So I had that chat with Jigme Rinpoche. And you know what he told me? He said it’s good for me to be an artist.

I was talking about other things, new plans, ideas, and understandings in relation to things I had let go of or was ready to. I started a sentence, “Before I came to Dhagpo, I wanted to be a professional artist–” And he cut me off right in the middle to say, “This is not bad. Not bad. This is quite good I think.”

I didn’t ask any further questions. Usually, I ask why and for what purpose and in what manner and other useful contextualizing questions. But context is for things that are growing and need to grow in the right direction. I spent all this past year working with how I identify with the idea of being an artist. I think it’s no coincidence that when I finally reached the point where I had enough space to consider giving it up, a message came down the pipeline telling me not to abandon ship completely.

But I also realize. Whatever title or career I may pursue or wind up with, in this life, I will always be a person who makes things. Making stuff helps me understand; it helps me find courage; it helps me show love. And this is different from being an artist. A professional one, anyway. Being an artist means creating a portfolio, applying to shows, networking with galleries, connecting in the industry, learning the history, following the news, and a lot of other time-consuming, goal-specific things. Things that I am not doing right now and not planning to being doing in the immediate future.

But it’s good to know not to let the door slide shut as times passes. For now, I just plan on staying a person who makes things, and if the time comes when it is particularly useful to make more things and do the accessory work that helps those things to reach people, well, that’s cool with me too, I guess.

anofferingIn case, ahem, anybody might be wondering, Rinpoche said a few other things too. It was quite a nice chat, honestly. And perhaps it’s selfish, but I’m glad he’s back where I can make his tea and get to see his round form bobbing across the esplanade in front of the Institute.

He said to focus on study. He said, in my case anyway, that Tibetan can be better learned through studying the traditional teachings than by going away for a long time to study the language itself. Though maybe going away for a bit here and there could be useful. He said to train to teach. He even gave me some pointers as to where and how I could do that within the context of my life at Dhagpo. He affirmed what I have believed from the beginning: that this place is perfect. Okay, so he didn’t say it like that. He said that it is the combination of study, formal practice, and activity in the center that helps us to understand both the meaning of the teachings and how to take care of people. This is, after all, the goal: understand the teachings and, in so doing, take care of people.

In the end, I am left with the feeling that instead of some grand adventure, I find myself, as ever, on the long slow road. But it is a good road and it is the road to where I want to go. The company is first-class and the guys giving directions are top-notch.

I think of that fable from when I was a kid. Slow and steady wins the race. And then comes back for the speedy and distracted, though they left that part out.

Please, let me be a good tortoise.

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Pre-Holidays And Persimmon Pudding

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Happy Solstice! This photo is blurry, but if you look at it like it’s an abstract painting, it works. The colors! It was like that in real life.

And happy Monlam too! I woke up at four this morning to watch the livestream of the final day of Kagyu prayers in Bodh Gaya, and well, I’m a little loopy now for the lost sleep, but it was totally worth it. It’s good to be part of a community that cares about beings.

I’m enjoying the unexpected arrival of Christmas break (yeah, even Buddhists take off for Christmas). Even though I knew it was coming, the fact that I’d get, like, time off, hadn’t really registered until I sent off my fully finished budget and realized I suddenly no longer had a list of grueling, urgent things to do.

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Even though I spent most of this week totally exhausted whilst trying to check off all the things on the aforementioned list, now that it’s break, I just feel, like I’m floating. Carried by a breeze. Life is happening, and I get to be part of it.

I have dreams and plans and goals and wishes. I have people to work on them with and exchange field notes along the way. The above comes from the first-ever meeting of Dhagpo’s newly-formed Tibetan language study group. I can very haltingly respond to the question, “What’s your name?” and I can pretty much pronounce the alphabet right (-ish, if I stare at the ceiling and spit a lot for certain letters).

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Tomorrow I’m heading to Bordeaux to pick up the sis, for a ground-breaking, non-family-unit Christmas. It’s a little strange, but hey, things change and even if my family doesn’t look the same on Christmas as it used to, I have this feeling that we’re all on the right track even if it’s not easy. And that matters more.

Because Solstice and Christmas and even this pseudo-cold weather we’re having mean making all baked goods loaded with spices, here’s a perfect holiday recipe. Before today, I’d eaten persimmon pudding once in my life (at a friend’s house in high school, homemade by her mom with persimmons from the backyard), but the experience so marked me with its deliciousness that I vowed to one day recreate it. When one of my new English students sent me home with a bag of hachiya persimmons, I knew what was coming down the line. Tender, moist-to-almost-gooey, earthyfruityspicy winter goodness. Also, it’s gluten free, because I can.

Recipe…

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S’mores Cake and The Slow Life

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This is birthday cake. According to my cohort here at the center, it’s also the best cake I’ve yet to make. There were some mutters that the red velvet might still give it a run for its money, but all-told, it was a major hit. As was intended. I made it for the only other resident American, and I felt the need to go all-out for the sake of nationalistic solidarity, and well, also, because s’mores. The French don’t know or understand them, and I’m not sure this cake really clarified the situation as it only resembles its inspiration in flavor and not at all in form, but in any case, I’ve convinced them that this strange American phenomena called a “s’more” is a good and delicious thing.

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This picture is blurry and not the most tantalizing, but you can see the tattooed hand of the birthday boy in the background, and so I decided to include it. He’s off gallivanting around India for the next month, taking spectacular photos and bringing together art, communication, and the amazing lineage of Tibetan Buddhism we have the good fortune to be a part of.

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I’m keeping it real in the Dordogne writing budgets for the Lama House and trying to train myself to read practice texts with something resembling a proper Tibetan accent. If you want to see me stare intently at the ceiling and spit a lot while I try to produce a convincing ཁ (kha), stop by the community room after lunch, where my patient friend Julie gives me pointers based on her studies in Katmandu. I might not be able to speak yet, but I can hear alright, and I’m grateful to have somebody around with a decent accent and the generosity to help me work on mine. Also, I’ve started giving English lessons to a few folks who live nearby, which is a blast honestly and a nice way to meet people in a different context than my role as an uber-busy volunteer. It’s been a very linguistic couple of weeks, I guess.

I wouldn’t say that life is exciting, but it’s enriching. I’ve taken to listening to Brahms’ violin sonatas while doing office work, and yesterday a few of us took a break from the daily grind to share a hearthside dinner at a friend’s house; such things give me this strange feeling of settling inside. That despite my longtime penchant for wandering and adventure-seeking, I’m learning something about stillness. How to find the joy and the resources to get through and even appreciate the slow-going, unglamorous business of doing what needs to be done.

IMG_2983Recipe follows… Continue reading