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Living Large on Little: Part 3

And one more installation from my forthcoming mini book: Living Large on Little: How to See the Invitation in Limitation. This vignette is from the section on patience….

When I taught high school on a tiny, Micronesian island, far, far away, I learned to make weekends sacred. I tried to get out and enjoy the ocean, which was my favorite thing to do there. 

One Saturday morning, I stopped at the local outdoor market and bought a coconut to take to Wings Beach. With any luck, I’d have that northern nook of the island to myself. It was an  unprotected beach, as in: no coral reef to create a lagoon and keep the sharks out. I was always a bit afraid of swimming in those waters, and I would force myself to do it.

My car lurched down the pocked, coral road, and I arrived to—delight!—a deserted beach. 

I laid out my sarong on the sand and sipped the coconut juice through the straw sticking from the hole that the man at the market had machete’d open for me. When I finished the juice, I thought: I want to eat the coconut meat inside. But this was the entire coconut—thick, green outer casing and all.

Limitation: I had no machete. 

Invitation: How else can I open it?

I will not admit how long it took me to break that thing open. It involved much hefting and not a few rounds of bashing against rocks. I’m glad there were no witnesses but the coconut crabs, scuttling for cover. 

When I finally heard that shell crack in half, I felt an ancient thrill that no modern equipment of convenience can give. 

I sat on my sarong and scooped out the coconut meat. I ate it with revelry, facing the sea and sky in their many hues of blue. 

When I had scraped out the last of the sweet fruit, I stacked the two shells and ran my hands through the sand—sand that had once been stone or coral and was now soft enough to comfortably sit on. 

So much is worth waiting for. 

Sometimes, that waiting is passive, but many times, it’s a muscle’d waiting, filled with sweat and repetition like the tides. Or the sound of continuous thudding of coconut on stone. 

PS: The official book launch is November 9 at The Miners’ Bazaar in Jacksonville, Oregon, from 5-7 PM.  More info here. 

Living Large on Little: Part 2

This month, a second installation from my forthcoming mini book: Living Large on Little: How to See the Invitation in Limitation. It is divided into sections of vignettes, and the following bit appears in the “Joy” section….

The idea that an apple a day keeps the doctor away only works if we choose to eat the apple.

Joy is an active choice we make. 

I like to distinguish happiness from joy. To me, happiness depends on a certain outcome or circumstance, but joy is independent of any externals—it’s a heart-set. A choice. 

This means I can still have joy in the midst of grief, but I probably can’t be happy. I can be happy when I buy a new pair of boots, but not necessarily when I splatter paint all over them—and joy doesn’t require any specific footwear.

But then, I sometimes forget my own theory and use happiness and joy interchangeably. 

Sometimes, joy is taking a moment to laugh at ourselves and all of our theories.

(PS: If youre in Southern Oregon, save the date for the book launch on the evening of November 9…more info soon!)

*Living Large on Little is now available here

Living Large on Little: Part 1

WordSpaceStudios, San Francisco 
It was such a gift. Time and space in San Francisco to write. While there, I was able to work on a nonfiction project that’s been growing in a Word document for a long time: Living Large on Little: How to See the Invitation in Limitation. This is the first of several excerpts. From the introduction: 

I grew up mostly in rural Montana. At the edge of our field grew a young plum tree. I loved this tree. I whispered my hopes to it and sat in its shade and…I was probably reenacting Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. I was a bit of a romantic.

Beneath that tree, I dreamed what my life would be like when I grew up. Though I can’t remember all of those dreams, I do remember that my imagination sustained me. 

The farmhouse my parents rented was beautiful and old—over a hundred years at the time. It had no central heating. In the winter, our pipes would consistently freeze. The spigot mounted to the fence leaked enough water to create fantastical, three-foot-high ice sculptures. 

Winter mornings, my brother David and I would don our scarves, coats, hats, mittens, and Moon Boots and plunge through the snow to see what shape had grown in the night.

One year, the spigot dripped into a being an ice chair worthy of the witch of Narnia. It was so big, we could sit on it, and we did—taking turns being King and Queen, reigning over the white and gray landscape, ours to the edge of the visible world.

More to come next month…. 

*Living Large on Little is now available here

Beyond the Visible

At the start of my walk…

I was grateful to spend the last week housesitting near Face Rock Beach in Bandon, Oregon. I walked the long beaches usually twice a day, in between overlong work sessions.

One afternoon, as I headed north, I noticed that Face Rock was barely visible in the fog. In fact, if I hadn’t seen her before, I wouldn’t have even known she was there.

On my return, the fog had cleared, and the namesake rock was in her usual pose of looking up at the sky from the waters. I couldn’t help but wonder: how many things do we walk past in the fog of our limited perception, not knowing the presence of beauty just beyond the visible conditions of our lives?

…and on my return.



I spent a good chunk of the week’s work on a new possible adventure–one that would require new ways of seeing, thinking, and dreaming.

We shall see (and I do hope with more than my natural eyes).

With love from the fog & the sun,

Anna

What will we send out?

When I created the Word-Painting Project, the idea was to do something that could encourage others…and cover my grocery bill while chalet-sitting for friends in Switzerland (I’m a practical poet!). 

Though I thought I was making time for the project, the project made time for me. It gave me time to watch the light on the Alps and the clouds catch on their peaks. It gave me time to listen to the symphony of cowbells on the Holsteins munching wildflowers on the slope of the next-door chalet. And it was a joy to share that time in words and images by creating a word-painting every day for ten days. 

Back home, the prints of those originals already arrived, and I’ve hand-addressed the first of ten batches to go out over the summer. This week, a stack of Word-Painting No. 1 prints began their stamped way through the postal system to their recipients, and I blessed them as I dropped them into the post-office slot.  

This was the last image I created for the Word-Painting Project. It seemed appropriate to end with a question: What will we send out into the bright world beyond us? Some days, the world is bright, as in sunny and good—like this summer solstice day. And some days, the world is bright, as in the harsh glare of a world in need. Regardless of the natural or emotional weather, I choose to send out something encouraging. And with it, a big dose of gratitude. 

So, in each of Switzerland’s three, official languages, thank you for being part of the Word-Painting journey: danke, merci, grazie.

The Poet & the Bloodstone

Detail of Bloodstone Pillars, Catedral de Ávila, Spain
I am happy that this poem will be  published in the forthcoming Deep Travel anthology.  A bit of backstory:
Saint Teresa of Ávila and Charles-Axel Guillaumot never met. She was a Spanish nun who lived from 1515-1582; he was a French architect who lived from 1730-1807. Each of them built and left a largely invisible legacy. Hers was a vision of the interior castle of the spirit within us. His was to save Paris from collapsing back into the quarries beneath it by building a support city belowground. Today, you can read what Teresa built with her words, and you can visit a fraction of Paris’ abandoned quarries open to the public. In the poetry collection, Hope of Stones, you are invited to enter a cross-century conversation among The Nun, The Architect, & The Poet. This poem is from that collection, which was a finalist for the Tupelo Press 2019 Dorset Prize.

     The Poet & The Bloodstone 
     Ávila, Spain

Today is research day. First, The Nun’s museum. 
It brims with depictions of heaven speaking 
to the saint. In paintings, doves & rays of light 
descend & suspend above her upturned face. 
Speech ribbons unfurl toward her from angels. 
The saint was known to levitate, so I half expect
the painted words to lift from their composition 
& twirl about. They stay put. 
                                                   Next, the Catedral 
de Ávila. Here, I see the grandeur The Nun left 
behind. This church was built with bloodstone—
granite shot through with iron. It looks like 
history has bled across the walls. The stone came
from a nearby quarry, & I think of The Architect. 
What we pull from the earth & what we do with it. 
I sit a long while on a hard pew, but my most 
profound thought is how best to get to the train 
station tomorrow. 
                                 Time to search for gazpacho 
Rioja—things that don’t last for centuries. I keep 
forgetting that in this country, I’m an outsider 
trying to dine before nine. 
                                               The Nun founded 
her simple convent outside the city walls. 
Paris thought The Architect an outsider 
for not being born in France. I am always looking
for what lies outside—even dining hours. 
                                                                         I find
an open café & order wine the color of bloodstone.


Poetry in Five Minutes or Less

For this year’s National Poetry Month, I shared lickety-split bits of micropoetry each day on Instagram. My rules: use photos I took each day and write the poetry in five minutes or less. (This was a fun break from my norm of a bazillion revisions!) Here are six of my favs….

1.
Orange marries mint
where the berries lie
on tile blue as night sky
before dreaming begins.



4.
If perfection exists,
might she don the disguise
of wild flowers in a little 
glass on a rainy day?




8.
We know every exit
is an entrance elsewhere,
but we don’t know the where—
else how would mystery visit?



10.
We dwell all the way
to the horizon of our lives. 
May the view from the sill
of our hearts be vast.




25.
Everywhere, beauty
shines her light—
unfurling petals,
greening leaves.
Even the shadows smile 
at her bright excess.



28.
The constant fight with self—
who thinks she’s beyond 
rest—is gladly lost 
each time my soul
insists on a Sabbath, 
& my body’s eyes
watch leaves grow
on page or tree,
& my spirit eyes
see all as new enough again 
to return to—with 
better work & world.

The Word-Painting Project

Many moons ago, in a land far, far away, my life completely changed. I had been working for two years in Germany, living an art-filled but spirit-empty life. On a whim, I took the train to Switzerland to a theological commune my parents had told me about. 

You could say I had my mountain-top experience on a literal mountain top. There in the Alps, my life did a complete reset, and I started on what would become my journey of art + word + spirit.

At the time, I didn’t know how much I needed to be encouraged that there was something beyond my current circumstances—something more. (In fact, I wrote & illustrated a children’s book inspired by that journey.) 

In late May and early June, I’ll be back in Switzerland to teach poetry. Afterward, I’m returning to that alpine village and taking a 10-day creativity retreat—my own personal pilgrimage. But this time around, I’d like to invite you to share the journey. Specifically, I’d like to share a little project of encouragement….

The Word-Painting Project

Do you ever wish a bit of encouragement would just arrive on your doorstep? Consider this an invitation to receive some!

During 10 days in June, I’ll create 10 little word-paintings. Though I don’t yet know exactly what they’ll be, I know that they’ll be inspired by taking heart. (You can see a similar idea by checking out the watercolor/micropoetry pieces I created while at a writing residency last fall.) And I’ll share the word-paintings each day on Instagram, Wi-Fi permitting!

Once I’m back home, I’ll make archival, matte, 5″ x 5″ postcard prints of the originals. 

Sign up for the project, and I’ll sign, hand-address, & mail the postcards to you—one per week, for 10 weeks. You’ll get a tangible word of encouragement in your mailbox—your actual snail-mail-box!

Cost: $25 to addresses within the US ($30 outside the US)

You can also order the project as a gift for someone else—just send me their mailing address. 

And as a fun finale: the project will conclude with a poetry reading & art reception to display the originals in San Francisco on August 17 (more details on that event to come). 

Sign up online: 

~ Visit the payment page at annaelkins.com.
~ In the “amount” field, enter the total for your desired batch of word-painting projects.
~ In the “description” field, write your mailing address and/or the recipient’s address.

Or sign up with snail mail:

~ Send a check—along with your mailing address/es—to: 

   Anna Elkins | PO Box 509 | Jacksonville, OR 97530

Questions? Email me: [email protected]

It’s encouraging to know that something good is on its way to us. Here’s to anticipating summer goodness! 


Entering the “roaming stillness”

The book stacks were winning. Not the ones in the library—the ones by my bed: neat-but-towering stacks waiting to find room on shelves filled with the kindred books I love returning to.
By the end of 2018, I had three stacks. Something had to be done: more reading! So For 2019, I’ve committed to reading more books—the tangible ones with spines and flyleaves and the scent of possibility in their binding. More reading: even when life and to-do lists brim.
A dozen books into this year, and I’m back to my bookworm self. Happy reunion! I thought I’d share some favorite lines from my favorite five reads so far. Happy reading!
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice, Terry Tempest Williams: “Silence introduced in a society that worships noise is like the Moon exposing the night. Behind darkness is our fear. Within silence our voice dwells. What is required from us…is that we be still. We focus. We listen. We see and we hear. The unexpected emerges.”
The Long Home, Christian Wiman, from his poem “Elsewhere”:
            He longs
to find some calm within
what he’s become, inside
the sound, a roaming
stillness.
Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, Dr. Caroline Leaf: “[W]hen our brain enters the rest circuit, we don’t actually rest; we move into a highly intelligent, self-reflective, directed state. And the more often we go there, the more we get in touch with the deep, spiritual part of who we are.”
H is for Hawk, Helen McDonald: “When you are learning how to do something, you do not have to worry about whether or not you are good at it. But when you have done something, have learned how to do it, you are not safe any more. Being an expert opens you up to judgment.” 

We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress, Craig Morgan Teicher: “Wisdom is born where observation and imagination meet, where the real and ideal touch….”

#FutureSelfLove

This January, three things inspired/conspired to create this post…
1) Earlier this month, I was traveling for work. My flights had the tightest layovers of any airline itinerary I’ve ever booked, and I barely made either connection. And though my checked bag was delayed for several days on arrival, I found myself laughing at what annoyed me most: no time for airport laps. That’s what I call my travel exercise when I’m (usually) waiting in an airport for hours. I often walk until my phone’s health app tells me I’ve reached five miles. On this trip, I got my cardio in by quite literally running to catch my planes—not the most pleasant or peaceful exercise!
2) This month also marks the 10-year anniversary of a promise I made to myself. In January of 2009, I had been teaching for a year and a half on an island in Micronesia. In that near-equatorial climate, it was sweet relief to swing by the beach after school and join fellow teachers for a swim. On the hottest days, we’d buy a pass to one of the swanky hotel gyms and exercise in the air-conditioning.
By that January, I was in the best shape of my life. I liked feeling strong and lithe. And so I committed to some kind of exercise every day. For the rest of my life, for as long as my body can move. Minimum: 20 minutes of stretches. Average: 45 minute hike. And…I’m not really into maximum exertion, so there’s pretty much never more than a two-hour hike or a long day of walking in a foreign city. I know my limits!
For the last ten years, I’ve kept this commitment—even on days of extreme weather, international travel, or minor surgery. I’d made the commitment, so I found a way. Some days, it’s just those 20 minutes of stretches.  Most days it’s the 45-minute hike in my town’s Woodlands. One day in Paris, it was walking over a dozen miles across almost as many arrondissements. 
The beautiful thing about doing something over time is the momentum. Once I reached the year mark, it was easy to keep going. I liked that I’d built a history of trust with myself. It inspired me to find a way to keep my commitment, every single day. 
3) Also this month, I saw many #TenYearChallenge posts on social media. It can be fun to look back. It can also be fun to look forward—by doing things our future selves will be grateful for. What would we like to “see” in photos taken ten years from now? And I don’t just mean physically.
I write this as much to encourage myself as anyone because beyond asking myself what can I do that my future self will be grateful for, I’m also asking what I can do that goes beyond myself. What little thing(s) everyday over ten years could we do that might translate into healthier world? What daily practices of spirit, mind, and body could we begin now that will build over the next decade? What might we see in our lives in 2029 as a result?
Blessings of health & #FutureWorldLove to us all,

Anna