Category Archives: Lily Iona Mackenzie

April 20 – Freedom!

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

Freedom means many things to different people. For some, it conveys release from constraints. For others, it gives permission to not follow a particular religion or political ideology. Many are trying to free themselves from failed states. Still more want to be self-determining individuals that aren’t under anyone’s sway.

For me these days, freedom has more to do with technology overload and its tyranny. From the time I wake up until I go to sleep at night, different devices surround me. I go to my computer immediately to write my dreams in my journal. Then I check out email, visit the Times’ front page to catch up with whatever important news I missed while sleeping, look at my Facebook book page and scroll through messages, view my Google calendar to see what’s on my list for the day, get sidelined by hyperlinks that demand immediate attention, and so much more.

Throughout the day and evening, I’m frequently on my computer working on marketing tactics for my novels and poetry collection or writing. When I’m in my car commuting or at the gym, I listen on my smart phone to audio books and frequently check my email and phone messages. In the kitchen, while I prepare dinner, I watch my favorite programs (tennis, baseball, the Antiques Roadshow, and the PBS Newshour, programs that I’ve pre-recorded).

The one thing I don’t do yet is walk around with ear buds plugged into my ears, so I have some freedom! But I also have freedom when I write from the wonderful free application of the same name that I’ve downloaded onto my computer. I start it when I begin my writing time, and it keeps me from being distracted by all of the things I’ve mentioned above, allowing me to focus on my work. I’m also considering turning it on when I’m NOT writing so I can wean myself from this hi-tech world and the behavior it encourages.

Before I could finish this piece, I got sidetracked by the latest offering from Goldstar, and am still browsing through its current offerings. There’s no question that technology offers us much, but with as with anything in this world, there also is a downside. I’m aiming for more freedom. I hope you’ll join me!

fling
Lily Iona MacKenzie has published poetry, short fiction, and essays in over 150 Canadian and American publications. Her poetry collection ALL THIS was published in October 2011. Her novel FLING! was published in 2015. BONE SONGS, another novel, will be published in November 2016. She taught writing for over 30 years. She blogs at http://lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com/.

June 3 – The Art of Dying: Rehearsing for Death

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

I’ve been reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, intrigued with a section on meditation that seems important to me just now: The art of dying begins with preparation for death. As for any journey, there are innumerable preparations one can make. Known in Tibet as The Book of Natural Liberation, the book suggests at least five main types of preparation while still living: informational, imaginational, ethical, meditational, and intellectual. (52)

I think my interest in taking up a more focused spiritual practice again is to experience some of these things listed as preparations for death and the wisdom texts can help with that need. I don’t want to be like the ostrich with its head in the sand; I believe in preparing for life’s various stages, being knowledgeable, being ready.

Meditation as an active practice attracts me again. I did it daily for many years when I was living alone before my husband and I met. The Tibetan Book of the Dead has a good section that gives an overview of the various meditations one can do, from the basic calming meditation of one-pointed attention, to using ordinary daily activities as opportunities for contemplation: This involves using sleep as a time for practice.

As the authors say, “You can convert the process of falling asleep into a rehearsal of the death dissolutions, imagining yourself as sinking away from ordinary waking consciousness down through the eight stages into deep-sleep clear-light transparency. And you can convert the dream state into a practice of the between-state, priming yourself to recognize yourself as dreaming when in the dream…. It is very important, for if you can become self-aware in the dream state by the practice of lucid dreaming, you have a much better chance of recognizing your situation in the between after death.” (57)

I have had numerous lucid dreams over the years, but I hadn’t thought of them as vehicles for preparing for death! I feel I’ve had fewer since I’ve stopped practicing meditation regularly, as I did for so many years when I lived alone. It’s harder to make time for it in a relationship and while raising a family if your partner isn’t interested. Now that my husband’s son and daughter from a previous marriage are no longer living with us, I can pursue this practice again.

I’m using OM MANI PADME HUM as a meditation, especially when I awaken in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. I found it in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and I like the idea that it evokes a universal good in all things, which can prevail even in times of misfortune. Of course, you need to believe that there is a universal good in all things for this mantra to be effective. I want to believe that.

LilyMac_3-12-15hires (1)Lily Iona MacKenzie has published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, essays, and memoir in over 145 venues. Fling, one of her novels, will be published in July 2015 by Pen-L Publishing. Bone Songs, another novel, will be published in 2016. Her poetry collection, All This, was published in 2011. She teaches writing at the University of San Francisco.

March 7 – On Writing Memoir

by Lily Iona MacKenzie

writing-13931299342873AvD

I opened the I Ching at random this morning and came up with #38, K’uei / Opposition.  The commentary says it is common for two opposites to exist together, needing to find relationship. I realize an opposition is being set up just in the act of writing Drop Out. My inner writer will be observing everything I do closely and recording what she finds valuable. I’m reminded of a review of Journey into the Dark: The Tunnel by William Gass that appeared in The New York Times Book Review:

Writers double themselves all the time in their fictions, of course. That’s one of the reasons for writing them: to clone yourself and set yourself out on a different path, or to reconfigure yourself as a marginal observer of your own childhood, as Lawrence does with Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, and as Woolf does with Lily Briscoe in To The Lighthouse; or to split yourself in two and reimagine one side of yourself through the eyes of the other, as Joyce does in Ulysses, and as Nabokov does in Pale Fire.

. . . The reason for this is that making copies of ourselves and setting them in motion in imaginary space is built in to the way minds work. We do it all the time–when we plan for a future event, when we relive the past, when we daydream. (July 13, 1995)

I like the idea that I’m daydreaming myself into existence, that day and night dreams, which can be in opposition, work together to make a creative entity. I’m actually making a fiction in my memoir, just as we all are fictions, walking around. I can’t possibly capture my whole life in these pages, so in making the choices I do and recording them, I’m altering my experience, describing a fictional “I” and transforming my life and my experiences. They are both mine and not mine.

In fact, the act of writing these things and reflecting back on them alters that period, transforms it, just as the moon’s reflection changes what it touches, causing us to see a landscape differently at night than in the day time under the sun’s glare. The moon softens surfaces, embraces them. The sun brings out an object’s hard edges and distances us from it. It makes an object seem farther away than the moon’s light does.

In a way, I’m creating a character named Lily, just as other writers recreate themselves when writing memoir. By organizing our pasts as we do, we eliminate a good deal, including only what fits the page limitation and what we’re willing to reveal. Of course, this is how we give shape to a self anyway, by uncovering/discovering it, bit by bit. All of our personality doesn’t show at any one time. Maybe over a long period, the different parts of ourselves will come forward and be exposed. But we are always selecting, choosing.

LilyMac-3454_pp

Lily Iona MacKenzie sprouted on the Canadian prairies under cumulus clouds that bloomed everywhere in Alberta’s big sky. Her first creative writing instructors, they scudded across the heavenly blue, constantly changing shape–one minute an elephant, bruised and brooding, the next morphing into a rabbit or a castle. These billowing masses gave her a unique view of life.