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Justicia Para Todos

Photo taken from a moving car by a reluctant teenager. I tinkered with it to try to bring it closer to my memory of the moment of color.

This is the dawn of a new semester. Here on the second day of our new classes, I am trying to get a baseline writing sample from all my students, and trying to make sure that everyone knows how to submit their assignments electronically from the get-go. I’m playing Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem today as the poem of the day, and then asking them to write about what they want America (or their own country) to be.

Here are some of my reflections from yesterday:
The relief was almost as hard to breathe through as the grief has been. I felt like I do when I get off the bike and don’t walk it off–light-headed and wobbly. Even though I was extra careful with my daily grounding and breathing, it was hard to keep that energy anchored. It’s been a heavy task to carry the weight of constant destruction in these past four years, and laying down the better part of that burden was a shock to the system, especially as the anxiety of further domestic terrorism still hung over the day. Are we safe now? I kept asking myself. Maybe now? Maybe we can say we’re safe now?

We have made it from there to here. Now it is time to take ourselves from here to the next where. We are safe, but not rebuilt. I celebrate with great joy all the successes of yesterday, all the diversity of cabinet members, all the voices being called in and called on and amplified. Now we hold the leaders to the vision they offered us, and to the dream of a just and equal society, of justicia para todos.

It would have been nice to have had some indigenous representation in the ceremony, some Muslim voices. I admit that I cringed at the overtly Christian tone it set. Our new president is Catholic, and so I think it is perfectly apt and acceptable to have priests and ministers give Christian blessing to the ceremony, but I did come away with a sense that there was an assumption of Christianity. I think someone even used the words “people of faith” as though it belonged to us all. This does not destroy the beauty of so much of the ceremony, even in the prayers and speeches–but it mars it a little for me, makes me wince. I want our leaders to commit to separation of church and state, a separation that can bless the religious perspectives of a Catholic president, as well as the Muslims and Buddhists and pagans and atheists and seekers among us all.

Yesterday, after four years of a constant barrage of vicious and violent and belittling rhetoric, a young Black woman taught us how to speak to each other again. Kindly and firmly, honest about the brokenness we have walked through. She showed us how the language of poetry can craft a vision of a desired world in ways that rhetorical speeches cannot. The wildly joyful response to her words show how starved we have been for poetry, how we have longed for the uniquely disruptive vision of the Poet. I kept wanting to tell people, “I loved Amanda Gorman before Amanda Gorman was cool,” but that would have been a buzz kill–I remember how entranced I was the first time I heard her voice. “Tyrants,” she said, in the poem she spoke at her own inauguration as National Youth Poet Laureate, “fear the poet.” Yup. There has been no poetry in this past administration.

The mockingjay is not necessarily a call for violent revolution, ya’ll. As I understand the books, the mockingjay was about the networks of people committed to changing an oppressive system that privileged the wealthy, about resisting an authoritarian regime that brutalized children and families in order to control the population (sound like a familiar border-control plan?), that centered the vicious and horrific as entertainment. I don’t know if Lady Gaga and her stylists intended the association between her peace dove and The Hunger Games mockingjay, but I hope they did. It was brilliant. To me, it means that the people are still holding the powers that be accountable, no matter who holds the titles. As it should be in a democracy.

I do not pledge my allegiance to any flag or nation. I belong to the world, and pledge my allegiance to the planet and her peoples and her plant and animal life, to her networks of energy. I do like the liberty and justice for all part of our pledge, however. I do hope we can start living up to that. Especially the ALL part. Yesterday was the first time I ever got teary-eyed during the pledge. A Black woman, signing the pledge. White gloves. Eloquent hands. Her strong, clear voice. Her distinct signs that made even non-ASL speakers understand the meanings. (And then later, Amanda Gorman’s eloquent hands that seemed to be speaking along with her voice. Eloquent hands.)

Speaking of hands, I am a fan of Bernie’s Mittens, made for him by an elementary schoolteacher, by recycling wool sweaters, using fleece made of recycled plastic bottles for the lining. I hope he understands that the meme-making of the image of him sitting there in his mittens is more about how he also represents something about us rather than making fun of him. I, too, am sitting in the cold in my mittens, legs and arms crossed, watching to see what we will make of our chances. Dear practical Senator Sanders, how we need your vision to help guide us now. Be as curmudgeonly as you need to be. (And also, I think I might start swearing by Bernie’s Mittens. Seems like an emblem of power somehow. Eloquent mittens.)

I don’t really like our warlike national anthem. Never have. I prefer to think of “America The Beautiful” as our anthem. Why isn’t it? And I loved the sweetness of J-Lo’s rendition of that one, and the gorgeous intensity of her breaking in with the Spanish version of the pledge. My Spanish isn’t good, but I understood what she was saying by the time she got to “justicia para todos.” Yes, please!

Despite my dislike of the anthem, I found myself moved again, at the moment that Lady Gaga turned and gestured (eloquent hands again) to the flag, as she sang that it was still there, and suddenly it wasn’t just about war but about the fact that we had just weathered an insurrection, and no longer just the flag, but Democracy, was still there. Suddenly it all stood for so much more than war and colonialism and imperialism, but for the basic principles of democracy that we keep trying to get right, that were under attack just two weeks before in that exact same spot. I still don’t like the anthem, but Lady Gaga transformed it momentarily for me yesterday.

Keep singing, Mockingjay. We’re listening. We’re gathering.
We’re working as hard as we can to make justicia para todos a reality.
We’re ready to be that light you spoke of, Sweet Fierce Poet.

May we be worthy of our dreams.


Gratitudes:
1. Safety
2. Rest
3. Poets
4. Breath
5. Tabula Rasa

May we create justicia para todos.


“For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.”
–Amanda Gorman, excerpt from The Hill We Climb


THE LUTE WILL BEG
by Hafiz

You need to become a pen
In the Sun´s hand.
We need for the earth to sing
Through our pores and eyes.
The body will again become restless
Until your soul paints all its beauty
Upon the sky.
Don´t tell me, dear ones,
That what Hafiz says is not true,
For when the heart tastes its glorious destiny
And you awake to our constant need
for your love
God´s lute will beg
For your hands.


“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” —From “On Pain” by Khalil Gibran

Jealous Dreams

In last night’s dream, I am talking with a friend who has become a successful writer and artist. She is making a living doing what she loves to do. I ask her to tell me how she got from point A to point B, and she tells me it was the book. She just published the book, and that was it. Suddenly she could afford to do what she wanted. I start to explain how hard it is for me to figure out how to get published, how I can’t figure out the process, how I can’t seem to pull the right stuff together. . . Then I stop. I say, “You know what. Anything I say right now is going to sound like I’m whining.”

And I was whining. I was so jealous, so eaten with envy.

But maybe I need to just stop telling myself I am being a whiner. Maybe I need to find a coach or mentor who can help me think through the ways that I block myself. I get started on a project, or I work with great intention on a project, but then the work of my paying job intrudes, or another shiny project comes along, or I get depressed and weary. Perhaps jealousy of my dream-friend can spur me to focus.


Gratitude:
1. My bicycle is a red Mt. Fury Roadmaster that my friend Vince fixed up and sold to me a few years ago. I call her Lady Fury. Last fall, our neighbors gave us their Saris trainer, and I was really excited about riding Lady Fury through the winter. Trying to switch to the Saris quick release skewer on the rear tire, I got myself into a fix, so I took her down to Cycle Works in Wrightsville. They didn’t shame me for having messed up my rear axle, and very professionally took care of it. Now I have Lady Fury all set up on the trainer and I can ride my bike through winter. I am so excited.
2. Watching Barb’s horses running in the field on the hill. She took one of them out on a trail ride the other day, and the one who stayed behind whinnied the whole time the other was gone. She said the one she was riding did the same. They do not like to be separate from each other.
3. Zoom church. What a delight to see people’s faces in real time. After the insurrection, I have been feeling the need to be with this community of faith-based, justice-oriented beloveds.
4. Oatcakes. Oat scones. Quick and easy baking.
5. Mockingbird has been coming to the feeders lately. I am such a fan of Mockingbird.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly together. In Beauty may we walk.


“Things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” —Pema Chödrön


“The artist deals with what cannot be said in words.
The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.
Words can be used thus paradoxically because they have, along with a semiotic usage, a symbolic or metaphoric usage. (They also have a sound—a fact the linguistic positivists take no interest in . A sentence or paragraph is like a chord or harmonic sequence in music: its meaning may be more clearly understood by the attentive ear, even though it is read in silence, than by the attentive intellect.)” —Ursula LeGuin


“A common woman is as common as a common loaf of bread, and will rise.” —Judy Grahn


“The plan, a memory of the future, tries on reality to see if it fits.” —Laurence Gonzalez


“When you walk a path you love, there is something deeper calling you forward on it, like a beautiful question that can never be answered.” —Toko-pa Turner


“A well-read woman is a dangerous creature.”
―Lisa Kleypas, A Wallflower Christmas


“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear
Makes you move.” —by Rumi (Barks)


“I think pleasure is really the gateway to feeling connected and inspired.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa


“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency asks the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
―Mary Oliver

Labels and Longings

Getting ready for a new semester. Putting the old one to bed. Caught in the web of behindness that has been my truth for this entire semester. Recognizing my own responsibility in that, how my disorganization and distractedness were a big part of it, how the Big Task gets bigger as it gets put off. Also trying to give myself a break because of the outer dramas of these months: pandemic, election, insurrection.

What labels do I choose for myself?
Lazy. Procrastinator. Mildly depressed. Present in the Moment. Creative.

How do I see myself differently depending on how I choose my labels, and will a different label actually help me to get my work done more efficiently so I can really enjoy the non-work times in my life? How does that clementine in my picture change identity based on whether it wears the label scurvy or winsome? What happens to my sober and hard-working great-grandparents if I label them dance? Or if I label my great-great-grandmother, who midwifed children into the universe and lived according to the gentle order of the Mennonite Church, chaos?

The photos are part of a project I did with my Creative Writing classes last year, and I am tweaking and improving on for this year. We wrote dozens of words on little cards, and then we took photos of them labeling objects in our world. It was a way to try to push students into using language creatively. As I reflect on my own images from last year, I feel attached to them, as if they’re poems of their own.


Three Gratitudes:
1. The sky was absolutely alive this morning when we got to school! Geese and crows winging across the grey at angles, honking and grawking. A little flock of twittery folk above the crows, beating faster, but only just keeping pace with the slow-rowing crows. An anxious family of doves, flushed noisily from the juniper tree, wings whooshing and voices crying, “Oh dear!”
2. I think I am going to catch up with myself. And then Wednesday is a new day, semester-wise. (Is there something else happening on Wednesday?)
3. Creative projects. I am eager to offer my classes a deeper level of creative projects next semester, and hopefully that will enable us all to keep our minds and hearts more carefully tuned to the work.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Beauty!


“The mystic sits inside the burning.” —Rumi (Barks)


“Writing is the painting of the voice; the closer the resemblance, the better it is.” —Voltaire


“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” —Dalai Lama


“Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky. When we think of the sky, we tend to look up, but the sky actually begins at the earth.” —Diane Ackerman


“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. Here we are moving toward the exit of the 20th century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”
~Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham City Jail (1963)

Breathe

Gratitude:
1. The watchers. The ones who keep hearts attuned to the shifts of collective consciousness, who weave prayer and hope and intention into the tapestry.
2. As we drove east this morning, a river of crows, miles long, undulated across the grey of sunrise.
3. This unsettledness will not go on forever.
4. Through the veils of lies, there is truth, and there are many fine journalists and public figures who are speaking it with clarity.
5. You, out there, breathing too, settling into each moment, being Present to the world with your good kind hearts. Perhaps this is a repeat of point number 1. If so, so be it. We need such circles.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Beauty.

Mindfulness in Teaching

A friend who is gathering data for his doctoral research asked me to do a project for him related to mindfulness. When I agreed to log my reflections for a week, and chose the first week of 2021, little did I know exactly how important mindfulness would prove to be.

Monday, 4 January 2021
A Welcome Space

As I thought through the process of this project, I decided I wanted to let the images and reflections happen without a lot of prior planning–a somewhat in-the-moment mindfulness. I was in my silent classroom in the morning, teaching short lessons via Zoom, with longer spaces between the periods. My classroom has a sort of joyfully cluttered visual aesthetic, and my bulletin board is an example. I tack up my own doodles and collages as well as student artwork, notes about books they tell me I need to read, quotes to remind us of our work in the world, along with the schedules and the lists of the business of school. I am hoping the message my students take away from this is the importance of celebrating each moment, no matter how mundane (and life in school gets draggingly mundane). I hope they see my own artwork not as pieces to be admired but as reminders to express their own inner worlds in art and poetry. I hope they are reminded by the quotes and posters to seek justice and to work against the -isms that break our social contracts.

I include here the little close-up of the collage with the woman and the phrase: “Look how many of us there are now” because I think it’s a reminder to connect to others who seek peace and justice and goodness and kindness, and also because–minimal as it is–it’s one of my favorite word-poem collages.

Tuesday, 5 January, 2021
Mending and Making

In the riot of images and posters on my walls and the books and objects on my shelves, I want to make my classroom a place I want to be, and where my students want to be. Even when the work is overwhelming or I am experiencing challenges that make me dread the day, I want my classroom space to be inspiring and engaging and restful.

I’m caught up these days in the concept of making and mending, both in the physical world and in the inner work. Then of course there’s the layer in which the physical act is itself a symbol of the inner work that becomes a ritual or prayer for the work of social justice and of teaching. One of my social media pleasures has been following makers and artists and crafters on Instagram. I find images of mending and handwork and art to be soothing and settling; they help me to shift my inner space into focus a little better when things in my work-life or the state of the nation cause me anxiety or sadness.

I love my striped scarf. I wear it several days a week, even though it was torn. In the fall, I made a couple dresses out of old men’s dress shirts, and I noticed that the one striped fabric was similar to my scarf. At first I zigzag-stitched pieces into the holes, but as that began to fray, I embroidered a blanket stitch over top to make it more secure, creating what my Instagram maker heroes call a “visible mend.” The other piece in the photo with my scarf is random embroidery on a piece of denim, which I made up as I went along.

Sort of like teaching, that: Even after a couple decades of teaching, I am still making it up as I go along, beginning with an idea of what I want to see, but shifting and adapting in the moment depending on the alchemical mixture of students in my class, current events, and the mood of the moment. And sometimes the thing I try to do frays, like my initial mend in my scarf, and I need to add another layer, letting the “mend” itself become part of the pedagogical design in the moment, making the process conscious. Perhaps a visible mend is like our metacognitive processes, where we analyze how we think.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021
How the Light Caught Our Shadows

When I took this photo, I was feeling a vague anxiety about the upcoming events of the day in Washington, DC, chatting briefly with students at the beginning of classes about the significance of the ceremony of counting the votes.. I teach in a Christian school of the Mennonite denomination, and so having religious images like the Madonna of the Streets in the classroom is acceptable. I had also brought along my mala beads, a more Buddhist or universalist tradition. I made them this summer as a way to ritually and prayerfully ground and center my attention when busy-ness or anxiety threaten my peace. Every morning when I enter the classroom, I spray the sage-based Clear Space Mist–its scent reminds me to let go and teach from my center. 

Little did I know how I would need the calming of prayer and image and scent by the end of the day. Just before the final period, I had been watching the Senate discussion of Arizona’s votes, when people began to rush around in the chamber, the VP tried and failed to call the room to order, and the screen went blank. I thought it was a glitch, and went on to begin Act 5, scene 3 of Lear in my AP Literature class, listening to a student read Edgar naming Edmund a traitor to his family and the state, standing up to his brother’s treachery. I still have not sorted out the timely irony of this. When class was over, a colleague came down to my room with the news that the chambers were overrun by violent insurrectionists, and that she was feeling more anxious than she did on 9/11.

Despite all my mindful intentions of the morning, I gave in to the anxiety. My calm frayed.

Thursday, January 7 2021
REVOLUTION / ReLoveUtion

This is January’s calendar page in my Amnesty International Calendar. It’s an image of a people’s march in LA, women marching for missing and murdered indigenous women at the 2016 Women’s March. After a protest that became a bloody insurrection on Epiphany yesterday, I focused on the images on my calendar for grounding. I attended that worldwide march in 2016 in Washington, DC on the day these women called for a ReLoveUtion, called for recognition and action to investigate brutality toward indigenous women. For that March, when we felt our vote was disenfranchised, we knitted pink hats, we danced and sang with strangers in the streets, and we admired each other’s signs. We cleaned up after ourselves. We helped each other find good perches from which to better hear and see the speakers.

Yesterday was different. The morning’s anxiety became the afternoon’s reality.

Today I grounded myself in one of my art/spirit practices. Last year, I began doing found poetry and image collages on my calendar pages at school, so today, I sat still, took a deep breath, and pulled strips of words from a can I keep in my classroom. My friend Mara gave it to me, full of strips of words cut from magazines, as a wish for good fortune when I took this teaching job. I need to replenish it, I see. Mara and I call ourselves strippers because we make poetry from strips.

This one reads:

The dark night begins when we realize that all our spirit-heritage did not get along
outside our house, for the maps inside
a chamber whose wall seethed with a spaceless carpet of creatures,
assigned to us in the doldrums like parts in a movie

you can relax and calm the waters a bit
Writing has been my cell

As I put it all together, I could feel myself moving out from the weight of the seething spaceless creatures and into the calming waters of my monk’s cell. Writing. Relaxing.

It’s a difficult week for mindfulness, an essential week for mindfulness, when all my practices are being tested. I am thrown off-balance, grateful that I don’t have to be in the pressure-cooker of in-person classes, but wishing I could generate more discussion in the Zoom-rooms. At least my 8th period AP Lit class was eager to talk, even on Zoom, sharing a range of honest reflections about yesterday’s events, clearly repudiating the violence and openly complimenting the midnight speeches from both sides of the aisle.

Friday, 8 January 2021
Feather of the Day

In the summer after I got this job, as I was preparing to teach, I realized one day that I had found a feather every day for a week. I began to keep my eyes peeled. The streak continued. For about eight weeks, with only a couple exceptions, I found a feather every single day. Of course, we lived beneath two giant trees, a poplar and a sycamore, with wonderful places for owls to sit and eat their midnight meals, so there’s that. And I was out in the fields every day, harvesting vegetables, so I was out in nature more than I was in the house. Still, as I tell my students when I relate this story: It’s my life, and I get to choose the meaning I wish. So, I chose to honor the gift of feathers as a reminder, in a time when I was making a major job shift in my life from farmer back to educator, that I would have the resources I needed to fly. I began posting photos of my daily feathers on my social media, along with short poems I wrote.

This morning, as I am lost in the fog of the week’s terror, I happened upon a crow feather on the sidewalk on the way in to the school building. I choose to take it as a sign, a message that I can still rise through the fog, and like the crows, beat my wings in the winds, still find joy.

I opened my computer, in the hour before the day’s Zooms, to find a letter from a parent of a student in my 8th period class, worried that I had wasted precious class time yesterday in discussing politics, which has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and which made her daughter anxious. She and her daughter decided to close the Zoom before we got to reading the last few pages of Lear. Sigh. I believe it is urgent that teachers offer their students an opportunity to respond to the events and crises in their real lives with the same analytical and critical lenses and skills they use for their literary analyses. I’m not sure how I will work with this in that class in the final week of the semester. The mother did ask that I dismiss her daughter from class if the talk turns to politics. I DO want my class to feel like a safe place for everyone, but I think we need to talk about unsettling things that happen. 

There’s a tension today between the almost glib tone of Monday’s reflections about creating safe space in the classroom, and the knowledge that my careful and intentional teaching created a space that felt unsafe for a student. Part of me wants to shrug and say, “Can’t win ‘em all,” but isn’t that sort of the whole point? We’re trying to win ‘em all–not let any fall through the cracks. I’ll start by reflecting on the differences between unsafe and unsettled.

Saturday, 9 January 2021
The Rhetoric of Insurrection

Here is a poem I wrote about the insurrection. I needed to find a way to put some of the rage and confusion into words. I will not read this one to my students. I don’t even know anymore how to sort out what is acceptable to say in the classroom. In a school connected to a peace church, I want to help my students analyze the events of the week in terms of how to be peace-builders in this most harrowing of situations. And here I am, sitting in my own puddle of rage at the peace-breakers. I have been so careful not to speak ill of this president who galls me to my core. But now, when his lies have brought us to this point, when I want my students to look with clear eyes and hearts toward the building of an equal and just society, how can I talk about this event without drawing the lines?
Here’s the poem:

The Rhetoric of Insurrection
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

The landscape is littered with lies,
seeded with falsehoods like landmines,
like bombs hidden in the halls of justice.
The fabric of reality is stained,
torn and twisted, threads cut and tangled.

It’s nothing new, this rhetoric of insurrection.
For years now, they’ve been spreading it on,
lie by lie, suggestion by suggestion,
layer by seditious layer, whipping the masses
into a frenzy of rage and disenfranchisement.

Now is the time for clear-headed cleaning,
gathering threads of Truth where we find them,
patching and weaving, healing the fabric,
stitching and mending, finding our way
to the source of the lies and destruction.

Long before terror and chaos pillaged the building,
the lies were laid to pillage the truth, to bend
the will of the gullible and power-hungry masses
to do the silent bidding of the suited pirates
who have laid the groundwork of sedition.

Calling for calm and understanding only veils the carnage,
drawing another layer of lies to cover the wreck.
Now is the time for the stark strands of truth
to stand out and carry the narrative
back from the brink of destruction.

My peace has been broken, my balance shaken, my mindfulness marred. And yet, if there’s ever a time when spiritual practices must be meant for, it’s now. Gratitude. Mindfulness. Grounding and centering. Visualizing and affirming peace. Why practice the disciplines only for the pleasant and easy times? The whole point is to create inner spaces that cannot be destroyed by outer earthquakes. I’m not in shambles, only shaken. And that itself is a spiritual discipline, a mindfulness practice, to–as they say–feel all the feels. Like Rumi’s “Guesthouse,” I want to welcome them in, meet them eye to eye, know them as part of me. Only then can I start to clean up the shattered pieces that the earthquake knocked to the floor.

Sunday, 10 January 2021
Three Strands to Braid

Strand 1: My teaching actually brings me to mindfulness today. In Themes in Literature class, we’ve been studying The Zookeeper’s Wife, a story of a Warsaw woman who, with her husband and her community and a widely-effective Underground Resistance, saved hundreds of lives of Jewish people and resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation of Poland. We’ve been considering the characteristics of people who, instead of getting caught up in fear, turn toward the terror, and do the work that comes to them to do, to save and protect and rescue.

Strand 2: My husband’s father died on Epiphany, twelve years ago. Last night, my husband was going through some of his papers and came upon some letters and writings his father had tucked away from his days as a Seafaring Cowboy, one of the hundreds of young American men who, in the wake of WWII, tended cattle and other livestock on ships bound for Europe, to aid in rebuilding after the devastation of the war. This photo is of a series of postcards he brought home, images of Gdinya, a town near Gdansk, where they docked. In his letters, we learned that he took his first ever plane ride to visit the destroyed city of Warsaw. He wrote of the devastation of the city and the farmlands, noting that the retreating Nazis had blown up dikes, which flooded the arable farmland.
Here, in this trove of papers, my own life intersects with that of Antonina Zabinski, the zookeeper’s wife, in a very small way.

Strand 3: And then, just before I went to bed last night, I happened upon a Facebook post about Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish Hasidic rabbi who escaped Warsaw mere months before the Nazis began bombing the city. Hasidism, according to Diane Ackerman, the author of The Zookeeper’s Wife, is a strand of Judaism that emphasizes living in radical celebration–not a partier’s absorption, but a life of wonder and amazement. She mentions Heschel only briefly, in the context of Rabbi Shapira, another Hasidic rabbi, who stayed in the Ghetto and ended up dying in a concentration camp, who had to hold for his flock the tension between the horror they were living, and the call to be deeply engaged in the life of the spirit, deeply, mindfully celebrative. He developed meditations and mindfulness techniques to offer his people a way to bridge that space without denying the everyday terror, but also maintaining a heartful connection to everyday beauty and wonder. Here in the US, Rabbi Heschel, a scholar and professor and anti-war activist, became a supporter of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and joined the Civil Rights Movement.

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. . . . Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” ―Abraham Joshua Heschel

She Would Have Been a Good Woman

In her story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor brings a family face-to-face with a serial killer called the Misfit, who, along with his minions, kills the family, one by one. It’s a stark and horrifying story, not only of the cold-blooded murders, but of the character of the matriarch of the family, a grandmother who believes in her goodness, her self-satisfied sense of privilege. She is blind to her bias, and willfully committed to her ideas of caste and race and privilege. At the very end, just before the Misfit kills her, she shows the merest hint of self-understanding, the briefest light of awakening to the truth. Standing over her dead body the Misfit proclaims: “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

Please understand that I am not advocating violence here in these violent times, but I kept hearing the Misfit in my head these past few days, beginning with watching Lindsey Graham speak with such passionate fervor in the dark hours between Wednesday and Thursday. Others, too, spoke with eloquence and zeal about how the terror of the preceding hours made them take a long look at how denying the fairly-cast electoral votes delegitimized the process and led to the type of unrest that caused the terror attack on their own building.

And yet, here we are, three days later, and they pull back, they equivocate. They condemn the acts of violence and the destruction, but they continue to press the false narratives that got us to this point in the first place. It now appears that the Vice President’s life was probably truly in danger, as many of us suspected, that among the hooligans and yahoos was a very organized group of would-be assassins intent on turning a protest into an insurrection (which they achieved) and an insurrection into an assassination and a bloody coup. And yet the Vice President remains silent. He dithers and equivocates as he has always done.

On Wednesday afternoon, Congress met the Misfit, and for a few brief hours, in the shock of terror, some of them woke up to the horror that lay beyond the web of lies they’ve been weaving. A glimmer of light shone through on Epiphany. But they seem to be settling back into silent complacency that only furthers the lies of the powerful who seek to loot and plunder our democracy as surely as the insurrectionists looted its halls and offices on Wednesday.

The landscape is littered with lies,
seeded with falsehoods like landmines,
like bombs hidden in the halls of justice.
The fabric of reality is stained,
torn and twisted, threads cut and tangled.

It’s nothing new, this rhetoric of insurrection.
For years now, they’ve been spreading it on,
lie by lie, suggestion by suggestion,
layer by seditious layer, whipping the masses
into a frenzy of rage and disenfranchisement.

Now is the time for clear-headed cleaning,
gathering threads of Truth where we find them,
patching and weaving, healing the fabric,
stitching and mending, finding our way
to the source of the lies and destruction.

Long before terror and chaos pillaged the building,
the lies were laid to pillage the truth, to bend
the will of the gullible and power-hungry masses
to do the silent bidding of the suited pirates
who have laid the groundwork of sedition.

Calling for calm and understanding only veils the carnage,
drawing another layer of lies to cover the wreck.
Now is the time for the stark strands of truth
to stand out and carry the narrative
back from the brink of destruction.


Gratitude:
Today I am grateful for truth, for narratives that center stories of people who have been cut from the narratives told by the powerful to skew the truth to their own agenda. I am grateful for the weavers and menders and spinners who pick up the torn and tangled threads and get to work to repair the tapestry of our story, holding the lie-mongers to account, and weaving in the threads of truth.


“A man is either free, or he is not. There cannot be an apprenticeship for freedom.” —Amiri Baraka


“Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” ―bell hooks, killing rage: Ending Racism


“Consider whether great changes have not happened deep inside your being in times when you were sad. The only sadnesses that are unhealthy and dangerous are those we carry around in public in order to drown them out. Like illnesses that are treated superficially, they only recede for a while and then break out more severely. Untreated they gather strength inside us and become the rejected, lost, and unlived life that we may die of. If only we could see a little farther than our knowledge reaches and a little beyond the borders of our intuition, we might perhaps bear our sorrows more trustingly than we do our joys. For they are the moments when something new enters us, something unknown. Our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, they take a step back, a stillness arises, and the new thing, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.” —Rainer Maria Rilke


“After silence,
that which comes nearest to
expressing the inexpressible,
is music.” —Aldous Huxley


“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
—Shel Silverstein

Wisdom and Insurrection

After yesterday, it seems odd to come into this zone and write contemplatively about my dreams and images for the coming year. Sorting through the words and images, I return again and again to gnosis and hiddenness as my theme for the year, and the gnomon and its shadow as my image. I don’t think I can work more with that image at the moment. Part of the point of gnosis and the gnomon is to get at the truth, and so what I need to do today is to speak the truth as I see it.

Yesterday was traumatic. My thoughts are all a-jumble, so I’ll do it in bullet points:
* Yes, it was an insurrection and not a protest.
* It was incited, very directly by the country’s own president, which really makes it a coup.
* No actually, this is, unfortunately, very much who we are. It might not be who WE are, but we’ve had terroristic bands of White Supremacist thugs rising in our country since its beginning. So it’s who America is. And we’ve let them get away with their terrorism and murder and bigotry for too long. There were people inside that room who are as White Supremacist as any of the thugs waving Confederate battle flags in the hallways–they just do a better job of pretending to be socially acceptable.
* Make no mistake. This is about White Supremacy. It’s about wealth and power and White Supremacy. And they were creating their chaos at the bidding of the president.
* Had the rioters and insurrectionists not been almost entirely white people, you can be sure there would have been mass arrests and probably more than one person would have been killed. You can edit out that probably. It’s happened already–Black people have been killed for peacefully protesting the killing of Black people.
* There is absolutely no equivalence between the protests of this summer and the attempted coup of yesterday. Yes, some of those protesters did resort to violence and looting, but these were people protesting the murders of Black people and the fact that the murderers continue to get off without consequence, and yesterday was a violent takeover of our country’s Capitol building. No matter how stupidly tourist-like they may have appeared as they wandered through the halls snapping photos, they were violent insurrectionists.
* Hawley and Cruz, for starters, and probably a whole lot of others, ought to be censured in some way for their inciting words and behavior. Hawley offered the insurrectionists a fist pump as he walked into the Capitol in the morning. He needs to be held accountable. Can he be impeached?
* Yes, those congressfolx who backtracked and decided not to press their own internal coup yesterday ought to be commended, perhaps, for getting with the program, but they, too, have been part of the fuel in this fire, and we need to remember.
* Hey, did you hear the one about the Georgia Senate race flipping the Senate? I know, it seems like weeks ago now. Say it with me: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
* When I was a college student, a group of us participated in a protest in DC which included civil disobedience. We sat in a street, singing, and holding pots of flowers, and we were arrested in the hundreds by a very efficient DC Police Force. Yesterday’s force was Capitol Police instead, but I would have thought they would be equally or even more prepared to respond swiftly and efficiently to illegal protest (especially when they turn riotous and become an insurrection). I know they were overwhelmed, but they made 52 arrests. In the photos, I saw more than that number just wandering through the Capitol taking photos and selfies with the cops. And only 52 were arrested? People were rifling through Congresspeople’s desks and looting the Capitol building, and only 52 were arrested?
* I saw the video of the officer moving a barricade to let the insurrectionists in. There’s no re-interpreting that. It is what it is.
* Maxine Waters tweeted yesterday that she had been worried that something like this could happen and that four days ago, she had spoken with the Chief of Capitol Police and was told not to worry, that everything was under control.
* The lives of our elected officials were in danger yesterday. There were people in that crowd talking about executing Democrats.
* After the trauma of being violently taken over and evacuated, the people of Congress returned to their work, and stayed at it until at least 3:40 a.m., until their business was finished. Some of them, no doubt, left that work to go and continue to write the articles of impeachment that will, if there is any justice in the land, convict and then remove this president from office as soon as possible.
* Christopher Miller and Mark Milley completely bypassed the president himself and went to VP Pence, Pelosi, and Schumer to engage the National Guard. That is telling. Even if he hadn’t sparked and fueled this insurrection, even if he weren’t the instigator of the coup, he is so ineffective and incapable of governing that his own military muckety-mucks bypassed him to make a call in an emergency.
* I am so sorry that these Congresspeople are so tired, but they have work to do today in order to save our republic, to preserve our democracy. The president must be removed before he does anymore damage. (I don’t think I have ever before used the phrase “save our republic.”)
* If we know anything from women who have left abusive relationships, it’s that the moment she tells him she is planning to leave becomes the most dangerous time for her. Yesterday morning, Mike Pence essentially told the President that the US was leaving the abusive relationship, and he wasn’t going to stand in its way.
* For all his apparent grace under pressure and smooth leadership yesterday, Mike Pence still needs to stand accountable for his enabling of this house fire. He, too, has added fuel to this fire. But yes, even so, I am grateful that he decided to shift over from the dark side for yesterday’s business.
* To reiterate, we can’t let the rich and powerful white men (and a few others) of Congress, who helped to instigate and fuel this insurrection, walk away without keeping them accountable. The yahoos who disgraced the halls of Congress yesterday were merely the tools of people like Hawley and Cruz and Graham (no matter how sweetly he backpedals), McConnell (no matter how grandly he talks of upholding the Constitution), and especially the President and Mr. Pence.


What gratitude does one offer on a morning like this?
I’m grateful for the results of the Georgia race, grateful that the Senate is flipped.
I’m grateful that there was not more death in the halls of the Capitol, that the people of Congress were kept safe, that they were able to get their business completed.
I’m grateful for the net of beloveds who hold me, hold each other, hold the world, in love and prayer.


Thursday’s Thoughts:
I don’t have the internal space today to search out quotations that might be more apt for the moment, nothing for the rage I am feeling today, for the deep wells of anxiety. Here are some grounding quotations that might help me breathe–and maybe you, too?


“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or hate, to see or be seen. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then become a story-teller.” —Rebecca Solnit


“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
—Zora Neale Hurston


I see her walking
on a path through a pathless forest
or a maze, a labyrinth.
As she walks, she spins
and the fine threads fall behind her
following her way,
telling
where she is going,
telling
where she has gone.
Telling the story.
The line, the thread of voice,
the sentences saying the way.
—Ursula K. Le Guin (from “The Writer On, and At, Her Work)

Epiphany Witch & The Holy Aha!

I hoped to wake up on Epiphany morning with a final fascinating dream to spool out into meaning to carry into my year, but the moment I woke the cobwebs of sleep were swept aside, and the dreamscapes dissipated.

Here is a poem I wrote a couple years ago for Epiphany, about Old Befana, the Epiphany Witch from Italian folklore. In the stories, Befana takes good care to sweep and tidy her house every day, and tends to get caught up in all that needs to be done in the mundane world. One day, three strange characters come through her village. They are dressed in colorful and sumptuous robes. They’re riding camels. They carry with them gold, and frankincense and myrrh to give to a king they seek. They have seen portents in the sky, a star they believe they will lead them to this king, this Christ-child.

Befana hosts them in her humble house for the night, bustling about, cooking and cleaning and sweeping in all the corners. In the morning, when they begin the next stage of their journey, they ask Old Befana if she would like to come with them to seek the Holy Child. She can’t make up her mind, can’t decide, can’t get ready. There’s just so much to do, so much sweeping! And before she realizes what has happened, their caravan bells are just whispers in the distance. And suddenly, Befana knows that she must go along! She MUST catch that caravan! She grabs her broom and ties her scarf around her neck, and races after them, but she’s too late! She never catches up.

It sounds like such a story of loss and missed opportunity, and it is, but it’s also about what happens next. Old Befana dedicates the rest of her life to finding the Holy Child, flying about the world on her broom, listening for the bells of the Magicians’ caravan, sweeping the cobwebs from the sky, seeking the Christ-Child. On the way, she offers treats and gifts to all the children she passes.

So it’s a story about missing the holy and the magical and the sublime because we–like Old Befana–are too focused on the daily details in front of our faces. It’s a reminder to look up and out and stay aware for the Holy Visitors. But also a reminder that we can give our lives to the beauty of seeking the holy, and bless others with the gifts of our search. Each one we meet just might lead us closer to the Holy Child.

La Befana: Epiphany Witch
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

She’d got her eyes fixed
on what was right in front of her,
the dust and the dirt
and the everyday mess.

Wanted to be ready
for the coming of the child
but couldn’t see beyond
the day she was in.

Believe me, I know
what the old one
was up to–and I don’t
sweep and dust–
but I too get caught
by the fishhook of the present,
stuck in the nextness
of each task ahead,
forget to lift my eyes
to see the shine and sparkle
of my arriving guests,
can’t put down my broom,
my pen, my daily rhythm,
to look up and outward.

Like Old Befana, I catch, too late,
the jingle of the caravan bells
as they turn the corner in the distance,
see the disappearing cloud of dust.

Hastening to grab my cloak and bag,
I’ve lost their trail before I reach
the distant corner, left behind,
bereft, alone, dust-covered,
traveling bag in one hand
and broom in the other,
destined to spend my life
sweeping the skies,
chasing down the Holy Aha.


Gratitudes:
1. I’m still so happy about having two working toilets in this house of four people. I know it’s a luxury that many people don’t have, and I don’t take it for granted. In our lives, with a teenager who likes to stay up quite late, and then putters around in the bathroom in the middle of the night, creaking the floor and sometimes humming, it’s better for our sleep. And no more yelled negotiations at the bathroom door when one person has an urgent need to go and someone else is still in the shower.
2. Reminders to keep looking for the Holy One, even in the mundane moments.
3. The work of spinning and weaving, mending and healing.
4. A friend of mine is gathering data and ideas for a dissertation, and asked me to be something of a guinea pig for a project that includes taking photos and writing about mindfulness in my teaching process. I love doing things like this, and of course it’s like a little professional development retreat in the middle of it all.
5. All the people who seek Goodness, who follow the distant sound of the caravan bells, who clear the cobwebs that hinder clear vision of the Truth, who tend to each child along the way as though they are meeting the Child of Light.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“Epiphany. The light floods in. The eyes open. And open again. See. See further. Aha!” —Moonbat, ‘14


“With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” —William Wordsworth


“A Woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.” —Maya Angelou


“In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.” —Phil Ochs


“The sense-making in poetry is about getting behind the brain. A poem is a door. Sometimes poets make sturdy, locked, exclusive club doors that you can only enter if you are one of ‘us,’ or if you can speak (or pretend to know) the password. A really good and satisfying poem is an open and inviting doorway that frames the view in a particularly compelling way. ‘Look!’ it says. ‘Stand and stare. Take a deep breath. Then tell me what you see.’
“Good poetry, I think, holds a paradoxical perspective on language itself: it acknowledges the inadequacy of words to completely map an inner geography, and it also steps with reverence and awe into the sacred space that language creates between writer and reader. Words are both inadequate and holy.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014


“Where does despair fit in? Why is our pain for the world so important? Because these responses manifest our interconnectedness. Our feelings of social and planetary distress serve as a doorway to systemic social consciousness. To use another metaphor, they are like a ‘shadow limb.’ Just as an amputee continues to feel twinges in the severed limb, so in a sense do we experience, in anguish for homeless people or hunted whales, pain that belongs to a separated part of our body—a larger body than we thought we had, unbounded by our skin. Through the systemic currents of knowing that interweave our world, each of us can be the catalyst or ‘tipping point’ by which new forms of behavior can spread. There are as many different ways of being responsive as there are different gifts we possess. For some of us it can be through study or conversation, for others theater or public office, for still others civil disobedience and imprisonment. But the diversities of our gifts interweave richly when we recognize the larger web within which we act. We begin in this web and, at the same time, journey toward it. We are making it conscious.” —Joanna Macy


“In a time that would have us believe there is always more to strive for, more to accumulate, more enlightenment to reach – the most radical stance we can take is enoughness.
What if we quit trying to be spiritual and aspired to be human instead?
What if there is nothing to fix because we are already whole?
What if there was no time to prove ourselves, because we’re consumed with marveling at life?
What if there is no reason to hold back our gifts, because they are meant to be given?
What if every morsel, every glance, every moment and every breath is a miracle of enough?” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa


“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” ―Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Claustrophobia and Crafting

Lots of fragments this morning, but they mostly seem to be part of one dream narrative.

I dreamed images last night–at least twice–of a couple collages I made by cutting images into strips and weaving them together. The final image made more sense as an image than it should have, a grey scale image of a family, slightly askew because of the weaving, on a background of pinks and magentas. There was a second collage as well, with blues in the background and a less clear image when the weaving was finished.

We’re at some sort of public building. Lots of people. I’m with Jon and the kids. I go to my car with a friend to get something, and the car is locked! I never lock my car. Someone has come along and locked it, and now I can’t get in. Frustration.

People are milling about, eating picnics, talking, playing basketball. I stood in the line to play one game of basketball, but after that game, I kept getting distracted and missing the pick-up. I had promised the coach that I wanted to play, and I didn’t want him to think I couldn’t keep my word. It’s mostly small boys playing, though there are some taller people. I finally remember to get in the line for pick-up, but I am late, and half the teams are already chosen. The coach chooses me, which means that some of the small boys who had been waiting to join a game are left out. I feel terrible about their disappointment, but grateful that I was sort of able to keep my commitment, even though I was a little late, and the coach gives me an eyeroll.

We’re looking for my mother. She was going to give me instructions for how to make a little beaded container using one of those big orange pill-bottles as the base. We can’t seem to find her.

I go into the basement, where I know my parents have an office in a windowless, cluttered room (my mother would not be happy in a cluttered windowless office). I have to walk past some people who are giving and receiving vaccinations. I know it’s okay to go into the office, but these people might not know that I’m related, so I try to act really casual. I slip into the office and look on the shelves for the supplies for the bead project, but there’s nothing there. When I turn to go out, I see that my parents had pushed the desks across the doorway to keep people from wandering in, and I don’t remember how I managed to slip past them to get in. I have to move them, with a loud scraping sound, to get past. It’s very claustrophobic.

I’m driving around outside with Jon and the boys, looking for my mom, in a long line of cars circling the building. When the traffic clears, somebody drives by in a yellow Dodge dart with a light green roof–the driver is wearing a llama costume. Later, as we are sitting on the lawn outside a wall of windows near the building’s garage, my friend Steve walks up, and I realize it was him wearing the llama costume.

In the next scene, we’re inside the garage instead of outside, and we’re trying to get going, but we have to crawl out through the lower set of windows. Such a claustrophobic prospect! I don’t know if I can manage it.

I can think of several waking-life referents for some of these pieces. I’m struck by the search for my mom, by the colors of pink and yellow and green, by crafting things–weaving images and beading, by claustrophobia, by keeping my word but in the process hurting someone’s feelings, by the llama, by art projects, by being unable to get in or out of places that I want to get into and out of.


I got a little caught up, yesterday, in grief over the way the truth is being brutalized and tortured, from the president’s abusive and gaslighting mobster-style phone call to the GA Secretary of State, to lies about Dr. Fauci’s alleged campaign to patent a super-virus that he could profit from. I, too, distrust the pharmaceutical companies. I don’t think our health ought to be so completely in the hands of people who make a profit from our disease. I think of the epidemic of pain-killer addictions which resulted in the overdose deaths of so many people, for example. But to jump from that to an assumption of the monstrosity of a scientific and medical community that would specifically develop the virus just so they could create a vaccine to combat it is a giant leap.

So. Gratitude comes hard today. When I try to pull up images of things I am grateful for in the last day, I have to walk past the broken body of Truth on the way. I can get there, it’s just in a context of real anxiety and grief.

Gratitudes:
1. Seeing the faces of my students again yesterday, even if it was on Zoom instead of in person.
2. The soft open. Going from the quiet and introversion of Break to the busy extraversion of teaching was eased by beginning remotely.
3. The satisfaction of mending tears in clothing. I always saw mending as a chore, but now it’s an art form, and I am loving the satisfaction of stitching a woven patch right into and over the hole.
4. I scheduled work days for all my classes today, so no Zooms, and it’s another chance to catch up a bit on things I didn’t get done during break. I’m in the zone. I will catch up to myself today.
5. Hope that we can mend and heal the Truth.

May we walk in Beauty!


Terry Tempest Williams:
“I have found my voice on the page repeatedly when a question seized my throat and would not allow me to sleep. But I have to tell you — I have to re-find my voice every time I pick up my pencil. It’s usually out of love or loss or anger. And the question then becomes: how do we take our anger and turn it into sacred rage and find a language that opens hearts rather than closes them?”


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” —e. e. cummings


“Again and again, our dreams demand leadership of us, calling our life’s vision forward into the world, step by tenderbrave step.
“The practice above all practices is to relinquish the immature desire to be taken care of (by our parents, spouse, government, guru, church, etc), and to parent our own originality. To give ourselves the support that we may never have received.
“To get behind the creation of one’s life is to recognize your influence in ‘the way things are,’ and nurture your vision with protective discipline until it is strong enough to serve in the world on its own.” ―Toko-pa Turner


“You learn to write by reading and writing, writing and reading. As a craft it’s acquired through the apprentice system, but you choose your own teachers. Sometimes they’re alive, sometimes dead.
“As a vocation, it involves the laying on of hands. You receive your vocation and in your turn you must pass it on. Perhaps you will do this only through your work, perhaps in other ways. Either way, you’re part of a community, the community of writers, the community of storytellers that stretches back through time to the beginning of human society.” ―Margaret Atwood


“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” ―Fred Rogers


“Good poetry, I think, is more about finding your way by signposts than about following a map. It gives readers a few cues and clues, sets us loose, and then waits for us to say, “Oh! I recognize this territory! I know this landscape.” A series of seemingly unrelated but compelling images can spring to life when sprinkled with the fairy dust of beautiful language or the hint of a story. While I want to be able to understand enough of the controlling idea of a poem for it help me create some sort of sense, the most satisfying meaning that I derive from reading a good poem comes not through the intellectual front door, but through the back door of the emotions. Meaning made through emotional connection rather than mental processing often appears in the form of wonder and holy surprise, even when it comes in a painful or angry guise. Poetic understanding is gut-level understanding. I have long been a fan of singer-songwriter Paul Simon. I don’t think I know what he means about anything, but he always makes me feel something.” ―Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014

Opening the Box

I made this as the cover slide for my back-to-school slideshows this week.

Today is the actual day of heading back to work, so my morning writing is going to have to be focused and efficient.

This morning’s dream: I am just about to open a box when the alarm goes off! Intriguing. It’s like one of those banana boxes, taped shut with packing tape, just delivered in the mail. The cardboard is sort of reddish. It’s on a little table at the top of the stairs. I had been on my way downstairs to talk to Sonia Sanchez–my friend and I were staying with her. I had just gotten awake after a really long night’s sleep, and I was worried that I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and I had checked the mirror and noticed how great my hair looked, long and really wild, with tiny braids here and there and yarn and beads braided throughout. I was thinking that Sonia might approve.

Before that, I am on the phone with friends, a couple and their son. I am either telling them that I have found something they were looking for, or else they’re telling me that they have found something I was looking for. It’s a little unclear. They’re out at High Point, and they tell me that the view is really lovely today. The little boy tells me something about the thing that someone has found, and I thank them and say goodbye. I feel really awkward.

Early in the night, I had fragmented dreams about making collages and embroidering the pieces of paper together.

Several of the bits and pieces here come pretty directly from my waking-life symbols. We walked at High Point on Saturday, and last night before bed, I was playing with a digital collage using one of the photos I took there. I’ve done lots of embroidered patching during break, and had fallen asleep last night thinking about a patch-making project I signed up to participate in on IG.

If I look at my dreams as a progressive narrative, I have moved from feelings of being lost and seeking lost things to being in a place where I can visualize the person I am going to see when I go downstairs, and finding things that were lost. I only wish I had been able to sleep long enough to open that box! Maybe I’ll find it again in another dream so I can see what was in it!


Gratitudes:
1. Winter Break has been deeply renewing and refreshing, inwardly. I am still behind on my work, but I am internally much better prepared to take up the work.
2. It has been increasingly challenging to get along with only one bathroom in this house. Because we just got the new septic system installed, we have been able to get the basement toilet working again. It’s a pretty small thing, but it just makes life a little easier.
3. I actually do have a couple resolutions, kind of floating around. One of those is to be much more intentional about regularly making things. It gives me a wonderful sense of anticipation to have little art projects to take breaks with.
4. Virtual learning has its struggles, but I like this soft opening of a return to school–it’s a little less pressured, time-wise. And if all goes well, we’ll be back in live classes next week again.
5. People I know are finally getting the vaccine. The election will be certified on Wednesday. The inauguration is only two weeks away. It’s not like all our problems are going to be magically solved, but the constant anxiety of the past four years and the heightened tension of 2020 are slowing resolving themselves.

May we walk in Beauty!


Sophie Scholl:
“The real damage is done by those millions who . . . just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”


“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” ―George McGovern


“The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong—and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right. No religion on earth condones the killing of innocent people, no faith tradition tolerates the random killing of our brothers and sisters on this earth.” —Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf


“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson


“We use language to build the structures upon which we hang our ideas. Language is the scaffold upon which we develop whole structures of thought. Language anchors and shapes and breathes life into thought and idea. Conventional thinking, and conventional language, can end up being a pretty tight little box of a windowless building that doesn’t let in the light. The air in there gets pretty stale. When language–and its attendant ideas–become calcified and crippled into arthritic patterns, poetic image and word-use can find new ways to say things, can break windows into the walls of those airless rooms and build ornate new additions onto the old structures. Poetry jars the cart of language out of its constricting wheel ruts. This is why poets and writers can make good revolutionaries–if they know their work and do their jobs well.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014


“The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” —Carl Sagan


Mary Oliver, on the Great Horned Owl: “I know this bird. If it could, it would eat the whole world.” And then: “The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I too live. There is only one world.”


“With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.”
―Jalaluddin Rumi (Barks)