Gratitudes: 1. The forthright golden gaze of a black cat. 2. Titmice and nuthatches at the feeder. 3. The way the sky glows blue through the clouds at this season. I think Chagall must have been a fan of autumn. 4. Health. We had an emergency this past weekend. The story is not mine to tell, but all now appears to be well. And I am very grateful for everyone’s health. Also for adrenaline. 5. I stood in the center of a faerie ring of mushrooms today. Felt my skin dissolve and my hair turn gray. Felt my senses being released into something greater–my hearing drawn outward like a bowl in a potter’s hands, my sight turn deep into the well of me. Felt wind rush through my branches, and sunlight raining like droplets all around me. Then I breathed and stepped out into the world again.
May we walk in Beauty!
Please vote, friends. Please consider your values, what you want for your country, what you expect of democracy, and Vote. Don’t let anyone convince you to be cynical or despairing about this basic tool of democracy. Yes, things are broken, and powerful people are taking advantage of the vulnerabilities in our system, and our history has been whitewashed and sugar-coated, but if we believe any of the better ideals our country was founded upon (no matter whether we were ever true to their deepest intents), then we must Vote. Let’s make this country not great–but Good, not again–but for the first time, let’s live into the ideals the founders expressed. But this time, let’s live them for everyone.
After nearly a month of silence here, I find it difficult to pull out particular threads of thoughts to put down in a blog post. Or perhaps it’s more a function of the times we live in, existing as we do within so many layers of challenge and crisis and change. So today’s post will be more of a smorgasbord than usual.
I am at odds with myself. There’s a Cackler in me who is rubbing her hands with satisfaction at the way karma has finally alit upon powerful people who have minimized the danger of the coronavirus. At the same time, my internal Monk is saddened to contemplate anyone’s suffering, and wants to wish ill upon no being, no matter how brutal and selfish that being is.
Message to self: It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to experience a sense of relief when an out-of-control train that has already been responsible for the deaths of many is suddenly slowed and perhaps side-lined. I’m letting the Monk and the Cackler work together here, working to avoid feeling and expressing glee at this turn of events, but allowing myself to feel relief: This could signal a shift that could save lives in the end.
This is a moment for the type of complexity I have been attempting to integrate since I began working with the Bowl of the Heart several years ago: All of it goes in there together, painful and tender, vengeful and compassionate. We’re many-faceted creatures, we humans, and we have the capacity for myriad responses. While I want to always be appealing to my better nature, I cannot deny the Cackler her space. And I can learn from her. The quiet Monk in me was trying so hard to respond with light and wisdom that I almost missed the essential message of the Cackler–that it is okay to be relived that this bit of suffering being visited upon those who inhabit the White House may be a pathway toward mitigating the suffering of thousands.
A few days ago, I checked in with the faeries about a couple things I’ve lost. One was pretty urgent and timely. The other is a necklace I haven’t seen for over a year, a treasured piece I made myself from various shiny and dangly things I’d received from beloved friends.
Within a couple hours, I found the first, most urgent thing, but I still haven’t found the necklace, although I have been searching all the place that suddenly popped into my head.
But last night, I had a haunting, lingering dream. I kept waking up with images of the two beings in the dream, sometimes with clear recognition of their names, and then falling back to sleep, only to wake up again with their images in my brain. They were two elves, dressed in skinny suits like a 1950s boy band, with white shirts and black skinny ties. They were both dark-haired with piercing dark eyes, very Spock-like.
I woke up, feeling like they wanted to cut some sort of deal with me, like they were looking to draw up a contract. I thought if I could remember their names, I could outwit them, control them, but in the stories, magical names also sometimes backfire, and it’s perhaps best that I don’t quite remember. I do want my necklace back, but I’m not ready to sell my fate to a pair of pushy dream-beings. Still, it couldn’t help to make an offering. . . (I know, I know, no first-born children or anything like that).
I’ve started painting my nails. It’s strange, because I tend to feel like I am a little kid playing dress-up, or like I’m sort of wearing drag when I wear make-up or get my nails done. It’s like it’s territory that doesn’t really belong to me. I identify completely as she/her, and have never had any questions about my gender, but there are myriad ways to express femaleness, and the salon/nails/make-up way has not really been part of my way. I always feel like I’m in someone else’s territory when I do these things.
But I am loving wearing different colors on my nails. I change the color every weekend. A couple weeks ago, I just had to get green. I needed green nails. Today, I painted them RED! My fingernails are red. I needed flames on my fingers right now. Hmmm. I should see about getting some little flame decals. . .
I realized the other day that I almost never find feathers anymore. Perhaps I am not looking hard enough? Or maybe I don’t need them now. Or maybe it’s because we no longer have the glorious owl-perch of the poplar tree anymore.
The day after I began to ponder this, I found this woodpecker feather at the park:
This week two girls stopped outside my classroom to read my bulletin board during my prep period. When I went to say hello, they thanked me for my poster about how all people are valued in this classroom. They said they would like it to include something about how we live on stolen land. I love that they were so ready to add their own pieces, so open to ask for what they want, so intersectionally aware. We talked about how the statements on the poster are all stated in positive ways, and the stolen land piece doesn’t seem to quite fit that tone, but how that’s not quite a good answer even so. I do have a little poster in my room about the people who were first here on the land where we attend school, but I really want to add a line that will respond to their request, if it’s possible. (Or maybe I’ll move that poster out to my hallway bulletin board. One of the girls said she is going to make me a drawing of the hands of many different races gripping each other in a circle, to add put next to the sign.
I would love ideas about how to include an intersectional awareness of the truth of that statement–We are living on stolen land–in the grammatical and tonal context of this. Feel free to offer me your thoughts.
Some Random Gratitudes: 1. Red-breasted hawk on a snag down Schmuck Rd. 2. My wise and compassionate students. 3. The Wheel of the Year. All comes around again. 4. Smoothie for breakfast 5. The treehouse. I spent a couple hours up there yesterday, reading and drawing.
May we walk in Beauty!
“The ways creative work gets done are always unpredictable, demanding room to roam, refusing schedules and systems. They cannot be reduced to replicable formulas. […] To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out. […] Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” ―Rebecca Solnit, from: “Men Explain Things to Me”
“The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” —Flannery O’Connor
“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” ―Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” ―Barry Lopez
“‘Remember on this one thing,’ said Badger. ‘The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.’” ―Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel
“Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need For this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, but if faced With courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream.” —Maya Angelou
“With dreamwork, we are endlessly tenderising ourselves to subtletly. When we begin to know its dimensions, pain can no longer envelop us in an indistinct mass. It’s not that we are ridding ourselves of suffering, but rather learning its name, which is the prelude to befriending it.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa
Humility by Mary Oliver Poems arrive ready to begin. Poets are only the transportation.
“On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.” —W. S.Merwin
“Nature never repeats itself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.” —Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” —Kabir
Mirabai Starr said, “Poetry is a gateway into unitive consciousness. It knocks on the doors of the heart and the heart opens. Poets speak truth in a very naked way that bypasses the rational mind. Poetry evokes, rather than describes.”
Kathleen Norris writes, “Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that is their strength. . . . Writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to ‘know’ for us.”
“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“Every seed contains the potential to save the world. Each seed can keep millions of people from starvation. Each seed is a mirror and guardian of the world’s future. Each seed is the ecology that can sustain the economy. This is why seeds are sacred…” —His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
This morning, I woke up from a dream in which I was helping someone to design a pamphlet titled Common Sense. It was like Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, but a point-by-point enumeration of all the reasons not to vote for a second term for this president. And now I feel burdened, like someone needs to do this, in the carefully-reasoned yet passionate style of Paine himself, simply presenting all the pieces. I have neither the time nor the internal bandwidth at the moment to do so. But someone ought to do it.
I’ve become increasingly alarmed in recent days at the worshipful fervor of the diehard followers of this man, at the increasingly cultic adulation by people who seem to be otherwise humane and caring. Every day he reveals more and more of his depravity and lack of human feeling, his selfishness and narcissism, his lying, his racism and xenophobia, his misogyny, his delight in division and violence.
I shouldn’t have read that Atlantic article about QAnon, perhaps, shouldn’t have let myself look at the polls, shouldn’t have listened to the radio yesterday, shouldn’t have let myself brood about the thing I heard someone say about how we need him in office because he is tearing down the broken system from within, shouldn’t have started pondering the cultic nature of his followers.
I’m really worried. Someone should write the pamphlet.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
We are listening for a sound beyond us, beyond sound, searching for a lighthouse in the breakwaters of our uncertainty, an electronic murmur a bright, fragile I am. Small as tree frogs staking out one end of an endless swamp, we are listening through the longest night we imagine, which dawns between the life and time of stars. —Diane Ackerman
“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” —Zora Neale Hurston
“If you are not free to be who you are, you are not free.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all [of your God’s] children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.” ―Cory Booker
“I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise, it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine.” —Nadia Bolz-Weber
“You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal’. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” —Elie Wiesel
“Emergence never happens all at once. It is a slow stepping into the expanded capacity of your next self. You may need practice at releasing in those places you’ve grown accustomed to bracing which, like a tight swaddle, was comforting in its limits. But when the time to remain hidden comes to its natural end, you must begin to inhabit your new dimensionality. Breathe into the fullness of your gaining altitude and consider that what presents itself as fear may actually be exhilaration. As your future approaches you, worry less how it may receive you and say a prayer instead for your becoming approachable.” —Toko-pa Turner
“I was often in love with something or someone,” wrote Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. “I would fall in love with a monkey made of rags. With a plywood squirrel. With a botanical atlas. With an oriole. With a ferret. With a marten in a picture. With the forest one sees to the right when riding in a cart to Jaszuny. With a poem by a little-known poet. With human beings whose names still move me.”
“Oh what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made a personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and equinox. This is what is the matter with us, we are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.” —D.H. Lawrence
Lord’s Prayer: Translation by Neil Douglas Klotz, Sufi O Birther! Creator of the Cosmos, Focus your light within us— make it useful: Create your reign of unity now- Your one desire then acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms. Grant what we need each day in bread and insight. Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt. Don’t let surface things delude us, But free us from what holds us back. From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews. Truly— power to these statements— may they be the ground from which all my actions grow: Amen.
Gratitude List: 1. H, who sort of styles himself as a tough guy came to my room yesterday: “Miss! I thought of you! I was at the library and I saw a book by Maya Angelou. I checked it out. I haven’t started reading it yet, but I plan to this week. It’s full of poetry!” I’m getting chills just writing about it. I have missed this. 2. This web of community that is supporting and praying for teachers and students and schoolfolks and our families right now. I can almost see the golden threads in the air around me 3. My friends’ photos of groundhog babies and hummingbirds and owls and flowers and children. Such a joy to wake up to. 4. My 8th period class, who are so full of energy and presence and joy. I needed that shot in the arm at the end of the day yesterday. 5. The next step–all I have to do is to put one foot down, then the next, then the next. Breathe and step, breathe and step.
May we walk in Beauty!
“You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” ―Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’” ―Kurt Vonnegut
“I know there are people who don’t read fiction at all, and I find it hard to understand how they can bear to be inside the same head all the time.” ―Diane Setterfield
“Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” ―Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” ―Diane Setterfield
“”What we need is a tough new kind of feminism with no illusions. Women do not change institutions simply by assimilating into them, only by consciously deciding to fight for change. We need a feminism that teaches a woman to say no — not just to the date rapist or overly insistent boyfriend but, when necessary, to the military or corporate hierarchy within which she finds herself. “In short, we need a kind of feminism that aims not just to assimilate into the institutions that men have created over the centuries, but to infiltrate and subvert them. “To cite an old, and far from naive, feminist saying: “If you think equality is the goal, your standards are too low.” It is not enough to be equal to men, when the men are acting like beasts. It is not enough to assimilate. We need to create a world worth assimilating into.” ―Barbara Ehrenreich
“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” ―Thomas Merton
Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya (and now around the world), told a story about a hummingbird.
When the great forest was on fire, and all the animals were fleeing for their lives, the tiny Hummingbird zipped to the river, gathered a beakful of water, and zipped back to release the water onto the raging flames. Again and again, she carried her tiny beakfuls of water to try to put out the flames. The other animals noticed, and told her how futile her efforts were, but Hummingbird kept on and on, believing that it was her duty–no matter what–to do her one little thing.
Perhaps some of the other animals were inspired to get down to work, to do their own little thing, to pass on the hope of a thousand small actions. Perhaps the fire raged on despite their efforts. Perhaps they held it back. Perhaps they even put it out in the end.
During these days which, in the deepest of the dark insomniac nights, feel a little like the Beginning of the End of Things, Hummingbird has been sipping sweetness from the petunia basket outside my window, resting sometimes on the wire, nabbing gnats out of the air, hovering right at the window and peering in at me.
When I brought my first baby home from the hospital more than 14 years ago (a world ended and a world began with his birth), I settled into the recliner, exhausted and full of great satisfaction and wonder, to nurse the tiny person who had entered our world. Looking up from the babe, I saw Hummingbird hovering at the window for what seemed like ten seconds or more (an eternity of seconds), and she seemed to be watching the New Person, and marveling with me. In the succeeding years, I have marveled back at the wonder of her own young, at their tenacity and resilience, surviving lashing storms in their bottle-cap-sized nest. At their first fledgings. At the blur of their wings as they sip sweetness. At the self-contained unself-consciousness of their existence.
And now, in a time when I am bending all my mental and emotional and physical will toward resilience and tenacity, when I am terrified for my children, my students, my parents, my self, I have Hummingbird in my days, quietly doing her thing, going about her business, checking on me through the window.
She leaves me with questions. Perhaps you want to ponder them, too: * What, in these days of going back to school, will be your sips of sweetness to fuel you through the moments of high challenge and frustration and worry? * What, as Wangari Maathai asked, is your “one little thing”? What is that thing you will do to stem the tides of destruction, even when it seems like only a beakful of water? * What does resilience look like to you? (For me, I want to picture myself in my classroom BEING tenacious and resilient.) * In the story, Hummingbird simply did her work and did not ask for help. I am not Hummingbird, and she leaves me with that question, too: How will you remember to ask for help when you need it?
So. Whatever our tasks in this time of great trouble, whatever our capacities to meet the challenges before us, let us fly with strength and power, knowing that we are doing our part. Around us are so many who are joining in the work. Let us be resilient and vulnerable, earnest and tenacious, willing to ask for help when we need it, offering to give others a spell when they reach exhaustion.
As the Talmud says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Gratitude List: 1. Messages from Hummingbird 2. Help from a friend when I didn’t even think to ask for help 3. Colleagues. I love my colleagues. 4. The custodial staff at my school. They make me feel safe. They care for the building and the spaces we inhabit. And, they’re so good-humored. 5. Air conditioning in my classroom. If, on top of everything else, I had to go into a 90-degree classroom to teach in my mask, I think I would have given up. I don’t think I could have mustered that much resilience. Air conditioning! I have air conditioning in my classroom!
May we all do our Little Thing, doing justice loving mercy, and walking humbly.
“By expanding our self-interest to include other beings in the body of Earth, the ecological self also widens our window on time. It enlarges our temporal context, freeing us from identifying our goals and rewards solely in terms of our present lifetime. The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first spinning and splitting of the stars.
“Thus the greening of the self helps us to re-inhabit time and own our story as life on Earth. We were present in the primal flaring forth, and in the rains that streamed down on this still-molten planet, and in the primordial seas. In our mother’s womb we remembered that journey wearing vestigial gills and tail and fins for hands. Beneath the outer layers of our neocortex and what we learned at school, that story is in us—the story of a deep kinship with all life, bringing strengths that we never imagined. When we claim this story as our innermost sense of who we are, a gladness comes that will help us survive.” —Joanna Macy
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” —St. Augustine (I’m not usually a great fan of St. A, but I find this really moving)
“Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.” —Wendell Berry
“Literature irrigates the deserts that our lives have become.” —C.S. Lewis
“A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” —Fred Ross
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. —Wendell Berry
Gratitude List: 1. Hummingbird. I thought perhaps this might be a year without them, but a lovely little female has been visiting the petunias and stopping to hover outside my window and look in. 2. Golden: flowers, people, sunlight. 3. Hope 4. Work 5. Wise friends
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
So. You don’t get to post # savethechildren posts and memes and then vote for the man who partied with Jeff Epstein, who said of Ghislaine Maxwell, “I wish her well.” You just can’t.
You can’t post # savethechildren and then support tearing children from their families to be kept in detention centers. You just can’t.
You can’t post # savethechildren and ignore the predations of priests and nuns and church leaders and powerful men. You just can’t.
You can’t post # savethechildren and vote to take away children’s health care, to remove their safety nets at every turn, to cut welfare, to reduce affordable housing. You just can’t.
You can’t post # savethechildren and cavalierly send them back to crowded schools during a pandemic without a thought or plan for how to keep them safe. You just can’t.
“Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.” —Deuteronomy 32:2
“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” —Thomas Merton (Oh, but I am going to try, Thomas Merton. I am going to try.)
“It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.” —Alvin Toffler
“What comes, will go. What is found, will be lost again. But what you are is beyond coming and going and beyond description. You are It.” —Rumi
“Though my soul may set in darkness it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” —Attributed to Galileo
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” —from The Talmud
“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.” —George Santayana
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” ―James Baldwin
13 Ways of Looking at a Mask: 1. When you are in a meeting, people can’t see you yawn. 2. You can stick out your tongue at people who annoy you, and they will never know. 3. Makes you look mysterious. 4. It’s a fashion accessory. Add bling! Make a statement! 5. You can walk down the street talking quietly to yourself, and no one watching would know you’re off your rocker. 6. No one will see your cold sore, or the zit on the end of your nose. 7. It helps to mask bad breath. Go ahead and eat the garlic and onions for lunch! (And if the mask doesn’t work, you’ve got help with the social distancing.) 8. Superheroes wear masks. Maybe you’re a superhero too? 9. Spinach stuck in your teeth? Who cares? You’re wearing a mask! 10. If you are an allergy sufferer, it helps to filter out pollens and allergens that make you snuffly and sneezy. 11. It protects others, and yourself, from getting the virus. 12. It’s been mandated for public health and safety by the PA governor. 13. It’s like wearing a seatbelt, or a bike helmet. It’s like washing your hands before you eat, or wearing shoes and a shirt into a restaurant. It’s basic good common sense.
Some thoughts on Mind/Body and Anxiety: This might be true for you as well: When I am in times of high anxiety, my brain tends to pull me outside of my sense of being in a body. Anxiety is a mental activity that demands mental energy. The work of the body goes to feed the fluttery brainwork of responding to the sense of crisis.
If you’re like me in this, try some of these things to self-soothe: * Breathe deeply and intentionally, into your gut, into your toes, into the tips of your fingers. * Try moving your arms in time with your breath, as if you are the Maestro of Breathing. Begin with your arms at your sides, and raise your arms as you breathe in as if pulling the music to a crescendo. Pause a moment at the peak of motion and inbreath, and then gently and slowly release. * When you yawn, give yourself to to the process. Yawn deeply and fully. * Gather a bowlful of smooth stones, and run them through your fingers. Dried corn or beans also work. * Find a pillow or throw or sweater that has a silky surface or a knubbly texture. Keep it handy to run your fingers across the surface when you feel anxious. * Pop the bubbles in the bubble wrap. * Make hot drinks, even in summer. Steam is calming and comforting. * Find a source of running water–a brook, a fountain, a river. (We bought a water fountain for our cats, and it’s been a soothing sound to listen to.) * Wake up early enough in the morning to listen to birdsong. * Load up a calming jam on PC or phone. Sometimes loud and dissonant music can be cathartic, but I would be careful with using it in anxious moments because it can also jar you out of the body on the way to catharsis. * Find a purring cat. * Smell the flowers. In public places, don’t worry what people will think if you stop to smell the flowers. Bring flowers inside if you don’t have allergies–smell them. * Find a couple essential oils that calm and relax you. Add some drops to a little spray bottle of water (a little alcohol in the mix helps to keep the oil from jamming the sprayer), and spray yourself, your pillow, your clothes, your couch. Mist it into the air when you feel yourself getting out of yourself. * Bake brownies or bread. Make mint tea. Slice an orange. (This will ground you in scent and taste). * For people like me, the natural response to anxiety is to ground myself through eating. I need to be super careful here. But we, too, can use taste to ground ourselves. Herbal teas with a little honey are grounding without the numbing effect of sugar and carbs. A small handful of nuts or a piece of cheese. A piece of fruit. Extra hot peppers in the dinner plans. * Surround yourself with color. Paint a picture to hang in your work space. Find a brightly colored rug or cloth with colors that please. Really looking deeply at color can be incredibly grounding. That viney hill and woodsy area out my window is not just “green.” It’s a thousand greens. * When you are with people, remember to look them in the eyes. Eyes are what we have, now that we cover the rest of our faces. Pause and enjoy the moments of greeting in the day. Let your contacts with people be grounding for you. Phone calls. Messages and conversations through social media. Each of those contacts is a chance to connect deeply to your (and their) human self.
Gratitude List: 1. The catfam all have homes, and we have a plan for Adoption Day at the end of August. This actually makes me sad as well as deeply relieved. It has been a great weight of responsibility to care for and worry about these guests, but I have loved it, and am sad to see them dispersed. Without intervention, we would have four breeding feral cats in the neighborhood, and Mama would drive the youngsters away eventually, and they would be susceptible to disease and coyotes and the road. Instead, they will all have loving homes. Grateful. 2. The goldenrod is beginning to bloom and shine. 3. The work gets done. It sometimes feels frantic and frazzled, but it gets done. 4. Physical comforts. One of my anchors right now is physical comforts: soft and textured fabrics, rich and evocative scents, complex flavor, bright color, haunting and gentle music. 5. Wonderful colleagues.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“Words don’t have meaning without context.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates
“The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed… because people are changed by art – enriched, ennobled, encouraged – they then act in a way that may affect the course of events… by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.” ―Leonard Bernstein
“Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else.” —Isaac Asimov
Albert Camus: “If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this one.”
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” —Joseph Campbell
“We do not have to live as though we are alone.” ―Wendell Berry
“We are made and set here to give voice to our astonishments.” ―Annie Dillard
“Writing is one of the most ancient forms of prayer. To write is to believe communication is possible, that other people are good, that you can awaken their generosity and their desire to do better.” ―Fatema Mernissi
“Through trial and fire, against the odds, you have grown to trust that the world can be a safe place and you have every right to walk here. You have made parents of your instincts, intuition and dreaming; you have allowed love into where it had never before been received; you have grown life where once it was barren. With just a few found and trustworthy seeds, you have nurtured the greatest harvest there is in this, your humble life of belonging.” ―Toko-pa Turner
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” ―Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Gertrude Stein defined love as “the skillful audacity required to share an inner life.”
“When your soul awakens, you begin to truly inherit your life. You leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become.” ―John O’Donohue
Dream: I’m in Dreamtown. I don’t know what else to call it, but it’s a place I often go in dreams. Sometimes I even recognize streets or buildings from dream to dream, but not often. I just know its the same city. There are other dream towns, too.
My sister parks her van and puts the keys under the seat, says she’ll see me later. I am going to wander in town a bit and check out some of these yard sales. It’s a little surprising that people are having yard sales during this time, but they sort of seem to be social distancing. I don’t remember seeing them in masks, but masks have not really entered my dreams yet.
After a while, I go to get in the van to drive home, and in the few hours I have been there, a whole bunch of foxtails have grown up between the cab and the bed of the pick-up (it is now my old red F150 instead of Valerie’s Van). I’m kind of glad to be driving the old pick-up again. I back out of the parking lot onto the road, put it in first and accelerate, but the truck keeps going in reverse. The brakes don’t work. The gears won’t shift into forward. I am hurtling backwards down a steep city hill.
That’s where I woke up. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was a school dream, or a dream about the feelings I am experiencing right now. It’s all so out of control. Even the vehicle has changed. The weeds grew up while I was away. Everybody out there is going about their normal business as though nothing has changed. I’m hurtling backward downhill. I can’t focus enough to get any serious school planning done. I can’t get it in the right gear.
Breathe. Pray. Sit in the chair. Do the work. Be ready for plans to change. Steer the truck.
Yesterday, on my birthday, I made myself a set of prayer beads. It’s based on the 108 beads of the Tibetan mala, but I am not Buddhist, so I hesitate to call it anything that specific. I am very intentional about not buying new things for new projects, but using up what I have, so I scrounged stone beads from my collection, and used a turquoise skull bead for my main bead. I chose the skull bead intentionally, as the symbol often associated with Mary Magdalene, who perhaps had more reason than most of us to contemplate the mysteries of life and death. With the tassel on the end, the skull looks like La Calavera Catriona on her way to the dance, which adds a nice layer of meaning. I added a dangle-bead Hand of Fatima, which represents protection and safety.
Here are the things I am going to do to try to deal with these anxieties: 1. Sit at my desk and Do My Work. 2. Keep hanging my worries on the willow. 3. Carry my prayer beads with me. In these early days of wearing it, I want to let the prayers kind of form themselves as I notice the worries that arise. (The cording is nylon, so I can disinfect them when I wear it to school.) 4. Be as conscientious in the classroom about cleaning and disinfecting as possible. Be strict about masking and distancing. 5. Meditate on the web. So many wonderful people have reached out to say they are praying for teachers, and thinking about us as we prepare for the coming year. I feel like I am on a golden web of people’s prayers and energies, along with my colleagues and students. 6. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
Really, I am still fairly grounded and centered. I am like a lion, I think, quick to rage or jump into action in response to attack or hunger, but mostly lying around, still and quiet, unbothered. Both. It takes a quirky dream or another announcement from the governor or scary numbers in the news to get me to jump up and take off. But the worries are always there, and in the meantime, I have to be as prepared as possible for school to begin.
Gratitude List: 1. Such an overflowing bowl of birthday greetings yesterday! I’m so grateful for all my beloveds, in both my physical and virtual worlds. 2. Goldfinches on the thistles. 3. Chocolate ice cream cake. 4. Making things. 5. Bright fingernail polish. I always feel a little like I’m in drag or something when I wear make-up or fingernail polish. They don’t feel quite like me. But I love shiny colors on my fingertips, and I will keeping painting my nails until I get bored or tired of touching up the chipped bits.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” —Leonard Cohen
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” —Robin Williams
“One gives one’s life to be and to know, rather than to possess.” —Teilhard de Chardin
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” —Rumi
Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.
“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.” –William Stafford
“Perfectionism is a virus which keeps us running on the treadmill of never-enoughness. It is inherently deadening for how it strives and never arrives. Failure is embedded in its very pursuit, for our humanity can never be homogenised. The only antidote is to turn away from every whiff of plastic and gloss and follow our grief, pursue our imperfections, exaggerate our eccentricities until they, the things we once sought to hide, reveal themselves as our true majesty.” –Toko-pa Turner
Fifty-Two wasn’t a bad year, although it had a pandemic in it. It has also had kittens, so there’s something good to add to the stew. Overall, it was a learning year. All the most joyful moments of this past half of a year have been in the context of knowing how fragile life is. Still, the terrible has not outweighed the abundant and joyful. There was a hummingbird a couple days ago, and there’s been so much poetry. The aforementioned kittens. Time with my family–lots of that! Time with my wider circles of beloveds–not as much or as huggy as I could wish for, but sweet and precious.
Fifty-Two is twice Twenty-Six, so I could say it was a double-marathon year, and this second half has been one long, hilly race, that’s for certain.
Today I enter Fifty-Three. I always have to say it: Because of the way we count birthdays, I am actually entering my Fifty-Fourth year. I get to wear the Fifty-Three, because we label our birthdays by how many we have accomplished, and in a pandemic year, there’s a bit of buzzy edge to that sense of accomplishment. In a pandemic year, reaching a birthday is perhaps something of an accomplishment.
So, at Fifty-Three, I am entering my prime, divisible only by myself and One.
If I reduce my birthday, according to the standard numerological reduction–by adding the month (8) to the day (10) to the year (2020)–this is a Thirteen year for me, a Death year, which sounds terrifying unless you consider the deep implications that Death represents not only the ending, but the preparation for a new beginning. It’s about Big Transformation. Perhaps the losses and grievings of this pandemic time can help me to remove old skins that hold me back from more transformative growth.
Thirteen is also a number the represents the deep female knowledge and intuitive processes that have been driven underground through the centuries, through witch hunts and religious persecutions and patriarchal oppressions. Perhaps this is a year that I can sink into trusting my deep inner knowledge, and learn to more fully trust my instincts, to more fully take up the Work.
Whatever meaning we attach to numbers, birthdays offer the invitation to introspection, to taking stock of what has been, and envisioning what might be. This has been a difficult and beautiful year, full of pain, full of growth, with lots of small but deep joys. I’m grateful to have walked it with so many beautiful hearts.
(Yesterday, I felt like I wanted to do something sort of big in order to mark the end of Fifty-Two. I wanted to accomplish something in the margins of another year. So I pushed myself to ride further than I ever have, and went the whole distance from Columbia to the Riverfront Park Pavilion seven miles away, and then back to Columbia, fourteen miles total. I know I attempted a long bike ride once when I was a teenager, with lots of stops to rest, and lots of complaining. I don’t think I have ever before ridden fourteen miles without stopping. That might not seem significant to most people, but for someone with my sedentary nature, it was a milestone. I am proud of myself.)
Today’s Birthdays: Snoopy Hieronymus Praetorius (composer) Herbert Hoover Hilda Doolittle (the poet H.D.) Jimmy Dean Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull!) Mark Doty (poet and writer) Antonio Banderas Riddick Bowe (boxer, born in 1967) and me (also 1967)
Seems like a good cohort. Nobody too far out there, but all steady in their work.
BirthdayGratitude List: 1. A year with kittens in it. 2. A year with you and you and you in it. 3. A year that has included learning to push myself beyond my basic comfort zone, in many areas. 4. So much to reflect on and process, in order to grow. 5. So much to envision and plan, and hope for.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.” —Coco Chanel
“By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary, everything is sacred.” —Teilhard de Chardin
“Soul of my soul … be water in this now-river.” —attr. to Rumi
“You are the Soul of the Soul of the Universe, and your name is Love.” —attr. to Rumi
“There is one masterpiece, the hexagonal cell, that touches perfection. No living creature, not even human, has achieved, in the centre of one’s sphere, what the bee has achieved on her own: and if intelligence from another world were to descend and ask of the earth the most perfect creation, I would offer the humble comb of honey.” —Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life Of The Bee, 1924
“It’s not only those who have succumbed to hate who have to change. We need to learn to love bigger, to bring them back.” —Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
“If it is bread that you seek, you will have bread. If it is the soul you seek, you will find the soul. If you understand this secret, you know you are that which you seek.” —atrr. to Rumi
“In these cataclysmic times, living in what Michael Meade calls the ‘slow apocalypse,’ despair can be dangerously seductive. Our lives may feel inadequate to the terrible momentum of our times, but it is in those moments that we must remember the difference between despair and grief.
“While despair traps us in the bog of despondency, grief carries us into life. Grief calls us into a deeper engagement with those things that we love. And even as we are losing them, grief wants to exalt their beauty.
“If we let grief move us into expression, it will sing the blood into our songs, colour the vividness into our paintings, and slip the poetry between our words.
“Rumi says, “All medicine wants is pain to cure.” And so we must cry out in our weakness, our ineptitude, our beautiful inadequacy and make of it an invitation that medicine might reach through and towards us.” —Toko-pa Turner
One of my most common school anxiety dreams is that the semester has begun, and I don’t get there until a few days or weeks or months in to the semester. Things have already begun without me. Other teachers are running the class. I basically have no idea what is going on.
One of my most common recurring dreams about doing my inner work involves discovering rooms or places filled with things that I have somehow inherited.
Last night’s dream includes both elements: I am a couple weeks late to begin a new teaching assignment in a middle school. When I get there, the substitute is a man, a college professor, who is teaching them as though they understand deep literary critique, referencing obscure writers and texts. There’s also an assistant in the classroom, and she is sitting in the desk at the front of the room while the professor teaches.
I don’t really introduce myself when I come in, but I put on an audio story for them to listen to. It’s engrossing, very literary, and sort of mysterious. The kids and the other two teachers are immediately into it. Meanwhile, I start to clean up the two desks at the front of the room. The previous teacher left all her stuff, and the surface of the desks are covered with knick knacks. I actually want to look at each one and decide which ones I will keep. It’s kind of an exciting process. Underneath the desk are little hidden drawers and doors, and dozens of keys!
The story ends just as the children are to be dismissed for the day. I thank the other teachers, and tell the children we will have formal introductions tomorrow. I’m eager to meet them, and they seem ready to take me on as their teacher.
I am not nearly where I want to be in terms of fall planning. I’ve let my anxiety keep me whirling in a tornado of what-ifs, and I’ve found myself unable to focus on plans. This year demands stronger plans with more options, so I need to get myself together, and not show up to the party late. If I am to really connect with my students in this season, I need to leave the professor at home, and keep reeling them in with captivating narrative.
At the same time that I have not been getting a handle on the actual nuts and bolts preparation for the semester, I have been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, the teen version of Kendi’s longer work Stamped from the Beginning. I think there are all sorts of inner doors and drawers that I am finding access to in the wake of these texts, new ways to frame how I can teach in antiracist ways, not self-consciously layering discussions of racism into literary discussion, but letting a deeper knowledge of US history infuse the ways I lead discussions about texts.
I’m not sure what the tchotchkes on the surface of the desk represent, unless it is simply that in the midst of my anxiety about opening school, I am looking forward to exploring all the little shining things that represent the everyday school experience.
A couple days ago, during a video-call, a cousin of mine exhorted me to be aware of how my worry affects me, to consider ways that I might proactively deal with the anxiety I am experiencing. He suggested giving myself one day a week to worry, making a list of the things my brain wants to worry about, and then checking in with the list on one day a week. Chances are, some of those worries might have evaporated week to week. Of course, the worry about school just gets bigger and bigger, but I am really moved and inspired by the encouragement to lay it down a bit. And yesterday, my pastor’s sermon was in a similar vein.
I need rituals to mark the inner work that I am doing, physical representations of the energies I am trying to shift. So today, I am going to meditate a little about the school worries, and then I am going to choose some ribbons to represent the things that most frighten me, and hang those on my willow tree. She is strong, and also not rigid. She flows. She listens well.
I can’t change the decisions that my school and my son’s school are making. I can be vocal about the safety issues that I see, asking for accountability to strong safety measures. In the end, unless I choose to strike or quit (which I just can’t do because I love my school and my administrators and teaching), I need to simply buckle down, do what I can to keep myself and my students safe, and find joy in the experience of reconnecting, of opening those little drawers and doors, of finding the right keys, of discovering the shiny things that will be part of everyday life back at school.
If you pray, if you do magic, if you work with energy, work prayers and magic and energy for our safety, please. For all the teachers and the students, for our families.
Gratitude List: 1. Social media posts about people’s food preservation. I haven’t done any of that this year, and I don’t plan to, but I can look at the beautiful rows of my friends’ canned beans and pickles and relish. I can see the binsful of corn transformed into baggies of golden sunshine that will wait in their freezers for winter. This makes me happy. 2. Kittens 3. Learning to push my body past its initial inertia, to get on the bike, to pedal even when its hard going. 4. Beloveds who remind me to deal with my worry and not just leave it lying around where it can keep pouncing on me. 5. Messages from dreams.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“We should ask ourselves: Do we know what enough is inside of our lives? Once I know that, it’s much harder for capitalism to catch me, right? Because I’m not susceptible to this constant sale of myself or my soul to any other force.” —adrienne maree brown
“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear.” —Peter Gabriel
“Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.” —Lev Vygotsky
“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” —James Baldwin
“Three things cannot be hidden: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.” —Gautama Buddha
“Those doing soul work, who want the searing truth more than solace or applause, know each other right away. Those who want something else turn and take a seat in another room. Soul-makers find each other’s company.” —Rumi
“Going within is the only way out.” —Toko-pa Turner
“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.” —Thomas Merton
“Let me fall, if I must. The one I will become will catch me.” —Baal Shem Tov
“The sky itself Reels with love.” —Rumi
“That’s a tough spirituality. That’s not any kind of sweet-by-and-by spirituality. That’s a spirituality that takes on the world as it is and says, ‘I’m gonna figure this out one way or another.’ The mystic and the Moses.” —Vincent Harding (On Being interview)
“May you know the fearlessness of an open heart. May you never meet anyone you consider a stranger, and know that no matter what, you are not alone. May you have compassion for others’ suffering and joy in their delights. May you be free to give and receive love.” —Sharon Salzberg
“In our culture, we use the word ‘dreamy’ derogatively to describe someone who is unrealistic or without ambition. But what thrills and amazes me about dreamwork is how truly grounding it is. One of the reasons this is true, is because dreams are expressions of that larger ecosystem in which we are embedded, and which has a design for our lives within that greater context! So rather than taking our cues from consensus culture, instead we are listening to the mystery which combines us. As Jungian analyst Ann Bedford Ulanov puts it, “the Self is that within us that knows about God.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa