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)
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.
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
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)
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
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
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)
In the dream: I am working in an office. It seems like it’s a fairly new business, or else a lot of the employees are new, because people are trying to figure out what is the best way to make things run efficiently and equitably. There’s a general discussion about whether a couple should be allowed to do their work while snuggling together on one chair, as one couple is doing.
It’s a very open office plan, with many work stations set up on tables, and cubicles that are more like library carrels, and the walls between rooms are glass. People are bustling about, doing their work. One guy, dressed in a green shirt and a tie with wide black and white stripes, is trying to hand out Christmas cards, but he doesn’t know who is who, so a group of us is pointing out people for him. Everyone is dressed very formally, but playfully so, with bright colors and prints.
My friend works as an administrative assistant, and is having terrible luck getting people to sign documents for her. People aren’t answering their phones or returning her emails. I start to ask whether her husband, who is also an admin assistant in the company, manages to get people to respond, and she snaps, “Of course they respond to him. He’s a man.”
Retelling this dream exhausts me. It puts me on edge much more than it seems it should from the surface. Perhaps it’s a dream about getting back to school tomorrow, getting the work done, even when it seems like no one is really listening and responding.
Mid-day edit: I just accidentally opened my camera on the selfie side and it brought back some troubling images from a dream fragment. I look in a mirror, and my face looks kind of red, and a few moments later I look again, and my face is covered in a raised rash. My chin and cheeks are swelling. I don’t remember what happened after that.
Gratitudes: 1. A good long walk at High Point yesterday. 2. Sorting through the ideas to prioritize projects and create plans for how to finish some of them. 3. Ham and bean soup. Leftover Christmas ham in leftover black-eyed peas from New Years, with leftover roasted roots from another meal. The beets turned the soup a beautiful borschty red. 4. The trees of Goldfinch farm: sycamore and walnut, locust and willow and oak, maple, and the poplar stump, who is so incredibly alive. 5. The sounds of birds outside. We haven’t even opened the curtains, but the wren and the nuthatch have been chattering on the balcony where Jon put up a thistle feeder and a suet feeder.
May we walk in Beauty!
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” —T.S. Eliot
“Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar.” —Barbara Brown Taylor
“He said the wicked know that if the evil they do is of sufficient horror men will not speak against it. That men have only stomach for small evils and only these will they oppose.” —Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing.
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” ―Parker J. Palmer
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ―T. S. Eliot
We need for the earth to sing Through our pores and our eyes. The body will again become restless Until your soul paints all its beauty Upon the sky. —Hafiz (Ladinsky)
“Perhaps the uprising of women around the world is the earth’s own immune system kicking in.” —Nina Simons, Bioneers
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” —Terry Pratchett
I can’t draw the dreams back from last night’s wanderings. After several nights of twisting-turning, last night was a sleep-like-a-rock night, so I have no dream images to work with today. Even the cats were quiet last night. I must remember to praise them for that.
Today, I begin my walk from Time Out of Time. I MUST get some work done. I need to put aside some of the dreaminess so I can focus.
I realize that I am living with a fair amount of anxiety about January 6, and Inauguration Day. So much has been destroyed, even when it seemed like goodness and reason simply had to prevail, that I am not sure I want to believe that we’re actually on our way out of this mess.
Gratitudes: 1. Zoom calls with friends and family. The shining faces of beloveds. Telling memory-stories, updating, speaking hope. 2. That cardinal, a drop of scarlet in the grey of morning, how the greens are richer and more satisfying after rain. 3. Practicing something until you can feel, can SEE, the improvement. My first attempts at a woven visible mend were pretty poor and puckery, but by last evening, I was catching my stride, and my fingers were learning what to do. 4. Sharing dreams and omens with friends. 5. And now the morning is no longer grey. The sun has topped the eastern ridge and caught the leathery leaves of the little oak on the bluff out the window, and the world is a-sparkle.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
There is a deeper world than this That you don’t understand There is a deeper world that this Tugging at your hand —Sting
“The Work. I am learning, slowly and in tiny little ways, to stop asking myself what I can get from each moment, but instead what my Work is here in the moment. And realizing, ever so dimly, that when I am really doing my Work (really doing my Work), I am also receiving what I need.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” —Peter Drucker
“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it will be a butterfly.” —Margaret Fuller
“Brew me a cup for a winter’s night. For the wind howls loud and the furies fight; Spice it with love and stir it with care, And I’ll toast our bright eyes, my sweetheart fair.” —Minna Thomas Antrim
“How do we go on living, when every day our hearts break anew? Whether your beloved are red-legged frogs, coho salmon, black terns, Sumatran tigers, or fat Guam partulas, or entire forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, or oceans, or the entire planet, the story is the same, the story of the murder of one’s beloved, the murder of one’s beloved, the murder of one’s beloved.” ―Derrick Jensen, Dreams
In the middle of the night I woke up just as someone was giving me a message. It was like I was a student in a classroom, and the teacher was writing these things on the board:
Living By Their Rules: 1. You will only succeed if you push down the others around you. 2. There is not enough for everyone.
I’m sort of glad I woke up at that point. I don’t think I want to see that play out. Don’t want to try to fit in to that system.
More dreams about forgetting my mask and being among others who simply don’t care. Trying to pull my shirt collar up above my nose to protect myself and others.
Also, I heard a bird call, loudly, while I was in a large room, like a mall (I think the sound was the real world entering my dream), and saw, instead of the singer, two tiny green hummingbirds, no larger than bumble bees, circling around each other by a red wall in an elaborate aerial dance.
Gratitudes: 1. Tabula Rasa 2. My wonderful mother, who was born 80 years ago today. 3. Squirrels, how they stand with their hands on their hearts. I love the white spots behind their ears, the pensive look on their faces when they are looking up at the feeders–and yes, they’re a pain at the feeders, but they belong here, too. 4. Color and texture. I’m an eccentric in my sartorial choices because I like to mix colors and prints and textures. Might look funny, but it makes me oddly happy. 5. How small acts can be rituals, like mending torn clothing focuses the mind on Mending.
May we walk this year in Beauty!
Honoring Kwanzaa with those who celebrate it: The word for this last day of Kwanzaa is Imani, or Faith. Believe that your dreams have the power to create change in the world. May it be so for you and for me and for all who long for and work for justice in the coming year.
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Courage, Dear Heart.” —the Albatross (Aslan) to Lucy, C. S. Lewis
“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering ‘it will be happier.’” —Alfred Tennyson
“Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.” ―Joan Chittister
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” —T. S. Eliot
“And we are put on earth a little space, That we may learn to bear the beams of love.” —William Blake
“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.” ―Mary Oliver