Don’t Look Away

I live in the country that is holding the highest number of children in detention. Some of those children came to this country unaccompanied, seeking safety from drug dealers and human traffickers. Others came with their parents, but were intentionally and forcibly removed from their parents at our border.

Where are they being held? Who is caring for them? Do they play? Do they learn? Do they have access to books and toys? Blankets? Are they warm enough? Do they get fresh air? What is to become of them? How long will they be held in detention?

The first articles about how we’ve reached the top of this list, a few days ago, suggested that there are over 100,000 migrant children in detention centers in the United States. Newer statistics correct that to fewer than 70,000. Shall we rejoice that the number is not as high as we thought? Shall we sigh now, and look away?

I don’t know what to do with this. I am overwhelmed and disempowered, like so many of us are. Risa Paskoff, a Lancaster advocate for children, said at a meeting on Wednesday evening that she always wondered how people in Germany could go about their daily lives, planning what restaurant they were going to go to, while knowing about the atrocities their government was committing, and then she realized that she was talking about where to go out for coffee, knowing that our own government is detaining children, often separating them from their parents. So she took a trip to the border. She’s going again, with boxes of supplies for people being released from detention. She is choosing not to look away, choosing to step into the story.

At the very least, don’t look away. Listen. Learn. Speak up. Stand up. Take on the work that comes your way. In Lancaster, a group has formed, called Wing. We want to see our community work even more intentionally to welcome immigrants. Along with more direct actions and advocacy, we are stopping every day at noon, for one minute, to pray or meditate or visualize, to focus on the needs of children and others who are seeking safety here, to send out hope for change. Will you join us? (I am in class at noon on weekdays, so I will do my focus minute at 11:56, after lunch and before my next class comes in.)

Gratitude List:
1. Rest
2. Fresh Perspectives
3. How the light comes in, breathing in the light
4. Bridges
5. The advocates, the ones who speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves

May we walk in Beauty. May we live with justice, and mercy. May we walk humbly.

Mental Health Break

Today, I am taking a day of work-rest. With stacks of grading that are somehow not grading themselves, I asked to take this day off so that I could catch up to myself. It will not be a day of rest, exactly, but it will be restful. It will be at my pace, though I need to keep it moving so I get as much work accomplished as possible.

And it will be silence. Hours of silence. Me and the cats and the papers. No one needing anything from me except for an occasional head-rub. I need a mini-vacation from being needed. And it’s strange, when my work is words, when the spoken word is my favorite art form to observe and to do, that the rest that I crave is a break from speech. I long for this coming day of silence.

I have begun looking at the mini-breaks that I take in my day, trying to mark and acknowledge them and live into them, so that I can feel them as balm and not simply as escape. In that thirty seconds after the room empties and I need to head off to chapel, can I take three intentional deep breaths? Instead of walking down the hall to lunch, might I detour outside for a moment and greet the Three Magnolia Trees in the corner behind the old classroom building? Can I take three minutes of my prep period to listen to a piece of music every day? Or open my journal and do a five-minute word-dump or fast-write?

What if we were to try to see our moments, or breaks in the day, as little vacations instead of as escapes? If we were to intentionally stop and take breaths, make art, feel silence, listen to our heartbeats, put our feet on earth, commune with plant-beings? I think this will be my plan for the shadow journey ahead.

Gratitude List:
1. The earnestness of Lancaster people to resist injustice and to create compassion. Last night I attended a public meeting of Wing, a local group begun to try to develop community responses to the crisis created by recent immigration policies. The meeting was held at my church, and we filled the parking lot and the edges of the parking lot and the grassy spaces along the lot, and people parked down the streets and walked to the church. There is good energy in this community to do something to help those who are suffering as a result of this country’s harsh immigration detention policies.
2. Women in Black. I am heartened by this group of women who are committed to standing in protest of violence. Last night we stood with a sign proclaiming our solidarity with Kurdish women who are suffering in the wake of Turkish incursions.
3. Poetry and story. The weaving of words.
4. Yesterday, after I asked for today off, I felt such a release of tension and pressure. I’m grateful for understanding administrators and colleagues. I will be a much better colleague and teacher myself for having this day to breathe and catch up.
5. Dawn. The coming of light into the day.

May we walk in Beauty!

Once Was a Woman

I’ve been doing a little series of short-form poems with the idea of a middle-aged woman at the center of a fairy tale. I have been playing with writing prose fairy tales on the subject, but short-form poetry works more easily into my schedule, and the condensed qualities of poetic forms lend themselves to the cryptic and mythic thinking of the fairy tale. In these beginning stages of perimenopause, I fine myself comparing notes with my younger self at menarche, noting the ways that the hormonal shifts affect me: energy pits, headaches, emotional bounces, self-doubt, bursts of confidence. I’ve done quite a lot of fairy tale analysis over the years, from feminist reinterpretations, to Jungian dream-style considerations, to uncovering layers that reveal ancient goddess stories. The constant through most of the stories is the girl, the girl, the girl. I’m walking out the other side of the woods now, or walking into a different woods altogether. I feel a need of re-imagining the girl-hero’s journey as she begins her croning time.

Gratitude List:
1. Fairy tales and what lies beneath them
2. Warm blankets
3. Stir fry on noodles, with hot sauce. The other night, we added brussel sprouts to the stir fry, and the boys just ate it up without comment or complaint. And they chose chopsticks over forks. For some reason, that made me especially happy.
4. People around the world who are standing up for human rights and for the planet.
5. Tiny little personal escapes throughout the busy moments of the day. Five minutes into a poem. Two minutes into a deep breath. A glance through a Luci Shaw or Jean Janzen book on the writing process, a quick dip into the world of a beautiful picture, a quick friendly chat with a colleague or student.

May we walk in Beauty!

Responding to Criticism

If you have not yet read Toko-pa Turner’s Belonging, or found your way to her blog, you need to find some quiet time to get there today. I follow her on Facebook, and find that I am often moved and inspired by her writings. This morning, I reread her post from last year, about criticism.

Criticism is essential to our being shaped as creative individuals. Given respectfully, criticism can be one of the most precious gifts in the world. But there are those critics who talk just be contrary, or to parade their own virtue.

Learning to differentiate between cheap and meaningful criticism is a huge part of becoming resilient. You can tell the difference between a critic who is an ally, and one who is a frustrated creative themselves, by how thoughtfully they deliver their reflections. An ally-critic will take as much care in offering you their reflections as you did in creating your offering.

If what they say resonates for you, even in an uncomfortable way, it’s meaningful criticism. Criticism like this will help shape you into a better writer, a better artist, a better person. But if it’s delivered with poison or shame, and doesn’t connect with some similar part of yourself, then it isn’t worth giving your energy to.

Just because the voice of your critics is loud, doesn’t mean it’s valuable. But how do you not let a cheap criticism get under your skin? In a way, you don’t have to. Even cheap criticism can serve you in that it forces you to articulate, even for yourself, what you stand for.

Resilience involves trusting in the goodness of your intention. There is a vibratory signature on everything we create, and this signature will be recognized by anyone who is on the same wavelength as you.

None of us are perfect, but if you are trying your best and putting your imperfect thing into the world, you are already defying the odds.

So be willing to be seen, that others who need what you’re bringing will be emboldened to also give their gifts. You won’t die from criticism. Either it will shape you into a better version of yourself, or give you an opportunity to pivot towards what you really value.

By Toko-pa Turner (

In recent weeks, I have been gnawing at a particular critical package that was dropped in my lap. It was in the “People are saying. . .” form. I felt the hit of it, and then I tried to name all the visitors it brought with it: Defensiveness, Anger, Hurt Pride, a Rising Sense of Justice. I talked and listened to wise people. I tried to accept what was mine and lay down what belonged to others. The problem with the “People are saying. . .” criticism is that you cannot respond directly to the original critics. You can only defend yourself to the messenger, who is someone I deeply respect.

I’m not looking for defense or sympathy here. This is all just to frame how deeply Toko-pa’s words hit me this morning, particularly the piece about how, even when criticism is unwarranted, it can bring about helpful changes within. In the weeks that I have been carrying this little load, I have continued to check in with myself, to make sure that I am working out of my deepest and best self, and as I have sorted out what is mine to pick up and change from what is mine to let go and walk away from, I have been more carefully articulating my own visions and ideas about what it means to be an advocate for change. It has set me moving more intentionally into critiquing my own privilege. “Even cheap criticism,” Toko-pa says, “can serve you in that it forces you to articulate, even for yourself, what you stand for.”

And then those last three paragraphs offer me a map for how to proceed with resilience, how to step forward in my truth, without looking around to see whether others are clucking their tongues and wagging their fingers. (Ah. See. I still have some work to do. It felt pretty good to write that last sentence, like a little dig at my faceless critics. It’s easier, when my criticisms come to me secondhand, to make jibes at people I don’t “know.”)

Gratitude List:
1. When someone else’s words come at the moment you need them.
2. It might be cold, but we’re not snowed in like we were last year.
3. I think we’re finally getting the new (used) car today. (We’ve had our quota of deer-related accidents now. No more, please.)
4. Music from the 70s and 80s–really, it’s always a mood boost.
5. The deeply compassionate and concerned hearts of my students. A group of students have been talking to me lately about the Rodney Reed saga. They are researching and reading up on the story, and speaking out. Watching teenagers find their voices and speak with social conscience is one of the incredibly rewarding things about my job.

May we walk in Beauty.

Skid into Winter

All those mornings when I danced inside the story of Inanna, writing and rewriting to try to get it just right–more than simple summary, but not quite a short story. And now, I stand at these death-like gates of winter, and say, “Don’t make me go in there. Don’t make me go in there. Don’t make me go in there.”

But there is no way out but through. More layers. More hot drinks. More time in front of the happy lamps. But Inanna relinquished and relinquished and relinquished. What emblems of my own power are required from me during this descent? This one doesn’t feel like a gentle descent, either. It’s a skid and a tumble. One day, the sun came slanting quietly through branches, and the next, the shadows reach out and grab at my ankles. One day, there was a pleasant and bracing chill to the air, and the next, the cold wraps me in steel fingers.

Okay, so I am being a little dramatic, but speaking the inner drama helps me to see it, to not get carried down the drain, but to acknowledge that it’s my feelings. I don’t have to live the whole winter in a cloud. The seasonal shift is much harder this year, harder than it’s been in a long time, but it doesn’t have to spool itself out into numbness like it does when it sneaks up slowly. It’s important to acknowledge that this precipitous dip into winter is hard, but maybe it’s like that clunk in my stomach when the roller coaster dives, and I can settle into this and remember how to appreciate this season. Breathe.

Gratitude List:
1. Remembering that I have done this for forty-plus years of my life. I can survive winter.
2. A new (to me) book came in the mail yesterday. Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Kramer’s Inanna. This one is even signed by Wolkstein herself!
3. The colors of oak trees. The maples have given up, but the oaks persist, and their color is so rich and deep. (I will try to be an oak as I approach this season.)
4. Biscuits. Comfort food.
5. Students and colleagues. Shining lights in the day.

Walk in Beauty!

Unintended Changes

Yesterday afternoon, I was taking a little break and decided to flip through various WordPress themes and accidentally saved a new format. I suppose that’s as good a way as any to force me to adapt and update and change. I’ll take it. It means that the page might be in flux for a little while as I keep tweaking themes and ideas. I’ll try to settle it over the weekend sometime when I have a little more opportunity to focus on it.

Last evening, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Leroy Hopkins talk about the Columbia area’s history of resistance to slavery, specifically through the Underground Railroad. Most of the abolitionists who were actively shuttling people north through the area on the Underground Railroad were black, he said. Dr. Hopkins is a rare genius, with a wealth of information and connections to draw from. I really struggle with going out into the dark and the cold in this season of the year, and it was a real challenge for me to actually go, but I am glad I did.

Gratitude List:
1. Historians
2. People who fight for the safety and wellbeing and rights of others
3. The story Dr. Hopkins told last night of a group of 100 African American women from Columbia who marched to the Hotel Bletz in Mountville to rescue a group of enslaved people. This has captured my imagination. There really should be a ballad.
4. Opening: hearts, windows, minds, doors, possibilities
5. Cardigans and kindness

May we walk in Beauty!

Spiraling Inward

It isn’t a labyrinth, exactly, although it serves the same prayerful purpose. If you look closely and use your imagination, you can see that I shuffled a spiral in to the base of the maple tree.

November was going to be for morning serious writing sessions for me. I was going to get right down to writing, first thing, before the household wakes up. Somehow it hasn’t quite unfolded with the grace I had hoped for. My mornings have been more frantic and last minute as I try to rearrange my brain from that deep space to the focus of the day. Easier to continue to focus my morning writing on the quick little projects that I usually work on. I don’t feel like this is a failure so much as a recognition that the work that I normally do in this time is all writing practice. It’s just not writing toward a particular end goal. I have to find a different time of day for the goal-centered writing.

And editing. This is not the first time I have been working with the goddesses who descend–with Innana/Ishtar, with Persephone–and I feel a little like I am rewriting, like what I need to to organize what I have already written before I start the new stories.

Today, I am going to set myself a little writing goal. I am going to write Skinny poems: They’re eleven lines long. Line 1 is a phrase that catches your attention. Lines 2-10 are one word each. Lines 2, 6, and 10 are the same word. Line 11 uses the exact same words as the phrase in line 1, and these can be in any order that works for you. Le Hinton introduced us to this form on Friday, and it’s captured my attention, especially since I have gone googling Le’s Skinnys.

Gratitude List:
1. Inner work that helps me to bear the walk into the darkness.
2. I received a sweet gratitude from a student yesterday, something that reminded me of who I am and what my purpose is.
3. Yellow labyrinth-spiral of leaves beneath the maple tree.
4. Reaching small goals.
5. Rice and refried beans wrapped in a tortilla with all the fixings. It’s simple comfort.

May we walk in Beauty!

Drowning, Not Drowning

On Saturday, I began a poem as I was sitting in the last of the author presentations at the Millersville Literary Festival. I wrote, “I didn’t even know I was drowning.” It’s true. I knew I was searching for something, trying to break out of ruts, to focus my scattershot writing process, to find others like me. I’ve been resisting settling into my identity of Teacher because there has been this other powerful identity pushing up like a long-dormant wisdom tooth, painfully shoving everything else to the side. I call myself Poet, but I don’t seem to know what that means. I secretly call myself Writer, but I don’t know how to create a picture of that in my life, one that means Me. Here’s the blog, there’s a stack of 200-some poems that are essentially unpublishable because I have already published them on the blog and on Facebook, over there is the half-plotted novel with a couple of messy chapters hanging out of its drawers, and over there another half-formed, half-written book on magic and spirituality and the Wheel of the Year.

I’m not sure entirely what that life preserver consists of, but I felt it within my grasp at the exact moment that I realized I have been sinking. Community of writers, perhaps–the theme of the festival. There are others like me, teaching and writing and parenting, feeling the pressures of all the pieces, and still forging forward. I’ve spent the last six years feeling like I was putting the real Writer in the backseat so I could focus on being the Teacher, and the ten years before that squelching the Writer so I could be Mother and Farmer.

It’s time to begin swimming with both arms, and to kick with my feet. Stop pretending that I am just a pretender. Live into the Writer’s identity, so that I can stop fighting being the Teacher, and let them dance together. Let them both hold me up.

sI didn’t realize I was drowning until I was no longer drowning. Take a deep gulp of air, slip into the circle of that glorious floaty ring, whatever its name is, swim with both arms and kick with my feet. Here we go.

And here are some poets and writers you need to research: Ewa Chrusciel, Julie Doxsee, Maria James Thiaw, Meghan Kenny, Le Hinton, Barbara Strasko, Shawna Stoltzfoos, Tyler Barton.

Gratitude List:
1. Writers. Storytellers. Poets. Visionaries. Thinkers.
2. The life preserver
3. That particular red of certain oak leaves in early November
4. Considering the stories of the goddesses who descend–Ishtar/Inanna, Persephone–and Mother Holle, who mentors the young women who seek themselves within their depths
5. Giving myself permission

May we walk in Beauty!

DIY Mythmaking and a New Poetic Form

I’ve been thinking about my poetic process, looking through some of the neglected poems that I want to figure out how to publish, and realizing that quite a number of my poems are myth-making poems. I use poetry as a DIY Mything process, taking my own experiences and observations and transmuting them into myths. This thought is tangling with the threads of my current morning writing project of working with the Inanna story. Storytelling, writing, speaking–this whole language gig–is all about how we make meaning in the world. Art, too, as a communicative process, is about charging existence with meaning.

Gratitude List:
1. Meaning-making, DIY Myth-making, poetry, art, communication
2. Participating in a Literary Festival, listening, learning, absorbing
3. Good writing
4. How the sun shines in
5. Oak trees

May we walk in Beauty!

I’ve been thinking again about the process of poetry. In my AP Literature class recently, I have had the students choose a poetic form, no matter how lofty and traditional or edgy and nonsensical, to teach to the class. We’ve had some delightful lessons this week, learning the Magic 9 and the Nonet and the Rondeau and the Fib, among others. Yesterday, we found ourselves with a little extra time after the presentations, and we were ready to do our own thing, so we spent half the period creating our own poetic form! We developed our own rules for our own Lit Poetic Form. The process was delicious and intensely collaborative. At the end, we came up with this:

Lit Poem
Two stanzas of seven lines each.
It’s a word-count poem, with the following pattern:
Stanza 1: 1, 3, 5, 7, 5, 3, 1 (It makes a diamond shape)
Stanza 2: 7, 5, 3, 1, 3, 5, 7 (This one makes an hourglass form)
When you put them together, they look somewhat like a lit candle. (Get it?)
The rhyme scheme goes like this:
Stanza 1: abcxcba (in which x is random and unrhymed)
Stanza 2: cbaxabc (in which x is also random, and not necessarily rhymed with the first x)

This is how we make meaning. We spent twenty minutes collaboratively creating a world, complete with its order and purpose. Now we have to write the poems to prove its viability.

Wandering in the Myth

This morning, I decided to just dive into the myth that has been calling me, and I spent my writing time working on the story of Inanna/Ishtar, pondering the way her descent into the Underworld mirrors my own inward travels as the year turns cold and dark. I think this one will keep me busy for the rest of the week and beyond.

What symbols of your personal power and wisdom and authority are you prepared to relinquish as you circle downward into the deepest realm of your own inner knowing?

Gratitude List:
1. Myths and stories that frame and guide our own daily journeys
2. Small breaks
3. Seeking the fire within
4. Anticipation
5. Layers and layers of warm clothes

May we walk in Beauty!