Beloveds, we are just over halfway to through this December labyrinth walk into the dark. The light begins to return on Solstice, on the 21st.
Where I live, the holiday traffic is ramping up to frantic, and the afternoon commute gets long and dark and claustrophobic. Yesterday, I nearly let the long ride home ruin my evening. Being trapped in a box on wheels on a highway in the dark for hours feels too much like my inner state in December.
Today, I need to make sure that I am intentionally working to combat the claustrophobia I feel rising in me as the constricting layers of winter clothes and the darkness and the schedule and the traffic have all closed around me.
First, Breathing: Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause: Remember last night’s moon. Breathe in, holding the image of moon. Pause: Let go of the traffic. Breathe out. Pause: Yesterday’s lovely morning snow. Breathe in. Pause: Let go of the work ahead. Breathe out. Pause: So many shining, twinkling lights surround me, students and family and friends. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause. . .
Second, Art: Yesterday before I went to bed, I watched a little video of comic artist Tim Gula doing an exercise in automatic drawing. It’s kind of like a journal free-write, where you just keep your hand moving and put whatever comes down on the paper. I have noticed that even my doodles have become constricted lately, lines choked and tight. I think that some drawing practice might help me to free up some of this claustrophobic inner space.
Third, Story: I’ve queued up the next book in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle on my tablet, and I am going to have it along on the ride to school so we can start to listen to it today.
Perhaps claustrophobia isn’t a struggle for you at this time of year. Is it panic, silence or noise, loneliness? Or maybe this is your happiest time. What are the tools you use to cope with the challenges or to mark and celebrate the joys?
Gratitude List: 1. Story 2. Art 3. Breath 4. Wildness 5. Moon
My primary dream memories from last night are of storm, of rain and wind lashing the windows–of the house where I wandered, of the classroom where I was teaching. Classroom dreams are always anxiety dreams–and this one woke me up to lie and worry once again about my sense of constant insufficiency. And of course the storm was happening outside as well as in my dreams.
Somewhere near dawn, Mrs. Rochester began to walk about in the attic of my brain; whether invoked by dream or imagination, I am not certain. I was in a half-doze. Last night before bed, I finished The Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s exploration of the life of Antoinetta Bertha Cosway Mason Rochester. (There’s a name to sing.) Critics tend to agree that the madwoman in the attic was Bronte’s metaphor for the writer that women keep locked up inside themselves. If she is not allowed out to live in the real world, she is liable to burn the house down–figuratively, of course.
Yesterday, during my solitude, I let the madwoman out to play. Finally. I had kept her locked up so long that I had forgotten how much good material I had already written for the book that’s been churning inside my head. I’m going to trust her to walk about the rooms a little more in the daytime, and see what she can create.
Gratitude List: 1. Letting the madwoman out of the attic 2. Will and determination 3. Today is Friday, and I still have five more days of rest, if you count today 4. Rain and wind 5. The patterns made by leafless trees against a dawn-grey sky
May we walk in Beauty!
Words for the Third Day of Kwanzaa: Today’s Kwanzaa Word is Ujima. Here is what a wrote a few years ago on this day:
“Collective work and responsibility. I love that it comes after kujichagulia, self-determination. When we each get our own house in order, our own mojo going, then we can work together to build and strengthen our communities.
“Here in these days of stillness as the earth is poised to swirl back into the Long Light, what a wonderful idea to contemplate: How can I carry my own energies into community-building in the New Year?”
This year’s addendum: And of course, Kwanzaa is an African American holiday, so the question for me becomes: How can I use the privilege I was born with to support and strengthen the community-building work of people of color?
“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.” ―Anaïs Nin
Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.
“If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So like children, we begin again…
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”
―Rainer Maria Rilke
“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.
It seems that we Christians have been worshiping Jesus’ journey instead of doing his journey. The worshiping feels very religious; the latter just feels human and ordinary. We are not human beings on a journey toward Spirit, we are already spiritual beings on a journey toward becoming fully human, which for some reason seems harder precisely because it is so ordinary.” ―Richard Rohr
“What if nostalgia is not a fruitless dwelling on those irretrievable moments of the past, as we are taught, but an attempt by sweetness to reach you again?
What if nostalgia is really located in the present, like a scent or ambience which is gathering around you should you avail yourself to it.
As anyone who has been heartbroken knows, there comes a time when, long after loss has been well-lived with, a small melody of love always returns. And to your surprise, you may recognise the tone of that love as the very same love you believed you lost.
It’s then that you know that your love was always your love. And if you let yourself be unguarded to it, nostalgia may find its way back into the generosity of your presence.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa
“Language is very powerful. Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.” ―Desmond Tutu
“We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.” ―Wendell Berry
I carefully outlined the significant stages of my life, but somehow forgot to put my 18-22 section on there–and that was a SIGNIFICANT part of my life. It’s where I met Jon, where I met my lifelong friends. Where I learned to hold on to love even through a rough patch. I want to remake it in paint or colored pencils.
I am pretty strongly anti-established-religion. White Christian evangelicals in the US today are complicit with such great evils that I want nothing to do with them. I see people who say they follow the way of Jesus shrugging their shoulders and ignoring the pain of children torn from their parents by a government they support. I see them rabidly calling for more ill-treatment of people seeking asylum at our borders. I see them fighting for systems and policies that further marginalize people who are ill and struggling with poverty. I see them speaking with vitriol and rancor toward people of color, LGBTQ people, women, people from other countries. The list goes on.
There’s a quotation, often attributed to Gandhi (though perhaps erroneously), that goes: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I’m a fan of Jesus, too. I just don’t like a lot of the people who claim him. I don’t think it’s possible to really “get” who Jesus was and support a political administration that tears families apart, that regularly spews such racist and xenophobic and homophobic and misogynist hatred. I sound really judgey here, and I try hard not to be judgey, but I can’t withhold my judgement at times of great injustice and destruction.
On the other hand, I love a lot of Christians. In fact, despite its harsh beginning, this post is really about a church that I love, a place where I–with all my wild, witchy, unsettled, doubtful, defiant, questioning universalism–can feel belonging. We’re all welcome in this place, and questions are blessed, and crunchy feelings are held and observed together. Some people use very specific God-language that I couldn’t bring out of my own mouth, but I don’t feel uncomfortable because my own non-specific and outside-the-box language is accepted, too. I am not the only one who calls the Holy One by the name of Mystery. And I don’t want to be in a place where everyone believes exactly the same thing–just a place like this, where Love is the guiding principle.
And we sing together. And we make art. And we talk and dream and stand up to the powers together. We talk earnestly with each other and we laugh together, and cry. Our children feel safe and loved. It’s Real Church. It’s good community. I am grateful for each of the individuals who make up the circle of us.
Gratitude List: 1. Making collages with Chloe and Monica and the others this weekend at camp. Drawing the Rivers of our Lives with Josiah and Andrea and Maggie. Soulful art-making.
2. Storytelling. Vulnerable, life-affirming, tear-filled, laughter-filled, life-sharing storytelling.
3. Fudgy chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. I have severely curtailed my sweets intake in the past month, and I don’t let myself eat sugary things unless I am absolutely sure it will be worth it. This cake was completely worth it.
4. Christine’s Box of Tea. I tried the Stash Chocolate Hazelnut, which was sublime.
5. We are in the Golden Season: Goldenrod, sunflowers, slanting sunlight in the afternoons, Jerusalem artichokes, yellow walnut leaves. Glorious golden! Now for some coolness, please?
May we walk in Beauty!
“None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.” —Christopher Walken
“Who has not sat before his own heart’s curtain? It lifts, and the scenery is falling apart.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance.” —David Whyte
“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its’ imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.” —Annie Dillard
“Forms are the symbols of formless divine principles; symbolism is the language of nature.”
—Manly P. Hall
“One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.” —C. G. Jung
From Omid Safi:
The great mystic Zol Nun (Dhu ‘l-Nun) met a woman at the sea shore.
He asked her: “What is the end of love?” She answered: “O simpleton, love has no end.”
He asked why.
She said: “Because God, the Beloved, has no end.”
“Whenever one person stands up and says, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people do the same.“ —Gloria Steinem
In the silence before time began, in the quiet of the womb,
in the stillness of early morning is your beauty.
At the heart of all creation,
at the birth of every creature,
at the centre of each moment
is your splendour.
Rekindle in me the sparks of your beauty
that I may be part of the splendour of this moment. Rekindle in me the sparks of your beauty
that I may be part of the blazing splendour
that burns from the heart of this moment. —John Philip Newell
“I wish I could show you,
when you are lonely or in darkness,
the Astonishing Light
of your own Being.”
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” —Emma Goldman
Gratitude List: 1. Glorious Lady Magnolia tree on 462 across from the Red Rose. Oh goodness! Can a tree be traumatized from witnessing humans kill each other?
2. I changed the cutting head on the string trimmer all by myself. It took a lot of figuring to get the old one off, but I managed.
3. Open House at my school tonight. Nice to spend time with colleagues, and to get a chance to show off the school to prospective families. It was lovely to see a few students again, too.
4. Baked oatmeal for supper. Comfort food.
5. How doing art makes you see the world differently.
May we walk in Beauty!
A Rule for Parenting:
Never simply say, “Don’t lick your brother’s food.”
You have to also say,
“Don’t tell your brother you licked his food, even if you didn’t. Especially if you didn’t.”
“Don’t lick the packaging that your brother’s food is in.”
“Just don’t lick or talk about licking your brother’s food.”
I probably should have included more permutations, but I was getting just a little cranky (momspeak for VERY GROUCHY). This parenting gig can be hard.
Here’s a found poem. I put it together from strips of paper and glued it to yesterday’s painting. I was loving it, and so I put Mod Podge on it to seal it, but instead it stayed white and gloopy. It was a disaster. I pulled off the pieced and mostly salvaged the painting, but the poem strips were destroyed.
One morning before dawn
in the thick of that month,
the trees still heartrendingly asparkle,
the women’s laughter,
as dark as bitter chocolate,
lodged in the house of
beautiful magnificent wings.
They halted at the woods,
Passage through the wilderness
was not a simple matter
to escape a forest without shade,
We have to ascribe to femaleness
the audacious, the math, the order.
Below, the alligators
are sleeping in the grass
awaiting the rain.
“Each moment from all sides rushes to us the call to love.” -―Rumi
“The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves
into the rhythms of the human heart.
The earth is not outside us; it is within:
the clay from where the tree of the body grows.”
“There were far worse strategies in life than to try to make each aspect of one’s existence a minor work of art.”
―Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline
“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Just go ahead and live positively; go to the side and do it differently. Don’t waste time with oppositional energy.” ―Richard Rohr, writing about the thinking of Dom Helder Camara
“The heart of faith is the call to love one another. . .” ―Avis Crowe
by Denise Levertov
Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.
Gratitude List: 1. A tiny cow and a little mouse who were entranced by the big kitty in my trunk during Trunk or Treat. Ellis was a wild panther we had caught, and he pushed candy through his cage bars to the children. Mouse and Cow kept coming back just to stare, open-mouthed, at him. Finally, after fifteen minutes of gazing, Little Mouse opened his mouth and belly laughed. Cow joined him, giggling.
2. Fun, friendly community events that get people out and talking to each other, and blessing each others’ children.
3. The tender hearts of certain teenage boys. They may present as goofy and crusty, but they’re as sensitive as anyone.
4. Getting it done
5. Playing dress-up–Happy Halloween!
(I have a friend who takes pictures of hearts that she finds in the world, and another friend who takes pictures of trees that she loves. Here is a heart. And I love this tree.)
Gratitude List: 1. Hearts. Trees. Hearts in trees. The friends who draw them to my attention.
2. All this blooming. Everywhere. You’re blooming too, I think.
3. A day off and hanging out with my muchachos.
4. Arts. I have been thinking a lot lately about how the arts make us more fully human, more compassionate with ourselves and others, more able to deal with and comprehend our secret inner worlds. I want to do more to incorporate more art into my teaching, to encourage my students to incorporate more art into their projects.
5. Stories of Holy Week. I have always thought of Jesus as a revolutionary, but somehow this year I have been struck in a more powerful way with the way the stories of Holy Week portray him: the street theater of the donkey ride into the city, the anarchism of the temple cleansing, the subversive answers to the establishment, the way he turned everybody’s expectations upside-down. (How sad that this story is so often used instead to enforce the status quo.)
Gratitude List: 1. Inner vigilance. Not panicky hyper-attention, but calm and thoughtful dropped and open attention. So much to learn about the world.
2. The sun-limned cloud on the journey home from school yesterday.
3. Making art with a small person.
4. Watching a small person dive headfirst into the world of literature. (Now to make sure he can get anything else done.)
5. Honey. Those bees know what they’re doing. As Ellis said once when he was about three: “Honey is my favorite medicine.”
We watched a couple videos of Turkish Ebru painting, Boy and I. In Ebru painting, the artist drips ink on to the surface of the water, then manipulates the surface to create beautiful designs which cling to the paper the artist rests on the water’s surface.
Afterward, “Can you get down my painting box?”
“I think we’re out of painting paper.”
“That’s okay. I’ll find some cardboard.”
Gratitude List: 1. The wild creative imagination of children. How one thing suddenly becomes another thing, which morphs into a totally different thing. Well, now. Isn’t that sort of like life? Maybe the Divine Source of all Being is a Child playing with colors: “This one looks like a farmer. But if I twist this brush a little bit this way, she turns into a teacher. See?” Capricious, maybe. But magical. Just let this one dry a good while please, Kid, before you go shifting this part of the design again.
2. Ends of tunnels. Beginnings of bridges. Spanning the distances. Breathe, baby, breathe, while you cross that bridge. And don’t, whatever you do, hold your breath in the tunnels! Look for the light–it’s really there.
3. Re-built bridges, diamonds, rust. A couple days ago, I heard Joan Baez singing “Diamonds and Rust” on the radio, and it took me back 25 years in one instant. It took me right back to the happy times before the burning of a bridge, of a friendship. The bridge has been re-built, of course, and this new one is as beautiful as my bridge that arches over the Susquehanna when the sun hits it just so in the mornings. But that long-ago burning still sometimes haunts me with the shame of my pettiness and selfishness, despite the great grace of my co-re-builder, despite the years that have passed. Sometimes I just have to go back and look at the old pilings where the old bridge used to be, to see how there’s moss growing there, and small trees, how the wreck sets off the incredible grace of the new bridge, how the sun shines on it all as Beauty. This is one of the big gratitudes of my life, one of the constants: the Grace of friendship.
4. Oh, that slant of light in the mornings in the hollow makes me almost as giddy and obsessed as my oriole did in springtime. I miss it most mornings these days because I am gone before sunrise. See, we sit down here in the shadows of the bowl, and we know that it is day because the sky has brightened up above, but then the sun slants down and hits the tops of the trees with a golden shimmer that moves down the trunks. There comes a point when the sun just spills down the hillsides like liquid gold.
5. Both. And. I like those words.
6. (Because sometimes you need more than five.) It’s a long way away, but I am planning my self-care moment, anticipating my Time of Silence. The thought of my own retreat fills me with energy.
I don’t fish in the actual sense, but I have been thinking about poetry and fishing for the last few days, and this morning I read something about how poetry is both art and craft, both inspiration and work. Sometimes, it’s like the fish are just jumping out of the water, waiting for me to hold out my net and catch them. I love it when that happens. Sometimes I have to have two nets available to be catching them all as they rain past. It’s important not to get too attached to every fish I catch in this manner. Some are real stinkers, but occasionally I can catch a nice rainbow trout this way.
But more often than not, I just have to show up at the river, day after day, with my fishing rod, and sit there in the hot sun or under a shady tree, and wait and wait and wait. Lots of times, I’ll hook an old boot or funny piece of wood. Most of these things I’ll toss back, but some of them I can use. It’s particularly rewarding to catch a beautiful fish this way–the wait and the work of it makes it especially satisfying.
When I first started writing poetry as a teenager, I didn’t have time for revising or perfecting. I ended up throwing away most of that stuff when I reached my twenties. Then I got into a phase where I didn’t believe anything was truly good until it had been worked over and wrangled repeatedly. I sucked the life out of many a good poem that way.
I think sometimes really good poems do just drop out of the sky with little need for change. Most of the poems I write need a little more tweaking, though. During those times when they’re just jumping out of the lake, I need to just write it down like dictation without thinking about whether this is the perfect word, or whether the sounds work together or the rhythm is compelling. Then, when the rush and whoosh is done, I can go back and see what I have, and organize it into a more complete form.
The other night, half a poem jumped out at me that way. Had I not been on my way to an appointment, perhaps it would be complete, but now that I’ve lost the moment, I need to go back and sit by the river with this one, wait for inspiration to strike on the next line.
Gratitude List: 1. Milkweed everywhere
2. Quiet mornings
3. Super moon, though it does cause some sleeping difficulty
4. How inspiration strikes