For the Good of Everyone

My poetry collaborator dreams up the next line.

The grumbling is getting louder. The anxiety is rising. People are starting to toss the words “rights” and “freedom” around. People are afraid that this is all power-plays by the leadership to cow us, subject us, hold us in our places. And why shouldn’t they be afraid? When have we ever known the (mostly) rich (mostly) white (mostly) male ruling class to work on behalf of the people, to remember their sweetly quaint little title of “public servant”? Who should we trust?

The doctors. And scientists. We can, hopefully, trust the scientists and the physicians. And the story. Trust the story. Watch how it has played out across the globe. Remember Italy. Remember China.

It’s very likely that some of the governors are working out of self-interest and electability, that some are too cautious and timid, that others are hungrily consolidating power in a time when people are vulnerable. So I will trust the leaders who seem to be trusting the doctors and the scientists and the story. It hasn’t been difficult to find an example of a leaders who isn’t trusting the science, who is inexorably manipulating the narrative to feed his own ego and his own power. And if you want to start talking about freedom and rights, let’s begin with the ways in which he has been harming the freedom and the rights of the common people since the day he took office. I’m going to cast my lot in with the governors on this one.

This doesn’t have to be an American frontier epic contest between your fear and your freedom. That’s an old and worn-out trope, and it’s a false dichotomy, a fairy tale told to us by end-stage capitalism. The governors are not Big Bart riding into town with all guns blazing, ordering the women and children to cower in their homes. In this story, we make the choice to stay home, to wait, to isolate, in order to protect the vulnerable ones among us, in order to protect our health care workers.

As far as I know, my parents and my immuno-compromised beloveds are all safe. But if we resume business as usual too soon, they may all be in danger, and those you love, too. It’s not about whether or not you or I personally fear death. It’s about whether we have the deep communal compassion to do something that protects the most vulnerable among us. Remember, this is the Exile for the Good of the Realm.


Gratitude List:
1. The Iron Lady Trail. My Project Manager says I shouldn’t call it that, that it’s still unnamed, but he initially called it the Iron Lady, and so I’m calling it that for now. Josiah is marking and clearing a series of deer trails in the woods above the pond. He calls himself the Project Manager, and her has enlisted his progenitors to assist with the cutting of poison ivy and brambles. Yesterday after our schoolwork, we cleared a side trail that links the Iron Lady (I mean Unnamed) Trail to a second entrance to the fields. This one emerges from the woods beneath a curving limb of a cherry tree. For too long, the poison ivy has kept us out of the woods. We are going to try to keep the trails maintained so we can have some passages through the woods.
2. The passion with which my kids follow their interests. It can be tiring to listen to hours of discourse on the minute differences between the Tesla models, or how to build a very detailed something-or-other in Minecraft, or the many reasons why a particularly obscure piece of technology is either illegal or shady or brilliant. Still, I love that they can be passionate about things that have near-zero interest for me.
3. Homemade oatmeal protein bars. I don’t know why I got away from making them. And of course, I have no recipe, so I have to go back and recreate it. The ones I made last night are too crumbly. But they taste good!
4. The veils of green appearing through the woods.
5. I am loving the poetry-writing process right now. It’s very much like the energy of April 2012 (I think that was the year), when I felt something click and sizzle. This is perhaps less giddy, more grounded, but it tingles. I’m especially grateful for my poet-community right now.

Take care of each other. Walk in Beauty!


The Soul, it sees by synesthesia
Tasting light caressed by song
A touch is like a descant fire
resonant and strong.
—Craig Sottolano


“I’m not as cooperative as you might want a woman to be.” —Carrie Fisher


“The unconscious wants truth. It ceases to speak to those who want something else more than truth.” —Adrienne Rich


And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
-—Raymond Carver’s Late Fragment, inscribed on his tombstone


Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation.

The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last.

All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
—David Whyte


“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
―Mother Teresa


“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
―Linda Hogan


“This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.”
―Leonard Bernstein

Turning Toward Spring

A Random Catalog of Thoughts During Exile:
1. The rhythm of my days is much gentler and more self-paced, but it’s not really less busy. The work is still there, and perhaps there’s even more work. Instead of relying on a well-sketched idea and my own charisma to carry a class, I have to communicate my lesson plans extremely carefully and clearly for my students. I love this, too, but it’s a lot of determined work.
2. There are different kinds of tired. The tired feeling after one of those days of charismatic engagement with students is different from the tiredness of spending most of the day attached to my computer, communicating with people through a screen.
3. I miss my students. I didn’t think that would happen so soon, but I think the worry about everything has me thinking more about them, too, wondering how they are, missing the daily jokes in second period AP Comp, the earnestness of first period, the wild creativity, the sleepy good humor of others. Yesterday, I had Office Hours via Google Meet for my AP Comp classes, and I loved checking in with those who showed up. I don’t know how long this will go, but I am going to start having one or two periods of time every school day in which I have Office Hours, and anyone may stop in to talk.
4. I think I am doing pretty well at handling the anxiety, at being Rumi’s “Guest House,” and welcoming in all the challenging feelings. But I think I have let my anxiety lodge in my lower back. I rarely have back pain for more than a few hours. This week, it’s been a lot more prolonged. It may be partly the longer walks up hill and down, and the increased time sitting at a computer, but if I am honest, I think it’s also connected to the anxiety. Yoga has been incredibly helpful.
5. One of those goldfinches has a white forehead. I wonder if it’s a mutation, or just a bit of molting weirdness?
6. Here in the eastern US, where I live, Spring will arrive today, just before the turning of the day into tomorrow: 11:49. For the past six years, I have not had the chance to observe the shift into spring so closely. Happy Equinox, Friends!
7. That cardinal out in the grey wet morning is shining out like a glowing coal.
8. I need to work even harder to establish daily rhythms. I am a work-on-it-until-it’s-done person. I don’t take enough breaks. I need to work on chunking my activities a little more intentionally.
9. There needs to be more baking in this house during the Exile.
10. One son has a Flexible Instructional Day Plan. If I didn’t interrupt him occasionally, he would work from the moment he gets up (late morning) until midnight, with a few breaks to play Minecraft. This kid was built for cyber-schooling. I don’t think his teachers are assigning him too much work. I think he just likes to go down his own rabbit trails. Now I need to make sure he is keeping up with the reading and writing, too.
11. The other son has no FID plan. He re-arranges his room. He plays online games. He asks me to play games with him. He rejects all my suggestions for projects and activities. “I might do that later.” I haven’t been able to help him out much because I have been focused on my own school work. Tomorrow is a day off, so I will spend some time helping him to develop a plan.
12. I love that some people are calling these Jammy Days and living in their pajamas. On the other hand, I find that dressing in the morning gives me a certain energy and wakefulness. This is not true for everyone, of course, but I don’t feel fully ready for the day until I am dressed.


Gratitude List:
1. Cardinal shining through the rain. Birdlife at the feeder.
2. Establishing new rhythms. The first few days were hard. Keep your head down and slog through. Make it work. Now, I am seeing my way to establishing the home rhythm.
3. Baking. Yesterday it was scones. Today it might be scones again: I have to practice, don’t I?
4. Online connections. I give myself limits and parameters to social media use during the day, and I will be creating even more careful structure in the future. Still, outside connections are keeping me sane and grounded.
5. The way crises open up spaces for new paradigms. How Mutual Aid is rising as an important social construct. I love people.

May we walk in Beauty!


“Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It’s a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle.” —Martha Graham


“What in your life is calling you,
When all the noise is silenced,
The meetings adjourned. . .
The lists laid aside,
And the Wild Iris blooms
By itself
In the dark forest. . .
What still pulls on your soul?”
—Rumi


“For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love
And to both, bee and flower,
the giving and the receiving is a need and an ecstasy.” —Khalil Gibran


“Find the sweetness in your own heart,
then you may find the sweetness in every heart.”
—Rumi


“There is in Celtic mythology the notion of ‘thin places’ in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. To seek such places is the vocation of the wise and the good—and for those that find them, the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. Mountains and rivers are particularly favored as thin places marking invariably as they do, the horizontal and perpendicular frontiers. But perhaps the ultimate of these thin places in the human condition are the experiences people are likely to have as they encounter suffering, joy, and mystery.” —Peter Gomes


“You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.” —Eliezer Yudkowsky


“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” —Dr. Seuss


March
by James Wright

A bear under the snow
Turns over to yawn.
It’s been a long, hard rest.
Once, as she lay asleep, her cubs fell
Out of her hair,
And she did not know them.
It’s hard to breathe
In a tight grave:
So she roars,
And the roof breaks.
Dark rivers and leaves
Pour down.
When the wind opens its doors
In its own good time,
The cubs follow that relaxed and beautiful woman
Outside to the unfamiliar cities
Of moss.


Spring Follows Winter Once More
by Tom Hennen

Lying here in the tall grass
Where it’s so soft
Is this what it is to go home?
Into the earth
Of worms and black smells
With a larch tree gathering sunlight
In the spring afternoon
And the gates of Paradise open just enough
To let out
A flock of geese.

Deliberate Exile

The large fat pod is Kentucky Coffee Tree. The round seeds came from that. The long twisty one came from a Catalpa, and the short one is a Black Locust pod.

I’m not good at unscheduled time. I fritter. I diddle. I poke. I dawdle. While these are great life skills when it comes to centering down and relaxing, they can lead to ennui and a sense of time wasted. I will make sure that I preserve some serious dawdle time in the coming weeks, but I do need a little structure for myself.

1. The school requirements will help. During school hours, I need to be checking my emails and learning management system every hour or so (probably more frequently), so this will keep me focused. During that time, I am going to try to get as much of my backlog of grading completed as I can during these early days.
2. I want to work on some creative project every day. I have a prayer shawl I am knitting. I will make some crocheted hearts. I have some sewing to do. I want to bake bread. I will start to paint again.
3. I will write regularly.
4. I am going to walk more every day, though I might take a bit of a break today to give my aching back a rest. More yoga, too.
5. I commit to not scarfing junk food. My response to anxiety (to basically anything, actually) is to eat more. I want to nourish my body, with healthy food.
6. I want to keep limits to social media time. I actually think I (and maybe you) need social media connections more than ever right now and I want to be deliberate about these connections, just not lazily scrolling.
7. I am going to make a point of reaching out more, making email connections I’ve let lapse, make little videos for my mother-in-law, who is in a personal care building that has people confined to their rooms.
8. Jon is still going to work for the foreseeable future, though that could change. I think he’s going to try to stop and get supplies to contribute to a brown bag lunch program that a Lancaster City church is setting up for children who are home from school. I’m trying to think about ways that we can help even while we’re in Exile for the Good of the Realm.

During the plague quarantines, Shakespeare wrote King Lear, and when Cambridge University closed because of the plague, Newton had his encounter with the apple tree. He called the quarantine hiatus his “year of wonders.” Shall we create and discover wonders of our own? What are your plans?


Gratitude List:
1. Nettle is coming up! I tasted some of the new baby leaves yesterday while Josiah and I were throwing a ball in the yard.
2. The bees are not in exile. They keep doing their work.
3. Red-tailed hawks flying above the holler.
4. In the past two days, I have found several beanpods from the Kentucky Coffee Tree up the hill. I love these beans. They’re satisfying to hold. I think I am going to plant a couple of them.
5. I recognize my fear and anxiety, and yours, too. I recognize that many people are in dire straits at the moment, and this is painful. We are also making the most of this time-out-of-time here in the holler. May you, too, find some rest and some time for reflection.

May we walk in Beauty!

During the Time of the Exile for the Good of the Realm

Yesterday’s walk: The green hill to the right of the photo is the end of the currently-unused landing strip for our former neighbors’ ultra-light. Just to the left of that, in the break between the trees, is the path onto Goldfinch Farm, down into the holler to home. The green path ahead of me (to the left) winds through the neighbor’s ridge-top fields to their farm. I like to walk partway down those fields and back.

I suppose that technically our self-isolation begins today. No church tomorrow. No school for two weeks. Someone whose handle is @Sarkor posted a lovely social media thing yesterday, encouraging people to think of it not as “self-isolation” but as “Exile for the Good of the Realm.” I am taking that on with gusto, while also keeping an awareness that for many people this is an extremely difficult time.

Now is the time to keep our eyes on our neighbors, to check in with working people whose children must stay home, to check in with elders who will be even more isolated. Such care we must take in these days, such deliberation. We wash our hands and we meditate on hope and on goodness. We check in with those for whom this exile is costly, and we wash our hands again.

My up-the-road neighbor works in healthcare. Maybe I will wash my hands and bake her some break this week and leave it at her door. What about our neighbors whose livelihoods depend on People Showing Up? I was glad to hear one of the speakers in the PA governor’s address yesterday talk about buying gift cards from local small businesses to use when we’re back out in society. Also, we need to eat. We will wash our hands and get as much of our needs from Flinchbaugh’s and Sue’s, the local farmer’s market and small grocery, in the coming days, and to Jillybeans Sweet Shop, a marvelous little bakery in Wrightsville. And then we will wash our hands. I might wash my hands and go get a coffee at The Cycle Works’ coffee shop. I’ll maintain exile and precautions as much as possible, while doing my best to support those around me who depend on People Showing Up.

Also, let’s use this time to make our social media spaces places where people can feel connected and involved, places where we can help each other through our isolation and distance. Let’s share photos and poetry and stories. Let’s manage our anxiety so that we can express our worries without Feeding the Fears. That’s easier for me to say this morning than last night, when I was comparing my feelings of direness to the way I felt on 9/11. That’s a little how it felt: out-of-body unsettled. Let’s keep connecting to the deeper rivers of joy and satisfaction and memory and gratitude that carry us through difficult times, and let’s help each other find those rivers.

And here, on the farm, I will relish the introverted time, the time with the boys, the burgeoning spring, the cat cuddles, the sunrise and the birds calling. As someone who gets wobbly and rudderless without a schedule, the promise of daily school tasks in this work-at-home environment is a welcome diversion. Last night, we saw a daily schedule someone had made for student-people during the Exile. My younger son immediately constructed his own. I am going to make my own, looser, schedule, to include several hours of focused academic work, time exercising and being outside, time for art and making things, tidying time, limits for myself on screen time (while also giving myself a bigger breathing space for blogging/writing).

If you, too, are in Exile for the Good of the Realm, I wish you peace, joyful contemplation, productive work, and moments of satisfying connection with others through computer or phone. Let’s look out for each other. If it gets to be too much, reach out to someone. (If we’re not friends on Facebook, you can look me up there, and check in–I’ll give you a virtual high five and we can help each other to breathe through this.)


Gratitude List:
1. GREEN! The chickweed is up and vibrantly glowing with green life force. The highway medians and fields are shining with verdancy.
2. Blue: The speedwell is up, and parts of the yard are carpeted in blue. And the sky is the shade of a robin’s egg.
3. Coming to Terms. I acknowledge my anxiety. It sits there in the room like a large bear waiting to be acknowledged. (Welcome, Friend. Let’s get to know each other while we are here together in Exile.) If I ignore it, my imagination makes it so much bigger and scarier, but if we sit and have coffee together, we can figure each other out a little bit. This is a time to practice living with that particular friend and learning how to recognize her.
4. While I recognize that this time is really challenging for many people, the truth of the matter is that two weeks of being at home on the farm with the kids and the cats while having structured work to do each day is close to ideal for me. I am grateful.
5. Puzzles. Last weekend after we had brunch at Cafe 301 to celebrate Jon’s birthday, we went down the street to the Re-Uzit shop, where Jon bought several little puzzles. We’ll enjoy putting them together over the next couple of weeks.

May we walk in Beauty! Be safe. Be well. Keep connected.