A Tumble of Words and Ideas

Samuel S. Lewis State Park

After nearly a month of silence here, I find it difficult to pull out particular threads of thoughts to put down in a blog post. Or perhaps it’s more a function of the times we live in, existing as we do within so many layers of challenge and crisis and change. So today’s post will be more of a smorgasbord than usual.

I am at odds with myself. There’s a Cackler in me who is rubbing her hands with satisfaction at the way karma has finally alit upon powerful people who have minimized the danger of the coronavirus. At the same time, my internal Monk is saddened to contemplate anyone’s suffering, and wants to wish ill upon no being, no matter how brutal and selfish that being is.

Message to self: It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to experience a sense of relief when an out-of-control train that has already been responsible for the deaths of many is suddenly slowed and perhaps side-lined. I’m letting the Monk and the Cackler work together here, working to avoid feeling and expressing glee at this turn of events, but allowing myself to feel relief: This could signal a shift that could save lives in the end.

This is a moment for the type of complexity I have been attempting to integrate since I began working with the Bowl of the Heart several years ago: All of it goes in there together, painful and tender, vengeful and compassionate. We’re many-faceted creatures, we humans, and we have the capacity for myriad responses. While I want to always be appealing to my better nature, I cannot deny the Cackler her space. And I can learn from her. The quiet Monk in me was trying so hard to respond with light and wisdom that I almost missed the essential message of the Cackler–that it is okay to be relived that this bit of suffering being visited upon those who inhabit the White House may be a pathway toward mitigating the suffering of thousands.

A few days ago, I checked in with the faeries about a couple things I’ve lost. One was pretty urgent and timely. The other is a necklace I haven’t seen for over a year, a treasured piece I made myself from various shiny and dangly things I’d received from beloved friends.

Within a couple hours, I found the first, most urgent thing, but I still haven’t found the necklace, although I have been searching all the place that suddenly popped into my head.

But last night, I had a haunting, lingering dream. I kept waking up with images of the two beings in the dream, sometimes with clear recognition of their names, and then falling back to sleep, only to wake up again with their images in my brain. They were two elves, dressed in skinny suits like a 1950s boy band, with white shirts and black skinny ties. They were both dark-haired with piercing dark eyes, very Spock-like.

I woke up, feeling like they wanted to cut some sort of deal with me, like they were looking to draw up a contract. I thought if I could remember their names, I could outwit them, control them, but in the stories, magical names also sometimes backfire, and it’s perhaps best that I don’t quite remember. I do want my necklace back, but I’m not ready to sell my fate to a pair of pushy dream-beings. Still, it couldn’t help to make an offering. . . (I know, I know, no first-born children or anything like that).

I’ve started painting my nails. It’s strange, because I tend to feel like I am a little kid playing dress-up, or like I’m sort of wearing drag when I wear make-up or get my nails done. It’s like it’s territory that doesn’t really belong to me. I identify completely as she/her, and have never had any questions about my gender, but there are myriad ways to express femaleness, and the salon/nails/make-up way has not really been part of my way. I always feel like I’m in someone else’s territory when I do these things.

But I am loving wearing different colors on my nails. I change the color every weekend. A couple weeks ago, I just had to get green. I needed green nails. Today, I painted them RED! My fingernails are red. I needed flames on my fingers right now. Hmmm. I should see about getting some little flame decals. . .

I realized the other day that I almost never find feathers anymore. Perhaps I am not looking hard enough? Or maybe I don’t need them now. Or maybe it’s because we no longer have the glorious owl-perch of the poplar tree anymore.

The day after I began to ponder this, I found this woodpecker feather at the park:

This week two girls stopped outside my classroom to read my bulletin board during my prep period. When I went to say hello, they thanked me for my poster about how all people are valued in this classroom. They said they would like it to include something about how we live on stolen land. I love that they were so ready to add their own pieces, so open to ask for what they want, so intersectionally aware. We talked about how the statements on the poster are all stated in positive ways, and the stolen land piece doesn’t seem to quite fit that tone, but how that’s not quite a good answer even so. I do have a little poster in my room about the people who were first here on the land where we attend school, but I really want to add a line that will respond to their request, if it’s possible. (Or maybe I’ll move that poster out to my hallway bulletin board. One of the girls said she is going to make me a drawing of the hands of many different races gripping each other in a circle, to add put next to the sign.

I would love ideas about how to include an intersectional awareness of the truth of that statement–We are living on stolen land–in the grammatical and tonal context of this. Feel free to offer me your thoughts.

Some Random Gratitudes:
1. Red-breasted hawk on a snag down Schmuck Rd.
2. My wise and compassionate students.
3. The Wheel of the Year. All comes around again.
4. Smoothie for breakfast
5. The treehouse. I spent a couple hours up there yesterday, reading and drawing.

May we walk in Beauty!

“The ways creative work gets done are always unpredictable, demanding room to roam, refusing schedules and systems. They cannot be reduced to replicable formulas.
To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out.
Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” ―Rebecca Solnit, from: “Men Explain Things to Me”

“The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” —Flannery O’Connor

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” ―Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” ―Barry Lopez

“‘Remember on this one thing,’ said Badger. ‘The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.’” ―Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel

“Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.” —Maya Angelou

“With dreamwork, we are endlessly tenderising ourselves to subtletly. When we begin to know its dimensions, pain can no longer envelop us in an indistinct mass. It’s not that we are ridding ourselves of suffering, but rather learning its name, which is the prelude to befriending it.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa

by Mary Oliver
Poems arrive ready to begin.
Poets are only the transportation.

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree.” —W. S.Merwin

“Nature never repeats itself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.” —Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” —Kabir

Mirabai Starr said, “Poetry is a gateway into unitive consciousness. It knocks on the doors of the heart and the heart opens. Poets speak truth in a very naked way that bypasses the rational mind. Poetry evokes, rather than describes.”

Kathleen Norris writes, “Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that is their strength. . . . Writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to ‘know’ for us.”

“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estés

“Every seed contains the potential to save the world. Each seed can keep millions of people from starvation. Each seed is a mirror and guardian of the world’s future. Each seed is the ecology that can sustain the economy. This is why seeds are sacred…”
—His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Hawk and Heart and Hummingbird


Working with gratitude helps me to situate myself in time and place.

During these times of reflection, I am often hyper-aware of being here in this moment, right here, where I listen to the birdnews of the moment, the sounds of the day waking up, the thumps and bumbles of the smallfolk upstairs waking up.

This moment, where I look around to see the way the sun leans in or yawns behind grey haze.
This moment when I sit in expectation of the bright yellow falling leaf, the flash of birdwing across my window, the way sun sparkles on spiderweb.
This moment, in which yesterday’s movement is written in the aches and quirks of my muscles, the curve of my spine.

From the anchor of this moment, reflecting on the list takes me backward and elsewhere, to the color and shape of yesterday, to the shining white pebbles of moments past. I can pick them up and examine them, say, this one and I remember. I can watch how those pebbles are spun into golden strands sustained over time: The presence of a tiny impossible bird in this span of days. The season of the tang of tomato and the sweetness of basil. The long lazy days spent with the exploring feet and minds of my children.

The dailiness of the list also takes me forward into time. This has become my homework, the job I carry with me into each day. It is one of the anchoring ropes which I hold as I step into uncertain future, feeling my way in the grey mist as I go. Stepping forward with the search for gratitude on the agenda means I must go with an open heart, an open mind, searching not only for things, for items to check off my list, but for connections. It means walking into the future as into a puzzle, looking for five pieces of the coming day that will help me to shape the meaning of the picture that surrounds me.

I have been wondering lately at how this has become a habit, how I feel anxious and unmoored if I miss my daily list. For years, it was a thing I would do on occasion, as the mood hit, but in the past several months, it has become a deeper spiritual practice. I shift it from time to time, asking myself questions, or writing the list as a poem. Still, instead of becoming boring or tedious, it has become ever more a place where I can talk to myself, remind myself who I am, where I am, what I am doing here.

Gratitude List:
1. Getting into the “zone,” that headspace where you get so wrapped up in the work that you don’t notice time passing.
2. Situating myself in time and space.
3. Hummingbird. Please bear with me, but this lives with me as a constant thrill of electric delight in this season. Almost every time I walk outside my house these days, I see her. If she is not on her nest, I can wait and watch quietly, and I will hear her dzipping a zigzag through the air, or I’ll catch a flash of movement through the bright spaces between the leaves of the sycamore. Always. My heart is so full of hummingbird.
4. Hawks. The youngster who lives here in our hollow has begun to settle down and accept her emergence into independent adulthood. Her cries have become more purposeful, less demanding and sulky. She’s finding her way. At the same time, friends of mine on temporary sojourn in a hospital hours to the south of me have been watching a hawk from the hospital window. She has become the Guardian, the One-Who-Watches. In these days, when my heart is here in this place and also in that place, I find comfort in our taloned watchers, a sense of the thread that crosses distances. My heart is full of hawk.
5. The powerful truth of thread, of yarn. How ideas and love and dreams are spun like yarn, twisting people and thoughts together, expanding and lengthening through time and space, connecting, always connecting. How threads are woven and knitted together to make cloth, unifying, incorporating different people and ideas together, connecting, always connecting. How diversity of color and texture within a cloth is part of what makes it beautiful. The image that keeps returning to my mind these days from Madeline L’engle’s Wrinkle in Time, of the distance from one end of the thread to the other, but how a wrinkle brings the ends together–I think this applies to distant hearts as well as to tessering through space. When we tune our hearts to each other (an act which I call prayer), we create a wrinkle that brings us together, no matter what sort of distance in time or space or belief separates us.

May we walk, always, in Beauty.

Ask the Moon

Last night as I fell asleep
I asked the moon–
like a child begging
for a bedtime story–
to tell me a marvelous dream.
I asked for a big cat,
like a lion or a cheetah.
An oak tree, or any tall tree.
A stone of power.
And Lake Victoria.
Suddenly an owl appeared,
so I said, You come too.

I didn’t ask for much.

What I got was a job
as an Administrative Secretary
at a desk in the lobby
of a grand publishing company.
Papers and messages
lay strewn about,
and I knew nothing
about dealing with them.

I sat for a while,
shoved papers around
like Sisyphus pushing that rock.
Tried to plug in the lamps
to get a little more light.
Looked as busy as I could.

When I awoke,
I was snuggled up
with a child
now comforted and warm
after a nosebleed and winter chill.

Some nights I wake up
in a panic, worried
that they will freeze in the night.

Drifting off again, I found myself
in someone’s cottage,
the same child a dream child,
next to me in bed.
I looked outside to see the moon
and a giant shadow passed
across the yard toward
the back door.

My legs were dream-leaden.
I could not rise to rescue
the other child asleep
alone in his dream-room.
Did this go on for hours?

When dawn came,
I awoke between the two,
the flesh-and-blood boys,
the dream child now
forever unrescued.

Next time I ask for a dream,
perhaps I’ll call for a restless job
and a relentless shadow,
and wish secretly
for a leopard in a tree.


Prompt for Tuesday

I was planning to do a found poem for tomorrow, trying to figure out how to come up with five or six totally random phrases to weave into a poem, but this evening before supper, Joss started singing, “Once I was a snake.  Once I was a weasel.”  I have also been wanting to trying creating something with a mythic tone.  So.  Found poem.  Myth poem.  Join me?  I am sure Joss wouldn’t mind sharing his song with you, too.  Or find your own.  Listen to someone speaking tomorrow morning and pull a couple phrases at random.


Gratitude List:

1.  Windshield wiper fluid
2.  Sentinel hawks along the highway
3.  My dental hygienist, who cares so well for my teeth
4.  The prayers and blessings that children give
5.  Ellis, who cut a piece of red paper into the shape of a Y:  “This is a Y, for you, because you are so important to me.”


Gratitude List

1.  The college gang.  What a great bunch of people!  22 years later, they’re still an incredibly thoughtful and playful and whimsical and compassionate group of people to hang out with.
2.  Memory
3.  Ziggy Marley
4.  That feeling of intense relief when the headache is gone
5.  Red-tailed hawks