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
Last Sunday morning, two rabbits hopped companionably from northeast to southwest, and someone else trotted sort of purposefully from north to south. Probably this happened at significantly different times. Cat or fox seems to have been unaware of its potential prey-folk going the other direction.
This morning, a week later, most of the snow is gone. The sun is bright in the blue sky, and a murder has just passed through the hollow, a massive flock of crows, barking and yapping, making the very air tingle with their passing. I stood in the yard and watched them. I could swear one of them vocalized “Hello” from the lower limbs of the dying chestnut. In four or five of the trees in the lower part of the hollow, sentries had placed themselves, repeating five or six short quick yaps in a row, in succession: walnut tree sentry, then maple tree sentry, then locust tree, and so on. Changes are on the wing. Fly brightly, Wildfolk.
Gratitude List: 1. Thoughtful conversations with young people on topics of social media and race and personal accountability. 2. My school’s Lunar New Year celebrations. 3. Hundreds of crows flying through the hollow. 4. This sore throat doesn’t seem to be more than a little part of a cold (knock on wood). When I take a cough drop or drink tea, it feels so much better. 5. All the people working for a better world.
May we walk in Beauty!
“Whether through prayer, ritual, poetry, or song, gratitude solidifies our relationship with the living mystery. It rejoins us to the intangible wholeness from which we feel disconnected. As we remember ourselves to the holy in nature, we are forging our own belonging.” —Toko-pa Turner
“If you want to do the work of God, pay attention to people. Notice them. . .especially the people nobody else notices.” —John Ortberg
“There is no reality but Oneness. Open into that.” —Bahauddin
“Take a deep breath. Find the place inside you that remembers how truth feels; remember that there are kinds of anger that are more effective than blind outrage.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider (to remind myself)
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Remember: truth and justice ultimately always win.
“The goal of any true resistance is to affect outcomes, not just to vent. And the only way to affect outcomes and thrive in our lives, is to find the eye in the hurricane, and act from that place of inner strength.” —Arianna Huffington
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” —All of us, now, continuing to take the words away from that senator
One thing I love about being part of The Academy (I like the pompous sound of that, more than “school system”) is that twice a year I get a fresh start. No matter how badly I feel about myself at the end of a semester, there’s always a fresh, uncharted page coming up, and I can write myself onto that page as solidly and competently as I possible. There’s a hopefulness, a sense of lightness and release. Maybe I can do this, after all. After the slog at the end of the semester, suddenly, there’s a burning fire of creative juices, and a little chorus of inner voices, saying, “You can do this thing!”
Some semesters are harder than others, and this past semester got caught up in the grind of my slip into the year’s shadow. It was harder this year than it has been for a long time. So there’s a soberness to the creative fires that are sparking for the new page before me. And I still have all that work to finish up from last semester. Still, I love the bright shine of that empty page ahead, stretching out before me like the fields of snow I woke up to this morning.
Gratitude List: 1. The beautiful singers at my school. They’re so brave, these young people who get up on stage to perform for their whole school. I am grateful for my colleagues in the music department who offer our kids such a powerful music education. I have tried not to push my own child into the music classes–I want him to be free to take whatever he wants, to explore all his interests–so I am really delighted that he is taking chorus and two different bands this semester. 2. This week’s birds: kestrel hovering, vultures everywhere (as usual), two bald eagles, blue heron, owls calling in the bosque, and crows and geese winging across the sunrise skies. My soul is stirring, too. 3. Tabula Rasa. The fresh page. 4. Snow. 5. The magic of air filling lungs. I listened to a Shakespeare scholar talk this week about how a line of iambic pentameter is just the right number of beats to fill the human lungs. I might have to start reading Shakespeare sonnets to wake up in the mornings.
May we walk in Beauty on the Fresh Page of Today.
“This is the season of owl, of winds that howl through the hollow, the season of the sharp bark of the fox, voicing longing in the bosque.
This is the season of bitter, of fierce flakes feathering cheeks and hands, the season of crystal, crisp and cutting, of beauty that will slice you open.
This is the season of rising, thin and pale, into the dawn air, but also of burrowing, huddling deep into the layers that hold you.
Walk the thin line of today with care, one foot precisely placed, the other. . .
Perhaps you will notice, when you raise your eyes for a moment, how the line curves out ahead of you, bringing you always back home.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider (1/13/16)
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” —Robert Frost
“I am always doing what I cannot do yet
in order to learn how to do it.” —Vincent van Gogh
“Have you been to jail for justice? Then you’re a friend of mine.” —Anne Feeney
“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.” —Naomi Shulman
“The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” —Maya Angelou
“Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life.” —Louise Erdrich (via Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog)
“Love the earth and sun and animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others…
Re-examine all you have been told
at school or church or in any book;
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
“In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even within our own lives.
“The unconscious wants truth, as the body does. The complexity and fecundity of dreams come from the complexity and fecundity of the unconscious struggling to fulfill that desire.” —Adrienne Rich
1. An extra day at home. Time to get more grading completed. Time with the kids. Time out of time.
2. The elegance of blackbirds. Those grackles with their white eyes, silhouetted on snow.
3. Yesterday morning’s moon. I forgot to talk about it yesterday, so I will remember it today, how it was caught in the branches of the walnut tree, how–above the round bales of straw on Picking Rd.–it was itself a round bale in the sky, how later it was alone, a single eye above us.
4. Snow. This was a lovely storm, and we didn’t even lose power.
5. The chicken-dance of fox sparrows.
snow, then warm breezes
I’m tired of waiting for March
to make up its mind
Gratitude List: 1. Cedar waxwings in a tree by the old haunted farm
2. Corn stubble field full of grackles
3. Horses playing in the snow
4. The way the morning sun draws lines across the fields and hollows with the trees
5. Another fine music chapel this morning. LMH students are incredibly gifted, from the haunting version of “Scarborough Fair” in Simon and Garfunkel mode to a heavy metal guitar solo that set the stage on fire (not literally) and everything in between. Brilliant.
Some of the day’s delights. Gratitude List: 1. Sun on snow. Shine.
2. A snow day.
3. Baking cookies
4. Making pizza
5. Migrators: a mixed flock of boat-tailed grackles and red-winged blackbirds, and a few cowbirds came whooshing through the hollow.
Gratitude List: 1. Oh wow. I am going to be grateful tonight for Mitch McConnell. Not for what he did, mind you, but for those most excellent words about Elizabeth Warren: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Someone said it’s the whole history of women’s progress summed up in eleven words. Brilliant.
2. The persistence of Elizabeth. And Coretta. And Rosa. And Sojourner. And Harriet. And Kamala. And Michelle. And Vandana. And Rachel. And Jane. And Anonymous. And You. You’ve been warned, given the explanation. Yet nevertheless, you persist. Brilliant. Thank you.
3. The persistence of an amazing and growing group of students at school who continue to lead us all toward a deeper understanding of inequality and equality, of justice and injustice, of race and wealth and power. I know at a deep level that teachers are in schools not just to teach, but to learn. These young folks keep proving that. They’re brilliant.
4. Venus. Can’t really see her tonight with the storm moving in, but she’s been so incredibly shiny this month. She’s brilliant.
5. The hope of a snow day tomorrow. I am like a little kid. I know it might not pan out, but it’s so exciting to anticipate, especially with scholars here in the household who are also excited about the possibility of at least a delay. every winter deserves at least one, right? This one isn’t brilliant, just sweet.
Never fight a cloud.
Never grasp the wind
in your fists. Wind is
meant to be ridden
like a rough colt.
Give yourself to it
as you give yourself
to the salt waves.
Let it buffet you,
twist and batter you.
Rise. Breathe deeply.
Learn the pathways
of currents and drafts.
(First line found on an online “poetry generator.” This is a very drafty draft, but I do want to write something about riding the wind, so I will let it be a place-holder.)
Gratitude List: 1. Watching a high school crew create a dramatic performance. The students at my school and their directors did an amazing job putting together “The Sound of Music” last night.
2. Sleep. This is a placeholder. I am running on very little sleep at the moment, and will likely run a little low for the next couple of nights. But I am grateful for sleep, for the little I can get now, and for the good rest I will get in a few days.
3. That lovely, lovely snow. Simple frosting.
4. The sense of taste. Isn’t flavor a marvelous thing?
5. Weaving the threads together. People. Meanings. Ideas.
(I’m not sure whether this is quite finished, or whether it says exactly what I want it to say. But this is my writing space, whether a piece is finished or in process, and this is where I leave this one this morning.)
Sometimes the body forgets
how desire is holy,
how the craving, the longing–
for a place that recedes
into the mists of memory,
or the comfort of a restful bed,
for touch, for the answer
to the body’s sweet secret yearnings,
for the way the lungs passionately
embrace the air that enters–
all is echo of the larger ache,
the primal urge for re-union
with the Source of all,
Godself urging us inward
to the primal dance
like the dance
at the center of the atom,
whirling particles held
within each other’s orbit.
Gratitude List: 1. The assembly that celebrated Lunar New Year on Monday. Dragons, dancers and tai kwon do demonstrations. I would like to learn to feel that sort of strength and focus in my own body.
2. Two-hour delay. The resultant daily schedule is a little frenzied for me, but I am happy for the extra time here this morning.
3. Good fair-trade coffee
4. All that draws me onward and inward
5. Following through with the intentions