She Would Have Been a Good Woman

In her story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor brings a family face-to-face with a serial killer called the Misfit, who, along with his minions, kills the family, one by one. It’s a stark and horrifying story, not only of the cold-blooded murders, but of the character of the matriarch of the family, a grandmother who believes in her goodness, her self-satisfied sense of privilege. She is blind to her bias, and willfully committed to her ideas of caste and race and privilege. At the very end, just before the Misfit kills her, she shows the merest hint of self-understanding, the briefest light of awakening to the truth. Standing over her dead body the Misfit proclaims: “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

Please understand that I am not advocating violence here in these violent times, but I kept hearing the Misfit in my head these past few days, beginning with watching Lindsey Graham speak with such passionate fervor in the dark hours between Wednesday and Thursday. Others, too, spoke with eloquence and zeal about how the terror of the preceding hours made them take a long look at how denying the fairly-cast electoral votes delegitimized the process and led to the type of unrest that caused the terror attack on their own building.

And yet, here we are, three days later, and they pull back, they equivocate. They condemn the acts of violence and the destruction, but they continue to press the false narratives that got us to this point in the first place. It now appears that the Vice President’s life was probably truly in danger, as many of us suspected, that among the hooligans and yahoos was a very organized group of would-be assassins intent on turning a protest into an insurrection (which they achieved) and an insurrection into an assassination and a bloody coup. And yet the Vice President remains silent. He dithers and equivocates as he has always done.

On Wednesday afternoon, Congress met the Misfit, and for a few brief hours, in the shock of terror, some of them woke up to the horror that lay beyond the web of lies they’ve been weaving. A glimmer of light shone through on Epiphany. But they seem to be settling back into silent complacency that only furthers the lies of the powerful who seek to loot and plunder our democracy as surely as the insurrectionists looted its halls and offices on Wednesday.

The landscape is littered with lies,
seeded with falsehoods like landmines,
like bombs hidden in the halls of justice.
The fabric of reality is stained,
torn and twisted, threads cut and tangled.

It’s nothing new, this rhetoric of insurrection.
For years now, they’ve been spreading it on,
lie by lie, suggestion by suggestion,
layer by seditious layer, whipping the masses
into a frenzy of rage and disenfranchisement.

Now is the time for clear-headed cleaning,
gathering threads of Truth where we find them,
patching and weaving, healing the fabric,
stitching and mending, finding our way
to the source of the lies and destruction.

Long before terror and chaos pillaged the building,
the lies were laid to pillage the truth, to bend
the will of the gullible and power-hungry masses
to do the silent bidding of the suited pirates
who have laid the groundwork of sedition.

Calling for calm and understanding only veils the carnage,
drawing another layer of lies to cover the wreck.
Now is the time for the stark strands of truth
to stand out and carry the narrative
back from the brink of destruction.


Gratitude:
Today I am grateful for truth, for narratives that center stories of people who have been cut from the narratives told by the powerful to skew the truth to their own agenda. I am grateful for the weavers and menders and spinners who pick up the torn and tangled threads and get to work to repair the tapestry of our story, holding the lie-mongers to account, and weaving in the threads of truth.


“A man is either free, or he is not. There cannot be an apprenticeship for freedom.” —Amiri Baraka


“Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” ―bell hooks, killing rage: Ending Racism


“Consider whether great changes have not happened deep inside your being in times when you were sad. The only sadnesses that are unhealthy and dangerous are those we carry around in public in order to drown them out. Like illnesses that are treated superficially, they only recede for a while and then break out more severely. Untreated they gather strength inside us and become the rejected, lost, and unlived life that we may die of. If only we could see a little farther than our knowledge reaches and a little beyond the borders of our intuition, we might perhaps bear our sorrows more trustingly than we do our joys. For they are the moments when something new enters us, something unknown. Our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, they take a step back, a stillness arises, and the new thing, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.” —Rainer Maria Rilke


“After silence,
that which comes nearest to
expressing the inexpressible,
is music.” —Aldous Huxley


“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
—Shel Silverstein

“The Dwarfs Are for the Dwarfs”

Re-reading Lewis’s Narnia series is a struggle for me today. There are thealogical implications and structures that make me cringe, and racist and xenophobic stereotypes that offend me deeply. Still, often when I am trying to sift meaning out of events and experience, Lewis’s analogies appear into my consciousness to help me make narrative sense of what seems to be senseless. I know I have used this analogy before, have written about the bone-headed refusal of the dwarfs in The Last Battle to See the new reality, to engage with the truth of what was right in front of their faces, because they simply could not accept the truth that their eyes presented to them, but so often these days, I see similar intellectual acrobats who are unable to make sense of the reality they face because they cannot find their way out of the reality they have created for themselves.

In The Last Battle, at the moment of the very end of the world, everyone enters the door of the shack, expecting to see Aslan or his opposite (serious thealogical cringe). When the dwarfs enter, all they see is the dark interior of the shack. With the sounds of thousands rushing past them into eternity, the dwarfs sit down in a circle and talk amongst themselves about how deluded everyone else is, how everyone else has allowed their imaginations to run away with them. Griffle and his friends cannot see the reality that is in front of their faces because they have created a reality that they refuse to interrogate, and so they are stuck in the shack.

All along the way, the dwarfs, clannish and tribal, can only see the interests of themselves and those like them. Lewis gives them more range than he does his specifically evil characters. You’re allowed to like them, to wish–along with the children and Prince Tirian–that they would let themselves See beyond the structures of reality that they have created. But in the end, they’re imprisoned–as Aslan points out–by their own false reality.

I keep thinking of the dwarfs these days as I read bits and pieces of the rants from people who believe this virus is a hoax meant to line the pockets of Bill Gates and his cronies. They’ll give you web sites and articles and Youtube videos that explain how the virus is really not a thing, how it’s played up by Big Pharma because: insert merger here, only old and weak people are dying [really, I am still hearing this], Bill Gates, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. . . They write whole essays in the social media threads. They sound like college professors. Or the Unibomber. Or evangelists. They’re the mansplainer of mansplainers, although some of them are women. They will explain to you in great detail how none of this is happening, how some nebulous cabal has created this whole thing in order to rule the world [cue super-villain laughter]. They’re not going to be fooled again, they tell you.

“You must think we’re blooming soft in the head, that you must,” said Griffle. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute.”

(The Last Battle)

Instead of the shaggy golden face of Aslan, however, the image we behold in the space we have entered today is a life-threatening virus, and it’s overwhelming hospitals and taking lives at an increasingly rapid pace. And for some unfathomable reason the maskless masses continue to sit in their circle saying, “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs,” refusing to see the danger that is right in front of their faces. I too have little faith that the pharmaceutical companies have more interest in public health than in their own wealth and power. I don’t believe that corporations are capable of basic altruism. Still, the global goal at this point is to eradicate this virus to the greatest extent possible, and public health requires a vaccine, requires mitigation efforts. Please don’t sit in the circle with Griffle and Diggle and their friends, denying the reality of what is around you.


Gratitudes:
1. Belonging: This is something I wrote in previous years, but still rings true today–
“I don’t always feel like I belong, or like I understand the unwritten rules of certain groups, even though I think I am a pretty good observer of human nature. So when I am in a group whose rules accept everyone’s awkwardness and oddness unconditionally, which loves each one not in spite of our oddities, but because of them, then I feel safe. Then I feel belonging. I am especially grateful to those of you who know how to extend unconditional welcome in ways that make everyone believe they belong.”
2. Birdwatching at our little feeder station. There’s a whole family of red-bellied woodpeckers, along with the newly-arrived flock of juncos, titmouses (titmice?) and nuthatches, chickadees, goldfinches, sparrows, doves, downies, cardinals, a blue jay, and several fat squirrels.
3. How physically cleaning a space seems to create inner space. I need the creative jumble of clutter, but putting it neatly away also makes creative spaces.
4. My mother’s old Singer sewing machine. I have been putting it to great use lately, making what my friend Kris calls Frankendresses–I love that term.
5. This web of loving hearts. Thanks for being part of it all. Cast a line to someone today. Let’s make a glorious net, a new thing, a hopeful future.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


“Healing comes in waves and maybe today the wave hits the rocks. And that’s ok, that’s ok, darling. You are still healing, you are still healing.” —Ijeoma Umebinyuo


“No matter where we are, the ground between us will always be sacred ground.“ —Fr. Henri Nouwen


“The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly; light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding.” —Gretel Ehrlich


“‪The fact that these words and the jumble of lines that create their letters has no real, inherent meaning outside of a human context, yet they hum with life, is a wonderful reminder that what we imagine can easily become real and powerful simply because we decide it should be so.‬” —Jarod K. Anderson, The Cryptonaturalist


“Writing at the library. Surrounded by thousands of books, windows into other minds. Some of these writers are living. Some are not. Neatly ordered rectangles of concentrated human life and intellect. A book is certainly a kind of ghost and libraries are pleasantly haunted places.” —Jarod K. Anderson, The Cryptonaturalist


“The beauty of the world…has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” —Virginia Woolf


I know nothing, except what everyone knows —
If there when Grace dances, I should dance.
—W.H. Auden


“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic—the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
—Charles de Lint

Truth and Lies

Winsome Chaos: I pulled random words from my word pool tickets to label photos and objects.

Why are poetry and fiction so important in human cultures? What is it about the imaginative telling of a thing that thrills listeners of all ages, makes our minds sit up–criss-cross applesauce–and hang on the smallest word of the storyteller? Nonfiction and biography, the “true” story, is also compelling and engaging, but there is something about fiction, about the fantastic, the imaginative, the made-up, that sets fire to human imagination, across times and cultures.

Ursula Le Guin, in her profound introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, wrote of truth and lies in storytelling: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor.”

In his famous essay, “Of Truth,” Francis Bacon discusses how the human mind bends toward the lie, how earlier philosophers spoke of poetry’s vinum daemonum, wine of the devil, the lies that draw the reader down the delicious pathway of imagination.

In my own estimation, Madeleine L’Engle got most deeply at the heart of this in her discussion of the differences between truth and facts. “Truth,” she said, “is what is true, and it’s not necessarily factual. Truth and fact are not the same thing. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it goes through and beyond facts. This is something that it is very difficult for some people to understand.”

“Tell all the truth,” said Emily Dickinson, “but tell it slant.”

More steps in the creation of meaning: Finding the deep truth within the fictive or poetic “lie.” Seeking new and startlingly relevant meanings in the strange juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated facts and ideas. One of my students added the word “speaking” to her word pool. “Is it okay,” she asked, “if I put this word with a photo of a woman with a zipper across her mouth?” Yes, oh yes, please–that’s the point here. And in that little “lie”–the woman, unable to speak, labeled “speaking”–you may have told a deeper truth than any of us can express in straight talk.


Gratitude List:
1. People who let themselves cry. There’s a priestly quality to profound and honest tears in public gatherings. Suddenly everyone has just a little more permission to be human, too. Feelings are invited into the circle.
2. A day off.
3. The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., the way his words continue to echo their challenges today. Will we listen to the challenges as well as the inspirations?
4. The deep truths that make themselves available in poetry and fiction and art.
5. Red cardinals in the sere winter landscape.

May we walk in Beauty!

Leaping Spirits of Trees

Gratitude List:
1. Today is not yesterday. Yesterday I never quite came out of the fog. This morning I already feel crisper than I did at any point in the day yesterday, so hopefully that was just a blip. I feel ready for this one.
2. Homemade cookies. MCCL kids, for making those kits: Thank you!
3. People who are anchors. You know who you are. My life is so much better for your presence. Thank you. (Actually, maybe you don’t know you’ve anchored me. It might be the kind thing you said, or the story you told, or the little quote you posted on social media, or the way you talk about someone you love, or the way you genuinely look people in the eye when you talk to them, or the way you take a deep breath and stand up straight when you have something hard to do: I notice, and I am inspired and anchored just by being near you.)
4. Also, people who are speaking and living truth. Especially in times when so much truth is being so cynically bartered for power. Thank you.
5. For the trees, for the “leaping greenly spirits of trees” (even when you are no longer green, your spirits still leap greenly: holy, holy): Thank you.*

May we walk in Beauty!
*e. e. cummings reference

Sweater Weather

Gratitude List:
1. How dreams and half-dreams bring clarity.
2. A low-impact day today. Juniors and Seniors are busy. My other students will mostly write and read quietly.
3. People who speak the truth, who aren’t swayed by money and power, who stand between the powers and the vulnerable.
4. Sweater weather.
5. Sometimes people who are blissfully unaware of the wound you are wearing give you exactly the words necessary to make it bearable.

May we walk in Beauty!

In the Dreamtime, Day 4

This is a digitally enhanced fragment of the painting that was on the wall of the restaurant at yesterday’s 
Christmas dinner. I think it looks like the Susquehanna River Bridge.

I don’t know if anxiety dreams should count in the collection of images I gather for the coming year. Last night’s dreams were all about being unprepared, about having to wing it in front of school administrators and donors. Considering how helpful and supportive my school’s administrators are, it’s clear that these dreams are about my anxieties about myself rather than about my school. I suppose it’s important not to ignore the deep truth of these dreams–that I do not feel adequate to the task of teaching. This is not a revelation. It’s part of my every day reality. Whenever someone depends on me, I feel the weight of not performing, not mastering, not being perfectly suited to the task. No matter how much daytime work I do to convince myself that I am being sufficient to the tasks of my life, my dreams always tell me how much more work I have to do. Sigh.

In last night’s dreams, I actually did fairly well teaching a chapter from a book I had never read while administrators (they were clearly from my dream-school, not recognizably from my real life school) looked on. Then I gave a group of very sleepy donors a run-down of the work we do in our Advisory Groups. It actually woke them up and got them participating and laughing, even though I diverged into some topics I really knew nothing about. So maybe I will look at those dreams and remind myself: I am sufficient to the tasks I must accomplish. But today, at least, will be another day of stepping away from the necessary tasks I must complete in order to be sufficiently prepared to return to school next week.


Gratitude List:
1. My Christmas robe. It’s soft and toasty warm–the perfect thing to cope with winter.
2. Family. I know not to take these people in my life for granted. Family can be our greatest joy or our most intimate agony. If the latter is your story, I wish for you the discovery of healthy, joyful family that is formed by bonds not of blood, but of circumstance and friendship.
3. Time out of time
4. Darkness and light
5. Music of resistance

May we walk in Beauty!


Words for the first day of Kwanzaa:
Joyful Kwanzaa to my friends who are celebrating the first fruits: Today is Umoja, or Unity. Reflect on ways in which we can bring unity in divided situations in the coming year.


“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” —Mary Oliver


“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” ―Susan Sontag


“People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us.” —Wendell Berry


“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.” —Mary Oliver


“When you understand interconnectedness, it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying.”
—Robert A. F. Thurman


“It’s quiet now. So quiet that can almost hear other people’s dreams.” ―Gayle Forman


“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh

Discover

I wrote this poem this afternoon before I heard the news from Gaza.

I don’t know how to seek gratitude amidst the pain of this day, knowing that my government’s bombastic embassy move to Jerusalem precipitated the violence of the day. Or coincided, anyway. The photos of the US/Israeli celebration of the new embassy location were a kick in the gut.

May each peaceful gesture we make bring more peace into the world.

Tell the Truth


“What a life is ours!
Doesn’t anybody in the world
anymore want to get up in the
middle of the night and sing?” —Mary Oliver
*
“Tell the truth about your wound, and then you will get a truthful picture of the remedy to apply to it. Don’t pack what is easiest and most available into the emptiness. Hold out for the right medicine. You will recognize it because it makes your life stronger rather than weaker.” — Clarissa Pinkola Estes
*
“Tell all the truth but tell it slant —” —Emily Dickinson
*
As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
may your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills. When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance,
may your imagination continue to evoke horizons.
—John O‘Donohue
*
ENOUGH
by David Whyte

Enough.
These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.
*
“I always thought why didn’t somebody do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” —anonymous
*
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” —James Heller
*
“There comes . . . a longing never to travel again except on foot.”
—Wendell Berry


Gratitude List:
1. All the ponderables of yesterday: The Woman in Blue, Our Lady of Fatima, the tragedy of Emily Dickinson, the Elder Mother, Blue Hydrangea. . . I cant’s say quite how they are all woven together, but they fit into the day’s tapestry.
2. Creativity
3. The trolls might be out there in force, but the wise and compassionate voices are rising.
4. Crickets
5. Book sale! I am going to the Book Sale at Overlook after school today.

May we walk in Beauty!

Maybe You Are Magic

“You take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic.”
—Frida Kahlo
*
“I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth? … And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
—Audre Lorde
*
“The greatest influence you can have in any situation is to be the presence of love.” —Robert Holden
*
“I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” —Stephen Jay Gould
*
You Reading This, Be Ready —by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened 
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life––
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
*
“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us… . We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.” —Wendell Berry
*
Tony Hoagland’s The Word:

“Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds
of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder
or a safe spare tire?”


Gratitude List:
1. Cloud-shadows: I think that gazing at the undersides of clouds has given me a deeper sense than anything of the true color of indigo. Mostly I see grey, but in recent years, I sometimes see that deep indigo.
2. This little ginger bundle of purr on my lap
3. Getting a little relief from the ragweed sniffles
4. My children’s teachers
5. Stones for grounding, which is also to say: There are many ways to pray.

May we walk in Beauty!