I’ve been thinking about my poetic process, looking through some of the neglected poems that I want to figure out how to publish, and realizing that quite a number of my poems are myth-making poems. I use poetry as a DIY Mything process, taking my own experiences and observations and transmuting them into myths. This thought is tangling with the threads of my current morning writing project of working with the Inanna story. Storytelling, writing, speaking–this whole language gig–is all about how we make meaning in the world. Art, too, as a communicative process, is about charging existence with meaning.
Gratitude List: 1. Meaning-making, DIY Myth-making, poetry, art, communication 2. Participating in a Literary Festival, listening, learning, absorbing 3. Good writing 4. How the sun shines in 5. Oak trees
May we walk in Beauty!
I’ve been thinking again about the process of poetry. In my AP Literature class recently, I have had the students choose a poetic form, no matter how lofty and traditional or edgy and nonsensical, to teach to the class. We’ve had some delightful lessons this week, learning the Magic 9 and the Nonet and the Rondeau and the Fib, among others. Yesterday, we found ourselves with a little extra time after the presentations, and we were ready to do our own thing, so we spent half the period creating our own poetic form! We developed our own rules for our own Lit Poetic Form. The process was delicious and intensely collaborative. At the end, we came up with this:
Lit Poem Two stanzas of seven lines each. It’s a word-count poem, with the following pattern: Stanza 1: 1, 3, 5, 7, 5, 3, 1 (It makes a diamond shape) Stanza 2: 7, 5, 3, 1, 3, 5, 7 (This one makes an hourglass form) When you put them together, they look somewhat like a lit candle. (Get it?) The rhyme scheme goes like this: Stanza 1: abcxcba (in which x is random and unrhymed) Stanza 2: cbaxabc (in which x is also random, and not necessarily rhymed with the first x)
This is how we make meaning. We spent twenty minutes collaboratively creating a world, complete with its order and purpose. Now we have to write the poems to prove its viability.
Gratitude List: 1. I am sinking so deeply into the story of Inanna as I write these mornings. 2. How stories of descent help me to live into the growing darkness of the season 3. How a walk can bring clarity 4. Anticipation, though today and tomorrow will end it: I am going to the Literary Festival at Millersville tonight and tomorrow. With the intensity of excitement this has brought me, I wonder why I have not done more festivals and conferences and workshops for writers. 5. The trees are still orange and golden.
I went to bed really late again last night, after a couple hours of writing. I was frustrated. I had just realized that the sweet and tender scene I had just written would completely through off the truth of another piece of the story that I am deeply attached to, so I have to rewrite a few pages, and make sure that one character is kept in the dark about her mother’s true identity.
Consequently, my dreams were fragmented and illusory. I cannot remember them. Perhaps I just slept well because of the late hour. So I have no dream images to add to my storehouse of images for the year.
I did do some meditation work yesterday, drawing upon three sets of images that have been in my mind. Pairs of images seemed to play with and inform each other. From this dance of images came three principles I will consider for the coming year:
* In crunchy and conflictual situations, instead of squashing my own feelings and needs or avoiding the stress of conflict, I will strive to be generous with myself and others while setting strong boundaries.
* In response to my weariness and exhaustion about picking up the Impossible Tasks (the looming work that gets bigger the more it gets avoided), I will create gentle life-giving personal rituals that ease me through the challenges and mark the little accomplishments along the way.
* For the sake of balancing my mental health, I will do something that I deeply love, which at this moment is writing. Deep down, I still long for a Writer’s Life, but I have a family to support, so I cannot simply leave my wonderful job to write. But my wonderful job ceases to be wonderful when it feels like it keeps me from doing what I love. If I am to maintain balance, I must make time to write. And it can no longer just be practice and place-holding, but seriously crafted Storymaking.
Gratitude List: 1. Messages 2. Sunshine 3. Homemade bread and soup 4. Following the trail of bread crumbs in a story 5. Twinkling lights and twinkling eyes
May we walk in Beauty!
Words for the Fourth Day of Kwanzaa: Today’s Kwanzaa Word is one of my favorite Swahili words: Ujamaa. Cooperative economics. How can we create local systems that develop economic justice for all? How can we share our finances in ways that build up the community?
“Don’t let the tamed ones tell you how to live.” —Jonny Ox
“The best way for us to cultivate fearlessness in our daughters and other young women is by example. If they see their mothers and other women in their lives going forward despite fear, they’ll know it is possible.” —Gloria Steinem
Mark Twain: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
“A night finally came when I woke up sweaty and angry and afraid I’d never go back to sleep again. All those stories were rising up in my throat. Voices were echoing in my neck, laughter behind my ears, and I was terribly, terribly afraid that I was finally as crazy as my kind was supposed to be. But the desire to live was desperate in my belly, and the stories I had hidden all those years were the blood and bone of it. To get it down, to tell it again, to make something—by God, just once to be real in the world, without lies or evasions or sweet-talking nonsense. It was a rough beginning—my own shout of life against death, of shape and substance against silence and confusion. It was most of all my deepest, abiding desire to live fleshed and strengthened on the page, a way to tell the truth as a kind of magic not cheapened or distorted by a need to please any damn body at all. Without it, I cannot imagine my own life. Without it, I have no way to tell you who I am.” —Dorothy Allison, from “Deciding to Live”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov:
“Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.”
Antonio Machado, Border of a Dream: Selected Poems:
“Traveler, there is no path.
The path is made by walking.
Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road
Only wakes in the sea.”
“Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!
Traveling with me you find what never tires.
The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
Allons! we must not stop here,
However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,
However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.”
“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15
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
Today I will be alone. My parents are taking the children for the day, and Jon is going to work, and I get to be just me by myself. There’s tidying to do, and grading, possible baking projects, and all sorts of other things to distract me, but today, I am mostly going to write. I am going to plan to get five or six solid hours of writing done. Maybe a nap. Maybe some reading, some quiet contemplating, some yoga.
Last night’s dreams included the one about the treehouse. This is a recurring setting in my dreams. You climb up to the tree house, and then there are two possibilities for how to get into the treehouse: You can squeeze through a claustrophobic little window (I only tried that option once or twice) or you can balance across the very slippery top. Last night, I scooted across the top backwards on my backside, and it was easy. Usually, crossing through or over the treehouse is the only way to get to one or two of the rooms in the hotel–and I am usually assigned to one of those rooms when I have this particular dream.
In last night’s dreams, I meet a group of friends on the porch of the hotel. One friend, whom I haven’t seen for a long time, has lost a dire amount of weight. He says that some signal coming from his television has turned the fillings in his teeth toxic. Shortly after telling me his story, he gets a surprised look on his face and comes across to sit next to me. Something emanating from me has reversed the process, he says. And he IS looking healthier suddenly.
In the last couple of days, I have done a lot of processing about the way I have become weighed down in the past month or so, wondering whether it’s a mild depression, a seasonal affective disorder, a little of both. . . I’ve been thinking about my style of working, how I approach the Impossible Tasks (or avoid them, rather). I think the ease with which I crossed the bridge-roof of the treehouse is a metaphor for the shift I am making, not just pushing right into the first tight hole and getting stuck, but looking up and outward at other possibilities, putting aside worry, and just crossing to where I need to go.
Gratitude List: 1. Solitude 2. Quiet 3. Sunshine 4. Cats 5. Words on a page
May we walk in Beauty!
Words for the Second Day of Kwanzaa:
Today’s word is Kujichagulia. Self determination.
(Even if you don’t know Swahili, it’s a fun word to roll around in your mouth. Try it. Emphasize the second and second to last syllables.)
“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other. This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” ―Carrie Fisher
“Be somebody that makes everybody feel like a somebody.” —Kid President
Someone appears to be watching in the tree shadows.
Gratitude List: 1. Rain. Oh yes, the rain. The scent of it. The coolness in the air. The way you can feel the plants sighing with relief.
2. Yesterday, in one visual moment: A crow in a dead tree, and a monarch flitting by, blue sky behind.
3. Chicory. Have I mentioned the chicory? A blue that heals.
4. Writing Day. Today I took John Terlazzo’s Flame in the Hand Writer’s Retreat. What an utter joy. My spirit is quieter. My resolve is firmer. I feel anchored. Chanting, meditating, listening, writing.
5. Looking through old college yearbooks with college friends. Oh my.
“There is so much in eternity that is trying to reach us, if only we can suspend our wranglings long enough to be touched.” —Toko-pa Turner
“I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea.” —D. H. Lawrence
“Water, the Hub of Life. Water is its mater and matrix, mother and medium. Water is the most extraordinary substance! Practically all its properties are anomalous, which enabled life to use it as building material for its machinery. Life is water dancing to the tune of solids.”
—Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1893 – 1986) Hungarian-American physiologist; Nobel laureate
“There is really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” —Arundhati Roy
“God is only ever where we stand with our neighbor in trouble and against injustice.” —Naomi Wolf
“Follow the waters,
lean in with the trees,
breathe the cool morning air,
walk through the swirling mists.”
It’s not the clearest photo or the best composition, but you get the idea. Mama is on a nest. Stay away, coyotes and foxes and raccoons. May she and her nest be safe.
Some quotations for your day:
“When you teach your daughter, explicitly or by passive rejection, that she must ignore her outrage, that she must be kind and accepting to the point of not defending herself or other people, that she must not rock the boat for any reason, you are not strengthening her prosocial sense; you are damaging it—and the first person she will stop protecting is herself.” —Martha Stout
“I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write… and you know it’s a funny thing about housecleaning… it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectabilty) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”
―Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
“In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.” ―Henri J.M. Nouwen
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
“Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.” ―Natalie Goldberg
“The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.”
―Rainer Maria Rilke
“That story you writin’ just might save the world. That poem you throwin’ down, could end wars.” ―York Poet and Shining Woman Christine Lincoln
saw me and said,
I showed up,
Wipe your tears
and be silent.
I said, O Love
I am frightened,
But it’s not you.
Love said to me,
there is nothing that is not me,
“Be here. Let your wild self fly free.” ―The Crows
Here’s a meme that’s been making its rounds on social media lately:
The way you are describing your life is the way it is manifesting.
The way you are describing your life is the way it is manifesting.
The way you are describing your life is the way it is manifesting.
Now tell me again: How are things going?
It’s not a NEW thought, really. The way it catches me is more about how it’s worded. It gets behind my oh-I-know-that-stuff-already defenses. The gratitude work has been immensely helpful to me in breaking some of the old cycles of complaint and self pity that happen when I describe my life to myself as series of burdensome events. Yes, if I look back at my meanderings on this blog over the years, I can see that I have been struggling–successfully and unsuccessfully–with this process in its deeper psychic layers. It’s not that I haven’t read and absorbed Shakti Gawain (she’s a sweet version of the Norman Vincent Peale for the New Age set). What you visualize is what you become, she says. One of the sermons I remember from years ago was one in which my pastor spoke about what we tell ourselves about ourselves. Do I keep telling myself I am exhausted and overwhelmed? (Yes.) Then I feel/am exhausted and overwhelmed. I “know” this principle, but I need to keep deepening it.
I can’t just visualize myself NOT overwhelmed and exhausted because visualization and belief don’t make the stacks of work go away. Imagination and action have to go together. That, too, has been a principle I have long been working to realize within myself. The contemplative and the activist need to dance together.
When I began this blog six years ago, I decided to move beyond just thinking of myself as a poet, but to DO poetry, to let those strips of words across the page in every gratitude list be little poems where I would daily juxtapose images and ideas that formed little poems of my day. As I began to describe myself to myself as a poet, I found my way into the identity of poet in a more solid way than I had ever done before.
Throughout my life, I have had begun several novels, imagining plot and structure in my brain, thinking through characters, beginning first chapters. And then abandoning them as life took over. A couple days ago, my friend Fern talked about Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, in which she talks about how the ideas come shopping for us, and if we don’t answer them, they go away and find someone else to bring them to reality. I have two ideas that have been knocking at my door for a couple years now. To use the words of that meme up there, I am afraid to describe my life in terms of writing books. That is partly because I have been such a squirrel with the ideas that come knocking. I don’t want to do that anymore. If I welcome one in for tea, then i want to invite it to stay for the weekend, instead of becoming enamored of the next one that comes along and letting the first one drift away in loneliness and rejection.
So I’m putting it out there. The book idea I began working on two summers ago is still hanging out in the corners. I am going to feed it, begin to shape it, help it find its place. And the novel that began knocking a year ago has again begun to catch my attention. I’m grateful that these two friends have stuck around, and I want to facilitate their existence.
Still, I need to tend to the overwhelm of the mundane, or my life will implode. For now, I will catch little spaces in each week to tend to these companions, and plan for a summertime process that might give me time to work more intentionally with them.
I am a little sheepish when I speak about this, because I know what a squirrel I have been, how I have wandered away from the urgent ideas in the past. Oooh. See what I did there? I described my life in terms of a tendency to failure. What if I turned that around? What if, instead, I described my life this way: I have been a seeker of new ideas, a kid in the candy shop of story, a dreamer of books. And now, I am going to see if I can draw some of those ideas out of the ether, begin to describe myself as a writer of books.
Gratitude List: 1. Bald eagle
2. Shooting star
3. The shining talents of our shining young people
4. The sound of Spring
Not the clearest picture, perhaps. One of the riders in my car took it, and my camera doesn’t handle near-darkness very well. This was in the early stages of her metamorphosis. About five minutes later, she was looking more dragonish than ever.
Now we are several hours into Longest Night. Tomorrow, we begin the inward turn again. Now is the time to settle into the darkness. To breathe. To dream. To melt.
In my own sacred calendar, the night of Solstice begins the deepest dreamtime of the year, almost time out of time. From now until the first of the year, or until Epiphany, I will monitor and mine my dreams for the images that will guide me in the coming year. Already, my dreams have been tossing up some powerful images to begin the percolation.
May your dreams in this, the Longest Night, bring you peace and hope. May they invigorate and inspire and challenge you for the work ahead. For there is much work ahead. There will be need of wakefulness and wisdom.
Much Love and Beauty to you. Gratitude List:
1. This evening on the way home from school, just as the sun was setting, and the day was opening the curtains into the Longest Night, a great dragon swept across the sky, casting its body from east, and around the bowl of sky, into the west. Its head lay directly in front of us, toward the setting sun. It had swallowed the sliver of a horned moon. If you weren’t looking closely, as we were, you might have taken it for a cloud. We decided that The Dragon of the Solstice was offering us a portent or a message for the dying year: Be fierce. Take up all the space you are given. Believe in miracles. Hold the Moon inside you.
2. The geese and little birds are crossing the sky these early mornings and late evening, like mysterious scripts that someone, certainly, will be able to read, but my eyes are not trained to interpret this alphabet. Still, like Korean or Chinese or Hindi or Arabic, it catches my eye and draws me in with the sense of the meaning that is there behind the lines, but to me is only Beauty.
3. I have many friends and beloveds who are perfectly yourselves. Divinely, wondrously, solidly, and delightfully yourselves. Where would I be without you, without your inspiration, without your challenges? You keep me honest. You help me to be my better self. So much of my own shine is reflection from you. You’re the moon I carry inside me.
4. Rage has lessons to teach me. I’ll try to be grateful now simply to know that, although it burns to carry those coals inside. Sometimes, I think I have learned the lessons–the vocabulary, the angles and calculations, the social history, the science–of rage, but then I find myself back in the primary class. It takes some of us a little longer to learn. I will be patient with myself.
5. I have a class of quite energetic, distractible students who have experienced a high degree of frustration with the subject at hand. Often, the most carefully-planned lessons fall flat, but they can’t handle too much spontaneity, either. I really need to work hard with them on writing, and I have been nervous about that for several reasons. One boy often freezes when I ask them to write. Another can’t handle silent, quiet work and creates so many distractions the others can’t work.
Still, I decided that yesterday I would give them five prompts and have them write about one or more for the whole period. With only one exception, they got to work with a will, several of them asking if they could write whatever they wanted instead of the prompts. I had them share their documents with me, and I would check in on them, offering comments and responses on their documents. At the end of the period, they begged for another day of writing.
Today, we wrote again, for the whole period. Some incredible stories are emerging. We’re doing absolutely no editing at this point, and things are pretty raw, but it will give us something to work on in the next step. The only student who couldn’t handle it yesterday came in today with a page and a half that he’d written between yesterday’s class and today. Everyone buckled down and wrote today. They begged for a third day of writing.
I am going to tempt the magic for one more day. Then we may have to move to other things: some more direct work on the basic grammar and sentence structure points, and other sorts of literacy and fluency work.
I am grateful for moments of magic in the classroom.