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16 October 2015

bits of death, as remembrances



death writes
in tears
that dry

death remembers
with hands
that take

~

Every morning, I see the bones of Naanaa.
I have no picture of him,
not anymore,
but his purr still rumbles
and his paws still steal silent -
and acrobat dancing on heartstrings,
singing his joy in requiem.

~

When my soul wanders away again,
and night comes to take my vision,
I'll wait for daylight in your dreams.

Light my candle, dear,
and I'll wonder through your thoughts;
hold close my photos, dear,
and I'll see you in my eyes.

Someday you'll wander with me again,
when night falls on your vision -
we'll wait for daylight, you and me,
dreaming in the darkness.

~




To Naanaa,
whose bones still watch over me,
my sentinel kitty,
the hunter whose death still haunts me:
I see you
today and every day,
and I love you.




~
This post brought to you by witches in fiction 2015: death rites and remembrances.

05 September 2015

rocks

What do you do when the rock that holds you above the water
only has room for you? 

Sorry child, you're all grown up - 
no room on the rock.

But look, I can reach out - 
I can throw small rocks
your way.

Build your own castle with them.
Just not here.
You can't stand here.

---

Written for the imaginary garden with real toads.
This has been a Flash Fiction 55. 

family: I love you

From my handfasting with Archer.
We were lucky to have Zoya Greene do the photography for us.
As you can tell, she's amazing.


This summer I went to two weddings.
One of them was my own.
The other was my cousin's.
Both of them were wonderful.

Yes, my mother's husband literally ruined (for me, my husband, and my son) the family reunion-type events that were to follow the cousin's wedding, by throwing a temper tantrum about my style of hospitality. I and my small family of three were excluded from further festivities. But he's my mother's husband, her rock, so I'm focusing on what I've learned from the experience: I'm ready for my family to start acting like the people I believed they were when I was a child. And, they are not ready. And finally: I still love them. So I'll take my lessons and move on.

I'm not really, completely moved on yet, but I'm working on it.
I have to. If I don't move forward, the depression will kill me.
And my small family isn't ready for me to go yet.

This is me, moving on.
With my small family.
And yes, with my mother.
I don't know, yet, what the mechanics of ignoring her husband's existence will look like.
But I'm giving it my best shot.

Because if I were to pay attention
- especially to his power over my place in my big family -
the depression might kill me.
And I still have work to do.
A child to raise.
A child who will always find sanctuary with me, regardless of any other human being in the world.




Moving on.
Always, moving on. 

13 August 2015

[book review] Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals

Dinty W. Moore's Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals is not really an advice book. Nor is it really about love or cannibals, although there is advice in there to be gleaned, and he does mention both love and cannibals. He also talks a lot about Michel de Montaigne, an essayist Dinty seems to admire. It's really a string of confessions about writing and living as a writer, and it's really very funny. It's also quite short, and the high ratio of illustrations mean you're turning pages rather more rapidly than usual.

The book has an index, which I only mention because it helped me just now, when I couldn't remember how to spell Michel de Montaigne, but I'm not sure why it's there, except as a joke. Maybe it's a joke. 

More on this later. 

31 July 2015

[book review] Viper Wine




"Venetia Stanley was the great beauty of her day, so dazzling she inspired Ben Jonson to poetry and Van Dyck to painting. But now she is married, the adoration to which she has become accustomed has curdled to scrutiny, and she fears her powers are waning. Her devoted husband, Sir Kenelm Digby—explorer, diplomat, philosopher, alchemist— refuses to prepare a beauty tonic for her, insisting on her continued perfection.

Venetia, growing desperate, secretly engages an apothecary to sell her “viper wine”—a strange potion said to bolster the blood and invigorate the skin.  The results are instant, glorious, and addictive, and soon the ladies of the court of Charles I are looking unnaturally youthful. But there is a terrible price to be paid, as science clashes with magic, puritans rebel against the decadent monarchy, and England slides into civil war.

Based on real events and written with anachronistic verve, Viper Wine is an intoxicating brew of love, longing and vanity, where the 17th and 21st centuries mix and mingle in the most enchanting and mind-bending ways."

This book has the potential to address the ways vanity and the exultation of youth corrupt the human mind and rot our social structures from inside the individuals. - 12 May 2015



Clearly, it took me a loooooong time to get through halfway through this book.
I'm still not done with it, really. I've written my review based on what I've read so far, and I feel free now to read it at a more leisurely pace.

More leisurely than taking two months to read 200 75 pages? Yes.

I haven't been able to read much this summer, and this book takes more energy than I've had anyway. It's not for the lighthearted.

You may have noticed that I haven't written much either.

I took a hiatus from my computer.

I'm probably back. Mostly.

~~~

My review of Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre follows:

My first thought, after reading the description of the book, was that Viper Wine had the potential to make a powerful statement about the social and psychological damage done by the beauty standard. The false value of aesthetic beauty, the judgment of worth by beauty, the patriarchal grading of women by their relative beauty, the competition that arises and demands unnatural measures to achieve "beauty" - all of these damage ourselves and our society, and this book could show us how.
 I looked at the table of contents. The chapter titles sounded like short stories ("A Discourse Between Brothers") or poems ("Moonbeams Are Cold and Moist"). The include modern pop culture references ("Fame" and "Yellow Submarine"). Together, they hinted at a poetic, ornate, satirically flowery style of writing. They were right.

 There is a prologue, and Epilogue, and 38 chapters. There are about 400 pages of text. Large pages. There is also a Bibliography (selected), and a list of illustrations. This surprised me. I mean, yeah, it says it's based on real events, but that phrase gets tossed about quite a lot with very little research to back it up. Not so in this case. Perhaps it's because this novel, this fictionalization, was written by a journalist. But frankly, calling Hermione Eyre (surely that's a pen name?) a journalist after reading any of this book at all, feels so incomplete as to be false. This woman is an Author. She has crafted what is perhaps a masterpiece.

 I took a peek at the author photo on the back flap, curious about the face that made Viper Wine. The woman in the photo challenges the viewer and does not seem above leaping out of the photo for a fist fight - if only to place bets on the winner.

 I wondered, before beginning the journey that has been Reading The Book, whether there could be a connection between the ornate writing style and the theme of social beauty concepts, especially in the damage those concepts do; is the writing style another layer of satire? Now that I'm halfway into the book, I feel it must be intentional. Whatever the case, it works.

 Seriously, don't let the ornate style turn you away before giving this book a try. It isn't over the top, and somehow it manages to not be pretentious. The story is woven by its prose. Every thread is important. Every word addresses the characters in the most human terms and stabs at the modern feminist's foes. The text describes the patriarchy without subscribing to it. If nothing else, this story is a feminist victory.

In the end, I ranked this book at four stars instead of five only because it is not broadly accessible; the average reader will have difficulty with some of the style devices - both the overall ornateness and the insertion of radio static (no really; I don't know how else to describe it), which is original and interesting, but hard to 'get' at first. 

(I ranked the back cover copy fairly low because books that only list their praise on the back annoy me. Give me a reason to open it, not sound bites.)


22 May 2015

my happy poem

On our last day of Writing Class, actually called Freewrite I, we were asked to respond to one of two prompts:

"A recipe for happiness"

or

"When I rule the world..."

It just so happened that the table we sat around was strewn with rubber stamps and colored pencils and ink pads. They were preparations for a later activity, but I'm not one for waiting, when there are colors to be used.


Here's what I came up with.

~~~



Happiness is
perfect stamps
of soaring butterflies
and leafy bent old trees;

Happiness is a smiling sun
shining
on a rubber block

that I
can stamp all over your mopey face -
there'll be none of that
when I rule the world.










~~~

Shared with the real toads. Check out their imaginary gardens for much awesomeness!

21 May 2015

illumination

by Rowena Morrill, via



Tall candle's flame
Stilled by the child's hand;
Stories life in smoke:
   each twist of tragedy,
   each curl of comedy,
   each faded resolution,
is time's caress
on the child's cheek,
but those young eyes
pierce blankly
in stout dissolution.




~~~
The image is of a painting by Rowena Morrill, and was the writing prompt; the poem is my response.

About the painting: on the art card that served as my writing prompt, it was named "Candlelight Visions," and it looked as it does in the image above. I did a google search for the painting (so that I could link it in this post, giving credit and all) and found that it is a book cover for "Ghosts I Have Been," by Richard Peck. 

17 May 2015

the General's pen

The sleek black enamel was long worn from the grip. Finger-burnished brass from underneath showed the hand's once-hidden habits. The high ungrasped end, where the enamel remained unscathed, reflected a heavy-jowled face in miniature. Squinting, the face could discern its own features. Grey squirreled eyebrows nearly hid the black eyes; That frown seemed deeper, more terminal than before.
A small bell rang in the hall. The office's double doors parted with a thin complaint.
Business, he thought, was ever at hand. He laid the pen down and stood to receive his guest.
The man who entered - the man who must be the renowned Colonel "Got'em" Archer, recently retired - was not what he had expected. This man was more slender than square, more bold than built. No matter. It'd all be sorted out soon enough.
"Colonel Abraham Archer, yes?" He felt the slightest tremble in his hand as he extended it, and prayed the Colonel wouldn't notice. The tension around the other man's eyes didn't lessen, but he grasped the proffered hand.
"I'm retired," the Colonel said, "as you are surely aware. Young Peter here must have heard that from someone. His invitation was from you, yes? It was most intriguing."
Peter sulked behind the Colonel, looking more the cur at being named.
Setting aside his irritation with his recalcitrant son, the man with the pen replied, "Of course, but you never lose your stripes." He waved Peter toward the liquor cabinet and hoped the boy wouldn't embarrass him further. He should have sent someone Raul to fetch their guest. "So, Colonel Archer, I am General - retired, if you will - Rodney DeWitt, Mayor of Asylum, and I would like to personally welcome you to our city."



~~~
The above passage is a rework of a piece I've never been happy with. It's from When Stones Sing, my currently-mostly-dormant novel. A lot has changed. I wrote this from a different perspective originally, not intending to ever give the Mayor his own voice in the story. Hell, I was barely aware of who the Mayor was when I first wrote this scene. (Which was, obviously, one of my issues with writing it that first time. I didn't know who I was dealing with.)

This began as a response to a prompt, in the writing class I'm taking. The instructor had laid a few dozen items out in the middle of our communal table and said: pick an item and write a story about it. I don't know what it was about the pen in front of me that made me think of this conversation between Archer and the Mayor. I didn't know that's where the pen was taking me until I heard the small bell ring, and I suddenly pictured the same ancient doors I'd seen Archer walk through when I first wrote this scene. This entire reworking of this scene was written without a single glance back at the original. I'm pretty amazed at the similarity, now that I've looked (literall, just now) back at the original.

Incidentally, that nickname - "Got'em" - is subject to change. In fact, just consider it a place holder for something much more awesome. 

13 May 2015

Against the Stark

Two Cranes Dancing
- all awkward grace and
squawking leaps
against the stark white face
- of winter, darkening.

This is what my father's origami crane makes me think: dark nights in a dark home, warmed by the woodfire stove in the basement, insulated and imprisoned. Then an orange cat tumbles across the modern floor of my apartment, and I'm brought back to now. The cat shreds its prize: a red paper crane whose wings no longer fly.




via

12 May 2015

[book review] Rooted in Design

Rooted in Design: Sprout Home's Guide to Creative Indoor Planting
by Tara Heibel & Tassy de Give



I don't know what I expected - maybe some sort of lightweight, coffee table book, probably in paperback. This book is none of those things.
This is a textbook. It even smells like a textbook. Weighs like a textbook. But when you open it up, it's like someone hid a high-polish magazine inside a hardback shell. Minus the ads, and plus a whole lot of content, of course. I felt like I was looking at one of those fluffy filler articles you might find in magazines with words like "simple" and "rustic" and "living" printed in bold font against a backdrop that indicates "sterile decor" and "trust fund living" and "kids? What kids? I have no spawn to muss my walls."
The imagery is mostly blank white space, broken elegantly by a piece of moss here, a potted succulent there, and the occasional paragraph.
I had a hard time actually getting my eyeballs to read those paragraphs. This is a book that begs to be browsed - like a magazine you pick up in the grocery checkout with no intentions to buy. It's hard to imagine reading this book. In fact, it sat on my table for weeks before I read more than a section subtitle. The interior of the book just looked so much like a coffee table magazine, that I found myself treating it as one. (Let's face it - I treat textbooks that way, too.)
Finally, I forced my eyes to focus on the paragraphs. I started in the middle - I couldn't help myself - then flipped back to the beginning.
It turns out that this book is... well, it's hard to pin down. It reads like the nicest, most conversational, most helpful and friendly textbook ever. That is to say, there really is a ton of information in there, complete with step-by-step guides (that read something like recipes) for the more complicated design ideas given in the text. This really would be a great textbook for a class on this stuff. But never fear - the authors, who do this special sort of plant-based interior design for a living, aren't going to lose their day jobs anytime soon. While they do seem to share a wealth of trade secrets in this book, it's the rare non-interior designer who is going to absorb all that info. Or rather, who is going to want to absorb all that info. 
This would be a great book to check out from the library when you've decided to be your own interior designer for your posh loft apartment in some swanky urban dream, and you want a lot of greenery in your house. Oh, and your home is not situated in an arid desert environment like mine is. Still, I'll probably use some of these ideas (or a poor person's equivalent), and I'll definitely look to the photography for inspiration on future projects. Would I have bought this book, had it not been provided for review? Probably not. I would have happily flipped through it while waiting to pay for my actual purchases, though.

But hey, don't let me spoil your fun. You can find Rooted in Design on amazon. I got my copy from bloggingforbooks.org, where I post reviews in exchange for free books. Free books! Yeah baby!

23 April 2015

I write.

Thoughts pour
from penstroke to page,
a torrent
of nervous rage.

Thoughts jerk
halted by the broken
link, dying
on lips, unspoken.


~~~

I wrote this in response to a prompt in my writing class. The prompt was "I write..." or "Things I'd like to write about..."

I began this way: I write because I have to. Speech just doesn't work. The connections in my brain aren't hooked up that way. Words come to my pen, but never my voice. Maybe that's why I paint. The poem came after, because I didn't want to describe it directly any more.


22 April 2015

1977







"Mom, what year did the first Star Wars come out?"
"1977. The same year Uncle Craig was born."
He repeats the year slowly, and I can hear it turning over on his tongue like a molasses ball.
"Nine.Teen.Sev.En.Ty.Sev.En."
Spirit in the Sky plays in the background, pulls us each to our own thoughts.
His thoughts include getting up and dancing about the room, in jerky hops and swinging arms.
"Sit down and eat your breakfast or I'm turning the music off."
He sits, and tucks his feet between the wood chair and that bony butt, toes touching in the middle.
His fingers poke at his egg-and-muffin sandwich.
Soon there's a bite in his mouth and a wiggle in his seat.
"Is it okay if I give the dogs just one of my pistachios?"
"After you're done eating everything else."
"Okay. I'll save one  pistachio for you, and two for the dogs."
He picks up his banana and shoots it, pew-pew.
"Eat it, Bear."
"Okay."
He puts down the banana and takes another bite of the sandwich.
His knees start rising.
Now they're bongos, and his body is perched on tippy-toes, wedged between the table and the chairback.
"Bear!"
"Sorry!" He sits.
"Pew-pew-pew!" goes the banana.
"Put it down!"
"Sorry!" The banana goes down. He snaps his fingers to the music.
"Take a bite."
"Okay."
The banana pulls him up; he takes a bite of it while he sways to the music, his other hand on the chair behind him.  He wiggles and snaps his way over to my chair, leans in, and says very sweetly, "I'm finished."
That hardly seems possible, but it's true.
Don't worry, about a thing, cuz every little thing's gonna be alright, Bob Marley tells me.
Thank goodness.







18 April 2015

home blessing ritual, Bones style


Characters
Me
Archer, my husband
Bear, my son
Roxy the Brave, my old dog
Stella-Boo the Neurotic, my young dog
NaaNaa the Lion-Hearted, my deceased kitty
Eric the Joy-Bringer, my other deceased kitty
an assortment of statues: one at (near) each doorway and window, on the inside of the house
my house, including its yard



Ingredients
salt, whatever I have on hand
stone, collected from my yard
cedar oil
bowl
ashes of NaaNaa and Eric
hair from Stella-Boo and Roxy
flower petals, from my yard
some sort of talisman for my house's spirit that I'll come up with (hopefully) before the ritual



Steps

At the home altar, in the heart of the home:

1. mix salt, stone, and oil in bowl
   Salt of the wild Ocean,
   Stone of the desert Earth:
   Keep my home safe and sound.

2. add to the mix: ashes of NaaNaa and Eric
   NaaNaa the Lion-Hearted,
   Eric the Joy-Bringer:
   Hearth-friends, Soul-friends, hear me: 
   Walk these walls, Watch our home;
   Keep us safe, Keep us wise;
   Stand as Guards.

3. add to the mix: hair from Stella-Boo and Roxy
   Roxy the Brave,
   Stella-Boo the Neurotic:
   Hearth-friends, Soul-friends, hear me: 
   Walk these walls, Watch our home;
   Keep us safe, Keep us wise;
   Stand as Guards.

4. add to the mix: flower petals
   As life flourishes around us,
   let us grow, too: 
   undaunted by life's storms,
   nourished by the challenges we face.

Around the outer edge of the yard:

5. annoint each corner and gate with the mixture, creating a circle
   This is Home. This is Mine.
   No illwill can find root here.
   No illwill can cross this line.
   This is Home. This is Mine.
   Only goodwill can find root here.
   Only goodwill can cross this line.
   This is Home. This is Mine.

Around the outside of the house:

6. annoint each corner and door, creating a circle
   This is Home. This is Mine.
   No illwill can find root here.
   No illwill can cross this line.
   This is Home. This is Mine.
   Only goodwill can find root here.
   Only goodwill can cross this line.
   This is Home. This is Mine.

Inside the house:

7. annoint each statue and door, creating a circle
   This is Home. This is Mine.
   No illwill can find root here.
   No illwill can cross this line.
   This is Home. This is Mine.
   Only goodwill can find root here.
   Only goodwill can cross this line.
   This is Home. This is Mine.

8. return to the altar at the home's heart

9. place bowl on the altar, annoint talisman of the Home spirit
   Spirit of this Home, I give you:
   Salt of the wild Ocean,
   Stone of the desert Earth;
   Spirit of this Home, I give you:
   NaaNaa the Lion-Hearted,
   Eric the Joy-Bringer;   
   Spirit of this Home, I give you:
   Roxy the Brave,
   Stella-Boo the Neurotic;
   Spirit of this Home, I give you:
   Petals from your own yard,
   Signs of your life. 
   Spirit of this Home, I give you:
   My dedication to you.
   You are my home,
   and I will keep you
   safe and sound.

   This is Home. This is Mine.
   No illwill can find root here.
   No illwill can cross this line.
   This is Home. This is Mine.
   Only goodwill can find root here.
   Only goodwill can cross this line.
   This is Home. This is Mine.

So mote it be.

I know

I just want
to be held when I fall
not told I shouldn't have tripped
I should have watched my step
I should have known better
I should have known better
I know that
already

13 April 2015

oh ritual

I can't tell, when I write "oh ritual," whether I'm shaking my head at the wayward child ("Oh, Ritual, what did you do now?") or uttering an expletive after stubbing my toe ("Oh Ritual! That hurt!").

For now, I'll just leave it unpunctuated and undefined.

What does an animist with shamanic tendencies do when called upon to write a ritual?

Well, my first step was to load up the ol' google machine. Which, of course, got me about a bazillion Wiccan rituals that were in no way appropriate for what I wanted to do.

Oh, yeah, I'm trying to write a ritual for a handfasting. My handfasting. With Archer. Which means it has to honor the spiritual paths of Archer and me. Neither of us is remotely Wiccan. We're not really Druids, either. Nor is either of us really Asatru or Heathen, though I wander that way sometimes.

Anyway.

Where are all the animist rituals? (Wait for it...) Oh. Right. There aren't any. I'm starting to realize that none of the animist writers I read talk about doing rituals. This doesn't mean they don't do them, it's just that they're not talking about it. Not in the same way that you see Wiccan rituals all over the internet. The animist writer might mention having done a brief private ritual for this or that, but the ritual is so intensely personal and specific to their purpose that it doesn't translate, or they just can't/won't describe it at all.

Do animists do rituals? Is it just that I haven't found the ones who do?

With the clock ticking on designing this handfasting ritual, I thought about the elements I wanted to include. To shape these elements, I looked at examples of - yes - Wiccan rituals, Heathen blots, and Druidic rites (these were what I could find online and in the texts I own). I didn't necessarily use the forms I found; more often, I used them to craft an outline from negative space (to use an artist's term). That is, the examples of formalized ritual from other paths showed me what I wanted to avoid. Those were what not to do, while still being related somehow to what I did want to do.

To further complicate things, I wanted the ritual to also be meaningful to the other participants: a few of our closest friends and family, who aren't necessarily pagan at all (though luckily, none of them would be in any way offended by our pagan ways).

So here's what I did: I took all the things I did want, and tried to craft them into something that made sense to people not on the same path as either Archer or me, while shaping the intent of the ritual in such a way that it made me happy.

Example A: What to do about the elements? I haven't called quarters for my private rituals in probably more than a decade. I don't feel the need to call them, because they're already here. Always. They're part of me. I don't call my hand when I want to pick up a glass, either. In my way of seeing things, these energies we work with are not distant sprites to be called (or not) on our whim. They're integral to ourselves, to our world, to everything. But I do want to acknowledge the presence of those energies within us, and draw them to our attention because I think doing so strengthens the sense of commitment we will endow in our oath. 
So, if I'm not going to call the elemental energies into the circle (the casting of the circle is another thing I don't do... I'll come back to that) maybe I can call them from within ourselves, thereby bringing our own connections into play, and preparing us individually for making the handfasting oath. Here's what I have come up with, so far, for that:
From Within, we call Air: clarifying our thought and speech.
From Within, we call Fire: clearing the way for new life.
From Within, we call Water: rising from our greatest depths.
From Within, we call Earth: standing solid to house us.  

So that's what I've been struggling with for the past two weeks.
Oh and I'm working on a home blessing ritual that Archer and my son can participate in with me.
Oh and a dear friend of mine asked me to collaborate with a couple other friends to write a ritual for her coven, for Beltaine. Obviously I said I would, because I love her.
It's all rituals and cowbells up in here, folks. And me with no predilection for candle waving.

This morning, I saw the new prompt for the Pagan Experience. It goes, "Ritual - What is your definition of the word “ritual”? What are your rituals- mundane and spiritual? How do they inform each other? Is ritual a necessary component to spiritual practice?"
And I thought, I should write a response to that one. Maybe it'll help me figure out how to write this damn beautiful/wonderous/pile-o-awesome handfasting ritual.

This afternoon, while working on this very post by looking through my blog feed to avoid doing any actual writing, this post from Lupa, one of my favorite modern pagan authors (translation: one of the ones whose path I feel has the most affinity with my own path), came up in my feed. In it, she says, "there are things I’ve left behind me as I’ve carried along my path. Rituals, for example. I no longer do much in the way of formal ritual, unless it’s a very special occasion." And I thought, "Me too!" I remember doing tons of rituals when I was a baby pagan and had just learned of Wicca. I'd be sitting there with candle and Cunningham's in my fists, trying to breath properly and connect with a Lord and a Lady I wouldn't have known from Adam and Eve.

Deeper into Lupa's article, she shares this gem: "When I did formal rituals before, a lot of my purpose was to find connection to the sacred. Now I recognize that I am immersed in the sacred at all times, and my goal is not to find the sacred but to remind myself of it, both in thought and action."

Yes. Yes. Yes. So much YES. Exactly! So if I can just get the handfasting (and other rituals) to reflect that idea, I'll be alright.

(Incidentally, later in that same paragraph Lupa mentions working out of Cunningham's Guide for the Solitary Practitioner in her early days. I lol'd, companionably, with the mental image of that book cover burned into my retinas.) 

~~~

Yeah, I'll probably post all about the handfasting when I get it all figured out. No worries, y'all.
And I'll post the ritual I come up with for the house blessing, too.

By the way, I'm sharing this over at the Pagan Experience. Then I'm gonna read what everyone else over there has to say about the subject. Happy reading!

~~~

Oh crap, I forgot to get back to you on the circle casting thing.
Well, basically I feel like every space is sacred, so it's a bit arrogant to say I'm creating sacred space, eh? But there are practical reasons too. For one thing (and Lupa describes this in her article, linked above, too), I just don't need it anymore. I can focus on the sacred without the activities of creating a circle. Also I don't want to cut off the 'outside' world from what I'm doing 'inside' the circle. I'm seeking connection, so why cut myself off? Anyway that's my take on it. 

12 April 2015

becoming

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
― Joan Didion, The White Album
And I got it from our prompt over at the imaginary garden with real toads.



 "becoming"

Whisper me your words;
I'll draw them in like silken strings
and wrap them like a fist.

Once to hear you.
Twice to feed you.
Four to see you, again
in my shining eyes. 

Tell me your tales;
I'll take your story for a spin 
and try it on for size.

Once to hear you.
Twice to feed you.
Four to see you, again
in my dying eyes.

Sing me your serenades;
I'll feel them flutter down my throat
and swallow them: whole.



~~~

There's a good chance I'll regret this in the morning. "This" being: publishing the above poem before looking at it with clearer eyes. Meh. Whatevs. That there's a first draft crafted by a sleepy brain that just wants to lay in bed and listen to music. But also write stuff. Mission (mostly) accomplished. Nighty night y'all. 

11 April 2015

the tree and the owl

Chernevog by Keith Parkinson
via


In two parts.

1.
So many winters, so very many bodies.
I wasn't young when they built this dais below me.
- What is she doing here? If she's trying to plant them, she's going about it all wrong. They'll never get roots through that rock, even if she did remove their husks, which she never does. And what does all this have to do with me? She lays them on the dais, waves her arms at me, then leaves. What am I supposed to do - wave a branch and say, "Hey, thanks for all the cadavers"? Really, if she's going to leave them here, she could at least bury them so the animals wouldn't take all that fine fertilizer.
- Say, do you think that owl is eyeballing the body? This could get odorous.

2.
It must be leaf-fall: the human has deposited another corpse. Foul thing, but it keeps the ground-hunters away from my nest, til new-leaf at least. And, it draws prey as any other meat might. So it's useful. Now, to wait...



~~~

Written at writing class, in response to the above picture and the prompt: "What are you doing here?"

character development

Directions:

Start with blank card.
Write - in fat marker - numbers
1 through 6
down the left side.
Leave room
for words.
Place a dot
after each.

Line 1: A name,
but not your own.
Make it up.
Now, pass the card
to the writer
beside  you.

Line 2: A place
someone could live.
It could be nice
or real
or not.
Pass.

Line 3: A hobby.
Or a bad habit.
Your choice.
Pass.

Line 4: A job.
Any job.
Dragon-slayer.
Post-hole Digger.
Chemist.
Pass.

Line 5: A trait.
Personality, that is.
Nothing physical.
Not yet.
Pass.

Line 6: here's your chance.
Physical
appearance.
In a word or three.
No more.
Pass.

Now.
Write the story on the card.



~~~

We did this in writing class yesterday.
Here's what I ended up with:

1. Jakob
2. India
3. Drinking
4. Engineer
5. Pompous
6. Always wore a suit

(Incidentally, there were enough of us in class that we didn't get any of our own additions to the cards, which is why mine is so... bland. My additions were ...well, if I can remember them, I'll write them all down. Later.)

Our facilitator added these prompts to choose from: "I wish I could be like..." or "S/he'd always been that way..."

This is what I wrote:

 Jakob had always worn a suit. Even as an infant, his mother had made him tiny suits, replicas of his father's, and shoved his bubbly body in there. "You must never be less," she told the growing boy, "you must always be more." He followed his father, attending the best university in India, and never regretted his British name.
He chose Chemical Engineering. Something about its precision, and the selective behavior of elements appealed to him. Elements wouldn't bond with just any other element - the conditions had to be met, had to be just right.
At night, he comes home to a crisp white penthouse where the plants are only on TV and the dust knows not to settle. In his fine leather chair he pours himself a scotch, no rocks. Some solutions should not be diluted.

09 April 2015

dancer

Everyone knew her as Jade,
from Sharkey's Cabaret.
She wasn't a headliner,
but her quiet ways
didn't matter
when she got on the stage
and swayed.

Her tall black boots
and long, long hair
caught the rhythm of the song,
and all eyes caught
her pale shining skin.
The dollars filled her garter,
and she never said a word.




~~~

Written in writing class, in response to the prompt: "Everyone knew him/her/them as..."

07 April 2015

The Room, by Jonas Karlsson [a book review]



This is the best depiction of mental illness in fiction that I have read. Ever. Yet. Et cetera.

And yet, I've had a hard time beginning this review. I read the book two weeks ago and have stared at this mostly blank post every day for at least a few minutes.

I'm just not sure how to express the emotions stirred by this book.

Tell you what, I'll just start here: the description on the Blogging for Books website says -

Bjorn is a compulsive, meticulous bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works--a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his co-workers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn's bizarre behavior eventually leads his co-workers to try and have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room.
      Debut author Jonas Karlsson doesn't leave a word out of place in this brilliant, bizarre, delightful take on how far we will go--in a world ruled by conformity--to live an individual and examined life. 

I believe that's the publisher's blurb.

Over on goodreads.com, the reviews seem to divide into those who got that Bjorn was mentally ill, and those who didn't. At least one (that I read) pinpointed Bjorn's mental illnesses as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a form of Autism. Neither of those is something I know enough about to validate - or invalidate - that diagnosis, but it seems apt from what I do know. (Feel free to enlighten me if you are better versed in these.)

Those reviewers who didn't get that Bjorn had some sort of mental illness were either entertained by the potential magic of the story (Bjorn is, without a doubt delusional), or were irritated with the inconclusiveness of his characterization - that is, they thought he was just a jerk.

Except, in his own mind, Bjorn is perfectly reasonable. Polite. Nice even, though only as kind as might be appropriate for his aims.

Okay, seriously, I'm going to stop myself right here. See, the thing is, this character just straight up fascinates me. This depiction of mental illness from the inside - this flawless depiction - fascinates me. I could talk about the content of the story for... well, pages. But this isn't a book report. It's a review. So instead of going on about the intricacies of Bjorn's character development, I'll just tell you this: if you have any interest in mental illness - if you are curious about how delusion sounds on the inside - you should read this book.

It's a quick, fast-moving, somewhat surreal, infinitely fascinating look at the inner workings of a delusional mind. Just go for it. If you don't like it - this book isn't for everyone, for sure - you won't have lost much time because it's only 125 pages, and they're not even all full.

Bonus: the book includes study questions at the end. If you're into that sort of thing.



~~~

Bloggingforbooks.org sent me a review copy, in exchange for the review. It's a cool site if you're into getting free books and don't mind giving them a few words back in exchange. Check it out.

mud slut

I saw a truck that said
MUD SLUT
painted pink camo
with green suspension.

"What's that mean, Mommy?"
"It means I like to play in the mud,
sweety."

All grown up,
and someone called her a slut,
and somewhere,
from some unheard part of her mind,
she started to swing her hips
just a little bit more.

on the reproductive anatomy of centaurs (or: mice and things I get distracted by)

Female centaurs should not have breasts. They - breasts - are a second set of mammary glands, and less useful than the first.

...Or would they be? Maybe, now that I'm really thinking about it, the chest location is the more useful location, given the child's shape. The upright torso would have an easier time getting to the chest than twisting underneath to get to the udders.

So, would the pelvic mammary glands reduced to a basically useless bit of decor, like nipples on human men? Or would they disappear entirely? And if they did disappear, would that anatomical region just look like the horsey version of a barbie doll: blank?

Oh right, I was supposed to be posting a poem. From yesterday. Or even the day before yesterday. Or... well, whatever. My calendar is hiding, probably fearing I'll realize how long it took me to get around to posting a new poem.

Well, I do have one, as it happens. It was written from a picture prompt in writing class. We had quite a few pictures to choose from, and yes, one of them was a busty centauress. I couldn't have possibly taken her seriously. At the same time, I couldn't have whipped out some lines for her because I was too busy taking her entirely too seriously. So I chose a mouse.



via
I had no idea it was a book cover until I found it online. The image we had in class didn't have the writing.
I think I have to read this book now. 


Our prompt was a little different this time (aside from being a picture). We were given a list of statements to complete, e.g., "I am... I wonder... I hear..." and we were to complete them as though we were the character depicted. So, the first to words of each of the following lines, was provided for me, as part of the prompt. Here's what I came up with:


I am the Don Juan of Mice. 
I wonder whether you shall fall at my hands, bested by my skill as a  swordsmouse. 
I hear in high frequency. 
I see in fine detail, but only in certain colors. 
I want to defeat all challengers, large and small.
I save every last penny; Brie is an expensive habit. 
I touch this feather in my hat, for luck. 
I feel like I could conquer the world.
I pretend I am not balding; the hat helps.
I worry about funding my Brie habit. 
I understand there is something odd about you, but that's okay, I don't mind. 
I dream of growing my goatee long enough to braid.
I try everything, at least twice. 
I hope you do not get in my way, because you seem nice. 


So that's not much of a poem, in my opinion.
Here's the poem I took from all that:

I am the daringest of Mice. 
Don't wonder that you shall fall at my paws:
I hear in high frequency, to better hear your cries of defeat. 
I see in fine detail, to better see your loss.

I am the choosiest of Mice.
I'll rescue a fine Brie
while snubbing the lowly Swiss.
One doesn't get to my rank
by slumming, you know.

I am the handsomest of Mice.
The feather in my hat should tell you so.
It's lucky, this mark of a conquerer,
and I touch it to remind myself
that I'm not really balding.
As long as I keep the hat on.

I understand
there is something odd about you,
but that's okay, I don't mind. 
I hope you do not get in my way,
because you seem nice.

~~~

In other words, I got nothing for this one.
But there it is. All done and ready for a chorus.

Shared with the real toads, in their quest for songs. 


out

And I felt the small weight of a thousand days,
lifted by a thousand days to come,
standing in my house,
moving the last of my possessions
out.


~~~
NaPoWriMo, Day 5
Capturing a moment from last summer.


the old kitchen

at the shrines

Taken on our way back down the mountain;
there was a fairy ring larger than the scope of this picture.


We climb to the top
where all those hopes have lain
under moon after moon,
for eras, continued.

Floating on a sea of light and lives,
A thousand lost voices
reaching for our hands
- the long dead, the new dead, the never dead - 
just want a piece of our time.

The peak at our feet is dark,
lit by white paint in the moonlight:
the path between shrines is 
deep as graves.


~~~
Written at the top of Shrine Hill, as I call it, during our full moon hike, 3 April 2015. The italicized line was spoken by Archer, and inspired the entire poem.

One of the many shrines, before the sun set.

Looking down on our town, at dusk.



~~~

Shared with the real toads, because even though it's not specifically about stars, the starlight was peeking in around the edges. 

03 April 2015

brother

He always wore band t-shirts
and baggy shorts.
Or jeans,
because it wasn't always warm
in North Carolina.
They were usually clean
when he put them on.

He always wore Adidas sneakers,
as though he might stumble
into an indoor soccer game
at any  moment.
He never did.
But sometimes
he and his sister would kick the ball
around the weedy yard,
for boredom's sake.

He always had music playing:
the Misfits,
Violent Femmes,
Goldfinger,
Dropkick Murphies.
These were the soundtrack of his life.

He finally cut his curly dark hair,
the day he joined the Army.
For the next eleven years,
he wore OD green and combat boots,
a pair of wings, and a red beret.


via


~~~
Shared with the real toads.

02 April 2015

writing class results, week 2

The following entries are my responses to prompts in the writing class I'm taking. The allowed time varies, between eight and fifteen minutes. I don't remember which time went with which prompt, but I can tell you, it isn't directly related to the length of the piece. I've decided to publish them because, honestly, I'm not sure what else to do with them. 

~~~

My earliest memory is of cooties.

Not the imaginary kind.

It was a toy, or game I suppose, that consisted of different colored plastic body parts you could assemble and disassemble. They looked a bit like ants when you put them together.

I remember sitting under the Christmas tree and unwrapping the box. It was the last Christmas my dad spent in the same house with us, but I didn't know that yet.

As I realized what I had unwrapped, I became very excited and wanted to tell everyone about this great present. But I hesitated; having cooties wasn't something to brag about, normally. I dismissed my own concerns. This was family, and they were all Adults to my young mind. Adults aren't mean, I thought, the way kids are. And besides, they probably don't even know what cooties are. This is what I told myself.

So I yelled out, to be heard above the chatter, " I got cooties!" All my excitement on my sleeve.

The rest of the memory fades into the laughter of my family.
It isn't necessarily a pleasant memory. I was such a sensitive child.

~~~

The room I grew up in was pale pink, or maybe yellow, or maybe white. I don't remember; It didn't matter. The windows were more important. They were my portal to the world, when my door closed against intruders, against pain. There was a closet, where I once tried to hide myself, but the air got stale and boring, and it wasn't very appealing the second time. So I sat between the bed and the wall, and felt the evening breeze from the window above. There I was hidden, and free.

~~~

In her mother's kitchen, there was no mention of engine blocks or horse maneuvers. There was no smell of coffee, unless you stood close to the whirring dispenser, between 6:55 and 7:00 am. There were moments, then, she thought she knew the smell of bitter roasted earth. By 7:05, the placating lavender odor her mother always ordered oozed back into the crisp white room, and the mugs, steaming, were overwhelmed. At 7:15, breakfast appeared. At 7:30, it was done, the utensils disposed of, and the fidgeting girl removed. She never saw her mother eat.

Many years later, with axle grease and horse sweat on her hands, she realized that somewhere along the way, coffee had ceased to be bitter.

~~~

She had started in the cold northeast, where everything was measured and your face must always be clean. She found her way west, where the horses didn't gleam, and nobody cared where her father had gone to school.

He'd been all over the territory and down into Old Mexico. Every town, a different name, a new cover, the same result. He always got his target. Or at least, that's how his reputation had it. He had lost a few, if he was being honest about it. But a few in a twenty-five year career didn't seem worth mentioning. 

father



Who were you,
with your joyfully tripping words and scruffy beard,
with your gruff wood-stained hands
and Clint Eastwood smile?

You were there,
in my earliest years, a ghost in the barn,
given shape by hay and cows and lathes,
taking nails from my sweaty clutching hands,
fixing that fence again.

You weren't there,
in your flowing scripted letters
telling tales of horses birthed
and storms weathered.

You were there,
in the house your next wife ruled,
your wit too cutting, your eyes too clouded,
and I don't know
who you are.


~~~

Day 2 of NaPoWriMo, shared with the real toads.
I'm going to let this one speak for itself. I'll say only that it does answer the prompt: to write about the house that built you. 

01 April 2015

Keuka Lake

via



I remember those orange trees,
lakeside, catching the breeze.
Chilling, with unease.

I remember that cold, slick water,
swimming with my father.
He said, "No otter."


~~~

I came across the above image this morning, and was reminded of the lakes I grew up near. Specifically, I thought of Keuka Lake, into which (it was rumored) the local hospital dumped its waste. The appeal of swimming in the lake faded pretty quickly as I grew up and became aware of things like "toxic" and "waste". Keuka Lake was surrounded by houses, but if it hadn't been, it would have looked a lot like that image.

~~~

For the real toads' benefit: during the four years I lived near Keuka Lake, I began writing poetry. It was the time in my life that stands out most as the time I began thinking about things outside of a child's simple world.

Our challenge, from the lovely Magaly, was this:

Your poetic mission, if you choose to accept it, is to write a new poem inspired by the first poem, poet or written work that sparked your poetry.
I didn't have much poetic influence at that stage. I didn't start reading any - that I can still recall - until much later in life. I didn't feel influenced by others' poetry until after I started writing my own. I just didn't get it until then. But things like Keuka Lake caused me to think more deeply, and my father's love of words and word games has influenced me deeply, for longer than I can still remember.

So, these are my beginnings. 

26 March 2015

don't forget the flowers

"Never forget," whispered the flowers
- golden poppies, the first to bloom -
the spring rain splashing their
satin-saffron petals into streams.

"We'll see you again,
     and again, and again,"
returned the trees,
"in the garden, waking the bees."


~~~
Shared with the real toads.




24 March 2015

as the crow flies



I walked the road
by the mossy tree,
and met a man in feathered cloak.

Black as dirt
rich as Earth
he flew among the leafy faces of the trees.

One eye fixed
he cooed softly,
softly where I expected hard lines.

No, he said,
not all is as you see.


~~~

Inspired by Magpie Tales

someone once told me

Someone once told me
that all the stars are gray.
Someone once told me
that trees can't move alone.
Someone once told me
that they couldn't stay away.

Stay away - til the wind dances and your limbs sway -
stay away - til the gray stars sing your heart to home.

~~~

Someone once told me
that all They did was lie -
that other group, of Other people,
people who were Them, not Us.

"Them" had families, had lives and loves;
"Them" lost families, lost lives and loves.
We weren't the only losers.
They weren't the only liars.

Someone once told me that if you could write their story,
you should.
How else will we hear it?
If it doesn't come from Us.

Their story won't be heard, here, in their own voice.
We're too deep in ourselves to listen
to any voice but our own.

So here I am in comfort,
writing stories of a people not-Us,
whose voices we cannot hear,
with words I struggle to recall.

~~~

Two poems, two very different topics, one prompt: "Someone once told me..."

From Freewriting I, 18 March 2015.

Shared in the imaginary garden with real toads.

18 March 2015

writing class, day one: on my way here

Today was the first day of a writing class I'm taking. I've needed this. It's my excuse to write when I feel like I don't have time to write. Our first prompt today (of four) was to complete the thought "on my way here I was thinking..." or "I'm taking this class because..."

Here's what I came up with: 



On my way here I was thinking
but then the rain pattered on my nose
and I chilled -
Hands in pockets, but no: These pants have too-small pockets
so I took them out and clasped them.

On my way here I was thinking, but then
I walked into one of those bathroom conversations
- the ones women have loudly over stall doors when no one else is looking.
They were talking about "Mickey" and wondering if the name meant he was gay.
They were young, and trendy enough to be confused
by "the car with the bling painted on it" that they could see in the parking lot outside.

On my way here I was thinking
but then I passed my lover on his way up the road,
and now my lips smell like beard oil,
and it's very distracting.


~~~
I'm sharing this over at the imaginary garden's Tuesday platform, too.



*In case you're wondering, the bling-bedecked car is one of our local art cars. It's a thing. 

12 March 2015

when the Railsplitter went foreign

I don't usually read non-fiction history books cover to cover, but when I do...

Here's the thing. I picked this book from the Blogging for Books website because, frankly, the selection at that time sucked, and this was the only one that struck me as having potential. I really wasn't in the mood for a presidential biography (I've never been in that mood; I'm not sure I'd even recognize it, if I did stumble across it). But the other options were downright dismal. So I selected this one, about Abe Lincoln.

The book is Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power, by Kevin Peraino. And yes, I received a review copy in order to do this review.

I've had good luck with the books I've chosen from Blogging for Books. Here's to hoping that continues. Lincoln in the World certainly didn't disappoint.

Maybe I should reword that. I was expecting to struggle through a dry accounting of treaties and dignitaries lists I'd never remember quit reading after a few paragraphs. Instead, I got sucked in by Peraino's humor and insight.  Who wouldn't smile knowing that the esteemed president was completely aware of and honest about his lack of preparation for his post as our leader in foreign affairs? "I will be very apt to make blunders," he said to an unnamed foreign dignitary.

I'm totally stealing that line, by the way.

But anyway.

I grew up thinking Lincoln was something of a romanticist; perhaps that is only because our history books remember him romantically. The truth is that Lincoln was a literalist. Peraino quotes Lincoln's friend as saying that Lincoln's mind "crushed the unreal, the inexact, the hollow, and the sham,... Everything came to him in its precise shape and color."

Here's something I don't think many people understand: why do we study history? Peraino says that "in the age of Lincoln, we see shadows of our modern global arena." And that is why we study history: to recognize ourselves and discern what is real in our present. Peraino's treatment of Lincoln provides the lens for any reader to do exactly that. He makes Lincoln real, reminding us - or perhaps telling us for the first time - that Lincoln was just as human as the rest of us.

We tend to think of History as a list of dates, names, and wars, but history is nothing more, or less, than our story. It is the story of humans. Rather than listing the minutia of all Lincoln's foreign politics, Peraino examines Lincoln's character via the hard choices he navigated, thus giving a complete picture of how personality and interpersonal conflicts affected our young country's foreign involvement.

To illustrate this picture, Peraino focused on five conflicts Lincoln faced:
1. with his friend and law partner, Billy Herndon, over the Mexican War
2. with his Secretary of State over which of them would control foreign policy
3. with the British Prime Minister, over a diplomatic crisis in the midst of the American Civil War
4. with Karl Marx, in a race for public opinion
5. with the emperor of France, over their short-lived occupation of Mexico.

In the last chapter, Peraino addresses another conflict brought about by Lincoln's foreign policy: the efforts of biographer John Hays to efforts to define Lincoln's foreign policy legacy. Peraino titled this chapter "Lincoln vs. Lincoln," a nod to the conflicting presentations of Lincoln's legacy by the several biographers, all contemporaries of Lincoln, and all seeing him differently. From this, we learn why Lincoln's foreign policy has traditionally been such a minefield for historians (and for some of us, we learn that is was a minefield, and why is was, all at the same time).

As any good biography, this book tells enough about the era that non-historians will get a clear picture of the setting and cultural climate, allowing the reader to grasp Lincoln's personal development. Peraino's analysis flows smoothly in the context, and will be easy for anyone to read. So, if you have even a passing interest in American history, check this one out. It won't disappoint.

~~~

Incidentally, Lincoln was really funny, though maybe not always the way he intended. From the text:

As for French, the nineteenth-century language of diplomacy, he did not understand enough to read a menu. ("Hold on there," the Railsplitter once told a waiter in a New York French restaurant. "Beans. I know beans.")
... In the White House, Lincoln's attempts at diplomatic finesse could seem comically inept. His efforts to bow elegantly to visiting diplomats were so "prodigiously violent" that they had "almost the effect of a smack" in their "rapidity and abruptness."
... "His conversation consists of vulgar anecdotes at which he himself laughs uproariously," the Dutch minister complained. 

Confession: I pictured something akin to the Beverly Hillbillies' shenanigans when I read that. 

26 February 2015

fingers



One key tested
and left to dust.
The flour rang out
but the bread went bust.

The fingers were wild and toasted.
The oven warmed, the piano wasted.
The future is baked, rusted,
one finger on the button.

Ready to press.





~~~

The image above inspired this poem; it's from a writing prompt that can be found here.
Another dose of much-needed inspiration came from the imaginary garden, where real toads were playing with the idea of time as a revelator. 

16 February 2015

promises

I broke a promise to myself.
When I knew your life began,
Never had I believed.
I could make it right. 
We started out hard
with my broken promises cracking under our feet.

Your tiny infant feet.
My never-a-mother feet.

I made a promise to you.
When I knew your life began,
That though I couldn't believe,
I would make it right. 
Every joyful jump you made
left my broken promises crushed under your feet.

I can't keep up.
You wait for me.

I hope I make it right.


~~~

"There's this fallacy in my head that I think, if I sacrifice enough, if I hurt myself enough, exhaust myself enough, have enough courage, I can do anything I'm supposed to be doing. That's what led to me being desperate enough to hurt myself repeatedly to get myself into an adrenaline-fueled state that only comes with physical danger, and then burning out so hard I landed in the hospital. I keep thinking that I'm just too lazy and that it's my fault; any grown woman as smart as I am should be able to remember to go to class. I've done it before; why can't I keep doing it? All those ideas come from when my mom pushed the "record" button in my brain, and they keep re-playing. Every success, in the back of my mind, implies that I could've done it all along, and so every success is a proof of laziness." - http://chaoticidealism.livejournal.com/138502.html

That is the result of growing up with an unacknowledged mental, emotional, or developmental disability, and it is devastating.

That post I quoted and linked above is a long read, about a situation that is different from either mine or my child's, but it makes a point that is important to both of us: it's okay to be labelled with a disability if you do have that disability. My child does have ADHD, and having the label has made it possible for him to get the help he needs. I do have Major Depressive Disorder, and that label has gotten me the help I need, too. In my case, it has made it possible for me to help myself. I hope that someday it helps him that way, too. Acknowledgement and acceptance of the problem really is the most important step.

~~~

Inspired by life with my child, the author of chaoticidealism, life with myself, and the imaginary garden with real toads, where I've posted a link to this entry. Because promises are about love.

13 February 2015

earthly - two points on stasis

1. The Masculine Earth

I grew up in the verdant northeast, in a place I can only describe as womb-like. Even the barren winter trees and thick blankets of snow couldn't hide the lushness of the land. In winter, it was a barren womb, but womb nonetheless.

Characterizations of the earth as feminine had resonated naturally, but I didn't know why. It seemed a random choice, but I went with it. I could imagine it, although it was a hollow, vague imagination, since I didn't really know what 'feminine' felt like. When I tried imagining the earth as masculine, or as nongendered, it didn't work in my head at all.

When I came to the Sonoran Desert - lush in it's own way - I learned. The presence of this place is powerful, as powerful as the forests of my birthplace, but distinctly masculine.

Tangent: I've sometimes wondered, as a genderqueer person who doesn't feel any strong attachment to any gender of my own whether I didn't feel gender because it wasn't there (am I agendered? I've wondered), or because my internal detection mechanism is wonky (maybe I just can't tell what gender is supposed to feel like, but it's there somewhere). When I felt the masculinity of this place, it took me some time to identify it as masculinity. The feeling was foreign. I don't remember when it happened, but at some point I was able to look back and compare this masculine place with my feminine birthplace, and feel the femininity by contrast. It makes me wonder if my gender detector is working (now, anyway), and I really am just floating along, unattached, in the gender spectrum.

It's an appropriate tangent, after all: our bodies are of the earth, are earth metaphorically and perhaps literally. Recognizing the flexibility of earth and the variations of earth energy is crucial in our understanding of ourselves. As humans, we tend to think of things as unchanging; we assign labels quickly and we don't like to shift labels once we've attached them. But we're not static; earth is not static.


2. Attachments

'Attachments are the root of all suffering,' said one of my facebook friends, and Buddha.

This may be true. We can come to depend on our attachments in ways that cripple our happiness. This is a well-worn maxim, no need to expound.

We have a weird relationship with things in American culture. We are, as a culture, too attached to our things. And to our labels. We know this about ourselves, and there's a sizable movement of people trying to detach themselves from all their things. Some even try to detach their labels.

'All things in moderation,' said my dad, and Aristotle.
Tangent: 'Even moderation in moderation' said I. But that's not helpful to my point right now, so nevermind that.

Because attachment is also the root of all joy.

One of the major symptoms of depressive disorders is a feeling of detachment.
Loneliness feels like shit.

Would parenting be joyful if you had no attachment to your child?
I see my point has been made. No further examples necessary.

Attachment is an earthly thing; it is tangible, it holds things together, holds things in place, makes things stable. When we eschew all attachments, we sever our earthiness to some degree. It allows us the labels our psyches need.


1 + 2 = 3. We just have to remember that labels can be changed. Attachments can be adjusted or even let go. Earth varies; we are not static.



~

This post was prompted by and will be posted at The Pagan Experience, which asked about Earth this last week. 

04 February 2015

what love is

a whisper across the desert:
blown sand from fingers
stretched to the sea

a breathe within my heart:
warm-pelted comfort
carrying daylight loosely

a moment strung wide
in honesty hurt and healed:
this is what love is

~

For Archer, because I will write you a love song.

~

Shared at the imaginary gardens.

02 February 2015

on Humanity

The Pagan Experience prompt for this week: How do you define “humanity”? What is your contribution to the collective space of humanity? How does your spiritual path support this definition and contributions? - http://thepaganexperience.com/2015/02/feb-2-wk-1humanity/

“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”
― Neil GaimanGood Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

[I should note that while goodreads.com says this quote is from Neil Gaiman - and it very well may be - this book was written by both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. So it could have been written collaboratively or by Terry Pratchett. Or, perhaps goodreads has secret knowledge about who wrote which parts, and therefore knows that Neil Gaiman wrote this particular bit. This seems unlikely to me.]

Humanity, literally, is all members of homo sapiens.

Metaphorically, humanity is whatever we want it to be. Metaphors are tools, after all. Very malleable tools. 

The idea that humanity - members of our species, that is - has something that is uniquely ours in the animal kingdom, and that this thing raises us above other animals morally, is so longstanding that it has shaped our language since... well, how old is the English word 'humane'? How about the same meaning in other languages?

Humane means to treat kindly, respectfully, or with mercy. Compassion is, supposedly, what makes us better than other apes. Except that other animals show compassion too, and sometimes better than we do. Perhaps altruism... no, that isn't it either. Altruistic behaviors have been observed in many other species.

Hmmm. Well, what is unique about us? Perhaps if we get away from concepts that categorize us as morally superior, we'll find something.

We're not the only ones who use tools or language (other primates, and corvids, come to mind immediately).
We're not the only ones who have sex for fun or for companionship (lots of animals - no really, it's not just bonobos).
We're not even the only ones who engage in organized warfare (chimps do that). 

As far as I can tell, the only thing exclusive to our species is the development of advanced technology (as opposed to simple tools). So if we really wanted to be accurate (which we don't - humans aren't big on accuracy), "humane" would mean something about figuring out tricky sciency things, to include philosophical pursuits and, of course, bureaucracies. (Obviously bureaucracies are symbolic of our innate tendency toward cruelty. That, or our distrust of strangers. Take your pick.) 


 It's our higher executive functioning that makes us unique among animals. 

There is no spiritual difference, that I can see. Our thoughts about spirituality are probably unique, but that falls under the higher executive function umbrella. When I say there's no spiritual difference, I mean that there's no innate difference in our spiritual qualities or value. We are part of the same unidentified spiritual energy that exists in all things. (Maybe some awesome quantum physicist will figure that out someday, but until then I'm calling it spiritual energy, because that's how it functions.)

Knowing that we - humans - are basically smart, distrusting animals who are connected to every thing and every one else in the world, makes me want to put as much compassion out there as possible. I think this is something most people do, with varying degrees of awareness, ambition, and success. 

Basically, we're all just people, trying to get along.