Precious Solitude

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Solitude is one of the gifts women deny themselves – sometimes for an entire lifetime. Yet it is one of our most precious and necessary birthrights. One, like so many others, that has been stolen by the predominant culture in an attempt to curtail and ameliorate the inherent power of women. By stripping away our identities as strong, proud, independent beings, women have been taught to loath their own bodies – too fat, too skinny, too smelly, too hairy, too old but, sadly never never too young …

Included in the litany of despised body parts is that center of power, the vagina.  Not only does it give birth, it is a constant source of that most magical, sacred, powerful and potent substance – blood.  A substance men must wound or kill to obtain, whereas women generate an endless ready supply. If men wish to control the magical creatures called women, they needed to denigrate and destroy and separate female blood, and strip it of power and holiness.

Transformation Mysteries by Judith Barr

And so menstruation came to be labeled “dirty,” “impure,” “profane.”  The holy places where once women went to turn inward, to dream, to celebrate their mysteries and return to the clan with gifts of revelation and wisdom where deemed places of disgrace – impure and filthy locales surrounded with taboos and cleansing rituals.  However, unbeknownst to men, for women, they retained their identity as places of precious solitude, respite, and sanctuary.  As women’s lives became property and their freedom of movement ever more restricted, women outwardly acquiesced to their new identities and often made use of the taboos to retain precious time away from an inimical culture.  However, such double dealing is dangerous.  For many of us, outward acceptance very quickly became an inner acquiescence to self-loathing.

When women came to be considered the property of a particular man the emphasis shifted from matrilineal to patrilineal lines of inheritance.  it behooved the culture to curtail the independence of solitary women by fabricating all kinds of myths and allegations about the danger solitude posed to  lone women. Time spent alone, especially outside, appeared suspicious and threatening because of the implication that a woman alone must be up to no good.

The idea of solitude began to take on a very dubious meaning in the minds of women, associated with shame and isolation.  Solitude and isolation are not the same – solitude is the “state of being alone without being lonely” while isolation implies an involuntary state imposed from outside on an individual.  Choosing to be alone is altogether different from being forced to be alone.

Writing this I am reminded of the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. The Maiden is virgin in the sense of being sufficient unto herself.  She does not define herself through others.  Instead, she desires to understand her own uniqueness in relation to the cosmos. She looks to unleash its inherent energy just as we, in coming to know ourselves, unleash our own inherent energy and power.  The Maiden needs plenty of room to explore and master her own power and so do we.  The first gift solitude offers is spaciousness.

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Within that arena we find temporary freedom from social constraints, both in action and in thought.  Women are often required to be “on” for large stretches of time, meeting a variety of social demands that necessitate both an intellectual, political and emotional response. Whether it be child, spouse, friend, peer, Triptich kwan Yinemployer or employee staying present and reacting appropriately takes an amazing amount of energy.  Solitude offers the respite and refuge to be one’s self, free from observation and obligation. Safe within solitude’s sanctuary we can relax and renew depleted energies.

Creativity is vital to well-being.  Very little else makes the juices flow or the endorphins release like engaging in the act of making.  Cake, quilt, poem, engine, code, baby– it makes no difference what the medium is. The human ability to create, to make something out of nothing, to assemble a random collection of Small Ganeshingredients, thought, nuts and bolts and make them into something useful or beautiful is perhaps our greatest joy.  It yields an enormous amount of pleasure and gratification.  Almost always , the act of creation demands solitary time in which to think, gestate, plan and execute.

Strangely enough, intimacy thrives on periods of solitude in which one has the space and distance to examine one’s relationship to one’s beloved dispassionately. This includes looking at the patterns innate to both lives, accepting responsibility for one’s own motivations and actions and remembering the dearest attributes of the other. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is an aphorism built on generations of longing for absent loved ones. Built in periods of solitude allow that fondness room to expand and grow.

Finally, there is a spiritual component to solitude.  It offers the opportunity to meditate, to commune with nature and listen to the voices inherent in earth, air, fire and water.  All around us are messages, hints and allegations that demand solitude in order to be heard over the distraction our minds so eagerly provide. Just as solitude provides an opportunity to reach a greater understanding of both ourselves and the beloved other, so too it allows time to contemplate the complexity and paradox of human nature.

solitude nature

Wisdom grows and becomes enhanced as regular bouts of solitude offer us insight and understanding into the human condition- both the particular and the general. To the uninitiated, solitude may at first appear frightening or intimidating, but, removed from the demand to constantly respond, compassion, humor and resilience spontaneously arise to fill the empty space. In the end, given enough solitude, we may finally learn to know ourselves; to be rather than become.

 

 

 

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Speaking Out

First They Came for the Jews
Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)


First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out

because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out

because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Recently, I received a request from a poetry group I belong to keep the poems “family friendly” at our up-coming meeting. By chance our usual venue was temporarily unavailable and we were kindly being hosted in the community room at a local retirement community. The members were invited, as the public always is, to attend our gathering. The request was made with the intention of not offending our hosts in any way. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to offend the membership.

But I am offended – on several counts. I take affront, on behalf of our hosts; these are sophisticated adults who like Pastor Niemöller (quoted above) have survived sixty to a salman rushdie 1hundred years of war, disease, technological advancement, and incredible social change. I find it disrespectful and insulting to assume they need to be protected from the world as if they were children.

I believe free speech is the bedrock upon which civil liberties stand. Censorship is an insidious evil based on the self-righteous arrogant assumption that one person has the right to determine what thoughts, expressions, ideas or feelings another person should read, hear, watch, taste, smell or feel.

Is this beginning to sound like the elements of a poem? Poets have long been associated with freedom of expression. Like jesters, fools, heyoka, tricksters, shamans and magicians, they play a particular role in society. Poets are the ones who speak out, make waves, rock the boat and declare the emperor is parading naked down the street. Cutting across all Naom Chomskylines of race, creed, gender or class we speak in the voice of all the people. We broadcast in the vernacular and idiom of every language. Often we speak for the dispossessed, the silent ones whose voices have been stolen by fear, starvation, disease or violence.

It’s ironic that our censor used the euphemism “family friendly” to poets who so often come from families anything but friendly; just as it’s ironic that the euphemism for words considered bawdy, irreverent, un-gentil , vulgar or irreverent is “language.” The word “vulgar” first appeared in 14th century England. It comes from the Latin vulgaris of the mob; vulgar from volgus, vulgus mob, common people. The Vulgate Bible adopted by the Catholic Church in the 4th century was called that because it was translated from Greek to Latin, the vulgate tongue – the language of the common people. The Bible is a perfect example of the need for vulgar expression. Kurt VonnegutSt. Jerome’s Latin translation allowed the common people access to the word of God in their own language. Centuries later when Latin ceased to be a common tongue, the holy words became arcane secrets, closely guarded by a clerical establishment so inbred and unchanging it became corrupt enough to inspire a revolution that resulted in vernacular translations across Europe. “Language” brought about the social change that eventually dismantled feudalism.

My point is that to stay healthy, vibrant and alive a community needs a few truth tellers. It needs a few brave souls willing to turn over the rocks, shine lights into the shadows and witness what they see; to keep us honest about what and who we are, to praise the angels and scorn the devils. Without them the community turns into a closed system doomed by entropy to a slow death. New perceptions, novel concepts, and outré opinions uttered in fresh a poets workconfigurations of words, phrases, lines, and stanzas turn, aerate and enlighten concretized patterns of thought and behavior. By merely existing, poets act as catalysts for exponential explosions of new ideas in all fields of endeavor from quantum mechanics to ballet recitals for toddlers. Contrariwise, poets are also the lightning rods, the relief valves, the ground wires that bleed off stress.

Listening to someone “speak in tongues,” (another vernacular, an unfamiliar vocabulary, a different accent) can be uncomfortable or disturbing. Especially if it upsets the built-in censors we all carry inside of us – those rules and regulations imposed in childhood. One of my own bug-a-boos is hackneyed sentiment expressed in time-worn phraseology. For others it might be the use of slang or swear words. Experience has taught me that pushing past whatever grates or irritates often rewards me with an unexpected insight that opens my heart and mind to deeper understanding and enhanced compassion. Time and again, I find myself standing humbled amidst the ruins of some shattered prejudice or bias.

This is the gift poets bring. Without us, the world might feel more comfortable, but not for long:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out

because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out

because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Happily, I’m in good company. I do not stand alone. It doesn’t mean speaking out ain’t scary, but we must, we must.

 

 

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Another Word on Nonsense…

“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.”

~e.e. cummings

Archetypically, nonsense can be thought of as one of the Trickster’s devices. The Trickster, as you may know, manifests mythically in dozens of cultures around the world. In Jungian terms the trickster is an archetype common to all humans, which dwells in the depths of the collective unconscious and exists to heal the psyche and keep it whole by keeping it honest and refusing to allow things to fester in the dark that ought to be brought into the light.Raven and Tides

Trickster often shows up in stories as an animal. Roughly speaking, he comes as Coyote to the southwestern Native American tribes and Raven to those in the northwest. Rabbit or Hare is another contender and in the southern United States he’s joined by his cousin Br’er Rabbit out of Africa; some say Re'er RabbitBr’er Rabbit is a variation of Anansi the trickster Spider of African mythology. In South America we find Turtle or Tortoise playing tricks, and in Europe Reynard the Fox takes on that role. Tanuki, the Raccoon Dog, is Japan’s shape-shifting prankster.

The Trickster may be human with a touch of other worldly talent such as Jack of the Appalachian Jack stories, John the Conqueror of African American fame or Maui in Hawaii. He may be a god like Hermes, Loki, Pan or Eshu.

LokiHe is a mischievous, street smart, cunning and occasionally wise character, who delights in rude, raucous, anti-social behavior and practical jokes. He is often greedy, lazy and Coyote's Blanketarrogant. The Trickster loves to play tricks on folks who refuse to show up and pay attention to their lives; on the pompous and the pedantic; on ones who take pleasure in unwise or cruel use of power – in short on anyone who needs a hard swift kick-in-the-butt to humble them or get their attention.

Traditionally the Trickster is male, but if you look closely at the heroines in fairy tales and myth they often use their wiles or the wits of their sisters, fairy mothers and godmothers to win the day. Male heroes too, are often helped out with a trick or two provided by a handy crone or girlfriend. As the playing field evens out and women finally emerge out of history’s shadow we find lots more female Tricksters emerging. Lady Gaga comes to mindGaga nun imagesNUG72OX4immediately. She is smart, outrageous and completely nonsensical. Like any good Trickster, she is a shape-shifter par excellence, using masks, make-up, body paint, feathers and furbelows , leather and lace to change her appearance to something startlingly and other-worldly. Her aim is to drop our jaws  and blow the doors of our minds wide open.  As Trickster she turns our assumptions upside down and tumbles them out of the box of preconception.

This is exactly what nonsense does, it opens windows between our conscious minds and the great vast roiling sea of the unconscious. Our minds, especially the egoic part, like to keep those windows slammed shut, opening them only to stuff another unwelcome thought, idea, memory or association out of sight. The Trickster knows we could benefit by looking at some of the stuffing, recovering a lost talent, or simply catching up with our feelings. To that end it distracts us with nonsense, silly tricks and flashy colors, to make us giggle and flirt and forget to latch the latches and slam the shutters shut. While we are distracted, new things are fluttering, slipping and sliding through the cracks, called forth by symbols and meanings hidden in the nonsense, disguised as frippery.

Presentation1(For more about Trickster click on thumbnail collages above)

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Making Sense of Nonsense

 

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This summer I had the good fortune to attend a session of the New York Center for Jungian Studies’ elegant annual production, Jung on the Hudson. The subject of my seminar was Sense and Nonsense, a subject that has fascinated me since I first heard the word “nonsense” as a little girl. “Nonsense” promised other worlds and different ways of being. It never failed to deliver. Following “nonsense” I discovered Wonderland, the hundred Acre Wood, Toad Hall and Mrs. Pigledy Wiggle’s upside down house. For a while they became my true home. They still occupy a corner of my heart and every time I write I find traces of their influence in my words. I think the importance of “ nonsense” needs a bit more attention. In my case, it provided great relief from the never-ending struggle to make sense of the adult world.

Children are hit from the moment they are born with an incredible barrage of sensation – smells, colors, pitches, tones and textures appear at an alarming rate. The task of sorting, crowdestablishing contexts and learning to recognize patterns is further compounded by the addition of language and the incomprehensible emotional demands of their parents.  This chaos is presented to them a “real,” “sensible” and “normal.”

alice Nonsense provides a little breathing space. It actually reflects the chaotic nature of their lives in which inexplicable things are the norm. But those fictional worlds have boundaries and internal logic, and everything comes out all right in the end. The nonsense worlds are safe.

Lear

The seminar has had me thinking about sense and nonsense for months now. I hoped to figure out in the seminar why the subject seemed so important to me, but though the speakers were interesting and erudite, I didn’t figure it out until now.

Sense has several meanings. First and foremost it has to do with our physical sense organs sensesbut it also has to do with rationality and intention. It is a word of conveyance in that it connotes an impression or awareness of something. Finally, particularly when paired with the word “good,” it stands for “sound mental capacity and understanding typically marked by shrewdness and practicality.”

 It seems that sense is all about what is real and rationale. Nonsense would be the opposite – silly, illogical, irreverent and irrelevant.

But, in fact, it turns out that most people, much of the time do not think sensibly or rationally. They make decisions based on misconceptions, false assumptions and innuendo. Most of all they act and make decisions on the emotion they are experiencing.

As we know those emotions are powerful and complex.face masks They link back through an intricate pattern of other decisions to strong emotions in the past. They connect us directly to chaotic impressions formed in early childhood when we made life-long decisions about the way of the world based on very little information. Furthermore, these emotions are chemically based and, once triggered, persist in the body for hours, skewing our thoughts and controlling our minds.

In fact, most of us make many nonsensical decisions about sex, money, religion and politics (all the stuff we aren’t supposed to talk about). The child escapes to the nonsense world, which holds topsy-turvy lessons in which he can understand and delight, from the totally confusing “sensible” world that holds stress inducing mixed-messages she is unable to decipher.

Sense has another other, more arcane, meaning. In mathematics, it means one of two clockwise counteropposite directions in which a vector (especially of motion) may point or one of two opposite directions of rotation, clockwise versus anti-clockwise.

Here sense becomes nonsense, pointing in the opposite direction of where one wants to go, exactly as happened to Alice when she wanted to get into the garden and had to walk away from it in order to enter.

In other words, the study of nonsense is important because it allows us an opportunity to make sense of our nonsensical actions. It opens a window on reality we cannot afford to overlook.

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“Tammy” – No Rotten Tomatoes Here!

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I love Melissa McCarthy. She rescued Brides from banality, made me laugh out loud in Identity Theft and cheer (again aloud) in Heat. I think she’s the best comedian to come down the pike in a long time.   Her comedic timing is perfect; from pause to instant rebound she never misses a beat. She even does slapstick well – a very , very difficult thing to pull off. But what really gets me is her intelligence. It shines through her work, informing and enhancing every move. On top of that, the woman can act. She can turn on a dime from bathos to true pathos adding an unexpected dollop of gravitas which engages the viewer in reality even in the midst of suspension of disbelief.

That’s why I went to see Tammy – though to tell the truth, the preview wasn’t that inviting and I’ve seen scripts created for a specific actor that did not turn out well. But Tammy plays to all McCarthy’s strengths. Perhaps her genius stems from an ability to embrace the absurdity of the human condition without bitterness or cynicism. Her characters always come equipped with compassion.  I always like them and they always ring true.

This coming-of-age story holds a mirror to our faces of just what a refusal to do the work of maturation looks like. Tammy takes the inner, ghastly, ego-centric mess of denial, self-pity, rage and despair inherent in an unexamined life and turns it inside out to make it visible. Just to make sure we get the point we have Susan Sarandon (playing Pearl, Tammy’s grandmother) as aging sidekick, suffering the same messy interior life, but with a more savvy and beautiful outside. Depicting them side by side the movie says, “Listen up people, there’s hundreds of us running around like this pretending to be grown-up without doing our homework – this is what it looks like.”

Tammy replays Joe Campbell’s mythic journey to reclaim the self. Being everywoman (and man)’s story, it never fails to fascinate. It’s a necessary rite of passage that can take place at any stage of life and may be repeated more than once. Here we see Tammy and Pearl at opposite ends of their lives, both embarking on a voyage of self-discovery. However, heroines and heroes never undertake the adventure completely for themselves; they must return to the community with a gift to share. That gift is relationship – the ability to engage, to connect, to respond and reciprocate.

Hats off to writers Falcone and McCarthy for underlining the importance of relationship and honoring the contribution women bring to its implementation. One of the great things to come out of the women’s movement is a the recognition, understanding and study of friendship among women. I love this movie because it depicts as normal the way women so often offer each other hospitality, help and honesty as a matter of course.

Tammy touches on serious cultural issues, i.e. alcoholism, the dreary distasteful proliferation of fast food, our pernicious sense of entitlement, but never forgets it’s a comedy operating on many different levels. It makes it some subtle inside jokes by casting Susan Sarandon in a road trip full of escalating criminal escapades reminiscent of Thelma and Louise or having Kathy Bates turn Fixer and quote directly from Pulp Fiction, but much of the movie is painted in broad flamboyant strokes reminiscent of vaudeville and silent picture comedies. For that kind of humor to succeed with me it has to be perfectly timed and consistently funny. This is Melissa McCarthy’s forte and with the help of husband, fellow writer and director Ben Falcone she doesn’t fail to deliver.

 

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On Returning to Iraq

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Impossible to overstate how distressed I am about US forces returning to Iraq . Once again a US president – this one, unlike the last, vaunted for intelligence – has made the same inane remark that “the dead must not have died in vain.”  Vanity being the operative word here – on everyone’s part.

I wrote the following the last time we ran this loop – still applies:

 These Are the Flowers Sprung from Blood

These are the flowers sprung from blood,

anemone, violet, poppy, aster

blood of Adonis, Attis, Aegeus

blood of mothers, lovers, fathers,

daughters, sons, a thousand

legions of unknown warrior dead

buried in the fields of Mars.

 

          I. Anemone speaks:

 

Windflower they call me

wind to which I open

anemonewind that hastens my demise

wind fickle as the love of Aphrodite

who kept Adonis by her side too long

incurring Ares wrath, who slew him.

It’s said the goddess sprinkled nectar

into his bleeding wounds‑ commingled

drops, falling to earth, engendered me.

 

          2. Violet cries out:

 

Love-lies-bleeding, Kit-run-in-the-fields

Love Idyll – two hundred names

from which to choose. Who could guess

Our Lady’s Modesty hid so many secrets? Dog-Violet-Common-1A

Attis died to make me, emasculated

beneath a pine tree by his own hand

for love of Cybele. For centuries

her rites continued, year by thirsty year

demanding male sacrifice upon the Day of Blood.

 

         

           3. Aster tells her story:

She changed me out of pity.

goldenrod-insects-img_3582Old Root Woman, sheltering us, foresaw

capture, rape, dismemberment and death,

sprinkled magic pollen on my sister’s face.

I watched it change beneath the moon

blossom into yellow golden rod.

When she came to me

I opened mouth and eyes

welcoming the dust.

 

We are the flowers sprung from blood

born from myth and metaphor

alive in Flanders Fields and on the Plain of Jars,

look for us in Normandy, Shiloh, Khe Sanh,

on San Juan Ridge and Pork Chop Hill.

Search between the burned out cars

in vacant rubbled lots. You’ll find us in Fallujah.

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Crazy Wisdom

I was an odd awkward child, an army brat dropped into new schools as regularly as other kids get new shoes or longer jeans. To defend myself, I made a virtue out of abnormality. I shaped my difference into a cool kind of elitism – my way of making lemonade out of sour grapes. And it worked! For a long time I felt safeguarded, sustained and rewarded by my elegant design. There was only one drawback, I always felt a little fraudulent –as if I were perpetuating a lie at the same time as I was being fooled. I knew in my heart of hearts that I’d built my defense on an unstable foundation of fear, resentment and loneliness.

Finding a loving partner helped, becoming a mother helped, but I still felt like I walked the world encased in glass, through which I could see, smell, taste and feel others and myself, but never really, really touch. The Women’s Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s shattered the glass. For the first time I belonged, by virtue of being female. This was a place where difference and eccentricity were valued. The movement gave me a political view that jived with my own.  I learned “the personal is political” and stopped feeling crazy for thinking the emperor wore no clothes. It introduced me into a community of wise, caring accepting individuals who expected me to engage and participate. Best of all it fulfilled my longing for meaningful spirituality in the form of the feminine divine. One by one the thousand cuts my heart and soul had sustained began to heal.

Of course I am speaking retrospectively, with the advantage of hindsight. It took the rest of my life and many other milestones to reclaim myself, face my fears, and own my stuff – all the hard work of living a life of conscious engagement. Along the way I never lost my fascination with what was normal because the hardest thing to relinquish was my internal ranking system which measured me against all comers in regards to look, smarts, aplomb, sophistication, etc.

The desire to prioritize hierarchically is probably hardwired in animals. Happily women are less vertically and more horizontally inclined! We like to nest, create relationships spread our roots across the landscape underground like aspen trees, connecting and connecting.  Learning to build relationships based on mutual vested interests in health, well-being and sustainable friendship gradually dissolved my inclination to judge myself and others.

Over time, the practice of introspection and compassion taught me that I carry within myself every impulse and condition known to humankind. Just because I don’t act on all of them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  This insight destroyed any remaining vestiges of belief that I wasn’t an integral part of humanity and by extension life on Earth and by extension the universe. Further contemplation led me to think of my psyche as a Möbius strip – a constant flowing continuum of impulse, thought, emotion that can, at any time, assume any configuration.

The only abnormality I ever suffered from was the delusion that I could somehow stand outside my own humanity. Sitting in circle with women allowed me to see myself – all my foibles, flaws, beauty and wisdom – reflected in the faces of others.  My community freed me because it gave me time. It accepted me until I could accept myself. This is why I embedded Dr. Gabor Mate’s interview. Why I think his words wise and important to hear. Why I want to support the documentary Crazywise is making. I believe in crazy wisdom.

 

 

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