When Coyote Shows Up To Play

Several months ago I signed up on Owl & Crow for an on-line course in creating a Major Arcana tarot deck of SoulCollage® cards.  It started January 8th, but by then I had forgotten fileexactly what I had enrolled in.  I received no notices because they all got sent to Promotions by my server.  Happily, I received a Facebook notification announcing a friend’s new Fool card, checked it out, saw the site, remembered everything and found my lost instructions!


The Major Arcana of the Tarot consists of The Fool and 21 other numbered cards.  The Fool has no value- he/she is the joker, a wild card who fits at either the beginning or end of the sequence and can pop up anywhere.  The Major Arcana cards represent, among many other things, a journey of initiation, like the one we take in life, in which we meet and grapple with all the attributes of being human.  Starting in the beginning place, as fools, we pass through each aspect of ourselves gaining self-knowledge until in the end we become whole.

fools-hatI opened that post  this morning because the word “Fool” caught my eye.  The Fool and I are old foolfriends by way of Coyote, a Trickster totem of mine.  The Trickster is one of coyote8the basic archetypes in the human psyche.  He/she could be said to be an archetype of humanity itself – absurd, intelligent, ridiculous, arrogant, innovative, deceitful, vulgar – well you begin to get the picture.  Perhaps the one truly unique thing about human beings is our ability to laugh at ourselves.  This is the Trickster’s forte and the reason he/she is so very important to us.  It was probably Coyote who blurred memory, jumbled files, and mucked about for six weeks before showing up late, in time to tag me!


I recently posted about my new book of Irish poems, Sitting on the Hag Seat, but today, seeing how Trickster is hanging around, it seems like a propitious moment to talk about an earlier collection The Naked Man that’s all about the Fool.


 As you can see the cover derives from the Ryder-Waite tarot card pictured above.  The poems describe a man stuck in the Fool archetype.  Fools are meant to journey on and become more wise without losing the qualities of child-like simplicity and delight.  As the Fool roams about the world he/she is meant to linger in other places, see the world through different eyes.  A person run by an archetype, or as Santeria says, “ridden by a god,” loses their volition.  They have yet to learn to see themselves absurd, laugh appreciatively and move on.  The Naked Man attempts to show how painful and funny it is to be stuck.


I honor Coyote’s guidance in this and all my endeavors, the artistry of my daughter Kathleen Irving who drew the Naked Man on the cover, and the amazing Julie Valin who formatted, proofed, designed and turned it into a real book.


Journey’s End


The Naked Man

begins to journey

by leaving home and tumbling

into an abyss.


Free fall becomes him –

long limbs cart wheeling through air

while wife, children, house

“the full catastrophe”

sail upwards into the blue.


He’s fool, simpleton

dummkopf, hobo

youngest brother;


misunderstood …


He’ll suffer

strange encounters

pratfalls, stumbles.


Somewhere the Devil waits.


There are worse things than a rabbit hole.

He’ll have to lose himself

to save his soul.

©Christine Irving 2010

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The Need for Intersectionality: Repainting Sojourner Truth by AngelaYarber

angelaI’ve long held that feminism, in order to be true and engaged and practical, must be intersectional. Such is also the case, I believe, for LGBTQ rights. The work of justice for women and LGBTQs people must also include justice for other marginalized groups. Because many LGBTQ people are also women, people of color, people with disabilities, Muslims, immigrants, and others marginalized for identities other than their sexuality. Paying attention to these intersections—of sexuality, gender, race, class, ability, religion—and acknowledging that many people have multiple intersecting identities for which they are oppressed is vital to the work of justice.

These thoughts remained at the forefront of my mind as I recently marched in one of the sister marches of the Women’s March in my home of Hilo, Hawaii. I heard many straight, white, cisgender women claim that women are not oppressed while mocking the march as irrelevant. I heard some…

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Hidden Figures – A Different Approach to Promoting Mutuality

The other day, I re-blogged Sara Frykenberg’s  post about the impossibility of debating “mutuality,” which I define as the mutual respect required to approach each and any “other” as a peer.     The movie, Hidden Figures, starring Taraji Hensen, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe,  offers an excellent alternative to debate.  It pulls us into a visceral understanding of why we need to engage in  mutuality.


There is lots going on in this film, based on a true story depicting the lives of several African American women who worked hidden-figures-13as mathematicians for NASA in the early sixties.  Sounds a bit dull, right?  Wrong.  Director Theodore Melfi has produced a tight, beautifully crafted, suspenseful drama containing not a single unnecessary word, wasted shot, or insignificant gesture.

Like life, the movie contains layers of interrelated parallel realities.  The importance of human beings relating  personally with each other in any environment, no matter how hidden-figures-4functional or impressive it might be, is one of the movie’s underlying themes.  The work at NASA, which fascinates and compels the main character, Katherine Gobel Johnson, is continually cradled in the larger, more important context of human relationship.   At the end of this story the personal bond established between Katherine and her boss, Al Harris, allows him to make the judgement call that lets the mission successfully proceed.

The debilitating, insidious, toxic effects of racism have never been more aptly depicted than in this film. The director focuses here on small constant oppressions that bring home to the audience how chronically painful and tedious living under such circumstances really is and how it erodes the soul and spirit of all.  Racism in neither the focus nor the by-product here – it is integrated into the fabric of the story the same way it was (and is) interwoven into the everyday life of ordinary Americans.  The screen shows no mercy in demonstrating that “death by a thousand cuts” can be more cruel than outright murder.  Yet the story ends happily with deft touches of humor throughout.  It’s characters defy despair and achieve goals that let the audience walk out feeling proud and hopeful.  My fellow movie-goers (the theater was packed) clapped spontaneously at the end – for a lesson they might otherwise have disdained. This is one measure, in my opinion, of great theater.  It compels us to willingly watch, what we might normally turn from and avoid.


In spite of the exhilarating scene where Al Harris, the head of Katherine’s section, takes a sledgehammer to the sign over the women’s room designating it “colored,”  it is obvious that this man, who lives only for his job, is primarily motivated by pragmatism.  I am a huge proponent of pragmatism.  It is the foundation stone of morality, ethics and idealism.  Basically, things works better if we treat each other fairly and well.  Kindness and mutual respect pay off in terms of profit, efficiency, industriousness, safety – the list is endless.  Humankind’s best interests lie in making the world a place in which all talents, great and small,  flourish and thrive to the benefit of all.  It profits us to behave well.  On the other hand, failure to practice this kind of enlightened self-interest results in long term failure as systems break down and chaos creeps in.  The results are obvious.  They surround us.

It’s one of the reasons we need feminism so much.  This is another issue Hidden Figures hidden-figures-8addresses.  Katherine Gobel Johnson is discriminated against not only because she is black, but also (double whammy here) because she is female.  And OK, things have improved some since the sixties, but lots has gotten worse and the law still allows unequal pay for equal work by women.  Women are still victimized, discriminated against, bullied, beaten, enslaved and oppressed.  I hidden-figures-6watched this movie the day before the Women’s March.  It was the perfect segue and made me evenhidden-figures-9 more determined and proud to stand with millions of feminists, men, women, and children, around the world.


Hidden Figures fills me with the excited, inspired rush of creativity excellent art so often engenders.  An amazing thing about the creative process is that the good feeling it inspires lingers long after the work is complete or the show has ended.  Several weeks later, I’m still feeling it.


 Popular Mechanics Magazine has an interesting article on the real story

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You Can’t Debate Mutuality by Sara Frykenberg

This is a lovely thoughtful reminder about how easy it is to spend emotional energy unwisely. By “debate mutuality” the author actually means it is impossible to talk someone into believing in the value of mutuality, which I take as the mutual respect required to approach each and any “other” as a peer.

Sara FrykenbergParticipating in the Women’s March on Jan. 21st in Los Angeles fed my soul deeply. I didn’t realize how much I needed to protest in this way, how stuck I had been in grief and despair after the election, and the way that coming together as a community would help me to mourn. There’s nothing quite like standing together with hundreds of thousands of people who also care deeply with hope, humor, and real power. Marching helped me to find the energy to fight back. It refilled a reservoir, so depleted in 2016, much as the badly needed winter rain in my home state of California has helped to abate the severe drought.

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Sitting on the Hag Seat: A Knot of Celtic Poetry

This Imbolc Day I honor Brigit, Gaelic goddess and saint, releasing into Her hands my gift to Ireland:

latest-cover(Click on cover to order)

Sitting on the Hag Seat was inspired by a pilgrimage I made to Ireland in 2015.  The journey was inspired enriched and guided by an extraordinary circle of wise women.  We spent our time outdoors at ancient sites, walking paths, lying on grass, resting against stones, drinking from sacred springs.  Because we chose to listen, the land spoke to us.  Irish earth guided me to a deeper, richer connection with  Planet Earth; a connection that continues to strengthen wherever I stand.  For this gift I am profoundly grateful. 

My book honors the Spirit of Place so palpable in Ireland.  The poems explore details of the landscape, those places wherein gods, spirits and totems so often reside.  The collection, taken as a whole, depicts an ardent connection with physical, historical and mystical Ireland.  Blood feuds, cattle raids, cows, crows, and fearsome goddesses flow through the pages forming themselves into a Celtic lovers’ knot of poetry

Brigit is an ancient Celtic goddess of healing, metal smithing and poetry.  An elemental fire goddess who survived Christianity as a patron (shouldn’t it be matron?) saint of the Emerald Isle.  Imbolc, harbinger of spring, is Her day.  It is a time of new beginnings, the season when seeds begin germinating, ewes begin lactating.  I think it propitious indeed to send a new book into the world on…

                                            Imbolc Day

                                       Blood stains the snowy field

                                       streaks the broad white forehead

                                      of the goddess, coats her arms

                                      in red red gloves.  Her mouth

                                      holds imprint of a bloody kiss ‑

                                      tiny nostrils freed of phlegm,

                                      life’s warm breath

                                      blown through open airways.

                                      She sits cross-legged,

                                      lamb cradled in her lap

                                      as dawn replaces indigo with apricot

                                      leaching darkness from the sky.

                                      The birth-exhausted ewe

                                      leaning on bright Brigit’s shoulder

                                      licks her baby clean.

I hope you choose to order my book.    

If you enjoy the poems,

please consider favorably reviewing

Sitting on the Hag Seat at Amazon.com.

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Why I March

At my march in Denton, Texas the organizers asked us to fill out a card saying why we march.  I wrote:”Because all the women who stayed home because they haven’t yet found their voice, or someone would hit them or they don’t have a ride, or a million other valid reasons, need to know they are not alone, not crazy, not imagining nor making up what they feel and think about being frightened, oppressed, underpaid, or made to feel “less than.” 

During the election process women continued to be discounted.  For one thing, its been traditionally acceptable to dismiss women as silly, menopausal, menstrual or hysterical.  The millions of marching women did not look silly.  We looked real. We looked reasonable.  We looked like we knew exactly what we were doing and why we were marching.

There were so many of us that it put lie to the idea that we are only a few radical exceptions hovering on the fringe.  The numbers surprised a lot of people, but not those of us who have been paying attention to what it means to be female in our bodies, our families, our communities, our countries.  Not to those who have learned to treat each other with respect, to build relationships based on mutual support, admiration and compassion.  We have learned to braid lifelines out of these skills and throw them across the differences that could divide us.  Equality  it isn’t about being the same at all.  It is about recognizing the commonality of of our emotions, our suffering, our joy and celebration.  We recognize our common ground and know how to stand on it.

But I’m a poet and as Gloria Steinem said so long ago, “the personal is the political.”   So here’s what I wrote, walking in the park this morning, thinking of yesterday’s events.

Why I March – The Next Day


Wind is blowing gusting, hovering on the edge of chill.

Blast and bluster buffet my thoughts, shake them free,

send me whirling up out of body, skyward like a falling leaf

granted reprieve, a joy ride over rooftops to lodge

upon the shingled roof of our grandiose landmark courthouse.


My astral perch telescopes past and present, making it easy

to spot myself below, among the crowds.  Men, children,

infants-in-arms and a thousand women fill the lawns

moving widdershins around the courthouse

uncoiling chains of fear, silence, shame and isolation.


Feels like déjà vu – over a hundred years of taking

to the street, raising the same signs… now…then… tomorrow

as the crowd mills and moves, chanting, cheering,

churning the cauldron, aerating stuffy closets whose doors

burst open from within.  But the women don’t mind.

We are used to mess and mud, chaos and confusion,

know that life’s a package deal.


We carry laundered rags inside our backpacks

for bandages, napkins, diapers, hairbands;

print slogans on them with blood, lipstick or crayon.

We are fierce, good-natured, spirited, proud.


My heart rejoices and grows wings while all around

the sound of clapping grows louder, becomes the clap

of flapping wings.  A plump of geese skims above my head.

Duck, egret, sparrow, hawk and heron flirt with the wind

tuck and tumble, soar and glide as earthbound, I

settle back into my body, my time.


The birds and I have the park to ourselves today,

the wind’s kept everyone away.

But I do not walk alone

and this is why I march.

Here’s Gloria in Washington at the March:


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I’ve seen Arrival twice now.  It’s the kind of movie I wanted to share. After seeing it myself, I had to take two of my favorite folks so they too could delight in this incredibly intriguing, suspenseful, atmospheric movie about thinking.  It’s a subject that couldn’t be timelier, seeing as how our country has just about split down the middle over issues to do with our culture’s unfortunate devaluation of thoughtfulness.

The name says it all.  To arrive is “to come to a place after traveling to reach; attain the objective in a course or process; to arrive at a conclusion.”

I looked up the etymology of arrival and found that it derives from the French, arriver, meaning to come to land, originally beginning to be used in the 11th century but deriving from the old Latin ad (from or to)+ ripa (shore) meaning “ to touch the shore” or, less literally,  “to reach the land after a long journey.”  In the movie the septapods arrive on the shores of Earth after an extremely long journey.  Humanity symbolized in the person of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) must make a social and personal journey to the other side of their changed reality before it can come ashore into new equilibrium.  Before that happens, the characters themselves must leave their familiar places to journey to the remote sites where the alien ships have landed.  Everyone in the movie is arriving.

Being a poet I know words are tricky things.  Poems like dreams deal with metaphors, puns and slanted rhymes.  Digging a bit deeper I found that rive, which means “bank ” or “shore” in French is also an English word derived from Old Norse which means “to split asunder” or “tear apart”).  From rive we also get rivet which means “to clinch” or “to focus on intently.”  In the movie we find the heroine, along with the rest of her world, sundered from all previous conceptions about the human place in the universe. The idea of aliens does not begin to address the shock and horror evoked by their actual arrival.  As fears progress among humans, nations and families, alliances and contracts or also ripped apart. To solve the linguistic riddle  the protagonist must focus intently o the problem. Finally, the word “arrival”  sounds like ” a rival.”  The aliens are generally perceived as rivals, rivalry is rampant between nations and implied in the juxtaposition between science and the humanities.

I  applaud about this film is the casting of Amy Adams as the linguist Louise Banks.  I’ve recently been reading Quiet by Susan Cain.  It’s about the nature of introverts and their overall importance in the greater scheme of things.  Louise Banks epitomizes all the traits Susan Cain extols.  In short, to quote the author, “Introverts are careful, reflective thinkers who can tolerate the solitude that idea-generation requires. On the other hand, implementing good ideas requires cooperation, and introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments.”  Amy Adams has a sweet, very young-looking face, unwrinkled, pleasant, pretty, but fairly nondescript.  She makes an excellent Everywoman.  It’s a puppy face and a trait we might well share with aliens is the ability to recognize and respond favorably to the young of any species, even those we might find abhorrent as adults.  This makes her a perfect non-threatening liaison.

Arrival is the dramatization of a concept.  It is about thinking and the process of being thoughtful.  Amy Adams never makes it about personality.  Suspense doesn’t depend on the outcome of a personal drama.  Denis Villeneuve, the director, makes brilliant use of the alien’s otherness, manipulative music, ominous lighting and the urgency of deadline to build suspense and keep the audience emotionally engaged without distracting them from the ideas of the movie which center around the benefits of contemplation, thinking innovatively and making connections while keeping the bigger picture always in mind and retaining compassionate understanding of one’s fellow beings.  Louse’s most prominent quality is the basic respect she exhibits for everyone she encounters.  Respect supersedes judgement; it demands flexibility of thought and the ability to set aside opinion.  Her ethic not only underwrites her success at communicating with the septapods, it also allows her to work cooperatively with the military  man and scientist who do not understand her or her work.   Ultimately, it is the quality that allows her to change.

The movie ends with departure and underscores the idea that departure is as much a beginning place as arrival. Therein lies the twist that makes this film such a joy.  Both nights I sat in the audience people laughed aloud with delight as the twist was revealed.  I can’t recommend this experience highly enough.



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Crisis and Opportunity

Today, pondering the election, I am reflecting on the notion that in Chinese calligraphy “disaster” combines the symbols for “crisis” and “opportunity.”  As it turns out this is a mistaken notion, but one that swept meme-like through western culture with the speed of wildfire.  We fell on it like devouring dogs because it’s a concept capitalists like us already understand and embrace.

It’s as American as the fortune cookies invented by a Japanese-American businessman, Mr. Suyeichi  who started  a Japanese confectionery store in San Francisco in 1906.  His store provided fortune cookies to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.  During World War II, when Japanese-Americans in California were sent to internment camps, Chinese-American businessmen used the opportunity to manufacture their own prophesy-enfolding desserts, peddling them first in Chinatown thus setting in motion the universal association between fortune cookies and Chinese restaurants that continues to this day.  Obviously, this small case of entrepreneurship was rife with both crisis and opportunity.

As I see it, the disaster in this election year of 2016 is less about Trump and more about the dangerous polarization that plagues our country at this moment.  The opportunity comes in using these weeks before the new year, to re-examine how and why we contributed to the creation of this perilous No Man’s Land.

If anyone had to lose this election perhaps it’s better that the folks less inclined to bear arms aggressively are those taking to the streets.  In my opinion, civil war is not an option and neither is should-a, could-a, would-a, breast-beating.  The thing to do is figure out how to communicate with those with whom we seem diametrically opposed.  Where is common ground?  How do we, who purport to be the sensitive, educated, righteous ones, actually roll up sleeves and do the grunt work of mediation?   This is the opportunity to take all our vaunted learning (everything we know about consciousness, psychology, sociology, history, physics, ecology etc., etc., etc., not to mention all the hours of therapy and self-help we have worked and struggled with these last few decades to become wiser people) – and actually embody what we’ve learned.

Would I have preferred Hillary?  You betcha!  Did I sign the petition to the electoral college, hoping they will change they’re votes?  I did.  Will I contribute in paying the fines?  Yes.  I also think if she had won that we, her supporters, would have fallen back into smug self-congratulation without considering how we contribute to the discord of dichotomy poisoning our country.

If it takes crisis to get us off our butts, to put not money, but the frustrating difficult work of compromise, collaboration and creation where our mouths have been, then so be it.  This is the service we are called to, the service for which we have been honing our skills.  This time, this work, is why we practiced.

I plan to look the homeless in the eye, stop smiling weakly at sexist jokes, stand beside the person being bullied or ridiculed.  I will find common ground, practice random kindness, smile at those whose path I cross.  I’ll work hard at staying conscious and put my efforts into the details of daily life.  Good will, will be my practice from now on.

I believe kindness ameliorates hate.  I know resistance strengthens opposition.  My own inner journey has taught me that embracing my demons is the only way to weaken their stranglehold on happiness.  This crisis is my opportunity to practice what I preach.


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Death and Ambiguity

With Halloween approaching and images of raddled witches cackling from every corner, I felt it was a good time to reblog an entry from a site my artist friend Michelle Anglin and I once shared. It speaks to Baba Yaga, prime mover in the mythic cosmology of Russia – She who epitomizes the very essence of crone.

Two Twitch A Tale

The Crone

While Baba Yaga may have her more benign moments, in truth, she is a terrifying creature of great power; a cannibal, said to have devoured the flesh of those whose flaming skulls form a palisade around her chicken-legged hut.  Cannibalism seems repulsive and horrible to modern eyes, but originally people ate bits of the dead in order to share their manna, their spirit, and make it their own.  Taking a bite of one’s ancestor meant incorporating some of her/his power and wisdom into oneself and opened a door to communication with the dead.  In the same way, eating some of one’s enemy allowed access to their courage and intelligence. In a way its about conservation, recycling and continuity; learning from the past and bringing its lessons forward.

Skulls served the same purpose.  Many ancient cultures from Celts to Mayans collected skulls and incorporated them heavily into their culture and…

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“It’s not easy to define poetry.” ~Bob Dylan


I am a lone wolf type of person, preferring to ascertain truth (always lower case) by means of intuition rather than sensation.  I make decisions based on logic rather than emotion and my conclusions are subject to change based on new evidence.  That makes me an INTP by Meyers-Briggs reckoning and defines me, to some extent, as an “intellectual.”  Unsurprisingly, early on I bumped heads with America’s anti-intellectual bias.  It took me frank-zappaa long confused time to understand it, but years of studying American history, religion and politics has taught me how and why this societal meme became so firmly entrenched in a society that purported to value education.  This debilitating prejudice seems to me to be the basis of much of Trump’s support – he’s brought it out of the closet and into the playground.

However, almost any prejudice has a flip side, a mirror image of itself.  The “awe-shucks” guy and gal have a counterpart in the intellectual snob who wants to dis anything smacking of popularity or successful commercialism.  Which brings us to Bob Dylan and the controversy surrounding his Nobel prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Dylan was wildly successful at synthesizing various genres of American music such as jazz, swing, blues, and pop into a unique sound.  The commercial success of his innovations encouraged other musicians to dare their own kinds of fusion.  He  insisted from the very beginning on being his own person and has never stopped insisting.  To quote Bill Wyman’s NY Times Op Ed piece in September,2013  “Mr. Dylan’s obama-and-dylanwork remains utterly lacking in conventionality, moral sleight of hand, pop pabulum or sops to his audience.  His lyricism is exquisite; his concerns and subjects are demonstrably timeless; and few poets of any era have seen their work bear more influence.”

Sometime in the late 1960’s women took “the personal is political” as a rallying cry.  It resonated all the way through me the first time I heard it.  I knew exactly what it meant. persomal-politicalBob Dylan’s lyrics exemplify that phrase.  Dylan’s blend of the political and personal is unforced and natural, because he makes these connections intuitively.  Art has often been used as a conscious vehicle for the expression of political ideas, but Dylan’s perspective of the world derives naturally from an understanding of how things, people, place relate to one another.  His art arises out of questions he asks about the meaning behind what people do and feel.

Certainly there are places in his lyrics where the words and ideas don’t logically align in a straightforward direction, but this is poetic license, painting a mood and scenario true to whatever he attends to in the moment.  His lyrics it-aint-meretain the tang of truth because he tempers them with a  reserve of skepticism, questioning even his own opinions and motivations. He manages to observe humanity without distancing himself from us and thus he remains relevant.lay

To those who argue that lyrics are neither literature nor poetry, I agree with Salman Rushdie’s opinion, “From Orpheus to Faiz, song and poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition.”  Dylan’s ability to present poetry to the world depended on his use of music, certainly he wasn’t a beautiful singer nor even, when he began, a great musician.  The combination of powerful poetry with  wordless raw emotion embodied in those poor-man’s instruments, the voice and harmonica, let Dylan cut across class, religion, gender and race to appeal to the political and personal heart of audiences around the world.



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