Friday, January 31, 2014

Good-bye to the Fun-a-Day House

It's been a month of writing in between the life I am trying to build in Vermont, catching myself thinking about what to share online, trying to respond to life, to get into the writing groove again.

The  end of Fun-a-Day! The end of riding the wave of communal consciousness around shared art discipline! The end of racking my brain to think of what to write! The end of confronting the large pile of poo that is my resistance to writing, almost daily, and just starting. So much of writing for me is just starting. The resistance I have has many sources, but really only one activator-- myself. I can think myself out of writing any day of the week. From my poor writing skill to my lack of time to my fear of reprisal to my sense of doom at being seen-- all of these mind games have stalled this writing life.

And it's not just me. I know many writers and artists who struggle with whatever inner voices tell them that their vision, their work is not good enough. I am testimony to the illusion, the base falseness of those voices. I did it. And those voices, do they linger?

No longer. I will call this Fun-a-Day a success because it has stopped these demon thoughts and left instead a curiosity.

I wonder what will happen next.

Good-bye, Fun-a-Day House. Until next year.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Forrest and the Magical Moving Potty

I couldn't write yesterday because time just ran out, as I was dealing with all that this rural life brings. I spent a lot of time on the phone yesterday, and when I was finished, it was way too late to grease these creative wheels and write. So I let Fun-a-Day down, but I have not given up! Blog #27, Day #30 of Fun-a-Day, commence!
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My son is potty trained, toilet trained, whatever you want to call it. He is "late" to it, at 3 1/2 years, although late is as late does, and to Forrest, he was right on time, so maybe that designation of late is meaningless. It has taken, and still takes, incentive of fruit leather or yogurt pretzel-- yes we have successfully limited the sweets in the house, though he does get his fair share of maple syrup and blueberry jam. That incentive, coupled with high fives and poopy/pee dances, often with our son naked and shivering in the morning cold, has sealed the deal. He is even using the potty at his new childcare space, that awesome one I wrote about before. Yes, it continues to be awesome.

Why is this of any interest at all to anyone at all? It might not be, but I want to write about a new phenomenon in our household-- the magical moving potty.

It started with -15 degree mornings. I suggested we move the potty into the living room so the drastically under-heated bathroom wouldn't be a disincentive. He was glad to oblige to this. And then it took on a life of its own.

I'm sitting in my bedroom, and poof the potty and Forrest appear. Stay with me, mama, he insists. I'm in the kitchen cooking, and wham-o, there's the potty, and Forrest, and he's pulling his pants down. I want to go upstairs to the bathroom and Forrest demands I bring the potty up so we can go together. Forrest can carry it around on any floor it might be on, and it seems we move it almost daily up and down.  It's quite a potty-rich environment we are in these days.

At the same time Forrest has discovered the Magic School Bus books. We don't have a television, but he discovered that there was more than one of these fun books, and he was hooked. They are a vehicle for teaching science, through the plot hinge of the magical bus that changes the size or shape of its passengers, and travels in time, and can change children from solid matter to light energy, et cetera et cetera, all under the watchful eye of Ms. Frizzle, a curly haired red-headed seamstress teacher who makes dresses that match the book's theme. It's really pretty exciting and I get reminded of science I used to know, or have integrated incorrectly into my daily knowledge.  Forrest is eating them up. Today we took out four of these books from the library.

So-- the magical moving potty is born. He is developing a comfort and love for his potty, where he does not read, but rather sits and tells himself magic stories. He is learning the subtle awareness of his body, and wants to share it with us.

I also know that Forrest is moving into the time of his life where closeness is marked and clear. At least I think he is. He is affectionate and connected with us. And he is not a little afraid, sometimes, of the dark spots, the funny noises, the open doors leading into places where no one is. It doesn't feel abnormal, but it does feel like the magical thinking of his growing mind is winning the day these days.

That's all right with me. When we live in magic-land, so much more is possible and interesting. But I see a lot more clearly now, thinking of his magical school bus, magical
potty, magical fear and grand imagination that proliferates almost every moment of his life-- I see our responsibility, as adults, to lead him through this magical and confusing land of newness. Because really there are no limits of imagination, and if he's left on his own with it, there are many places he could go that I don't want for him. Not yet. Not until he has the experience to connect with that dreaming.

I see Forrest's consciousness like an opening flower, in a rare season of winter, streaming life and learning and desire to be seen and loved for himself, in all his permutations. His room gets this lovely morning sun, and we've put two plants in his room. I want to nurture him just as we placed these plants, and care for them through the winter. And he'll surpass all my knowing, all my growth and imagining. He will imagine himself into his life, and I will be there, to witness and love him through it all.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

No gods no masters

#26 in Blog-a-Day for the month of January. Another brick in the wall.

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I'm scared. I'm scared that all the leaders are dying and all that's left is our cynicism and smallness. I'm scared that the giants of my childhood, my imagined past and chosen values as an adult are leaving this plane, and I don't know who to turn to for inspiration. I'm scared that there won't be anyone left as I age, and that the possibility I feel in me is nothing but a remembered song from some late night campfire or end-of-workshop kumbaya.

Seeger. Baraka. Mandela. And it won't end. We die. We die like flies on a windowsill-- in droves. A generation is dying. It's just true. And it's a generation that has been a center of my fantasy, of my dreams.

When I was a teen, I was often called a hippie. I've written elsewhere that I have never self-identified as a hippie, but I do remember feeling like I was born in the wrong generation. It took my moving to West Philadelphia in my late 20s to feel like I had peers who were interested in the same justice and change that woke me up at night. I have felt out of step with a lot of my generation.

And the songs, the movements, the words and challenge of the cultural change agents of our time have buoyed me when I have felt isolated, and pushed me to keep on looking for places to explore the challenges, deepen my growth and commitment. What does racial justice look like? Sexual justice? Gender justice? Economic justice? Justice-love? The peaceable kingdom?  What is the truth of our dominant system? Where do we collude with these systems? How can we live differently? What is possible where we are-- right now?

And now, they are leaving us. Their truths remain, their inspiration. But I am scared. The giants are going. They've already gone.

I think Pete Seeger today really threw me-- ridiculous, I know, because he was in his 90s. It felt like a blow, a continued blow from learning about Mandela, and then Baraka. I was lamenting the lack of visible leaders like these giants, and then I read something that flipped the switch for me. 

A colleague and fellow GreenFaith Fellow, Beth Ackerman, shared her experience meeting Pete Seeger on the street:
I encountered Pete last October when walking down a street in Hudson, NY. I lit up at seeing him- his concerts and albums informed my childhood very much. Pete, can I take a photo with you? Oh, I'm late for something. So I said, "well thank you for ALL you have done and everything you have stood for". He leaned in and said, with a twinkle, "You don't know the dumb things I've done". And he was gone.
Reading this encounter stopped me. Suddenly he was real. Suddenly he had done dumb things, too. This resistance to being put on a pedestal is maybe one of the best things I could have read today, as he left, as the reality of this dying generation is coming home to me.

Because no one is on a pedestal, unless we put them there. Because no one is a giant unless we imagine them that way. And what kind of radical am I, recapitulating the hierarchy of goodness and power that these folks resisted so relentlessly? Isn't the shared humanity and connectedness of movements of people what holds up and feeds these leaders art, resistance, and change work? They were because we were, writ large. They represented by being a part of a generation, not separate from it.

I think that the next generation of leaders are born, working, and leading already. My inability to see them is simply my own limitation-- limitation of experience, or limitation of imagination. And really this next generation is not for me, but for my children, for my students, for younger generations. Maybe it's time for me to stop being so scared about what is leaving, and start watching what comes rushing in.

Sometimes it's easier to feel fear than mourning. I still feel scared, but I will try to keep my eyes open through my tears, and listen for the beating heart of the new prophets and leaders already living their visions in this world that needs them so much. We stand on the shoulders of these human giants, who brought forth our better selves with their passion, vision, and leadership. And if we're lucky, we reach forward to the new human people who take up the work, from generation to generation.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Winning the Battle, Losing the War

Blog #25 for Fun-a-Day. Time is a-passing.

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I wrote in another post that I was so enamored with Vermont, that finding a couple of mouse poops on the countertop didn't trouble me.

Well, I was wrong. The mouse situation has not improved, despite my best efforts to remove the habitat and put up deterrents. In this weather-- temps hovering in the low teens and in the negative overnight, these mice are here to stay. Earlier, maybe a week ago, we heard a mouse scratching and scratching at the wall. We assumed it was trying to get into the living room in our naivetĂ©.

Most striking is how every little thing, even a crumb or an oil spot, is a feast for this thing. I can't keep things clean enough. The countertop where we do most of our cooking is now clear of all cookbooks, laid with cayenne and peppermint oil. Despite this, there are daily leavings from our new, or not so new, residents.

This house is old. I am talking 1860s old, or some decade in the 1800s, anyway. Why should I be surprised? And it's not like I haven't lived with vermin before. Growing up, we contended with ants and moths. In college, I had my first taste of roaches. After college, Boston was roaches and rats. New Jersey was ants. Philadelphia was roaches, fleas, mice, and earwigs. West Chester was mice and centipedes. Why should mice wig me out?

Everyone, or just about, has mice issues in this neighborhood. I've heard many opinions, and a constant refrain of-- you need to borrow a cat. Luckily, our neighbor in the house has two cats, and we are leaving our doors open in case they want to come hunt in our kitchen.  The truth is that if you live rural, you have animals living off the leavings, the warm spots we leave behind. But this is hard for me, harder than other infestations, other issues.

I think what's different is that every mouse poop is a reminder that there is a closeness to life out here that I didn't really experience elsewhere. Nature is getting ready to snatch things back at a moments notice. I don't think that's wrong, or that it is my Manifest Destiny to conquer nature. I know nature will win, in the long run-- and by that I mean the time telling of the planet, not the time telling of human generations. I know this house is a blink in the eye to the planet. That's right, and also that's not my timeline.

On a warmer day this winter I circled the barn out back, pulling vines that had been left to crawl up it. I felt like a savior, just a little. But I'm not fooling myself-- they'll grow back, and stronger. They, and the mice, are the constant battles/relationships I will be contending with in my life here. The natural world has an array of teachers/mentors/combatants waiting for me, and I need to figure out how I am going to relate to them.

I also think that we are not planning to move again, and hoping and working for this to work for the long haul. The long term solutions to all this house's, and this land's challenges rest with us. We have to solve it. We have to work it out. There isn't a landlord, a job, a municipality to figure it out for us-- not in the long term.

So it's humbling, and feels sometimes like a war. My positive attitude and willingness to engage with all God's creatures is not consistent. Frying a sausage in a pan and realizing there are mouse leavings in it does a lot to chip away at that. But I'm learning. I actually took my son to the mall today to get plastic containers at a big box store. Now our blankets and pillows are safe. Score 1 for thinking proactively on habitat removal.

We'll see what the next days and weeks bring, but for now I am committing to not shying away from this new relationship with nature, knocking at my kitchen door. I hope I don't write about mouse poop again, but I get the sense I'll be living into and learning from this for years to come.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

That Vision Thing

Pretty sure the title above is from a Buffy the Vampire episode, but there you go. Day #26, blog #24 of Fun-a-Day, a month of art every day by artists from around the USA. We are family.
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Here's an article I wrote awhile back, and submitted for publication, to no avail. So, the joy of self-publishing. It articulates really clearly the process that brought us to this land, and the vision we hold onto as we take our plunge. A lot of what my writing will be about, after this month, is this massive and human undertaking-- seeking community and healing on land the feeds us, holds us, and teaches us.
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Way Opening: Building a Vision for Farm and Community in East Montpelier, Vermont

Another turn of the wheel, in spring 2013, had passed at Westtown School, in West Chester, PA, where I was working and living in community as Earth Literacy Teacher and Farmer. Managing and teaching on a 2 acre educational farm and gardens with children in all the grades, I marveled at their opening to the lessons on the land—peppered with hearty resistance to things like worms and dirt—and watched, wistfully, as they flew off on summer’s wings.

Six years building a farm program and curriculum at a largely traditional academic institution had left me with a sense of fatigue and hope. My work and growth while at Westtown gave me a clear knowledge that way had shut for my growth and vision. This was my last spring at Westtown, as I embraced the larger vision of my work to build farm, community, and justice-love in Montpelier, Vermont—a final yes to the calling that has tugged at me since I was small.

Yes, this vision has been with me, conscious or not, since childhood. Springs and summers growing up on suburban land in Cranston, Rhode Island, were times of late night dancing, solitary weeding projects, and conversations with a Jesus who came to me as I watched the rolling tides of Narragansett Bay.  Catholic Mass could not hold a candle to the in-breaking of God(ess) that met me as I stretched my body into the frames of trees on our land, or clanged the bell of the flagpole as the rope flung itself with great clatter in evening ocean winds.

I always knew that God(ess) was with me, when I cared to truly experience the world as it was. When I would sweat and struggle to dance my imaginings in the backyard, while listening to Peter Gabriel’s So album, at 11, I was not simply seeking to be seen. I was seeking communion, at its most sacred and least elevated—the marriage of sacred and profane in the body, with the land, with the weather and water that accompanied me for many years. I came to know this experience, as a feminist theologian, as panentheism.  I came to know this experience, as a Friend, as the inward Teacher (or Light, or Friend) speaking out, in words and in-body.

This awareness dipped out of consciousness, and re-surfaced again and again through garden work and justice work.  I sought community and justice as my body sought communion. Secular friends became religious friends in seminary, and turned to the Society of Friends as I sought theological ground for my experience for the in-breaking of God(ess) in my life and work. Living, learning, and working in community at Pendle Hill periodically from 1997 to 2003 became, for me, a ground of growth and an experience of yes to faith and Friendship. It stays with me still.


And now, the plunge. Doesn’t every faithful act start with the risk to say yes to it? Leaving the relative safety of Westtown School, with community, labor, ministry, work clearly marked success on its label, we land on land that has been in the family for three—now four generations, with the birth of my son.

We are starting small. We are starting with turning 264 square feet and planting ten pounds of garlic. We are cleaning out old storage and finding artifacts from our ancestors. We are stacking wood and building winter compost. We are excavating generations of memory and life, and making space for this new vision and work to blossom, even as the leaves change.

And from small things, big things build. Homestead and farm stand are our first steps, and from there, we hope to expand to grass-fed meats, value-added products, and interfaith meeting and healing space for all who seek shelter from their world-wearying work. As an activist and educator, I know that world-working work is tiring and sometimes injuring. As a minister and farmer, I know the land can be healing and enlivening. And as a person in the world, I know community must anchor us all.

My faith has found a home on this well loved pasture, mature acreage of woods, and few acres of arable land. A much defunct barn, a decrepit gazebo, and a house from the 1860s welcomed us in late August. The beginnings of our life, the seeds of farm and community, have germinated in this strange season. And as my faith grows, here, in my lived experience on this land and with my family, this seed will grow and change, reaching its true maturity and depth, in time.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

You're not going to heaven

Fun-a-Day #23. I chose blog-a-day for the month of January, along with folks from around the country. Art-a-Day keeps the stupid-numbness-despair-doubt away!
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My son heard about heaven for the first time today. We had some neighbors and new friends over for dinner. With a sprawling loveliness of three children and two parents, we crammed ourselves around the 6-person table and tried to eat a vegetarian peanut noodles and vegetable dinner. It was less of a hit with the children, but we adults enjoyed it.

Forrest had a hard time of it. The energy of three girl children is a lot for him-- any three children is hard for this quiet singleton, who likes to tell himself stories for hours, and oftentimes just sits on the couch, thinking. He melted down at dinner and exiled himself in the living room, where I tried to ply him with fruit leather and milk to come back to the table. He insisted on sitting in front of the fire, and was not too interested in much besides chomping on his apricots. Then, he overheard the mom in the kitchen sharing about an amazing parrot who knew how to talk, and was much beloved and studied.

Forrest was captivated, and though he didn't return to the table, he stood by and asked for the story about the parrot, and asked that she repeat the part of the story about how the parrot died. She told him about how the night before he died he said to his trainer, Will you come back tomorrow? and she replied, Yes.  He said, I love you. The next morning he died.

Forrest's face froze when he heard that, and our friend said quickly, The good news is that the parrot is in parrot heaven, so he is still flying around and talking in heaven.

It's interesting to watch my son process something he hasn't heard about before. He sort of listened, registered that his feeling of sadness wasn't necessary, and moved on.

I wonder what would have happened if she hadn't given him that answer to his sadness. There's nothing wrong with the answer she gave, and I'm not opposed to talking about the possibility of life after death. I don't find the concept personally motivating or meaningful, not in the old-school heaven kind of way, anyway. But that hand-hold of heaven helped Forrest move through what for him is a new concept, and one that he is figuring out daily.

He asks about eating animals, particularly dinosaurs eating other animals. He often talks about wanting to raise chickens and eat them. He has asked a lot about Spike, who died a year ago, when we visited at the holidays up the hill at his house. He is making sense of things. It will be interesting to see how this talk of heaven comes through in later weeks.

This also made me think a lot about this song going around the interwebs of Bo Burnham singing "From God's Perspective." In this song, this young performer hilariously explodes all the ego-centric ideas of God that we hold onto in our world faiths. The main point is that we're not going to heaven, because there are a trillion aliens more interesting than us, and our preoccupation with correctness and Truth (capital T) is getting in the way of the love we need to generate in our work of creating heaven on earth.
I like this song, both for its reference to aliens, and for its clear condemnation of this ego-centric faithfulness that obliterates love in our world. And I think building the heaven, the kin-dom on this earth, is more in line with what I believe about heaven, than any abstract concept of another world beyond this one, waiting for us if we are good.

I don't begrudge the world it's desire to have a heaven waiting for it. But I do begrudge the world that ignores our heavenly possibilities now. So I wonder about what it might mean if you really aren't going to heaven. What would you do then? How could that pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die idea, if it were no longer an issue, be released into the aether of human possibility on this plane? As our dear poet Mary Oliver writes: Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?


Friday, January 24, 2014

This Now. This one.

Blog #22, Day #24 of Fun-a-Day. Home stretch!
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I saw an advertisement on the back of a New Yorker for the Shaw Festival. It happens through summer into the fall, at Niagara-on-the-Lake, in Ontario. I remember my father telling me about trips to see the Shaw Festival. I think-- oh, he can do that now! He can travel and do what he wants, now that he has a new kidney!
view from my parent's window

When I went to visit with him a week ago, I had some pretty specific goals for the visit. One was to go for a run. This might seem a small thing, but the run I grabbed in the middle of a snowstorm, with big fat flakes settling on my shoulders, was the most grounding act I could do, in the tumult of family and planning and not enough timeness. It was glorious, and much needed.

Another was to advocate for my father to go to Alaska. When I spoke with him on the phone, after the first real round of good news about the acceptance of his kidney and the health he was looking at in the face, he said he wanted to go to Alaska. I took him at his word, and felt it was my job to advocate and imagine Alaska with him.

When I got to my parent's place-- a wonderful winter rental on Mystic Lake, with views in every room (even the bathrooms) of a half frozen lake, birds, and trees-- where they have been in recovery and relative isolation, it became readily apparent that talking about the future was not part of the plan. When I tried to bring it up, my father gently corrected me-- The only way I've been able to get through this is by focusing on the now, practicing mindfulness.  And he proceeded to show me the books, mugs, cards, he had made with his years of photography, and his recent bird photographs he has taken out the myriad windows. He has filled up his world with a now that is simple and beautiful. He is warm cheeked and vibrant, humming with a gifted life. He is handling this responsibility very well indeed.

This is no small thing for my father. In his 70s, and he is not fully retired from a life of service and work as a psychiatrist that has taken him very far away from any now that includes his care, his art. Although he had seriously transitioned to part-time work before the transplant, I wonder what it will look like for him to return after this giant shift in his awareness.

As I watched my father, the day stretching out with a meal, and then a brunch the next morning, I saw him perching on the edges of things-- chairs, walls-- watching, beaming out from behind his mask that he wears to protect from sickness, just being in a very good way. I left the weekend with a sense of ease and comfort that this change, this now, is the one that is needful and right.

Today I went with my son to a Waldorf playgroup. It was sparsely attended, maybe because the temperature was -4 when we arrived, and 9 when we left two hours later. This day I was able to see the joyful life I am nurturing in his play and imaginings, and see the loving friendship of this small band of women and children. It was a gift-- a gift from my father. This now. This one.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the

Blog #21, Day #23 (all right I'm not perfect) of Fun-a-Day, where overly optimistic artists commit to doing art every day in the month of January. I'm doing the best I can.....
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I've been thinking a lot about truth lately, and a few lines from an Ani DiFranco song keep on playing in my mind: nobody's lying, still the stories don't line up. why do you try to hold on to what you'll never get a hold on? you wouldn't try to put an ocean in a paper cup. 

I think I pride myself on looking for truth, and in fact I've written about how I want my writing to be about that seeking of truth. But I am aware of a certain arrogance imbedded in that statement. Why would I try to put an ocean in a paper cup?

I come from, on one side of my family, a lineage of science. My father's parents were both plant scientists. Time spent with these grandparents, as a child, was not the most heartwarming experience, but it was always very stimulating intellectually. I learned about all manner of plant, and was taken to the New Alchemy Institute, as a teen, to get my first taste of both community living and sustainable agriculture.

I know that these folks, these ancestors of mine, lived their whole lives believing clearly in some sort of objective truth that had nothing to do with human emotion, or agreed upon meanings. For them, the reality of science was absolute, and in some sense ineffable.  I saw their knowledge of science as its own religion. I remember being both impressed and scared of my grandparents, because of my decidedly mutable truths, both in my youth and in my growing awareness that there was a bigness I could not understand, or really know, but only seek.

Maybe I envy my grandparents their certainty, and desire it for myself. But I'm not fooling myself, and I sure as hell wouldn't fool my grandparents. I'm not living in an objective world, not by a long shot. I've even, for a time, thought that farming could teach me objective lessons. That's no joke, but it is one. The methods of farming, the objectives of farming, the interests of farming, they lead to a million different choices and possibilities. One outcome can be brought about by many different paths, and each outcome will be slightly different. Farm research folks might disagree with me, but if nothing else, the weather is the great leveler of control groups.

Or maybe it's just that I don't have the patience to really know a thing. I feel a thing, I experience and internalize it, and then it is shifted in meaning through my own lens, my own need. God is much like that, for me. I need Her, and so she is, and in that sense, ineffable and mutable, both.

This is getting a mess, but I guess what I want to write is that perhaps I should take my stabs at truth, and know that really I am not holding anything in the paper cup but air. And if I'm lucky, I'm floating on the ocean, a drop of it, or a fish, in my element, breathing in the ocean truth, and not worrying if it will be there, or not, for my next breath.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Writing Life

Blog #20, for Fun-a-Day 2014-- a blog post a day for the month of January.
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There is a poem on my mother's mirror, that I wrote when I was 8. It's about being lost in a thunderstorm, and the light of my mother's love, guiding me home.  I remember making it into a poster for my mother, and her pride at receiving a poem from me.

That's all the affirmation I needed. I continued to write all through high school and college, poems mostly. I took classes on the craft of writing and the study of it, though didn't commit to an overall focus in it. I was afraid of committing too much to it because it never could butter my bread, so to speak. It never could be enough, I thought. But I've never stopped writing. I've had long dry spells, it's true. I've also had long time periods of questioning whether or not it's worth it to write. But I've kept it up.

I've had a strong sense, always, that writing is for reading-- that we are meant to engage in acts of communication with our writing. This means a fundamental interconnection between reader and writer, and a fundamental connection of the writer to the world. Writing that takes us out of the world is in fact grounded in it. Even the most alien of texts speaks to our lives, and sometimes I mean literally. Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood is a story about family, belonging, autonomy, and community in a deeply human way, though it is about humans and alien species interacting and breeding.

I've written elsewhere about the shift towards living truly in the world, more closely connected to it, with greater presence and purpose. I think writing this blog, and writing in general, as a practice, is part of that picture, for me.  Today I attended a writing workshop with the Burlington Writer's Workshop, and it was exciting to be back talking words and writing after almost 20 years away from it. It was a creative non-fiction group, and the writing was really fun to read and the conversation really satisfying to a part of me I hadn't attended to in a long time.

What makes us abandon the things that are closest to us? What makes us return to them, and find them newly green, when they have been neglected for so long? I feel like there is, for all of us, something waiting on the other side of doubt, on the other side of the smallness that was given us, or that we convinced ourselves of, long ago. I've made these changes and moves in my life, uprooted a family from stability and normalcy in defiance of this learned abandonment. That sounds paradoxic, but it's not.

Writing is a gift, a challenge, and a responsibility, like anything cherished. I hope I can remember the importance of this tool, this vocation, and this discipline, long after I have stopped writing a blog a day.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Zumba

Blame it on the Zumba, and the writing workshop I am heading tomorrow, but I've run out of time for an extensive post tonight.

I will say that doing things like Zumba-- basically an excuse to dance in a room with a bunch of women again, like I did back in college, though with lower lights, sexual tension, and alcohol-- and attending a writing workshop are all good say-yes-to-your-life things, so that's something.

But I love writing, not just reading other folks' writing, so I will return, with intention and time. Tomorrow.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Welcome Home, Vermont!

Signs that I am living in the right place:

  • I am driving us home from Boston, and as we enter Vermont, I notice the traffic on the highway becoming increasingly normal, at least to me. Cars stay to the right, pass on the left, and generally behave. I sigh deeply, and feel at ease.
  • I come back from being gone for the weekend, and notice 2 mouse poops on the kitchen counter. I think, Only 2! Life is good! 
  • While visiting Boston, I insist on going for a 2 mile run in the freak snowstorm that appeared. I take an extra long time enjoying the giant snowflakes careen onto the frozen lake I am circling. When I get back, my mother tells me to take her cell phone next time because I was so long out in the snow.
  • My partner and I argue over who gets to go up the hill in the dark with the giant toboggan to get the next load of wood for the stove. We both want to do it. 
  • We arrive at a restaurant at 5:30 for dinner. The restaurant is pleasantly crowded with families and couples. Early dinner is normal here.
  • My son and I come out of the restaurant, in the dark. It is snowing out. We decide to play chase down the street-- without coats or hats on. 
  • Looking at the snowy road, I calculate in my head the likelihood I will run tonight, based not on the road, but on the gusting wind around the house.
  • We bustle into our cool house and I am excited, as well as my partner and son, to crowd around the wood stove and start the fire.
  • Looking at the weather for the coming week, I marvel and am excited to wander out in -16 weather, and imagine the trips we can make during this next cold snap coming to our shores.
It's good to look for, and find confirmation for this risk and lifestyle we are embracing. An aunt asked recently, So, can you take the winter here? as we sat around a roast chicken supper. I answered, easily, Yes, why yes I can. I talk to folks a lot about my fear of isolation, but the truth is I have folks to talk to about it, and the shared commitment to getting through this season, coupled with the sense of discovery of each day here, is helping me feel right at home, here in Vermont. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Ode to the Neighborhood

In honor of the city which I am visiting, tonight I post a poem about another city I lived in, Philadelphia. My partner and I often joke about how Philadelphia, and a particular neighborhood in West Philadelphia, is our ancestral homeland. We say this for a lot of reasons, but I think the biggest reason is that there we had the best sense of community and connectedness that we've experienced in our adult lives. It's hard to be away from it, though the choices we have made are the right ones.

I wrote this sestina in 2008, just after we moved away from the neighborhood. We moved away because I was following a job that made it possible for me to farm and get paid, a rare and good thing. But even though the choices were right, the missing was, and is real. Here's an ode to the neighborhood. I still miss you, West Philly.


An Ode to the Neighborhood, 2008

Monday mornings at the Satellite
café before I ever fell for a punk
kale smoothie or found a job, anarchist
dreams stirred my mocha. Green
monsters struck discordant rhyme, bicycles
flew over potholes at break-neck speed, and I was in love.

I'd never lived in a place that loved
you back. Other cities were a distant satellite
orbiting around the hot center of my longing. I'd bike
through Boston, Newark, Providence, feeling like a punk
in straight clothing, seeking out the green
center of life seething anarchic

hope—and find myself in endless pseudo-anarchist
meetings, hamstrung consensus blocked by love
less egos. Less radical activists in the Green
Party dedicated to their navels saw justice as a satellite
to their central passion—themselves. But here, punk
meets crunch, hipster meets play, and we're all bikers

we're all known to each other. Late night bicycle
posses take over our tree streets. Anarchist
collectives hash out their truths in  post-punk
movement organizing calling for a greater love
than capitalist competition. We know we're satellite
to the mainstream. We like it that way. Our greening

newness recreates itself with each attempt to coax green
life from brownfield, from abandoned row house. We build bicycles
from scrap, gardens from abandoned lots. We take the satellite
decay and breathe new life through concentric anarchy—
no gods, no government, each guided to each through love
of life splitting open all codes, all masters, all punk

odes and pacifist leanings lost in the world punked,
pushed aside for the inevitable twine of green
vine around the filthy palimpsest of blasted out blocks. With love,
you build something new. Neighborhoods with bicycle
collectives, food co-ops with wings, anarchist
meeting spaces, urban farms, and satellite

lives orbit the greater satellite of our punk longings—
for endless green on broken city streets, for anarchist rhyme to play on
low power radio stations, and for love to ride on a fixed gear bike down the hallowed halls of West Philadelphia.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Traveling

Another Fun-a-Day blog-a-day post, for your reading pleasure.

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So I'm in Boston again. I spent a good 5 years here after college and through grad school, and come back periodically to visit family. This weekend we are visiting with my father, who had a kidney transplant at Thanksgiving. I was in Boston for the holiday, so I got to be here for the surgery and first day out of hospital.

A kidney transplant is no small thing. There is much I don't feel I can comfortably share about it, because it's not my story to tell. But I can write about the resurrection. Yes, I think I can.

I wonder about resurrection. As a good (or not so good) Catholic school girl, I remember learning about the transformation of the resurrection of the body-- both in Jesus' body and the promise to the faithful at the end times, and the allied act in eucharist of transubstantiation, where the bread and wine become the body and blood of the risen Christ through the miracle of the ritual. Both of these always felt like long shots, somehow something I could never really understand, and frankly, were kind of creepy.

As an adult universalist christian Friend (who enjoys pagan and buddhist frameworks, as well), I am at best an uncomfortable christocentric christian, if that makes sense. The miracles of Jesus' death and resurrection do not really sit well with me, because of how they smack of a separation from humanity, a sense of elitism that has been utilized in such interesting and damaging ways over the years and millennia since Jesus walked this earth. But this experience of my father's extreme health after the transplant really feels like an example of resurrection. To have life after one's life has ended, to serve and heal another person, is a miraculous and powerful thing.

I also think that, in a basic biological sense, resurrection happens all the time. I love manure, decay, and decomposition because of the life that can spring forth from it. I love post-apocalyptic writing for some of the same reasons I love compost-- often it has a period of grossness, but what comes out at the end of the destruction and decay is pure gold, utopian in its possibility for what can grow from it, and purposeful, without waste.

To call my father on the phone, as he learns of his health, hearing him tell me how he doesn't feel sick anymore, after years of it, is also a resurrection for him, I believe. I see him as grabbing life by the horns of this gift, this miracle. I see him traveling to Alaska, as he always wished to. I see resurrection in each day he is given by this transplant.

So maybe resurrection isn't about a transformation, but rather a transportation-- a traveling of life from one form to another. A life ended can bring life to another. After decomposition is life anew. What was it I learned in chemistry-- that matter cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed? Or was that energy? Well, the results are the same-- our matter/energy move in time, and change, and change again.

I remember, in high school, I had two friends. We three were solid, and solid in our alienation from mainstream high school life. An example of this is one of our biggest jokes-- You know, like back in the day, like back when we were all couches? 

The infinity of what we were, what we can be, in a limitless timeline, is overwhelming. But these small transfers, travels, I can handle. I'll take them, and make good green growing things with them, and thank the resurrection of this life on earth.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Missing the Mark

Day 16 of Fun-a-Day. I missed a day, but am still committed!
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In seminary, when I took one long drawn out non-intensive biblical Hebrew course over the span of my last year of my M. Div., I learned that one of the words for sin was less about participating in evil, and more about making a wrong turn, or aiming poorly in one's actions. The results, though certainly not motivated by evil, end up being, well, wrong. And the consequences of these missed marks, as the arrow of intention hits some far off, unintended target, can be evil.

I bring this up because I am thinking a lot about something I learned, and re-learned, and learned again in a workshop about diversity, inclusion, and privilege. The Beyond Diversity 101 workshops, started and led by Niyonu Spann, have been powerful spaces of healing, challenge and growth for me over the years. Most recently, I had the opportunity to participate as an intern this past fall in Chester, CT, at the Guest House Retreat Center.

I learned about, and experienced really clearly, something that is really imbedded in the sinfulness of white privilege. We talked a
lot about the difference between intention and impact. The main point being that regardless of the intention of an action, communication, structure, if the impact is racist, then it is, in fact racist. One of the things that I witnessed, and participated in, was that of hearing someone's story of experiencing racism as a black person, and then a white person telling a story right on the heels of it that may have had the same emotional quality, but completely missed the mark of what was being said-- therefore recapitulating the racism. We miss the truth when it is crowded, and the story is re-centered to the next person who speaks.

One aspect of whatI see racism doing is the work of invisible-izing. And a part of white privilege is centering all story, all sharing, all truth around one's own story. The myth and reality of white people's tears is that they can change everything-- from stopping white folks from being held accountable to motivating lynch mobs. Telling a personal story on top of a witness about racism, though a small thing, is the seed of these larger evils.

Luckily for me, in the context of the workshop, I (and others) got the chance to stop and really listen to being confronted with the problem of doing this. I was able to really get that regardless of my conscious intention to connect, my unconscious discomfort with the truth of racism and the impact of making it invisible and more comfortable for white folks is sinful.

I cried a lot at this workshop, as I mourned the loss of my baby, and got deep into the sense of my own brokenness. And I recognized in myself the difference between this authentic mourning, and the tears (or jokes, or intellectualism) born of discomfort and some fantasy of my importance in the work I witnessed.

I am not saying that I am unimportant in a cosmic sense, or even in terms of my need to ante up and change my behaviors, my heart, my life. What is unimportant is my feelings about the experience of racism, as the locus of healing. There needs to be so much SPACE made for healing and growth, and white folks need to get themselves out of the way of this work.

And not by leaving. White flight is another aspect of white privilege. We can contribute to creating the space by witnessing, by listening, and by not trying to have answers. This list of 8 Ways Not to Be an Ally is really spot on, and I am grateful I found it. The time I spent in this workshop felt like a further step in showing up and getting out of the way.

There are a number of really great posts elsewhere about these issues, as well. Here are two:
It's Not All About Feelings
White Women's Tears

As a progressive/radical leaning person, I think I have always been willing to believe in systemic evil, meaning I could get my mind around it, accept it as real. In seminary, I was part of a group of four folks who wrote theses on structural evil. Katie Cannon sat in on a panel presentation we gave and it is one of the highlights from that time. But this personal level of work, looking through the lens of our identities, has helped me to see the evil and sinfulness in my life, and helps me know these connection to the sick systems I seek to resist. It has taken me many years to get here. I am grateful I have gotten here, and grateful for the many teachers that I have met and will meet on this journey.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I am in you, you are in me

Tonight I offer a re-post of an article that I came across today. As I continue to mourn and work through what losing a child means, this post has just blown my mind.

Laura Grace Weldon writes about how fetal stem cells from children carried by a mother, born or unborn, stay with the mother throughout her life. I think I can attest to the feeling of this. This article communicates the science of it.

And though the science is unclear, what she describes is the fetal cells acting on the mother's behalf throughout life, to aid in healing and fighting disease. Wow.

The level of interdependence I have felt as a mother, particularly in early pregnancy, and with nursing in the first years, is something that has taught me so much by way of humility and awe. Newly pregnant, the feelings and sensations of the body being pulled through a hormonal roller coaster are palpable, at least for me. And the hormonal feedback of oxytocin in nursing was a powerful bonding agent for me, and became a primary source of energy to keep me going through those tough indeed first months and years.

As my son grows, we enter into a dance of distance and closeness that at times feels artificial, and is of course incredibly necessary for his sense of self, as it unfolds. And as I miss my child who did not make it, I sense the closeness of this loss, and the beginning of a sense that the time to try again is coming. Does this mean I forget my lost child, my alive child? No, of course not. They are in me, and I am in them.

Weldon mentions that this truth confirms the fact of a holographic universe. Though she does not source it here, I recognize this concept from my work with Joanna Macy's Work that Reconnects. In this work, we are asked to see with new eyes through the lens of our sense of concern and pain for the world-- to re-vision our planetary crisis as a moment of transformation. This lens shifting needs to happen at all levels, and is refracted out through personal transformation, community transformation, and system change in multiple ways.

So can I see myself and my healing in this holographic light? Can I believe that in my very cells I am holding my children, just as I let them go? Perhaps it's that loss is real, and incomplete as a truth. And perhaps it's that having and connection is real, and incomplete as a truth. I know I will hold my children in my cells, in my heart for the duration. And I know the distance of time and experience will change that closeness, will open it up, and will one day, with my death, be dispersed.

This journey has no fixed point. This cellular knowing confirms the smallness of our connections and the necessary truth of our complex interdependence. I am grateful for the chance I've had to experience this through being a parent, and the many ways I have seen and experienced this in our relationships, movements, and ecological systems.

And until I feel clearer, I will be comforted by the knowledge that somewhere in me, my child still lives.


Monday, January 13, 2014

A Food Post

Because my son actually ATE it, and because I am so proud of my cooking, I will be writing a food post for my Blog-a-day offering today.
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We bought a lamb as our first purchase in this local economy. The very talented Erica Zimmerman at Center Farm contacted me because we had talked about her chickens that we were too late in ordering. She told me she had a couple of lambs that didn't have a buyer, and would I be interested?

I was. Both because a lamb would fit in our normal fridge freezer and because I wanted to support this local farmer, I shelled out $250 for what turned out to be some of the best meat I have made or eaten in my life. This lamb provided our solstice celebration and numerous other meals, and there's still so much left! We have lamb chops, lamburg, a stew meat and a shoulder left. It's been a real adventure to explore meals in various cultural shades, and to resist the lamb and mint jelly I grew up with-- and hated.

from winecountry
A highlight is tonights meal. My son actually ate the meat we put on his plate, a real success. I had four lamb shanks and I knew I had to cook them slowly, so I found a British site that had a good and not too slow recipe for cooking them, in wine and chicken stock, with the mirepoix ingredients cut large for eating at the end of the 2 1/2 hour bake.

I read the comments section in the recipe, and found a reference to mustard mashed potatoes. Mustard mashed potatoes?! I had never heard of this, but quickly found a less cream-filled version and made that-- with double the mustard in the potatoes. Truly yum.

Fresh Kale for Kale Chips
from onehungrymama
And finally, the kale. I make kale maybe 3 times a week, and am really getting good at it. I de-veined the dinosaur kale I love, and I heated up the cast iron skillet real hot. I sliced garlic thing, and fried it until crisp brown with olive oil and salt. Once that was done, I threw in the kale and watched it pop on the skillet, added a bit of water and watched it pop some more, moving the kale around every 20 seconds or so. This makes for a chewy and cooked kale, with a real smoky/creamy garlicness in it. Oh so good.

You know I didn't take a photo because I wanted to eat it so badly. I love cooking, and visit sites a lot looking for good recipes. I also love eating, and quality food, and quality local food. Though the wine was from Chile, and the kale from California, the garlic, onions, potatoes, and lamb were local, so that's something. Here's hoping we can grow enough this coming season to reproduce this meal next winter from our own homegrown bounty.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Won't You Come?

Day 12 of Fun-a-Day. I chose blog-a-day-- for good or ill.

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I borrow the truck from our neighbor aunt and go to purchase three 55 gallon drums, for storing wood ash, feed, what have you. Before I leave, I explain to my son I will be back soon, and he asks, Can't I come?   I slide slowly over iced and sanded roads in the truck with plow attached, making sure to brake before hills to keep my speed down. The sky is spitting snow, steel grey and white. I make it to Cate Farm, a giant of the small farms in these parts, started in 1981, now with 7 high tunnels and wholesale markets locked. I am awed by their set up, their barn, the conversation with this elder farmer where he welcomes me to the neighborhood. I am learning that, though we live 5 miles apart, we are in the same neighborhood.

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We make it late to Quaker Meeting, and I take my son down to the children's room. He is the only child in this small meeting, and a dear and gifted member offers to come down, every week. And he refuses. But this week he asks after her, walks into the silent room, and says, Won't you come? to her. She agrees to meet us down there in a few minutes. But he dissolves, barely makes it through the waiting, and when she comes, he can't hold it together. He is confused, where is his father? Why can't he pray with everyone else? And over-stimulated, and rude. We leave after 45 minutes of weeping and struggle.

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I rush out of the house to make it to a community meeting, and hear, as I close the door, my son talking to his father, asking, Can't I go with mama? I want to get away, be with adults for awhile. I sit in the meeting, trying to pretend like I don't have a child waiting for me at home. The work of listening to community building and evaluating community resources is fascinating and mind expanding. I marvel at the work of years this small community holds in the minds, bodies, hearts, of its members. There is power here, and purpose.

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I come home from the meeting just in time to see my partner and son making a bee line for a far field, in hopes of neighbor children. My son says, Won't you come? and though I think I would rather jog, alone, or read, alone, or do almost anything else, alone, I come. We walk to an empty field and decide to not let this get us down. We walk in the gathering cool up a field with skeletons of harvested corn plants jutting out of the ground. Our sled catches on one, and he asks after it. We see turkey, mouse, cow, deer tracks, and stop to talk about how we know they are what they are. We slide under a wire and see a half dozen cows barely moving in the coming cold. And on to the town trail, the small hills a joy of push and pull of the sled chariot our son is riding.

I have come to be with him, as he wants it, as we should be. In this cold season, on this hillside. He had been asking since 7 this morning, and it took me until 3 pm to listen.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Better Angels of Our Nature

Day 11 of Fun-a-Day. All month I post a blog-a-day on various subjects. Go figure.
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Having just read and really tried to digest Steven Davison's post What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Fellowship & the Angel of the Meeting, I want to write a little bit about the role of projection in religious leadership. 


To summarize the very fine post by Steven Davison would be challenging, because it has many aspects, but I'll pull out some of it. In it, he is working to articulate the angel of meeting, and its role for ministers in their leadership within a community, either a home community or in traveling ministry. His lived experience of angels of meetings led him to explore contemporary modeling of how to ascertain this angel and how to engage with the information and communion with these angels for the purposes of moving meeting communities, ministering to their needs, and effectively responding the inner Teacher who calls ministry out of us. But you should read it.

He does a lot of great question generation for working on ascertaining the angel, and makes even better connections to Walter Wink's work. Quoting extensively from Unmasking the Powers about this angel of the church, "[that] exist[s] in, with, and under the material expressions of the church’s life as its interiority. ...,"(p 71, from Davison's post) Davison brings out the ministerial lessons that this angel can offer us.

There is a striking couple of sentences early on in his piece, in defining his experience with these angels, that struck me and has stayed with me.

"I have never experienced the angel of my own meetings, but that is because they are partly a manifestation of myself as one of the meeting’s members. That’s what the angel is, the spirituality of a meeting, and thus a projection, if you will, of all its members. It’s really hard to spiritually commune with your own true self."

Two pieces are really powerful here. First there is this admission that it is really hard to commune with your true self. That is no joke. It’s hard because it is a discipline and practice that some traditions have as their central work and vocation. And second, Steven Davison calls this spiritual manifestation of the angel of a meeting a projection of a true self—or maybe many true selves, as members gather together. This is very interesting to me.

Full disclosure, my bias and perspective is distinctly psychological here. So there’s that. Davison is writing from a theological/spiritual and sociological perspective in his very fine piece.

Projection, from where I am sitting, is about the taking of an aspect of self and placing outside of the self. Projection is a fundamental function of xenophobia and racism. We recognize aspects of the inhuman in ourselves, and we project it outward onto those who are less powerful, or on those we secretly identify with, but need to distance ourselves from, for some reason.
Bread and Puppet: kings and queens
of symbolic projection

Projection is the thing that stalled me most definitely from seeking ordained leadership in a church, before I really understood myself to be a Quaker in the liberal tradition, which does not ordain leaders in their meetings. In seminary, I took a course, a really brilliant course, called Re-visioning the Power of Leadership in the Church. Leave it to my lefty seminary, Episcopal Divinity School, to offer this course. This course was about projection, or at least that's what stays with me 16 years later.

The course was specifically trying to help folks seeking ordination to think critically about projection in their role as pastor in a church.  Unchecked, projection can lead to all kinds of abuses of power. A parishioner in need of succor comes to feel love for a pastor because the pastor is making it possible for her to project a parental feeling onto the pastor. The pastor can seem like a parent to the parishioner. How the pastor handles this projection is crucial for appropriate leadership, as well as empowerment of the parishioner. The truth is the parishioner has the parent within their self, the resources and ability to heal their self. A responsible model of ministry recognizes this and builds towards it pastorally, structurally.

But projection goes both ways. The pastor also projects, also separates aspects of their selves to good or ill effect. In the same situation, a pastor might project their own struggle onto a person coming with a need, making it harder for that pastor to serve that parishioner. Or, the pastor might project a family feeling onto that person, making it easier to connect. I remember a brilliant exercise, where we were asked to identify a mentor or person we looked up to—I chose George Lakey. We were then asked to repeat this in pairs—to say, I love the George Lakey in me, and then proceed to name aspects of that person’s identity as a part of ourselves.  

By doing this, I was able to identify with in a deeper way the parts of myself I had projected onto him. But then there were aspects of him that I was not—male, middle aged, working class, etc. As I said to myself-- I love the man in me, I love the middle aged in me, I love the working class man in me, I smiled, recognizing the dissonance, and the sense of melting limits. It was powerful, playful, and taught me a lot about owning my own projection.

Not that this stopped it at all. I feel like we humans are a bundle of projections, for good or ill. In another post I talk about splitting, an extreme and terrible aspect of this. Projection frightens me. And it's in the fabric of our relating.

But I wonder, what would it look like if we did this—I love the angel in me. I love the wild winged life in me. I love the God talk in me. I love the connection in me. I love the best and worst in me. I love the meeting in me. I love the angel in me. 

Steven Davison’s post did a lot to open up the possibility that projection can be a good thing, a way to name what we put out of ourselves, and the good that can come of it, in a gathered meeting. It also reminded me of the lessons of that class. And although I still feel grounded and committed to listening within for the welling up of the Teacher to speak through me in meeting, I am beginning to feel like the hovering angels of our best nature are there, too, within and without, calling us to commune, and move, and grow together.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Resting Giants

It's Friday, and I am pretty exhausted from my day of parenting and householding. So, for your Friday night enjoyment, I give you, instead of my muddled thoughts, the very fine words of the late and great Amiri Baraka, passed at 79 yesterday. He was, is a giant of poetry, of justice, a voice I heard and try to hear, still, to learn and take in the truth he laid down with every verse. Rest in power.


Ka'Ba
A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and Black people
call across or scream across or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will.

Our world is full of sound
Our world is more lovely than anyone's
tho we suffer, and kill each other
and sometimes fail to walk the air.

We are beautiful people
With African imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with African eyes, and noses, and arms
tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.

We have been captured,
and we labor to make our getaway, into
the ancient image; into a new

Correspondence with ourselves
and our Black family. We need magic
now we need the spells, to raise up
return, destroy, and create. What will be

the sacred word?

source





Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stories We Tell Ourselves

I've been getting some great responses to this blog-a-day thing. Folks have been writing comments on posts, thanking me for my writing, generally being supportive. Thanks, all. I gotta say this is not easy, though. I am hitting serious resistance today. But here goes-- Day 9 of Blog-a-Day for the amazing 10th year of the Fun-a-Day project.
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I make up stories for my son all the time. When we are in the car, or when we are in his bed, trying desperately to get him to sleep, or when we are in a restaurant waiting for food and the books we've brought just don't cut it anymore. I love telling him stories, and I think my son likes hearing them, too. My partner is always interested in them. It's fun to make up stories, fantasies of dragons or magic books or friends who live far away. And in these stories I try to give some lesson or idea that I think he needs to hear, that I can't imagine he hears elsewhere. 

Like the story about the very mean dragon. This story has in it a triple gift.  First there are the three friends who now live in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, magically moving onto the same street in Philadelphia along with a very mean dragon who will scorch your shrubbery if you mess with him. Second is, well, a story in Philadelphia. Third is the lesson of what happens when people are made fun of and give up on friendship. 

This dragon was once a grand communitarian-- working at food cupboards, participating in civil disobedience, hosting garden parties, running for city council. But a 'friend' started to make fun of him, and told him his breath smelled bad. And not politely and quietly, but in front of all his other friends, and he was laughed at. 

The band of brothers-from-other-mothers write the dragon love letters in various colors while in school together, and the delivery and reading of the letters helps the dragon to realize he doesn't have to give up on friendship. Weekend barbecuing ensues and they live happily ever after.

Why do I feel like this is a good story for my three year old? Maybe because he tells me about the mean games that happened in his old school, or how he was chased by older kids or told he was a girl because of his long hair and love of pink and purple.  I tell that story to my son to explain both the mindlessness of meanness from others, and the chance that there will be good people elsewhere. I also want him to know that his kindness can change things for others.

I am trying to show my son a resilience that I can only make up stories about, that I don't feel all the time. Sometimes it takes a fantasy, a pretend thing, to teach what is most necessarily human, most possibly our best selves. 

Our family doctor has got this down cold. When we went in to see him, the doctor first felt the heartbeat of the plastic frogs my son was playing with before moving on to my son's chest. I took a clue from that and started acting out with a finger puppet the steps of our days together.

I gotta say I wish I was able to motivate myself in this way. Looking at the vastness of possibility and
work waiting for me in starting this farm, I feel overwhelmed! It is too much to look at directly, some days. Okay, today it is too much to look at. 

Maybe because in the business planning class yesterday we talked about types of risk in business. We looked at five types of risk: market, production, financial, legal, and human resources. This way of thinking makes me want to hide inside, or better yet, in a white room with ambient light and no sharp edges anywhere. It stimulates in me the fear of failure that stops many many many amazing people from doing their amazing thing. I want to believe I am not one of those people. 

So I will tell myself a story, maybe. A story about a child, afraid of the dark, who listened to his mother's stories for comfort and calm. And that mother, content in her success at caring for her child, dreamed and grew her life as a model and example of just what joy, what love can do, when put to good use. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Mall

Day 8 of Fun-a-Day. I chose blog-a-Day for the month of January.
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Today, during an empty half hour before my farm business planning class started, I decided to take a tour of the local mall, just next door to Montpelier and down the street from the Extension office. I wandered into a bookstore on its last legs, closing at the end of the week, and asked about this suburban oasis. She said, We call it the Hall, referring to it's walkway design. I also think she might have been referring to its emptiness.


There were maybe 40 people there. I walked down the hall and looked in at a vast mattress showroom, almost completely empty of people. I saw one salesman, turned away from the entrance, balancing on one leg as he held his blackberry. He looked as precarious as this mall felt.

There was a Walmart and JC Penney anchoring the hall, and a couple of other chains sprinkled in between local shops. All were pretty much empty. There were some folks eating food, or walking strollers down the hall, but the emptiness, the sense of failure was palpable to me. I did not stay for lunch, or buy anything.

When I was a teacher, the trip to the mall was one of the most popular for the students. Whole busloads of young consumers would pile into the mall, wanting to just get away from the campus that housed them as boarding school students. I couldn't blame them, but wished there was somewhere more real they could go. I would sponsor trips to Ethiopian food and movies in Philadelphia for a taste of freedom and reality. Not the mall.

As I walked out, I had this sense memory of all the hours I clocked in Rhode Island and Warwick Malls in my day. Yes, there were two malls in the town where I grew up, or rather next to the town where I grew up. Before I got my driver's license, these were the places I went with friends or romantic interests. I remember that the mall was the first place where I got to go alone. Maybe I was in 7th grade the first time I went to the mall without an adult? It was so exciting, so exhilarating to be alone with a boy or girl I wanted to kiss, to find a private spot to grab a smooch. This was where I got my ear pierced. This is where I first started to see how void-filled life can be.

Rhode Island Dead Mall
from deadmalls.com
I walked out of there, remembering being a pre-teen, and was struck that this was a dead mall in the making. If you haven't seen this site, it is well worth checking out.  This model of enclosed economically derived community is bankrupt in many ways, and this site documents the places where the mall has died, and what has been left behind.

One of my old stomping grounds is on the site, too. Closed in 2011 because of flooding, at the end the Rhode Island Mall only had 4 stores. I guess what they say is true. You can't go home again.  Thank God.

Maryland Dead Mall
from deadmalls.com
Really, the dead mall is an emblem of both what went wrong and what is right. What is wrong is developing an enclosed and exclusive space for shoppers, where freedom of speech is not allowed--the mall IS private property-- and where music, atmosphere, and all are controlled centrally, and reflect a completely fabricated reality.

But the dead mall is also a symbol of what is right. These photos offer valuable images of the completely unsustainable model and machination that is the mall. They also appeal to the post-apocalyptic in me. They create a palimpsest, where nature is writing over the decay and uselessness that is the mall.

Needless to say, I will not be visiting the mall again.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Belonging


Day 7 of Fun-a-Day: the ArtClash Collective's amazing art-piece a day commitment for the month of January. I chose blog-a-day.
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Here I sit in my living room on another frigid day in East Montpelier, Vermont. My partner and son are in the next room playing. I spent the day free of parenting, visiting with friends, reaching out to find mentors and advisors for this farm and community project we are starting here.

It's hard to reach out, as I have mentioned in another post. But, I do. I take risks, I reach out, and the results are not always satisfactory. And sometimes they are. That is the work. To risk. To try. To keep on keeping on.

My son has started at a new childcare center today, and when we arrived there this morning, it felt like walking into a friends living room. This small farmhouse sized school, with 15 children a day, has the same 6 staff members, and is rooted in a community of artists and musicians. The sense of comfort is palpable. It takes my breath away, in the transitional moments when I am leaving or coming. I feel as if I am leaving a safety when I go, which honestly is such a relief for me as a parent. And when I come back, it feels like stepping into an old remembered hallway. And my son is there.

But it wasn't easy to get into this school. Norman wrote to them in spring, and when we got here, there was no space at the inn. We ended up at another school, maybe 10 times its size, with a lot less closeness, a sense of emptiness in the halls. I didn't like leaving Forrest there, though they were very helpful around medical procedures and taking Forrest on for more days in the fall.

How did I find room in the inn? Persistence. I continued to experience discomfort with the previous school, so I kept on emailing this one. Suddenly, in December, the director said, we might just have a space for you! I jumped on it. We visited a second time, Forrest loved it, and two weeks later he started.

We have a name for our farm, now. It wasn't an easy process, but we've come to it: Open Way Farm. This name comes from a Quaker concept of way opening. My understanding of this is that when things are rightly aligned, or rightly ordered, that the way opens, and we enter the kin-dom of God(ess).

Well, maybe not all the time, but this idea stands as a central part of my lived faith experience. The ways in which way has opened in my life, the openings of faith through experiences that seemed to present themselves like so much ripe fruit, ready to be picked, is truly miraculous, when I think about it. I also know that a lot of those experiences are tempered by my privilege and place in society.

And I have also worked for these opening ways. The rose colored memory glasses might tell me that things opened easily, but that is not always the case. And the opening stands side by side with the work, like the easy transition to the new school that took months of communication.

As I share my vision for this land and farm and community and healing place, sometimes I might sounds like a pie-in-the-sky fool, with nothing but some hot wind coming out my orifices. But I know that the work and the vision need to stand, side by side, for way to open.

I believe that God(ess) is present in most things, people, beings. You might call me a panentheist. You would be right. But this does not mean, therefore, that we are passively part of an All that leads to the pearly gates. My faith, my experience shows me, teaches me that we must work for the kin-dom, and when we work, She comes rushing up to meet us, in all the glory and realness that is the world.

This belonging isn't easy, but it feels true to me. I pray for the strength to continue the dance of try and opening I find myself in, and pray for partners in the dance. Welcome to the dance, if you are willing. Welcome to the Open Way.