In preparation for a retreat this weekend, I’ve been reading up on the meaning, lore, and mythology of thresholds. I’ve written about this before, but thought I’d share some fresh thoughts here.
Mythology has many guardians of the threshold, but Janus is the main one. He is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, passages, and endings. He is depicted as having two faces, so he can look in both directions – toward the past and the future. The month January is aptly named for him.
Janus symbolized change and transitions, and was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as at marriages, deaths and other beginnings. He represented the middle ground between barbarism and civilization, between rural and urban space, youth and adulthood. Continue reading →
Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of this blog. For the first anniversary, I appreciated the artist, that denizen of thresholds, dweller of the in-between realms. In this political season, I’m drawn to reflect on the circus that is our Presidential campaign season. After last night’s debate once again elicited waves of despair over the future of our country, veteran newsman Bob Schieffer asked, “How have we come to this?” How, indeed.
At times like this, I can think of only one American capable of approaching, let alone answering, a question like that: Kentucky farmer and writer, Wendell Berry. I pull a few of his books off the shelf, feeling better just holding them in my hand. My husband has NPR on in the kitchen downstairs. I hear the cadence of male and female voices hashing over last night’s events, interviewing undecided voters. I cannot hear the substance, only the vibrations of voice. Wendell Berry is all I need now. Continue reading →
This week brought more videos and news of police shooting black men. These confrontations are as usual shrouded in confusion, misinterpretation, reactivity, bias, and defensiveness. Peaceful demonstrations in Charlotte turned violent, as they had in Baltimore last year. If we inquire into such protests and uprisings, perhaps we can glimpse the frustration, hopelessness, and rage behind them. Given the pervasiveness of racial inequity, one wonders why there aren’t more of them. I imagine similar outrage in Chicago, where the bodies continue to pile up and youth unemployment in some neighborhoods reaches ninety percent.
I was just finishing the following post when these sad, violent events occurred. I questioned its relevance and wondered if I should just put it away. After some thought, I decided that the invitation to embody and embrace opposites might be useful. It could be just the time to seek the awareness hidden behind surfaces, and to assume that all is never what it seems.
“‘Tell them they have to wake up twice in the morning,’ Nyae continues. This means that you should first wake up in the morning and get out of bed. Then awaken your heart: walk out of the bedrock of objects and materialism and into a spiritual world guided by the felt lines of relationships that hold everything together. Now the ropes, rather than the objects they connect, are primary. They are the most important and the most real.” ~ Bradford Keeney
I’m dreaming in a tent under the full moon at a forest retreat. Here to meet the awakening that beckons from the world behind this world. In my dream, a panel van pulls up in an alley behind a building. All the surfaces are hard—buildings, paving, cars, light poles. A man tumbles out. He’s been shot in the left shoulder. My first thought is, he is escaping from criminals, maybe he’s been kidnapped. Continue reading →
A fellow Baltimorean who has been a tireless and effective advocate for housing policy reform is calling it quits for lack of funding. Driven by her own sense of justice, she has helped countless elderly folks avoid eviction and called attention to the disgusting inequities in Baltimore housing. A wise man said recently that people have long known how to profit off exploiting poor people. He said, when we can figure out how to profit off helping the poor, well, then. Look out.
It disgusts me that these things always come down to money. But this is not a post about the sacred energy of money or the power of intention or of positive thinking or the secrets of manifesting wealth. This is a rant about politics, a topic I normally avoid. I saw Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings speak last night. He considers himself an ordinary man who has had extraordinary experiences by the grace of God and his own hard work. Pity that he is the exception rather than the rule. Continue reading →
“You are in the time of the interim, where everything seems withheld. The path you took to get here has washed out. The way forward is concealed from you. The old is not old enough to have died away; the new is still too young to be born.” ~ John O’Donohue, Celtic scholar, mystic and poet
Recently, the Public Radio program “On Being” interviewed several people about the spirituality of running. The most riveting interview was of Billy Mills, a Native American runner who won gold in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Olympics. Just as he was nearing the finish line with nothing left, he glanced at the runner he was passing and saw an eagle on the guy’s shirt. He thought of his dead father telling him, “You do these things, Son. Someday, you can have wings of an eagle.”
Inspired, Billy Mills flew the last 60 meters to set a world record. No American has since won gold in that event. After he got over the shock of winning, he went to find the guy whose singlet had propelled him over that last bit of track. There was no eagle on the shirt. In that moment, he understood the power of perception. “I realized that perceptions create us or destroy us, but we have that opportunity to create our own journey.” Even more moving is what he says about his true motivation for running: Continue reading →
I recently dreamed this thought: our country’s mantra is every man for himself. In that light, it makes perfect sense that one of our national obsessions is about the economy. Remember It’s the economy, stupid? Of course we care so much about making as much money as we can, making more than the other guy. We are on our own. Nobody is going to help us if we fall on hard times. It’s all about feeding, clothing, and sheltering our families, first and last. Every man for himself.
When I wrote this in my journal in the early pre-dawn, it looked a bit puny on the page. It was momentous when I opened my eyes, as if I’d been mucking around in the secret stuff of life, that realm where answers live. Trying to catch this dream message is like seeing a landscape all sharp and shimmery after a storm, as if for the first time. I’m so immersed, so indoctrinated in this story that I rarely even notice it. It seems so true that it’s boring. Obvious. Hardly worth stating. But our lives are not only about survival and meeting basic needs. Everyone should be able to do at least that in a just world. There’s plenty to go around, but the story of scarcity makes us forget. Continue reading →
This morning, spin class started with mash-up song of Kennedy’s 1962 Rice University speech about expanding the space program. We sprinted up a hill, fueled by these rousing words:
“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
I resolved on the spot to listen to this every morning before starting work. What better way to get psyched up for the day’s challenges? It does make me wonder why our politicians don’t talk to us like that anymore. It’s become unpopular to tell people the truth about anything, or to promise that something will be hard. Ever since President Carter’s 1977 “MEOW” (“moral equivalent of war”) talk during the energy crisis, our leaders have been skittish to tell us the truth.
And no wonder. Carter’s talk opens with: “Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you, about a problem that’s unprecedented in our history. . . . It’s a problem that we will not be able to solve in the next few years, and it’s likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century.” Man! Talk about a downer! He should have studied Kennedy’s oratorical techniques. President Kennedy spun his dazzling vision and inspired people to hurl themselves into the unknown, with only the promise of a lot of hard work and no guarantee of success. Continue reading →
My novel’s heroine was going to be a time traveler from fifty years in the future. I liked the idea of a Cassandra figure, someone who lived in the everyday hell of an unstable climate gifted to her generation by ours. She arrives in New York City in December of 2009, just in time for the Copenhagen climate summit. I had fun with implanted nanotechnology merging powerful databases and communications with her organic brain. And with what she would think of the quaint, primitive technologies we have now. (Actual cell phones! Power cords! ATMs!) Or the things we take for granted that they no longer have in 2059, like sushi, cars, coastlines and forests.
In 2013, I dispensed with the future-world scenario when I realized that we don’t need someone from the future to tell us what climate change does to the planet. We are living it already. My first draft from 2011 has plenty of rookie writing mistakes, but it also has this letter that my heroine writes on her second day in 2009. Despite all the changes this novel has been through, it still forms the DNA of my story. Enjoy this letter from the future written in the past. Continue reading →
“There are people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen. These people are wrong.” ~ Neil Gaiman
I had one of those aha moments last week about my writing, the kind that make me feel really dumb for not having clicked earlier. The epiphany was triggered by this article by Paul Kingsnorth, asking why fiction so rarely extends imagination beyond the human realm. We would have to set aside the modern story of a mechanical nature in which only humans have consciousness. Instead, consider that the nonhuman world is as alive and aware as we are, which has been the understanding for most of human history.
There’s a lot being said these days about the importance of hearing from previously marginalized voices. And we are blessed with an abundance of writers meeting this challenge from all directions, people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mark Haddon, Roxane Gay, Ta Nehisi Coates, Charlotte Wood, and Yaa Gyasi, among others. The living world is the ultimate marginalized voice, you might say. After all, the modern view of human exception and superiority has given us mountaintop removal coal mining, factory farming, fracking, genetic engineering, clearing rainforests to graze cattle, and on and on. No wonder we are awash in dystopian fiction. Continue reading →
The spaciousness of mythic stories is more and more essential to navigating life these days. How else to both witness and experience, much less make sense of, this clash of stories, the social unrest and economic and environmental unraveling? Much as I crave neat resolutions, I am more and more convinced of the importance, indeed necessity, of the open-endedness provided by narrative art. Whether it’s creation myths, fairy tales, or epic multi-media experiences like the miraculous Janni Younge production of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” the language of symbol has something urgently to say to each of us.
I saw “Firebird” last night at Wolf Trap, the music played by the National Symphony, puppets by Janni Younge’s team at Handspring Puppetry (who gave the world “War Horse”), and choreographcd by Jay Pather. The production was a rich, intelligent, feeling blend of dance, costume, puppets, and visual art. They drew their creative inspiration from the music, as well as the larger societal story of South Africa’s young democracy, with its beautiful vision of a “rainbow nation,” sliding into corruption and greed, corporate control, the continuation of searing inequity, protest, rage, grief, disillusion. They are in a fertile period of hope and darkness and the unknown. You don’t need me to tell you that the fear, hatred, danger, and overwhelm they feel is absolutely relevant here as well. Continue reading →