This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page.
Advent always was an interim time, spanning the threshold between the harvest festivals of autumn and the vulnerable, fierce hope of Christmas. That “betwixt and between” time and place, where things tend to happen, wove itself around us as we gathered for retreat in a time when the forest waited, bare-branched and leaf-carpeted, for that first snowfall, likely still weeks away.
In a season when it is traditional to think about the coming of the light, I was pondering darkness. It seems that this Advent falls at a moment of history when the world is in an up-ended, uncertain, and, yes, frightening between-time, when we struggle to know how to be and what to do and how to behave as things all around us in politics, in governance, in world affairs, and in our psyches, slide toward the dark. Continue reading
In her essay, “Not Here to Make Friends,” Roxane Gay calls into question the gender double-standard that female protagonists can’t be unlikable, while literature, TV and film are full of male leads who are despicable—and we love them. It’s a fascinating and maddening situation that she tackles with aplomb. I’m enjoying all of the essays collected in her book, Bad Feminist, for how they make me think about the many ways that gender stereotypes show up (and are hidden) in our culture.
“Perhaps, then, unlikable characters, the ones who are the most human, are also the ones who are the most alive. Perhaps this intimacy makes us uncomfortable because we don’t dare be so alive.”
I do have some quibbles with this premise. Unlikable characters are certainly more realistic, and therefore more like us. They may be less relatable because we don’t want to see those traits, our shadow qualities that have been carefully hidden, or ruthlessly suppressed and denied. Still, I hold out that positive characters can be alive. A literary example doesn’t come immediately to mind, but Joanna Macy and the Dalai Lama are pretty interesting people. Continue reading
Why don’t we go to the American Visionary Art Museum more often? It’s so full of energy and inspiration. The artist biographies alone contain worlds: stories of modest lives, of strange and average families, of being marginalized or anonymous or defying odds. And the art! Inspiration, desperation, madness, direct divine download, obsessive detail, love, beauty and hope. The human condition and human potential laid bare—and then bedazzled with mirror fragments, ceramics, jewels, beads, day-glo paint, and silver balloons. The whole messy reality of life as an embodied human.
AVAM is a funhouse of play and whimsy and joy-in-the-face-of . . . . I used to naively believe that such playfulness and inspired creativity was the reserve of a select few Chosen, and that they get to shine more brightly and be more loved than the rest of us. Of course, such artists experience the other extremes of despair, darkness, and depression more acutely too. There is no free lunch. Continue reading
The vibration of energy, of waves, color and sound is the secret signature of all things. Both science and spirituality say this. Artists, musicians and poets have understood it for millennia. I’ve been working with a friend to produce a set of meditation cards based on the chakra system. It has heightened my awareness of color in so many ways, from simple mood shifts to the resonance in my body of a particular color. How much do we really see of the colors we encounter as we move through our day?
Different colors and sounds vibrate at different wavelengths. Being a part of this system, our body acts as a prism, connecting to the White Light of All Consciousness, and refracting it into the individual colors of the spectrum. When you delighted by a rainbow or the dancing colors of a crystal hanging in a sunny window, your body is recognizing its kindred. When I pay attention to the color red or violet or green, I feel an immediate pull of connection. Continue reading
“Logic only gives man what he needs… Magic gives him what he wants.” ~ Tom Robbins
When you steep a while in the world of Story, everything starts to seem a little less “real.” The line between fact and fiction becomes blurred. Even when I work with clients, their businesses and buildings can feel a bit staged, like a game we are all playing. I am aware that few—if any—of them see it that way, so I’m careful about what I say. The truth is, though, that I’ve always had a rather loose hold on reality, feeling more at home in a world of fantasy and imagination than in the hyper-competitive, fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world out there.
This may account for my proficiency at writing proposals and designing buildings. I can cast forward and imagine the shining whole, complete and beautiful. It’s the in-between stages that are more of a slog, with their constraints of budgets and code officials and physics. Slogging is what I was taught—what we were all taught—about turning ideas into reality. In recent years, I’ve been encountering and learning about other ways to do it, ways that reach me on an intuitive level but that mostly elude me on a practical level. These are ancient ways of relating to the world and tapping our human faculties that we moderns can learn even today. Continue reading
I made this painting last evening during the sunset. We were in Hawk Cove, just outside Middle River where we keep our boat docked. With only a slight breeze, we were able to poke along with the mainsail instead of going to the trouble of anchoring. I was attracted to an amazing bulge of shockingly white cloud erupting from the bank of blue-gray on the horizon. The tinge of yellow and peach from the descending sun would be interesting to try to capture in watercolor.
As soon as I began, circumstances conspired to annoy me. My husband was feeling too relaxed after a nice picnic dinner to steer, so the boat twisted slowly away from my view. Since the sunset would soon be over, he wanted to start the engine and be on our way. As soon as he made this known, I protested. One of the best things about a sunset on water is the stillness that settles over everything. It’s also almost impossible to capture it in a painting, because the scene is constantly changing. Continue reading
“I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark.” ~ Anne Lamott, from Grace, Eventually
Grace is a word you don’t hear much in secular discourse. Last week, President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney was both about grace and full of grace itself. It awakened a memory of a conversation about grace with my father when I was in High School. He was one of those traditional dads who worked and did dad things, so I didn’t have a lot of interactions with him. This conversation about grace was a rarity. Turns out, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, either. I think he spoke of God’s presence or friendship, and we both enjoyed wondering about it together. That in itself was a moment of grace, a precious heart connection to each other and to something bigger than us.
Human affairs are full of flaws, opposition and contradictions. There never seems to be that one right solution that we can all agree on. And so we wrangle. In interactions with friends about the President’s recent successes, they were quick to point out his many failures and betrayals. It’s true he compromised on health care reform, and I can’t say I understand the appeal the Trans Pacific Partnership, which seems to me like a nightmare for workers and the environment. And let’s not forget, these friends say, about the drone strikes and the “Surge.” I get it, I do. And yet, there’s something we are missing when we argue like this. It’s too easy to find these imperfections. Continue reading
“When you turn to the sun, all shadows fall behind you.” ~ African proverb
I usually visualize the shadow as a dark cavern deep inside me, the kind you have to swim to the bottom of a lake to find, and that leads almost to the center of the earth. I like this proverb because it provides another image. The shadow follows us wherever we go. Maybe it can even take on a life of its own. In the second book of the children’s series, Peter and the Starcatchers, the evil Lord Ombra steals people’s shadows to possess them, read their thoughts and enslave them. The shadow is imagined as a kind of repository for an individual’s essence, but the fact remains that it is ever and always behind me. I never can turn around and face it squarely.
In the Tantric tradition, the back body is aligned with the universal, the front with the individual. This is a wonderful way to imagine wholeness: it’s in our body that we integrate our uniqueness with the wider world. The front is our place of effort, of being who we are in the world. The back is the unknown, the unseen, and yet it is always there, ready to support and help us when needed. This fits nicely with the classic teaching that the shadow is part of our childhood survival toolkit. Continue reading
I’ve seen the kingdoms blow
Like ashes in the winds of change
Yeah but the power of truth
Is the fuel for the flame
So the darker the ages get
There’s a stronger beacon yet
Let it be me . . .
If the world is night
Shine my life like a light
I love these lines by the Indigo Girls. They say something important on my behalf, something I wasn’t even aware of until I heard this song for the first time. One reason I decided to explore the shadow now is that my tendency to light candles rather than curse the darkness can become a crutch, an attempt to shortcut or avoid the unknown. In a recent conversation, a friend made the comment that focusing too much on the positive leaves out a whole rich aspect of reality: the shadow. What can this wild, mad, evil, naughty, unpredictable, untamed, uncontrollable part of us teach us about ourselves, and—more ambitiously—about our culture? The way we approach it makes a difference. I believe that way involves contrast, balance, artifice, and time-honored art forms.
The British actor, David Oyelowo, played Rev. Martin Luther King in the recent film, “Selma,” and a Black Panther member in “The Butler.” (There’s a wonderfully awkward dinner scene in the latter, in which Oyelowo’s character disses his real-life hero: Sidney Poitier. It’s the most difficult line he’s ever had to say as an actor.) In an interview with Terry Gross, Mr. Oyelowo said that he always turns down stereotypical afterthought roles like the “black best friend.” When she asked if there are other roles he declines, he said something very interesting: Continue reading
Where there is sadness, joy.
Of the four temperaments, I tend to swing between choleric and melancholic. Think Rabbit and Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh stories. I find it difficult to be around gloomy, negative people because they tend to awaken a deep sadness within me, and pull me down into their misery. Early on, probably through parental influence, I developed a coping strategy of talking myself out of my sadness. After all, what do I have to be sad about? I have a roof over my head, clothing, food, a good education . . . . The list is quite long, yet this exercise often just makes me feel guilty when I am sad, even so.
A child has no idea of the burdens or shadows a parent or family or culture is asking her to carry. I was always a sensitive child, absorbing the emotions of others, too thin-skinned to resist. In the face of all that pain, it felt selfish and uncaring to be joyful. At any rate, when confronted by the sadness of others, it seemed an insurmountable challenge to summon joy. Sadness felt like an anchor, dragging down any momentum to joy, preventing even full sails from driving the boat of my life forward towards the distant horizon. Continue reading