Twitter feeds and mainstream media home pages have started to read like teasers for the latest post-apocalyptic Netflix series. No wonder there is a glut of fiction with themes of disruption, chaos and war brought on by unruly, destructive weather, fires and flooding; epidemics; economic collapse; civil wars; displaced populations; oppression; or [fill in the blank]. To explain this trend, as well as its appeal, literary critics have had to come up with some glib theories.
The latest comes from Sam Sacks, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s “Books” section for April 8-9, 2017. He assures readers that “vogues for dystopian literature are usually a sign of national health.” As evidence, he cites the mid-20th-century anxiety about nuclear weapons and the Cold War that produced works like “On the Beach,” and says “they were also the fruits of widespread prosperity.” He wraps up his argument with two neat aphorisms:
“The more people have, the more frightened they are of losing it all.”
“These novels are what happens when a comfortable culture has a midlife crisis.”
This is a shallow, unimaginative diagnosis. It’s like a doctor recommending NyQuil as a treatment for lung cancer. Continue reading
Despite its obvious downsides, 2016 had some good moments, too. I made a list of them on New Year’s Day and was surprised to note so many highlights. The exercise filled me with gratitude and appreciation for great friendships, abundant love, a healthy family, robust community, interesting work, modest successes, and many material comforts. It was a good frame of mind to receive the words that will guide me in 2017.
This year, a friend helped me to consult Tarot cards. I am new to this method; it offers a view that is simultaneously retrospective, introspective and speculative. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side. Each card is a picture story, and together they form a linked story that twists and turns, confirming what is known and revealing what is hidden. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side.
I enjoy the mix of intuition and rationality involved in reading the cards and interpreting them. As part of a skeptical culture that dismisses the language of symbols, a suspension of disbelief is necessary. And the payoff for such trust is insight, surprise, and a fair bit of having one’s complacency shaken up. Continue reading
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
The last week has played out for some of us as the classic stages of grief. Denial shows up as the change.org petition to get Electors to vote for Hillary instead of Donald, or more ambitiously to do away with the baffling, arcane Electoral College altogether. There’s plenty of anger, too, with blame to make it extra spicy. Luvvie Ajayi lays the whole mess squarely at the feet of white women. Others blame the DNC, the FBI, Breitbart,Wikileaks, the ignorance of certain voters, the gullibility of others, Hillary Clinton herself for running. So much blame, so little time.
Is it bargaining or acceptance that many charitable organizations and nonprofit news sites have seen record donations in the last few days? (Or opportunism that they’ve sent out so many appeal emails?) What category does the Million Women March come under?
After the first shock wave hit, I sunk to the depression stage. From down here, the horizon of acceptance isn’t yet visible. I do see people trying on the reality that this is what we have to live with, so we may as well make the best of it. I’ve entertained that thought, even going so far as imagining that this might somehow, mysteriously, be for the highest good. Who can say how this will all play out? (Sadly, my imagination isn’t up to this challenge.) Continue reading
Ordinarily, I don’t get very political on this blog. But these are extraordinary times. To many, the results of Election 2016 are unimaginable. The Day After played out like the inciting incident in a dystopian alternate-reality Netflix series about a dying civilization. Rural voters seem to have acted from fear and misinformation, and not simply willingness, but eagerness, to be lied to and manipulated. Shirley Jackson could not have written better.
Liberal elites, neo-libs, progressives—whatever label we claim—have not just been humbled. We have been brought low. Our country elected, by popular vote, the first woman president. But the crafty Framers set up the Electroal College to give rural voters a chance against urban elites. And, boy, did they prevail. So here we are, literally unable to imagine, using the rational mind, how it happened. I am an avid listener to the 538 Podcast, but not even Nate Silver is smart enough, nor his algorithm clever enough, to make sense of this.
So, let’s use imagination for something bigger than a futile attempt at rational understanding. Let’s tap into mythos, rather than rely on logos. From a mythic perspective, we just handed the reins of the most powerful country on earth, and the one with the largest per capita environmental footprint, to the Trickster god of Norse mythology. Continue reading
I only know it’s raining from the sound. Outside is deep darkness. There has been a death in the family, news of a life-threatening illness, a natural disaster, an unnatural disaster, a house fire, a child claimed by asthma. My hands shake, I feel weak and sick as with an icy fever. My heart aches and a fresh wave breaks.
I am standing alone in my mother’s kitchen, gripped by the terror that only reality can serve up. She has just been unable for the first time to get out of bed. She lies upstairs in sweet docility, if not resignation. Later, I will bring her strawberries and dolmas on a tray with a daffodil in a bud vase. It’s been a beautiful spring, not that she’s been able to go outside to enjoy it.
I’ve been up since 4:00 a.m., when I couldn’t help checking the news. This thing is bigger than any of us can imagine. I know that. And right here, right now, I will not try to talk myself out of my emotions. This is one place I can be completely honest. Continue reading
Mythic storyteller Michael Meade tells the story of an old woman weaving in a cave. It is as relevant today as it’s been for the hundreds or thousands of years it’s been told around the fire. Here is the story from the White Mountain Apache, adapted from his book, Why the World Doesn’t End.
The old people of the tribes would tell of a special cave where knowledge of the wonders and workings of the world could be found. Even now, some of the native people say that the cave of knowledge exists and might be discovered again. They say it is tucked away in the side of a mountain. “Not too far to go,” they say, yet no one seems to find it anymore. Despite all the highways and byways, all the thoroughfares and back roads that crosscut the face of the earth, despite all the maps that detail and try to define each area, no one seems to find that old cave. That’s too bad, they say, because inside the cave can be found genuine knowledge about how to act when the dark times come around again and the balance of the world tips away from order and slips towards chaos. Continue reading
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
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
“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