We Do Language

Chloe Anthony (Toni) Morrison Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey photo: © Timothy Greenfield-SandersWe die.

That may be the meaning of life.

But we do language.

That may be the measure of our lives.

Toni Morrison


mary-oliver It is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

Mary Oliver


madeleine_lengle

The great thing about getting older is

that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.

Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007)


angelouI’ve learned that

people will forget what you said,

people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget

how you made them feel

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

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Twenty sixteen

redstarsingersWell, my friends, I don’t know if you enjoyed yesterday’s post, but I hope so. Please check out this link, which is a recording of the song ‘Pig Nixon’. It’s worth a listen, I promise.  Click the ‘more’ below the video and you can read all the words. I was delighted to read in the notes:

“In the ’60’s a lot of spirituals and rock ‘n’ roll songs were overhauled to become freedom songs for civil rights demonstrators. ‘Pig Nixon’ comes from ‘Oh Wallace,’ (‘…you’re never gonna jail us all’) which people sang in Alabama. We use ‘Pig Nixon’ as an all-purpose song, writing verses for the occasion, each verse about a current issue.”

I read that as an invitation, if not an exhortation (noun: an address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something) for another rewrite. Someone please come up with some new words and transform ‘Oh Wallace’, which became ‘Pig Nixon’ into…? We have issues aplenty these days, have we not?

I am quite ambivalent about the blog-o-sphere, particularly my place in it. I don’t want more people to follow me and read my ramblings.  So don’t misread my next request…

I really want to encourage folks to write protest songs for 2016. We need ‘em. So, I’m asking you to spread the word, not about my blog, but just get the idea out there to any singer-songwriters you know who might be receptive. And ask them to tell others. The creative arts may be one of the best ways to fight this fight. Plenty of other practical suggestions are being made and I support them all, particularly excessive amounts of human kindness. It would be fun to have a song or two to hum.

You may remember that the title of this blog is EatingArtWork and that I have written many posts, both personal and more general, about food, the food industry and so on. I’ve just learned about an organization called Civil Eats, which is “a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system. [They] publish stories that shift the conversation around sustainable agriculture in an effort to build economically and socially just communities.” I’ve put in a link to one article that caught my attention.  nablopomo_badge_2016

Wandering

Searching for something to write about for the blog today, I scrolled futilely through dozens of old pieces of writing. I thought ‘maybe I can just recycle something or maybe I’ll be ‘inspired’… But nothing pops for me. Too many pieces that are examinations of past miseries and I want to be done with that stuff, in the same way I do not want to dwell on the results of the election. Gotta move on somehow.    trails1

Another batch of the old writing, which I find more interesting, relates to my long-standing project of collecting Food Life Stories. I must say that ‘long-standing’ is an apt description, because it seems that the endeavor has been standing still for months. Months which add up to years.

A conversation with friends at supper last night rekindled my excitement about conducting the interviews and gathering these stories. But I still don’t know how I can use the raw, first person data I’ve accumulated.      I need a writing coach!         Wait, I am a writing coach. Physician, heal thyself.

I think I’ve returned to the topic of time. I’ve already acknowledged that managing money was never a strength of mine.   Many years spent reading what writers have to say about writing has underscored the fact that it takes commitment and sacrifice to write. I have echoed this simple fact endlessly during four decades of teaching writing and coaching writers. To cop a line from the Declaration of Independence… I hold this truth to be self-evident…

Perhaps I am stuck on the sacrifice, as much as the commitment. To give up time with friends and family seems impossible. To deny my desires to read, cook, garden, nap or (now) draw can seem equally difficult. So, once again I conclude that I am not really a writer. And I trash myself and my aspirations.

Yeah, how’s that working out for you, CJ?        nablopomo_badge_2016

Well, its not.

Stepping Stones

Stones are quiet.  I love stones, an affection I have always linked to the contented hours I spent as a girl sitting atop an old stone wall in Vermont.  There is safety in stones.  I trust stones.

Almost fifteen years ago, as I turned fifty, I decided that I wanted to put a small Zen garden in the back corner of our yard, behind my vegetable patch.  The unmistakable irony is thatpath-to-tree1 the commuter rail trains pass by about twenty feet away.  Nonetheless, that was my plan, but the dream remained a dream.  Until this week, when the stones arrived and the work began…

The path starts at the entrance to my redesigned vegetable garden.  (Elevated beds have made gardening a joy once again.)  The path will continue up into the corner, leading eventually to a small stone bench beside the little weeping cherry tree, planted about ten years ago.  There will be three standing stones,  bamboo (in above ground boxes, I’ve heard the cautions about bamboo spread), other plantings and eventually a small statue.

The dream lives on and dreams take time to manifest.  So, something good did happen this week.  Here are a couple photos taken by my darling daughter (whose talented arborist boyfriend is installing the stones…)

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No savings account for time

No savings account for time.  Never is this more apparent, more poignant, more obvious wavetunnelthan when you have spent the day at a funeral. There is no way to save your time. It is finite and the quantity is quite unknown. There’s no bankbook, statement or electronic accounting that you can look at and feel pride. Well, let me think about that. You can feel pride, about how you have spent that time. Absolutely. What you cannot do is save it, set it aside for a rainy day, to use later.

What about the idea of ‘saving time’ by doing something more quickly? It is a curious concept. It may be more like a Peter/Paul situation. I’m referring to the financial idea of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, which may have biblical roots, since those are both apostle names. I’ll check on that. [They are the names of apostles, but the facts of the origin are quite murky.  Here is one link from Britain that proposes some answers…]

But my point is that when I ‘save time’ by taking a shortcut while driving, I am spending less time driving and transferring those minutes to an occupation before I drive or after I arrive somewhere. Time is not saved, merely re-appropriated.  As for the ubiquitous practice of multi-tasking… My opinion is that there are no savings there.  I might say there can only be loss when doubly or triply occupied.

In general, we have the option to make choices to improve our health, with the goal of extending our lifetime, but there is no FDIC guaranteeing our time account.

At times I think I’ve been a time spendthrift (an odd word, being composed of spending and its opposite, thrift **) I spent decades busy with excessive care-taking, prioritizing the needs of others, mainly because I did not know what my own needs might be. It wasn’t until I began to feel the drain of ‘life energy’ on a physical level that I was forced to stop and consider my options.

I’m happy to say that when I take an inventory of those years, I have no regrets.  I had all kinds of adventures and more significantly, met and briefly traveled beside many interesting people. Some I remember more clearly than others, some I am fortunate to still have by my side, but all that time was not wasted. There was and is value and satisfaction, fulfillment and pleasure in spending time with other humans. And cats. But…

I still struggle to find a balance between time with people and quiet, un-peopled time. Although there cannot be a savings account for time, I find myself choosing to be miserly, more and more unwilling to spend my life energy/capital out in the world. I am going inside; I am loving going inside, sitting alone and writing or drawing.

I will give it to you straight: I am becoming a time hoarder.

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**Spendthrift: a person who spends in an extravagant, irresponsible way.   The word derives from an obsolete sense of the word “thrift” to mean prosperity rather than frugality.

Afterword

Yesterday when I drafted my post, Completion, there was a section where I talked about death. First I said that death is the only real completion. But then I realized that death actually may be a good example of completion=beginning, because although I have no firm belief in what happens ‘after life’, I do believe that there is an essence, call it spirit or soul, that carries on in someway. It is the body that has completed its journey.

Anyway, I said all this, most eloquently I’m sure, but when I returned to edit the draft before posting, I had just learned about the death of a woman I knew and admired greatly. Unfortunately the people we know in common didn’t think to let me know when she died about two weeks ago. Hearing this news, especially after such a delay, was/is shocking and very unsettling.

I worked for this woman and her husband for eleven years and in a curious way was very involved in their personal lives. She and I also shared a birth date and as I said, I admired her greatly. She was active in the larger world as a promoter of connection and understanding in a way that was quite special. Yes, I’m being vague, because I am.

So I returned to my little blog post, was freaked out by the section I’d written on death, hastily took out those sentences and posted the rest. I am still shaken today, disturbed on a gut level. I think it has something to do with the fact that death and secrecy or ‘not knowing’ played such a powerful role in my childhood. In reaction to the way death was ‘handled’ in my family, I have spent a lifetime insisting that death is important to talk about, know about, discuss, share.

To be left in the dark of unknowing about this woman’s death for two weeks has triggered a lot of feelings. Something like anger toward the friends who did not think to let me know, but I see that that is old stuff, anger I did not, was not allowed to express toward my parents for their behavior when my sister died. Just writing this is exhausting, but it helps a little. I know that I am one of literally thousands of people whose lives this amazing woman touched and who now mourn for her. So all I can do now is add my breath to the clouds of emotion that have lifted her beyond this world.

Family

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve had a hard time writing a blog post for the past couple of days. The reasons are many, I suppose. There is certainly the busy-ness around an event holiday, with cooking and traveling and lots of time with people. Spending too much time with people, even the ones I love, is exhausting and makes me cranky.

And speaking of cranky, there is a lot of what I’ll call pretense about this holiday – perhaps most holidays. So if my post on Thursday seemed sort of negative or bitter, well, that’s because this country, my country, along with being wonderful in some ways, has and does behave deplorably in so many other ways. One could say that this is true of most people, as well as nations or governments and perhaps that is so.

However I find it troubling when a person or entity touts its praiseworthy values and then does not even come close to living them. It’s ‘talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.’ Most people who know me would probably say that I am perilously close to being a ‘Pollyanna’ in my determined optimism. But that veneer seems to be wearing thin in places, as I age.

I’m going to return to the pretense issue as it relates to family. Family of man [sic]: we all belong. Blood family: even before genetic testing, the net of biological connection was rather vast. I know that I have many blood kin whom I have never met. But we are family in a genetic sense. And of course there are the blood kin with whom my life is closely intertwined. There is family as a legal entity: this would include those who have married ‘into the family’ as well as any other legal joining, like adoption.

Family as a unit: those who protect and nurture one another, without specific biological or legal connections. That would include ‘friends as family’, regardless of living situation, or any of the classifications used to define people as different. These are the chosen ones, the people we want to spend time with, or more specifically, at least for me, the people that it is relaxing and comfortable and de-stressing to be with.

Unfortunately, my experience with holidays over the decades has involved many hours surviving the pretense of family as nurturing and loving. Patience and good will is wearing pretty thin in that arena. I think that part of what I am trying to say is that I have shed almost all of the illusions I treasured as a child and young adult, that the rosy pretenses were real. And I am no longer willing to wait for the idyllic future when some miracle will have taken place and the rosy pretenses (like the Velveteen Rabbit) have become real.

There is a song from the mid-1970’s, written and performed by the Steve Miller Band. If you want to take a trip to the past, click the link here. The clothes, the guitars, the hair… One line keeps playing in my head. (I believe they are called ‘earworms’?)

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.

Yes indeed, the future is here.

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Today

As a nation, the U.S. has such a dismal human rights record, from its treatment of Native Americans on into the present day on the streets of Chicago and other cities, so I cannot and do not consider this to be a Pilgrim day, but a day for giving thanks.

On this day of promoting gratitude, I think of the Louis Armstrong classic, What a Wonderful World. To see and hear him sing, please click the link.

I’ve also encountered a youtube video in which Armstrong gives a spoken introduction which you might find interesting. That link is here.

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Dreams

As a child, I was a sleepwalker. They tell me I would be found curled up, asleep, on the fuzzy rug in the bathroom, like a cat. I also talked in my sleep, although it wasn’t until I had a roommate in college that my words were captured for posterity. Profound things like: “Chop, chop, chop the nuts.” and “Somewhere there’s home and I’m going.” From childhood through my 20’s I remembered my dreams some of the time, but never really paid attention, so the images and feelings would slip away quite rapidly upon awakening.

Then I met a woman who was really ‘into’ dreams. She wrote detailed descriptions of her dreams every night, often several dreams, filling pages and pages, which obviously took some time. I began to ‘attend’ to my dreams more and suddenly they were more vivid and my recall was much more complete. This is a truism about dreams and dreaming. If you express interest in them by writing them down, even the briefest image or lingering feeling, or if you simply place paper and pen beside the bed with the intention of capturing dream stuff, your dreams will respond by being more present.

Another truism is that we do all dream, virtually every night. But there are so many environmental factors that interfere with experiencing and then remembering dreams that many people believe they do not dream. I’ve had the opportunity over the years to prove this point to many disbelievers, so I feel pretty confident about that assertion. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. I began reading about dreams and dreamwork, Carl Jung being a true visionary (oops, pun, or not) and prolific writer in this field. I also experienced and practiced guided dream reentry, which is surprisingly powerful.

Eventually, I started a dream group with two other women. We met every other week for about ten years. That was an amazing time, writing and sharing our dreams and then sharing questions and insights that arose. I found that I had the capacity to suspend my own thoughts and just let the images of someone else’s dream enter me and stimulate insights. Okay, I am sounding sort of wacky again, but it was true. I think the other women in the group would still agree.

So, it came to pass that I taught classes in dreamwork in a few different settings and in each one I learned more about dreams. I was teaching English in a small alternative high school, with students who had troubled histories (and present lives as well.) Run-ins with the law, time spent in institutions, substance abuse and mental health issues were the norm. So, I offered an English class on dreamwork to these ‘unmotivated’ learners. We had a blast.

At first they referred to the class as ‘kindergarten’, because I would close the blinds, have them lay on the floor and take them through guided visualizations. Then they would write, in class, about what they had experienced. Sometimes I would give them art materials like crayons and paper or modeling beeswax to recreate images from their excursions into the unconscious. There were never images of gratuitous violence. I think they were as surprised as I was by the ‘material’ that came out.

A few of them began writing down dreams at home and we incorporated those into class work. Several of these young men and women had never read a book in their lives. Most did not write, or read their work aloud or own up to their ‘dreams’ of any kind. Each one of them broke through some barrier over the course of the semester. I can’t say if it was life changing for them, but it was for me. I went from that job right into grad school for education.

A few years later I had a chance to teach a similar course to college students at a local university. (Full disclosure: it was the same one where I had previously learned drafting on-the-job and also my undergrad and grad school alma mater.) These students could not have been more different than the rough, street-wise kids from the earlier class. But in spite of their privileged status and education, they were just as skeptical about dreams and dreamwork. And they were slowly won over by the experiments I forced them to make: journal by the side of the bed, writing down & sharing dreams, crafting images from their dreams and experiencing dream re-entry. With just a couple of exceptions, these undergrads had suspended their disbelief by midway through the semester. The course got very touching evaluations, from these future engineers, doctors and mathematicians.

I guess I should say what a privilege it is to hear about people’s dreams; in classes or privately. I’ve worked with many friends (and some paying clients) on their dreams over the years and I’ll be darned if there isn’t something for me in each experience. Call it the collective unconscious or what ever you like, there’s something there. When I led a three-session workshop on dreams at a local ‘New Age’ bookstore, I encountered a participant whose input stunned me at the time and still has me puzzling. She was blind. She called me on the amount of visually based language I used when speaking about dreams. And she was right! I began to learn from her about the dream experience of a visually impaired person and if I were inclined toward research or an advanced degree, I might follow that path.

As it is, my dreamwork life has, with so many other Sparks that I have Truly loved, been on hiatus while my real life took over all the space. This NaBloPoMo writing is certainly stirring up some old passions. Once they are unearthed, I will have the opportunity to Truly Triage and live intentionally, re-incorporating these Sparks of joy into my life once again.

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