Category Archives: weekly words

fm

transistorradio

Photo by Kristin Korpos

 

fm : frequency modulation, fathom from

 

I have been incessantly watching Bridget Jone’s Diary. Okay, not incessantly, but I have watched it three and a half times in about as many days. Maybe it’s because the holidays are approaching. Maybe it’s because I want Colin Firth to make lots of babies with me. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the semester and I need films that are funny and easy to watch. Now is not the time for Requiem for a Dream.

But I think the real reason I’m watching is because I find Renee Zellweger’s Bridget Jones to be such a likable protagonist. She’s funny and well-read, but she fumbles. She doesn’t say the right thing all the time. In fact, she often says the exact opposite of the right thing. She loves her friends and she struggles with insecurities about her weight and appearance, her job, her single status.

I can easily watch the opening sequence over and over again because I see my shadow self so clearly in it. Who has not had that moment? That moment of sitting on your couch in your pajamas, hair disheveled, teeth unbrushed, watching lousy television, listening to the radio and singing along to some song in the lines of “All by Myself,” having a pity party, cursing the gods, feeling like a complete fuck-up, finding it hard to believe that this year will be any different than the last? Tell me you’ve never had a moment like this, and I’ll tell you that you are a liar.

I had plenty of beautiful moments and experiences in the past year. I’ve had my share of hard ones, too. Yet when I think back to New Year’s Eve, I can’t feel much of a difference in my actual self from then to now. At a gathering at a friend’s house, we all partook in a ritual in which we beckoned in the new for the new year and burned messages that contained all we wanted to shed. Many of the things I beckoned for last year have not yet emerged. And I have done work at the shedding but some of the same habits, patterns, and insecurities are here. If I’m honest with myself, I can see the nuances of change, both in my life and in myself, but the changes are not always as demonstrative as I had hoped or expected. Beyond this, my life feels steeped in uncertainty at the moment and uncertainty is quite good at seducing anxiety and doubt. Everything is okay, but lately both the ups and downs, the moments of joy and the disappointments, feel heightened and intertwined.

So, I think I find such satisfaction in the movie because within a two hour block, Bridget Jones is embarrassed and depressed, resolves to change her life, fucks this resolution up royalty, lives vulnerably, opens up to possibility in life and love, says and does foolish things, finds more self acceptance, and, of course, love: from herself and from others.

I like it because it is packaged and condensed and easy. Not like life and yet enough like life that it allows me room for trusting.

After her lip-synching to Celine Dion, she narrates her desire to change. She says, “And so I made a major decision. I had to make sure that next year I wouldn’t end up shit-faced and listening to sad FM, easy-listening for the over-thirties. I decided to take control of my life…and start a diary: to tell the truth about Bridget Jones—the whole truth.”

Sad Fm.

I like the idea of Sad Fm because it feels like such a ripe metaphor. (It reminds me of KFKD, for those of you who have read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.)  Sure, there is the literal act of listening to sad songs about love left, love gone awry, lives fucked up, seemingly irrevocably. But it feels so apt for the times in which our minds circulate around the same fucking songs, the same damn static. The static that says, at full blast no matter how gingerly you turn the dial: Not enough, Not smart enough, Not loved enough, Not pretty enough, Not worthy enough. And the songs with refrains all about past mistakes and your undeniably abysmal future. Sad Fm is the mind’s way of separating us from the world around us, isolating us and making us feel as if we are not connected. And Sad Fm is only one station but when you are listening, it feels like the only station. As if there is a sumo wrestler sitting on your chest and preventing you from standing up and just simply switching the dial to the radio which is a football field’s length away. The force feels that real and strong.

But it’s not. I began this post earlier in the week, and today, I am listening to a different station. Know what helps? Little things like watching a movie with a protagonist that isn’t fully realized and developed, that struggles to honor her worth and accept her whole self and yet still manages to walk through life, living and being vulnerable and fucking up and standing back up and dusting herself off. That is a protagonist I want to root for. That is a protagonist I can offer love and compassion to. That is a protagonist that reminds me to offer that same love and compassion to myself.

Rob Breszny, author of Free Will Astrology, writes in his book Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: “Have you ever been loved? I bet you have been loved so much and so deeply that you have become blasé about the enormity of the grace it confers. So let me remind you: To be loved is a privilege and prize equivalent to being born. If you’re smart, you pause regularly to bask in the astonishing knowledge that there are many people out there who care for you and want you to thrive and hold you in their thoughts with fondness. Animals, too: You have been the recipient of their boundless affection. The spirits of allies who’ve left this world continue to send their tender regards, as well…You are awash in torrents of love…Think about that. In your life, you have been deeply and completely loved. Probably many times. Many more than maybe you are even aware of, with a depth that you might not be able to fathom.”

Awash in torrents of love.

Embedded within the movie is the best romantic movie compliment of all time. That being when Mark Darcy tells Bridget he likes her just as she is. Her friends retort, “Just as you are? Not thinner? Not cleverer? Not with slightly bigger breasts and a slightly smaller nose?” No, just as she is. This is the hardest thing to do for ourselves and the thing we desire most from others. To be loved, with all our flaws and with all our beauty. To be loved not despite but because of all that we are. Such a remarkable gift, this blessing of hearing through the static and noise to the place of acceptance and of being seen.

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sa·bot

 

Tree, Lisa O’Neill


 
sa·bot    (sab-oh)  n.  [Fr.; altered (after bot, a boot)  <  savate, old shoe; via Turk.  <  Ar. sabbat, sandal]  1.  a kind of shoe shaped and hollowed from a single piece of wood, worn by peasants in Europe.  2.  a heavy leather shoe with a wooden sole.  3.  a small sailing dinghy whose hull somewhat resembles a shoe.  4.  in military usage, a wooden disk or soft metalclip fastened to a projectile, formerly used in muzzle-loading canon.
 
 
“Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But (just) leather on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it”

–Shantideva

 
 
 
The ground was rough. So the girl decided to carve herself some shoes. She was tired of stepping on thorns. She had enough of cuts from tiny pieces of glass. Her toenails were torn. Her arches were sore. Her feet were calloused from walking the stubborn earth.
 
She had tried looking carefully at where she was walking. She had tried looking ahead at where she was going and hoping for the best. She had tried praying for the ground to be other than it was. She had tried laying out a mat which she would pick up and throw in front of her every few steps. All of these were tiresome. None of these worked. So at long last, she decided, though she was no carver, to carve herself some shoes.
 
She went walking to the place where there were many trees and once she arrived there, she considered them keenly. She placed her hand against the bark. She felt the smoothness of their leaves between her fingers. She considered the maple, the mesquite, the magnolia. She sat on the roots of mighty oaks. She pressed her nose to the skin of the cedar. She did this for days, or was it weeks? She smelled the sassafras. She leaned her back against the bark of the elm. She touched the ashes. She tasted the sap of the pine.
 
She wondered which wood would give best, which would mar her feet. She considered what she knew about the rings inside those trees, the color of the wood. She considered the way the wood would sound when it met the earth, in walking or in dancing.
 
She walked to where the water met the trees, she waded, and finally, she settled on something. Cypress.
 
She pulled something sharp from within her coat and she began to saw. She thanked the tree and took her branch with her.
 
The girl found a place on the earth to sit and placed her large branch across her lap. She had never made a pair of shoes before. She had never carved anything besides letters into words, color into walls. She wondered where to begin. Begin with this wood, she heard. Begin with this tool. Begin with this time.
 
So she did. She found the process long, this slow hollowing. The only indicator of time spent was a small curve in the center of the block. And yet there was something satisfying about the sound of her knife cutting into the wood and the sight of curled shavings falling to her feet.
 
She scraped and she notched and she pulled. She worked and as she worked, she sang. These were the songs she had been taught over the years. Her mother had sung them. And her mother’s mother had sung them. They were songs about truth and what it means to sit in the presence of another human being. She became lost in the music and the slow rhythm of scraping and when she came out of her haze, she saw she had cut a hole clean through.
 
So she began again, slowly carving, this time not forgetting where she was. People passed her as she worked, some offered to help her carve, some gave her suggestions. She thanked them, she listened, and then she continued to work. The light turned to dark then to light then to dark again, and still she carved. She noticed the rings in the wood. She noticed the changes in color. She noticed the smell of its skin. She chipped, she chiseled, she cleaved and divided. She etched, she hacked, she hewed. She molded and modeled and patterned and sculpted and shaped. She, at long last, whittled the last bit of excess away.
 
And then she looked at her work. These wooden shoes were not entirely even. They were not exactly smooth. She held one in each hand and considered their weight. She thought about her efforts and why she had begun in the first place. These would not be the most comfortable shoes. They would not be the most attractive. They looked like they had been made by a beginner. And they had. These shoes would not spare her the miles walked in them. They would not spare her the wrong turns. They would not keep her from encountering hard rain or hot sand or a horizon obscured by too much foliage. These shoes would not do this. No shoes ever would. But still, the girl had made these.
 
She slipped on the shoes.
 
She began to walk.
 
 
 
 

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sur·ren·der

 

By Lisa O’Neill. Image of a collaboration of artist Gregory Sale and poet Tc Tolbert at the Phoenix Art Museum (click image for more details)

 

sur·ren·der (­­­­­­­­­­səˈrendər) v.t.  [OFr. surrender; sur-, upon, up + render, to render],  1. to give up possession of or power over; yield to another on demand or compulsion.  2. to give up claim to; give over or yield, especially voluntarily, as in favor of another.  3. to give up or abandon; as, we surrendered all hope.  4.  to yield or resign (oneself) to an emotion, influence, etc.  5. [Obs.], to give back or in return.  v.i.  to give oneself up to another’s power or control, especially as a prisoner; yield.  n.  [Anglo-Fr.  <  OFr.  surrender  (see the v.);  inf. used as n.],  1. the act of surrendering, yielding, or giving up.  2.  in insurance, the voluntary abandonment of a policy by an insured person in retrun for a cash payment (surrender value), thus freeing the company of liability.

SYN.—surrender commonly implies the giving up of something completely after striving to keep it (to surrender a fort, one’s freedom, etc.); relinquish is the general word implying an abandoning, giving up, or letting go of something held (to relinquish one’s grasp, a claim, etc.); to yield is to concede or give way under pressure (to yield one’s consent); to submit is to give in to authority of superior force (to submit to a conqueror); resign implies a voluntary, formal relinquishment and used reflexively, connotes submission or passive acceptance (to resign an office, to resign oneself to failure).

 

 

On Saturday, I heard Amy Goodman speak. I knew she was a brilliant journalist, having read her work and listened to Democracy Now!, but I was taken aback at what a consummate storyteller she is and at her capacity to be a vessel for so many people’s stories. She moved seamlessly in and out of political events, uprisings, movements, historical dates and figures, details of the stories of people she’d met and words they had told her. She talked about the responsibility of journalists (“to go where the silence is and let people speak for themselves”), about what one immigrant fighting for rights said when Goodman asked why there was a butterfly on their sign (“butterflies know no borders; butterflies are free”). She quoted Gandhi: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

I think what surprised me most is that in the face of all of the stories of tremendous, often inconceivable, injustice and oppression, she exuded warmth and humor and a presence that spoke to her overall trust in the kindness and goodness of human beings. Was there corruption of power? Absolutely. Were people, all over the world, suffering in unconscionable ways? Without a doubt. Was much of this suffering caused directly by the policies of our country and were we Americans thus accountable to and responsible for much of this injustice? Yes, certainly.

Was this a signal that we should give up? That nothing could be done? That things were fucked up beyond repair and we should retreat into our homes to eat Cheetos and watch reality television for the rest off our lives? A definitive no.

Here’s the thing about surrender, about surrendering. Surrendering is not something that people in positions of power have any authority or control over. The surrendering must come from the person who chooses to submit. Obviously, the stakes are higher for some than others. Some of us enjoy expansive freedom in our day-to-day lives; freedoms we often take for granted and don’t practice gratitude for. Others live each day faced with imminent threats and dangers to their personal safety and that of their loved ones and communities, oppressed in their own countries and homes.

The one thing that steadily continues to amaze and humble me is the resiliency of the human spirit. That even when beared down upon, when suffering, when up against impossible obstacles, human beings consistently stand up and refuse to concede, to resign, to relinquish, to surrender. This is at the heart of our humanness, our ability to take ownership of our bodies, minds, hearts, souls, even if others beat us down, abuse us, tell us we are worthless. There is power in the unwillingness to cower or be made less than. There is strength in taping up wounds and walking even when broken. We may not have control of the conditions around us, but we do have a responsibility to the flickering of light inside.

Goodman took us through uprisings during the Arab Spring and back to the civil rights movement. She reminded the audience of the media’s dismissive and oversimplified take on Rosa Parks (“she was just a tired seamstress”) that doesn’t take into account that she was trained at the Highlander school and held the position of secretary of the local NAACP. Not only was she actively involved in the fight for civil rights for African-Americans, but she was chosen by the movement to take a stand in this way and to pave the way for the entrance of a new as-yet-unknown preacher to help lead the movement.

 

Goodman conferred some information that was shocking in its irony:

Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, Jr., when being considered for a presidential run in 1968, warned the Republican party against extremism. He voiced his concerns about and opposition to organizations such as the John Birch Society, a radical right-wing organization that stood in opposition to the civil rights movement. The Koch Brothers’ father Fred Koch was a founding member of the Birch Society. The Koch Brothers have been one of the biggest supporters of Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Because Frederick Douglas was a “difficult” slave, he was sent to Ed Covey, known as a “slave breaker.” The place where Covey lived and enacted his torture on slaves, located in Saint Michael’s, Maryland, was known as Mount Misery. The current owner of Mount Misery? Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense, under whose leadership torture, like that at Abu Ghraib, was conducted. Mount Misery is the site of his vacation home.

 

I think it is easy to point at the many freedoms we have in our culture and to ignore systemic ills that reveal the ways in which we oppress and are oppressed every day: the United States holding the largest incarceration rate in the world (International Centre for Prison Studies); classism and racism embedded in our criminal justice system; our use of the death penalty and also its continued use even in cases of extreme doubt (as with Troy Davis). Dostoevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” And too, I think, by the way in which we choose to acknowledge or not acknowledge how often we tuck people away, out of sight and out of mind.

Goodman spoke of “breaking the sound barrier,” and I think in all the discussion of the economy and the two party candidates batting accusations at one another, the real discourse and debate gets lost. How are we taking care of our citizens? And how are we not? How are we being good citizens of the world? And how are we not? How are we being caretakers of the planet? And how are we not? What are the ways in which our current policies make it impossible for some of our fellow citizens to survive much less thrive?

Here’s another thing about surrendering. Not surrendering becomes easier when we see ourselves as part of a community with others. The greatest myth of our individual-focused U.S. society is that we don’t need one another, that it is okay to take care of “me and mine” and not care about “you and yours,” that we can fill our lives with objects to substitute for intimacy with other human beings, that life is about personal success and that this success is measured by how we appear on the outside and how much money we have in the bank.

This is a myth that pains us because, in our deepest selves, we know it is a lie. We see everyday in countless ways the impact we have on one another. We are interdependent and to propagate the idea within ourselves and our culture that we are not leads to suffering and disillusion, confusion and blame.

From community comes strength and connection, something we all need. When I was in high school, I had a teacher who had adopted a severely mentally and physically disabled child. She and her husband were told by doctors after they adopted him that this infant, now their child, had been within hours of dying. Not because he didn’t have adequate food, but because he, unlike the other babies, had not been regularly held. He was dying from lack of human touch.

The desire to connect with others is at our very core—no matter our political affiliations, no matter the distinctions in our religious or ethical views.

But you know what is required to be a part of community? The vulnerability of being who we really are and speaking from that place, the willingness to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations about how we got to where we are and about the problems that need solutions, the bravery to not turn away when we see someone suffering because it makes us feel dissonance, because we know that in different circumstances that could be us.

Goodman’s new book, written with fellow producer Denis Moynihan, is called The Silenced Majority. The title speaks to the idea that most Americans, even despite differences in opinion, have compassion at their core. They want opportunities to be available not only for themselves but for their fellow citizens. But when the rhetoric is too narrow, too many stories get left out. And it is only through hearing each others’ stories that we learn to understand one another and then act from that space of understanding. Goodman relayed the story of when a joint targeting committee made of staff from The Manhattan Project and the United States Air Force sent suggestions of potential nuclear bomb sites in Japan to Secretary of War Henry Stimson. On the list were Kokura, Hiroshima, Niigata, and Kyoto. Stimson told them to remove Kyoto, not only from the nuclear list but from the list of targets for conventional bombing as well. Why? Because he and his wife had visited Kyoto and they appreciated the beauty and history of the city and enjoyed the people they met there. Through this personal connection, the town of Kyoto was saved. Nagasaki was added in its place.

Amy Goodman said it is movements that make this country great.

And what are movements? Just people. People who have decided to commit themselves to a collective vision that says: we can do better than this. People who, despite the odds and obstacles that face them, do the work anyway. People who, leaning on the strength and knowledge of one another, do not surrender.

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un–

Wild Horses Running, Lisa Dearing

 

 

un2  prefix added to verbs:  denoting the reversal or cancellation of an action or state: untie | unsettle.  denoting deprivation, separation, or reduction to a lesser state: unmask unhand.  Old English un-, on-, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch ont- and German ent-

(from The New Oxford English Dictionary, copyright 2005)

 

 

A Catalogue of Loss and Gain: The Doing of Un

 

Here’s a theory: we spend our whole lives trying to un ourselves.

Sometimes, the unning is good for us. We undo patterns that no longer serve us. We unfetter ourselves from belief systems that limit us. We unearth what we really desire and we unwrite the narrative that we do not deserve all these dreams, these longings. We unmask so that others can see us for who we really are. We unclutter. We unbolt. We unarm.

Sometimes, the unning does us harm. We un all over ourselves. We rename ourselves: Unable, Unacceptable, Undeserving. We declare events and situations unbearable, and thus strip ourselves of our earned and ever-present power. We decide life should be unchanging and so we hold so tightly onto what is that we can’t see what is possible. We declare our life’s work Untitled because we are too terrified to name it imperfectly. We’d rather call it nothing than be imprecise, than be exposed for our lack of poeticism.

Right now, the moon is full and in Aries. This is a time abundant with potential, but potential that comes from the deepest of rifts. We must let go and abandon previous ways of being. We must un in order to make space for what will be birthed. We must cancel that which does not serve us to make space for that which will. We un and in doing so lose our footing, our sense of who we are and what we know, in order to make room for an uncertain future which will weave us back together in ways we could never imagine. We unharness our unyielding hold on what the future must be in order to allow it to come into what it will be, one breath and one moment at a time.

Un sounds like fun but it can be the opposite: loss, separation, reduction. Un sounds like won but it is about losing. Un sounds like done but is about undoing. Un cancels. Un annuls. Un reprieves and deprives. It both lessens and augments: what’s lost is gone and yet what’s lost becomes mythic, legendary in proportion. It both no longer is and exists in a size and measure it never did when it wasn’t un.

And yet, un brings offerings. Un brings, even in its negation, the imaginings of what is possible. It speaks to possibility on the other side. If there is unbelief, belief is possible. If we deem something unworthy, how might worthiness be seen? If something is unheard of, who is not able or willing to hear? Which limitations and negations are merely semantic ones made only by our need to constrain and define?

We are talking about irony and paradox and contradiction in my writing classes. How often these instances occur in literature and in life. How can it be possible that in unfastening and unbuckling, we could be held together more securely? That unmarking sometimes brings more attention to the canvas than the mark itself? That in unwinding a spool, we become more aware of the constraint of thread? That in unmaking something, we are aware so keenly of the steps and materials that allowed the thing to take shape? That in unbridling, we find, finally, both the freedom and the restraint we seek.

 

 

 

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par·ish

Flags in Barrio Viejo, Tucson, Lisa O’Neill


 
par·ish   /ˈpariSH/  n.  1  part of diocese under a priest, etc.  2  church congregation.
 
When I was small, my Sundays were ordered by ritual. By ironed dresses and clean shoes, by getting out the front door by a particular time, by entering a room with tile floors and crossing myself with water, by singing certain songs, by speaking certain words, by listening when I was made to listen and speaking when I was supposed to speak. By holding hands with my parents and shaking hands with strangers around me. By walking in a line, by receiving a white disc in my hands, by placing it on my tongue and letting it dissolve. When I was small, I loved all of this. I loved saying “Peace be with you” to those around me. I loved the smell of incense and the burn of the candles. I loved a place where I knew how things would be, and a space where others assured me God dwelled.

As I grew, I continued to take comfort in this space and these rituals, but I also came to understand that these particular ones were specific to the faith of my parents and this place.

I was raised in a place segmented and ordered by the Catholic religion. In Louisiana, the state is not divided into counties, but rather into parishes. Ascension Parish, St. Charles Parish, Vermillion Parish. An Our Father, a couple of Hail Marys and a place that rested its hopes in the sacred heart of Jesus, in the truth of the Trinity. I knew about faith long before I knew about politics and to me faith was defined in only one way, the way I knew: A parish was a place you lived. A parish was a place you worshipped. A parish was a place where you lived and worshipped. Wasn’t it that way everywhere?

In July, I went to Patti Smith’s Camera Solo exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Art Museum. From reading her memoir and viewing her art, I recognize some similarities in those of us who were born and raised Catholic. Many of us seem to carry through our lives a sense of connection to ritual, to objects as talisman, to the holiness of everyday things.

Most of Patti Smith’s photos are not of people or landscapes. They are portraits of objects, and they capture materials suspended in a moment: a tea cup, the crease on a bed, a pair of embroidered slippers.  She has photographed the beds of Virginia Woolf  and John Keats. She has photographed the slippers of her friend and former lover Robert Mapplethorpe and of Pope Benedict XV. She has photographed her father’s cup and her own guitar.
 

Virginia Woolf’s Bed 1, Monk’s House, Patti Smith

Herman Hesse’s Typewriter, Patti Smith

Robert’s Slippers, Patti Smith

Robert Bolano’s Chair, Patti Smith

 

In an interview for the exhibition, Patti Smith says that she has always been talismanic and that she “fell in love with art and it eclipsed everything, even religion.” She uses a Land 250 Polaroid camera to take her black and white photographs, which seem to capture both the material solidity of objects and the artist’s fleeting exposure to them at once. What I like most about her photographs are their intimacy and their immediacy. I am positioned as viewer in relation to the object, and I feel the same closeness to the subjects as Smith. There is artistry in not only in the composition but in the way Smith invites the reader into this intimate relationship with the objects, to view them as she herself experiences them. We feel the intimacy there even if we are not directly part of it. She discusses how by photographing the objects of loved ones, mentors, and artists, she is capturing a part of them. Of photographing many artists’ beds, she says: “We have extraordinary things happen in beds. We sleep, we conceive. We make love. We are ill in our beds. We recuperate. So beds are very important in our lives.” Our beds, these physical objects, hold so much of our lives, those moments both awake and dreaming, and the times in which we are most vulnerable.

When I left Catholicism abruptly after a longer period of edging away, I hadn’t yet realized that these impulses and instincts to ritual, to the sacredness of things are not particular to the Catholic Church or to religion for that matter. Afterall, the rituals of religion are inventions of the human mind; we make ritual to make sense of our life: of birth and death, of grief and struggle, of growing up and growing older, of love and sacrifice. I had a break with the church and with God as I’d known him, but the aliveness in me, the sense of something larger than myself, the knowing that we humans were not it did not go away. Neither did my appreciation for the sense of ritual and way of recognizing sacred that before I’d only recognized in my Catholic faith.

 

Paint on door, The Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Lisa O’Neill

Wooden Archway, Bisbee, Lisa O'Neill

Wooden Archway, Bisbee, Lisa O’Neill

Breakfast, Tucson, Lisa O’Neill

Close-up Tibetan Sand Mandala, Tucson, Lisa O’Neill

Close-up Sculpture, Phoenix Art Museum, Lisa O’Neill

Circus Tent, Venice Beach, CA, Lisa O’Neill

 

This recognizing the sacred is a way of looking, of being, of seeing. I don’t need to believe Jesus is savior to love Gospel music. I don’t need to know Hebrew to hear the solemnity in prayer at Pesach. The feeling of mala beads brushing up against my fingers is not so different from the feeling I used to have when my hands held a rosary. We import the meaning onto that which we celebrate, onto the things that allow us physical reminders of our more abstract beliefs. These things are both empty and full at the same time.

It took me a long time to realize that I get to decide what is sacred for me. That no one else can impose that on me. I began to realize that I can create the sacred in my own life. That I can make ritual and disassemble ritual. That I can shift and collage and shape my spiritual life, which is to say: my life, in whatever way I choose.

And so I find the sacred now whenever I think to look, which is often: in the birds that roost on branches and wires and cacti around my house, in the quick text message from my mom or dad, in the way light hits the floor in my kitchen, in the way my dog snuggles up against my chest in the morning. And in recognizing the sacred in the present moment, I don’t have to wait for the thunderbolt of divine blessing. The divine blessing is already here with me. I only have to be still, to witness it as it unfolds.

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m

 

 

 

 

m            \ˈem\     noun, often capitalized often attributive plural m’s or ms

a : the 13th letter of the English alphabet b : a graphic representation of this letter c : a speech counterpart of orthographic m

: one thousand — see number table

: a graphic device for reproducing the letter m

: one designated m especially as the 13th in order or class

: something shaped like the letter M

a : em 2 b : pica 2

 

 

 

Mmmmmmmm. In a low register or a high. Denoting pleasure. Denoting angst. Denoting agreement. Noting a passing of time or a passing away. Nothing. Noting. Noting nothing. Noting that first bite or that last. Noting the time when. Denoting no time when. The time when nothing was noted. Noting mouth on the neck, behind the ear. Noting the feeling of fingers on the body. In place of a sigh. In place of a breath. In place, a moan. Moaning. M. m. Mmmmm. The letter repeated makes a space for itself without meaning. Full of meaning. Meaning something specific. Meaning registered only in the body of the utterer. An utterance that says, this, yes, this, means yes, the moment of intake, outtake, the moment where voice must be realized, the moment sound quakes the air. M.

 

 

 

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stri·gose

 

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stri·gose  (ˈstrīˌgōs),  adj.  [Mod. L. strigosus  <  L.  striga,  a furrow],  1.  in botany, having stiff hairs or bristles, as some leaves.  2.  in zoology, having fine, close-set grooves or streaks. 3. finely grooved or furrowed.

 

 

This woman makes nests.
She said: Imagine an impossible book and body as they realize themselves.
She said: my mouth: a living altar space, a living nest.
This woman makes nests out of earth and fills them with words.
She said: I am interested in the muscle memory of the book, the logic stored beneath the sentence.
This woman makes nests that are no longer a part of the book but inseparable from the book.
She said: vessels, chambers, a gathering of something.
She said: Please climb with me into under the sentence.

 

This woman weaves threads.
She said: I’m working with time, with the moment, with breath, with song, with the thread.
This woman weaves threads through people.
She said: There were no people—everyone was inside. So I was weaving saguaros and lizards.
This woman weaves threads through people and earth and the spaces she moves within.
She said: What is aggressive about a thread lying on the floor?
This woman weaves threads of storysong, songstory into now.
She said: A song a woman sings from hurt is called a pulling…How can I respond except crying in a tone no one cares for?

 

This woman arranged a courtship.
She said: P and S are pushing at the edge of their relationship.
This woman arranged a courtship, one between the page and the screen.
She said: They share text’s fleshy network.
This woman arranged a courtship, affirming each party in what they had to offer.
She said: Pale, pole, pawl have the same root as page.
This woman arranged a courtship: one of the pair she held up to be seen, the other she sent spinning in motion.

 

This woman layered a landscape.
She said: So we are all caught hanging: the rope inside us, the tree inside us.
This woman layered a landscape of word and image.
She said: The hearts of my brothers are broken.
This woman layered a landscape in black and white and then blue and green and red.
She said: And you are not the guy but you fit the description. And there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.
This woman layered a landscape, opaque and reflecting.
She said: It was a place to begin to look at what is seen and at perception. It’s deeper than the image and yet it is the image.

 

These women ask the body.
She said: If a woman in a forest recalls a woman in bed.
These women ask the body to remember, to recall, to reiterate.
She said: If a woman in bed recalls a woman driving.
These women ask the body and the body answers in a curved spine, in sitting upright, in staring out, in.
Shes said:
Are you cooking?
Are you driving?
Are you in the car?
Are you on the phone?
On where writing begins, she said: The jaw. There’s a kind of will in the jaw: it has to do with desire, maybe it has to do with speech and a desire to say something.
She said: It begins in the space in the spine, reflexive knowledge.
 

 

Author Note: I wrote this reflection over the course of attending the Poetry Off The Page Symposium at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. The women, in order of appearance, are: Danielle Vogel, Cecilia Vicuña, Amaranth Borsuk, Claudia Rankine, Julie Carr & K.J. Holmes.

 

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Ni·cae·a

Rodin's "Cathedral" (David Udvardy)

 

Ni·cae·a (nīˈsēə)  n.  1.  an ancient city in Bithynia, near the Sea of Marmara: at an important church council held here in 325 AD, the Nicene Creed was formulated: English Name, Nice  2.  Nice (city in France): the ancient name.

 

Some thoughts on Nicaea:

 

1. I stopped going to mass for good when I could no longer say the words of “The Nicene Creed” without feeling anger and revulsion rise up in my body. While other Catholic prayers ceded my sacredness, this one felt the most visceral: one God, the Father, the almighty; one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God; the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, he is worshiped and glorified. Even the holy spirit, the most ethereal of the trinity, was male. Where was I to find myself in this paradigm? God made me in “his image”? I cannot name the number of times I recited the creed over the years (hundreds? thousands?); having gone to Catholic school kindergarten through college, mass was not only a part of my family life but my school life and my education. I was only three years old, at the ordination of a friend of my parents when I saw the line of men in cassocks drifting up the aisle and asked my father where the women were (His answer: I don’t know, Lisa). But it was in high school that I began to clearly see my absence from the representation of the sacred in Catholic prayers. And I felt the reasoning given for this as what they were: excuses. If the prayers were written a long time ago and by men and that’s why the patriarchal language existed, then we needed to rewrite the prayers, to change the language to make it real for our culture and all the people in our church. If it was that way because that’s the way it had always been, then it was time for change.

The First Council of Nicea, where The Nicene Creed was written and adopted, was the first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. The conference was called to reach consensus on questions of the church’s body, to work towards unification. Agenda items: 1. Clarification of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus: are the Father and Son one in divine purpose or also in being? (i.e. the beginnings of the Trinity; Jesus is “begotten, not made”) 2. Deciding the date to celebrate Easter 3. Discussion of the Meletian schism (an early breakaway sect) 4. The validity of baptism by heretics (Paulian heretics denied that Christ was divine and thus not part of the holy trinity; baptisms conducted by subscribers to Paulianism were deemed invalid) 5. The status of the lapsed in persecution under Licinius (the persecution of Christians had just ended with the February 313 Edict of Milan by Emperors Constantine and Licinius)

Primarily, the council was gathered to discuss and reach agreement on the deity or non-deity of Jesus. It is interesting to note that among early Christians, there was division about whether he was God or was sent by God; was he a prophet or divine himself?

All of these specific questions bore me now. Jesus was an amazing teacher (whose most central teachings on love and peace are now largely ignored or passed over by those who claim to know him), as was the Buddha and Mohammed. All the terminology and details of the Catholic Church that I once desired to know or felt privileged when I knew and “understood” feel unimportant to me now. It seems to me that so much of Christianity and Catholicism and many world religions come from a defensive platform. Our way! our God! is right, is the best, and here are all the reasons why. Laws and rules and prayers that are based on this defensive and reactive standpoint are a waste of time to me. The Dalai Lama says: My religion is kindness. I can get behind that: a religion where compassion and love towards another is the rule, where we can meet each other with genuine attempts at understanding, where it is in the way we live—not what temple we visit—that we show our faith. And where the divine resides within each one of us.

 

2. The first time I played the “Ha Ha” Game was on a beach in Nice, France. This was not the sort of beach I was used to: beige, covered in tiny grains. There were black and gray rocks, big ones that covered the earth near the water. Stones and gravel. I was there on spring break, from Rome where I was studying. My friends and I, close although we’d not known each other long, laid on the rocks, one head on another’s belly, and when the inevitable first laugh came, the movement and sound cascaded down the row. The inevitability caused by others’ laughter, the luxury of silliness when one is supposed to be, finally and always, an adult. Other moments I remember from that trip: Nice just a few weeks before Carnival, the busyness of preparations but no clear signs; buckets of irises, of carnations—red, purple, pink, white—cascading out of buckets at the flower market; a hostel painted all in white; my all purpose wool green sweater with flecks of white; the French version of American diner breakfast; a bus ride to see Rodin’s This Kiss, something that was maybe the most tender and erotic art I had ever seen, and large hands rising up to form a sort of temple: Cathedral.

 

 

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eye open·er

eye open·er (ˈī-ˌōp-nər, -ˌō-pə-) n.  1.  something that causes the eyes to open in astonishment or realization, as a piece of news, discovery, etc.  2. [Slang] an alcoholic drink, especially one taken early in the day.

 

 

Beyoncé & Who Run(s) The World

 

Although I’ve always loved Beyoncé as an artist, more recently I have come to deeply appreciate her and love the way she makes me consider questions about aesthetics and pop culture, about myself and the world I live in and move through. Part of this has come from examining and analyzing her videos. I brought “Countdown” into my freshman composition class so we could look at the video’s aesthetics—choreography, costumes, styling, settings—and how they was greatly influenced by others and in parts taken wholecloth from Belgian Choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. In doing so, we talked about the context of her as a pop diva, about the history of music videos (hers and others), about issues of ethics and recycling vs. plagiarizing. A few weeks ago, my friend Meg introduced me to her song and video “Who Run The World (Girls).”

On a first watch, I was taken by the choreography, strong and dynamic, by Beyoncé’s holding the leashes of hyenas in a desert, by her hair taking on a light shade of blonde and the sometimes “whitening” of her that happens either with or without her permission. Meg told me how Beyoncé had seen videos of the two men from Mozambican kwaito dance group Tofo Tofo who choreographed part of the video and dance alongside her. She told her people she had to work with them. The body movements and the drumbeats are instantly recognizable as stemming from African dance. They are powerful, they showcase the fluid and sharp movement of bodies to strong rhythms. I showed “Who Run the World” to another friend Amanda, and she was struck by the end of the video, when, after a song about girls ruling the world, Beyoncé leads her army of women—clad in bright flowing dresses, combat boots and garter belts—up to uniformed riot policemen and leads her army in a salute to them. “Whoa, that is something,” she said, and went on to talk about that moment as a sort of insight into these women as powerful not only in the way they execute force but in how they choose to vocalize or not vocalize, how they choose to be assertive and how they choose to, at least seemingly, submit.

For me, this video is a striking commentary about women as powerful beings. About how women are sources of both sensuality and real power and the proposal that these don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Women use their wiles not just as manipulation of power but because this sensuality—in their bodies, their souls, their nature—is a part of who they are at their foundation.

This is in strong contrast to other representations of how women are portrayed as using their sexuality and sensuality. Oftentimes, women in film and media are shown using their sensuality as a form of trickery or a last ditch effort to save them. (These examples also often do an injustice to straight men, portraying them as oversimplified beings, oversexed dolts who can’t tell their wristwatch from their crotch.) If she is in a bind, a Charlie’s Angel could strut out in a bikini to distract a villain. Or Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone in the Aerosmith video “Crazy” can make eyes at the convenience store clerk to shoplift as much loot as they want. Or maybe when about to be raped by a man, a woman will use her sensuality to convince him she has changed her mind to buy a few seconds until she can grab the glass vase from the shelf and break it over his head. In these examples, a woman’s sensuality is a source of power but also a source of shame and guilt because she is using it in situations that allow her (and it) to be demeaned by others; her sexuality is the only thing she can use to help her because her smarts, her skills, her knowledge are nonexistent or not enough. She is objectified: her sensuality is reduced to being her only power instead of a deeply rooted part of who she is as a whole being—and that whole being, her real source of power.

This is not true in “Who Rule The World.” One of my favorite moments of brilliance in the video begins at time marker 2:20. In a close-up of Beyoncé, she sings the words “You will do anything for me” as she makes seductive facial expressions, looking away from the camera. Then, as she sings “Who Rule the World?”, she looks directly into the camera with soft eyes and smiles sweetly, a sort of “cover of Cosmopolitan” smile. But immediately after, she scrunches her face into a strong, aggressive expression and shouts: “Girls!” For me, it’s not about Beyoncé being coy and taking advantage of her unsuspecting male viewer. It’s about her knowing that her power rests in both her sweetness expressed in the question and in the strength and power delivered in the answer.

 

 

In the video, the women dancers wear military jackets strung over bras. They wear official army caps with metal stars. Later, some of them, including Beyoncé, wear brightly-colored flowing dresses with long slits up the sides; others don camisoles, underwear and long flowing capes. The dancers wear garters and stockings and black combat boots. At moments their underwear shows, but instead of this being a kind of seduction, it is a kind of powerful revealing. Because of the capes and slits in the dresses, the viewers can see the strength and power of these women’s bodies, and through them, the strength and power of women’s bodies in general. And in showcasing the strength of their hips and thighs, in both the costuming and the choreography, we remember that there has been, since forever really, a masculining of what power looks like: in human bodies and in the world. It looks like war. It looks like dominance. It looks like carved pecks and abdomens. It looks like giant sculpted Popeye arms. This video is saying: power looks like the line of muscle definition in a woman’s thighs, it looks like the delicate swoop of an arched back, it looks like the ability to dance with both subtle and sharp movement, hip sways and shoulder snaps. It is beautiful and it is strong.

 

 

As a woman raised in the South to understand that women are supposed to look and behave a certain way, I have not always been able to connect with or honor all that I am as a woman: my sensitivity and my power (and the power that comes from my sensitivity), my soft curves and my strong legs (and the strength that comes from having both soft and sturdy parts of my body). And it is really refreshing to have a perspective that is not an either/or, that does not ask me to sacrifice one for the other. Because fuck that. I don’t have to and I don’t want to. And not in some sort of I am Woman, Hear me Roar way. More that I am woman and I can roar if I want to. I can also whisper. I can dance and I can run. I can compromise and I can be unyielding. More that I am a woman and all that this encompasses. And that to be a woman, to be me, is to be beautiful and valuable and strong. I run this mother—

 

 

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car·a·van (more gypsies)

Elephant Girl

 

 

car·a·van (ˈkarəˌvan), n. [Fr. caravone; OFr. karouan; Per. karwan, caravan],  1.  a company of travelers, especially of merchants or pilgrims traveling together for safety, as through a desert  2. a number of vehicles traveling together.  3. a large covered vehicle for passengers, circus animals, gypsies, etc.; van.  

We’re rounding out our week of caravaning (see previous two posts). Today, another joins the caravan.

 

 

Jesus Wagon

 

This doesn’t make a ton of sense, but when I think of a caravan, I think of Jesus.  An image lingers from the novel Quarantine by Jim Crace. The story begins as a caravan of travelers and merchants winds through the desert. A man in the group is dying. For a few days the caravan stops to allow the man to recover, but when his conditions worsen, the decision is made to leave him behind. The man’s wife is required by custom and consensus to stay with him. She has no choice, and even though the man has been a terrible and abusive mate for her, she has to leave the caravan and wait for him to die.  As the story progresses, she meets Jesus who is spending his 40 days and 40 nights alone in the desert.  That’s pretty much where my association with Jesus and caravans comes from.  Am I right in perceiving a kind of utilitarian underpinning in the philosophy of caravans?  At what point do caravans look after the individual, and at what point do the members of a caravan abandon their burdensome colleague so that the majority of the group can continue on the journey? Jim Crace’s novel Quarantine is no religious text, but it tells a good story, and it sets up two modes with regards to coping with life. There’s the Jesus paradigm and the nomad paradigm. There’s the character alone in the desert, and there’s the wagon full of passers-by. Which one am I? Am I one of the men in the caravan, or am I one of the men who watches the caravan go past?

—Timothy Dyke

 

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