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Diana

diana cropped

 

Last night, we held our third the dictionary project presents! reading at Casa Libre en la Solana. And we finally revealed the word that our writers and readers had been working with for two weeks: Diana!

We were all grateful for having to engage with Diana: Roman goddess of the hunt, of the moon and childbirth, of all things wild.

One of the most exciting things about our reading series is assigning the same word to a group of writers and seeing the different ways these brilliant minds and hearts experience and interpret that word.  I am grateful to Ian Ellasante, Hannah Ensor, Kindall Gray, Tc Tolbert, and Teré Fowler-Chapman for their writing and for reading last night. And I am grateful to everyone that came.

We will post photos and videos soon from the event, but in the meantime, I would like to share with you the piece I wrote as an introduction. Wishing you a beautiful day.

 

Diana!

As many of you know, whenever I bibliomance a word for tdp, I close my eyes and run my finger through the dictionary and then over a page. This time, I landed on the image of Diana.

 

 

In yoga asana practice, there are several poses named warrior. In my favorite warrior pose—I say favorite because I’m not holding the position for several minutes now—the right leg lunges forward, knee bent, while the back leg is straight and sturdy, giving the illusion of stillness even as the muscles are working and the tendons wrapping strong around bone. Arms are outstretched in a T-shape with palms facing down, hips positioned to the side. Shoulders are released. And the chest, the chest is open.

 

The first hundred times I did this shape, or any warrior shape for that matter, I focused on where I felt weak. My arms ached. My legs shook. Holding the position for any length of time felt impossible.

 

Years later, I have a different relationship to the pose. Instead of noticing my weakness, even though the pose is challenging, I can instead embrace my strength. I can feel my feet and legs holding me up. I can radiate out from the extension in my arms. I can be aware of my chest as it continues to press into the air, opening.

 

I realize now that the challenge of the pose also reveals my capacity to hold it, but first I have to choose to see it that way.

 

All week I have been thinking about the different meanings of the word warrior.

 

I have been tuned in to the presence of violence and the threat of violence, in our country and in the world. First, with the horrible bombings at the Boston Marathon that resulted in the death of three and injury of almost one hundred and fifty. Second, with the news of car bombs in Iraq that killed at least thirty-three people. I listened to politicians and advisors talk about the difference between the word “terrorism” and “murder” on The Diane Rehm Show. I heard a filmmaker talk to Terry Gross about how he survived an IED when he recorded footage on the frontlines in Iraq and about the documentary he just finished about his partner filmmaker who was killed from a shrapnel wound while filming the uprising in Libya. Then, I read and heard about the Senate’s decision not to pass revised gun control legislation that would require background checks before purchasing these weapons, and the responses of both our president and victims of gun violence saying “shame on you.” And finally, yesterday and today, I have watched the unfurling of armed robbery and gunfights and gun deaths and the ongoing manhunt as Boston police search for the surviving suspect of the Boston Marathon bombing. Perhaps by the time I read this, in front of all of you, he will have been found and thus we will have someone to hold accountable. Perhaps we will have some resolution to one particular tragic event that harmed so many and incited fear and anxiety in even more.

 

And without lessening the burden placed on those that committed all these individual atrocities, the truth is that every one of us is accountable. We are accountable for living in a culture where power and privilege aren’t always used mindfully but instead used with arrogance and thoughtlessness. Accountable for when we choose aggression over talking things through. Accountable for valuing purchasing more and more objects over spending time with our neighbors. Accountable for electing people whose job is to protect us and who have made decisions that do exactly the opposite. Accountable for every word said in anger, every aggressive face or hand gesture made while driving. Accountable when we harm ourselves or others, when we do not live up to our best potential.

 

At one point or another, we are all guilty of being the wrong kind of warrior.

 

I grew up in the South, in a city built on the backs of slaves, and in a time when I could count the African-American women who attended my private Catholic school with me on two hands. There were firm divisions by race in this town, ones I was never asked to question but merely recognize and keep. In every unspoken gesture, I read clearly who I was supposed to be friends with and how I was supposed to be. It took going to a poor bordertown in Mexico when I was ten to show me the devastating impact of poverty, as I witnessed children my age begging on the streets, because I never went to neighborhoods where I would have seen it in my hometown.

 

Life was constricted not only by issues of race and class but by issues of gender—by pantyhose, by scripture passages, by too few female role models giving permission by their presence for me to be creative and curious and strong. For a long time, I struggled to reconcile my femininity with my strength, so entrenched in me were the values of my culture which said that these things could not exist in one person, in one body, in a woman.

 

My freshman year of high school, I was assigned Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. The front cover of the paperback was black with bold white letters and an image of a man riding on the back of a winged horse. I had been an avid reader since early childhood so I was familiar with stories, but these struck a new note. These were mythological figures that I was allowed to think of as icons (as was not permitted with biblical ones). Here were stories I needed. They were the stories of men and women, trying and failing and trying and failing again. They were the stories of gods and goddesses, all of whom had tremendous power and inevitability colossal flaws. One of the goddesses that bewildered me most was the Greek Artemis, or in Roman culture: Diana. She bewildered me because I grew up in a town where pearls hung around the necks of the women who hosted garden parties and gathered children round their legs. I didn’t see any women walking around with bows and arrows, not even metaphorical ones. Even my mother, who I now see as one of the fiercest and most warrior-like women I know, didn’t appear that way when I was growing up. I read her through the lenses that were provided to me and as a result she seemed more careful and cautious than bold and brazen.

 

Diana, Giampietrino

Diana, Giampietrino

 

So when I first read about Diana, I judged her for what I perceived as her “overly masculine” behavior and I wondered how I could fit her into my perception of female heroines, who I had learned thus far were to be smart but not too smart, conversational but not in a way that took up too much space, and above all, beautiful.

 

Diana is the goddess of the hunt. She is also the goddess of the moon. And she is the goddess of the process of birth. In her, the power for livelihood, for the ebbing and flowing of tides, and for the creation of new beings come together. In her, masculine and feminine energies combine, and it is this balance that gives her so much power.

 

dianawithanimalcrescent

 

I’ve been thinking about Diana this week, not just because her name is the word for tonight’s event, but because I feel that her particular kind of warrior spirit is needed in our world right now. Hers is the warrior spirit that stands up against the would-be warriors who say that background checks aren’t necessary, that the solution to weapons is more weapons, that the solution to violence is to meet it with more violence. I’ve been thinking about her because her warriorship is not about using her power to benefit herself; it is not about killing innocents; it is not about encouraging war or bloodshed. Her warriorship is about living from the marrow of the bone, the tender tissue of the heart. Her warriorship is about expressing the fiery aspect of her being without entirely letting go of the reins. Her warriorship about being assertive but also compassionate. Her warriorship requires us not to back down from that which is right but also not to meet those who oppose us with unchecked anger. We will meet them with our minds, with the strength of our spirit rather than swords and shields, rifles and semi-automatics.

 

In 2011, the United States’ military budget totaled 644 billion dollars. We praise our servicemen  and women, but when we see images of them, we don’t so much see their human bodies as we do the items that cover them: guns, magazines, helmets. As a culture, we praise their power and bravery but when they suffer, we refuse to see their humanness, we refuse to recognize that violence does damage to everyone involved. We only honor the fierceness of these warriors without acknowledging their tenderness.

 

“I came to the Greeks early,” Edith Hamilton told an interviewer when she was 91, “and I found answers in them. Greece’s great men let all their acts turn on the immortality of the soul. We don’t really act as if we believed in the soul’s immortality and that’s why we are where we are today.”

 

Diana of Versailles, Leochares

Diana of Versailles, Leochares

 

In it’s most simple definition, a warrior is a brave or experienced soldier or fighter. It is up to us what we fight for. Because being a warrior at its core is not about death and is not about killing. Being a warrior is about responsible use of one’s power and energy. To be a warrior is to act with bravery and courage and to make wise choices in situations of extreme pressure.

 

It’s not that we don’t need warriors. We desperately need warriors. But we need the kind who soldier for love, compassion, and understanding.

 

When I was fourteen, I might have thought that a goddess could not be charged with the duties of hunting and also of midwifery. I might have seen these powers emerging in Diana as completely contradictory. But I don’t think that anymore. Both hunting and childbirth require intense physical and emotional strength. Both require fierceness working alongside wisdom and compassion. In both rituals, there must be encouragement, there must be patience, there must be integrity, there must be a time to hold still and a time to push forward.

 

–Lisa O’Neill, written for The Dictionary Project Presents!, April 19, 2013

 

 

Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon, Hans Makart

Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon, Hans Makart

 

Diana bathing with her nymphs, Rembrandt

Diana bathing with her nymphs, Rembrandt

 

 

Artemis

Artemis

 

Diana and Cupid

Diana and Cupid

 

dianadogs

 

Diana, David Swift Photography

Diana, David Swift Photography

 

 

 

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rip·ple

Film still from Amelie


 
Today, the dictionary project is pleased to share with you the winning entry from the first write this word contest.  Here is “Carried Forward” by Kristina Roth, inspired by the word ripple!
 
 
rip·ple  (ˈripəl),  v.t.  [RIPPLED  (-id), RIPPLING], [Early Mod. Eng.; orig. of stormy, dangerous water; hence prob.  <  rip, v.  -le,  freq. suffix],  1.  to form of have little waves or undulating movements on the surface, as water or grass stirred by a breeze.  2.  to flow with such waves or movements on the surface.  3.  a)  to make a sound like that of rippling water.  b)  to proceed with an effect like that of rippling water: said of sound.  v.t.  1.  to cause to ripple.  2.  to give a wavy or undulating form or appearance to. n.  1.  a small wave or undulation, as on the surface of water.  2.  a movement, appearance, or formation resembling or suggesting this. 3.  a sound like that of rippling water.  4.  a small rapid.  SYN. see wave.
 
 

Carried Forward

 
That summer, I attend aqua aerobics classes with a handful of elderly women, where I can float and swim with no crowds. Their soft, saggy upper arms wiggle as we raise plastic dumbbells overhead. I find childlike delight in the water. I wonder if you feel as buoyant in your amniotic fluid as I do in the pool.  Sometimes I have to stop moving and stand still because the intermittent waves of morning sickness don’t combine well with the splashes and slaps of the water as we bounce up and down with our foam noodles.

My doctors are ultrasound crazy.  I see you on the screen many times and imagine waves of sound moving around your body.  At thirteen weeks, your tiny arms curl and uncurl on the screen, and I see that your vertebrae have unfurled down your spine with precision.

You travel to many places that summer. We circle the continent in our comings and goings, making loops back and forth between Houston and more beautiful places.  Your father and I trace our history and at the same time turn outward to imagine our future, turning to places we’ve already been, and some we haven’t, wondering what travel and life will be like once you arrive.

In New Mexico, I sit on the edge of the hotel bathtub and run mountain-cold water over my dusty feet. The sand from my toes is carried down the tub drain by small ripples. I buy tiny, sweet strawberries at the Santa Fe farmer’s market.  Miniscule seeds speckle their red flesh, beginning in a tight whorl at the tip of each berry and spiraling out into wider rings toward the stem.  On the way to Taos, we stop at a state park.  I stand and watch a small, clear stream running over its rocky bottom while your dad hikes up to a raging waterfall.  He shows me a picture of it later, water pounding in a steady rage over a cliff.

In South Dakota, your dad and I walk deep into the woods behind Pactola Lake, following the course of Rapid Creek.  He finds the biggest slate pieces he can lift and swings them into the moving water.  They crash loudly on the stream’s surface before sinking to the bottom, the impact sending small circular waves toward the banks.  I don’t know why he thinks this is so amusing.  Ferns are unfurling themselves along the forest floor, tips tightly closed as they lean upward and unroll themselves toward the sun.

In Minnesota, I do the dishes when we visit my mom, your grandma.  She’s only 56, but her dementia is moving quickly.  Sometimes she will pick up the dishrag and dip it into and out of the soapy water, drops puddling back into the sink from the soaked rag. We visit the largest farmer’s market I’ve ever seen – stands of vegetables, fruit, flowers, and baked goods march onward in even rows.

In Oregon, we rise early, at low tide, and chase to the shore as I did fourteen years previous.  The waves flatten on the wide beach. Each footstep in the shallow water makes a lovely splish-splash.  I scan the beach for sand dollars, wanting to find them before the flat waves that brought them in carry them back out.  Mesmerizing patterns cover the beach, ripples in the sand replicating the ripples of water that have disappeared. Rivulets begin to run into the tide pools as the morning moves toward noon.

In Pennsylvania, we baptize another godchild.  She is dunked three times into the large metal font, water splashing up and beyond the lip, white towels already piled around the base. Their folds rise and fall along the floor.  In less than a year, it will be your turn for this ancient immersion.

Your limbs move visibly across my stomach as you turn inside.  Some women call their contractions waves.  I suppose they do start slowly and then build in intensity as a wave does, and to me, they are as violent as the waves we saw pounding a rocky shore in Maine, water still pouring out of the clefts as each new wave came in. I wanted to use a tub for at least part of my labor, but medical interventions make that impossible. We watch the undulations of my contractions on the screen, another line below charting the valleys and peaks of your heartbeat.  The two lines are not as synchronized as they should be. I wear a mask, oxygen flowing into my lungs, not for myself but to try to help you. They break my water, thinking it will speed labor. White towels are put out to catch the stream.  A photo shows the doctor grasping you as you emerge, a circle of fluid radiating around your head.

You sleep next to me at home and little pools of milk spread out in circles on the sheets.  You nurse and then rest, nurse and then rest, rhythmically swallowing.  Blue-white milk streams down your chin and onto your neck.

Two weeks old, you relax visibly as the warm water I pour over your scalp trickles down your shoulders.  Eighteen months later, you still want me pour water over you in the tub, protesting with a little grunt when I stop. You are mesmerized by the thin cascades of water running down your skin. You hold your hands under the hose as water sprays in a circle onto the perennials, wiggle your fingers in the dog’s water bowl.  You pick up the bowl and dump it onto the floor into a huge spreading puddle if I don’t catch you in time.

Each month of your life expands my own, rings of experience and memory growing bigger with time, carrying the three of us forward just as the flattened waves in Oregon slide sand dollars out of the ocean depths and onto the level sand, into the wide open.
 
 
 
 
Kristina Roth is a native of South Dakota but now lives in Houston with her family and dogs. Her work has been published in Platte Valley Review, Blue Line, Relief, and other literary journals. Her artwork and photos have been published in several Somerset magazine titles and online at Shutter Sisters, WhipUp, and forthcoming at South Dakota Magazine online.
 
Notes on “Carried Forward”: I’ve been processing my son’s arrival and growth and my new identity as a mother for almost two years now. Writing has been crucial in helping me examine these topics.  The word ripple seemed to magically provide a new framework within which to reflect upon my pregnancy and son’s birth.  The idea of ripple gave me a fresh way to define and describe these events.  Having a word limit was also very freeing and refreshing, as it made me focus on key images and events without getting sidetracked. This essay was written during naptimes and came together more quickly than my pieces usually do, probably because these events have been on my mind so much.

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