Friday, December 15, 2017

Darkness. Balance. Transformation.

There is beauty, too, in the starkness of winter. 

This isn't something I don't already know.

It's not something that I haven't been through numerous times before.

It's not even particularly revelatory or interesting.

It just is.

The ability to be sensitive to emotions and subtle changes around me is both a blessing and a curse. It's what fuels my creativity, but it also triggers anxiety and depression. That very sensitivity means that my filters are porous. It doesn't take a lot to bring me joy, but it also doesn't take a lot to bring me sorrow.

I've had a hard time staying in balance vis à vis my emotions of late. It expresses itself in multiple ways including fatigue, isolating behavior, and difficulty writing. From the outside, it can look like depression and it probably has some of that in the mix, but it also doesn't feel particularly bad. What feels bad is the guilt and irritation I experience from not having gotten things done.

There's a weird energy this time of year. All these subtle and not so subtle messages of Do! Buy! Engage! That kind of external mania turns me inward, as does the shorter days and the cold.

I don't think cyclic shifts in our productivity and activity is bad or wrong. As with most things, it's complicated. It depends.

Right now, I'm almost 2 months behind where I wanted and needed to be in drafting book 5 of the Halcyone Space series. And I'm trying to figure out how to keep on track while honoring my self and my mental and physical health. So bear with me here as I talk it out and work to make sense of it.


Creativity doesn't just happen; it's transformative. Both as its process and in its outcome.

In order to create, we must collect elements from the world around us - sensory experiences, emotions, ideas, memories, objects - and change them, imbue them with layers of meaning to form something new. That is one meaning of transformation.

The other is how that new creation, be it a painting, a poem, a novel, a song, or any other expression, changes the creator and the audience.

So we transform to create and our creation has the potential to transform us.

That's a lot of responsibility, along with a process that can seem messy or magical or just impenetrable.

But it starts with that sensitivity. Those porous boundaries. And they don't discriminate in what they take in.


Like many folks, I've been following the news cycle. It's nearly impossible to avoid it. My social media feeds used to be full of dogs, recipes, travel, book news, and Doctor Who memes. Now it's overwhelmed by fear, calls to action, outrage. And yes, there's a lot to be feared, much work to do, and to be outraged over. 

I don't think I can isolate myself from everything. Nor would I want to even if I could. Even if I felt no personal responsibility to the world, my creativity cannot live outside of it. That porous filter between me and everything? It can't be set to only take in some things and not others. Not if I want to continue to transform and create. 

And yet, I'm tired. The amount of energy it takes to preserve my emotional safety is enormous. It feels like I've run short of resources for anything else. So my writing suffers. My organization suffers, my social connections suffer. 


None of this is to imply I don't also have great joy in my life. While this year has brought incredible challenges, both to the world and to my small part of it, it has also given me much to be thankful for, not the least of which is StarField Farm and the beginning of a new adventure with my husband. Then there is the discovery of my extended family, found after a near 40 year search. (Another blog post for another day.)


I live in a part of the world where the days are getting shorter. Where creeping darkness is more than just a metaphor. It feels like the calendar year is accelerating to the end with all of its artificial marking of accomplishments that somehow need to happen in a particular timeframe. 


I don't have answers. I am doing the best that I can.

I will end with a few lines from Mary Oliver's brilliant poem, WILD GEESE. I need this reminder.

Perhaps you do, too.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
                              --From "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver

May you find the balance you seek in the days to come.



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Wednesday, November 01, 2017

My over the top love of Halloween

Last year, right after Halloween, when the decorations went on sale, my husband got me another fog machine, a life sized poseable skeleton, and assorted ghosts.

He gets me.

He really gets me.

I'm not an expensive jewelry or clothing type of gal and never, ever bring me roses. Want to see me swoon? Buy me a light projector that shows flying ghosts against my house and I'm a happy camper.

This is my "Trick or Tree". (I wish I had made up that name, but it was one of my clever facebook friends.) Well, what else do you do when you have a giant trash bag full of skulls?

Wait. Don't answer that. . .

Our challenge every year is to put together a selection of our decorations in a fresh way to create something that is spooky and creative without being too terrifying for the little trick or treaters yet still cool enough for the teenagers.

I may have struck the balance to the scary side this year, because I spooked a little girl dressed as Wonder Woman. I felt terrible!

As I said, normally Neil waits until the post-Halloween sale to pick up new treats for me. But this year, he couldn't resist and these 2 hell-hounds were added to the stockpile. They are motion and touch sensitive and their eyes glow red and they bark and howl.

So of course I created a tableaux of "good dog" and "bad dog".
(No actual dogs were harmed in the making of this display.)

When night falls, and we bring out the lights and the fog machines, it looks like this:

It was a smaller display than in prior years. Partly because of the stormy weather we had in the run up to Halloween, party because Neil and I were out of town last week.

We've had these bones for years. It's fun to watch the young kids work on reading the words. Just doin' my part for literacy!

And who doesn't need spooky light up zombie hands?

Yes, we fogged up the entire neighborhood. #sorrynotsorry

Today is devoted to packing it all away and putting it back in the attic until next year.


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Monday, October 16, 2017

Reclaiming ourselves

A moment of peace, for everyone who shared their #MeToo moments

Watching the flood of posts on social media yesterday with the tag #MeToo was painful and eye-opening. I have a lot of folks friended on Facebook and nearly all the women and some of the men openly proclaimed that they, too, were victims of sexual assault or harassment. 

Some people talked about the need to be outspoken in order to show the scope of the problem to so many men who disbelieve women, or worse, mock them. For me, it served a different purpose. It showed me how many strong, incredible people have also been sexually victimized. It showed me that I could examine my own experiences in a very different context. It showed me I wasn't alone or weak or to blame.

Not if so many amazing women (and some men) on my timeline had their own #MeToo stories. 

I have no need or desire to recount the details of my assault. It doesn't matter how old I was or the circumstances. I don't need to parade my history for it to be important, relevant, formative. But I will tell you this: I was a child and my abusers were teenage boys from my neighborhood. And the questions we need to be asking as a society are why did they think they had any right to my body or my ensuing silence?


I was a child of the 60s and 70s. The cultural zeitgeist was the sexual revolution and perhaps it was a seismic change in how we viewed sexuality, but looking back from our current moment, it seems like it lacked a basic and vital component: We had no language for or concept of bodily autonomy.

I was raised to 'be a good girl', to comply. The accepting and giving of hugs and kisses to relatives and family friends was compulsory. I remember being tickled to the point of nearly throwing up on many occasions. If I complained, I had no sense of humor. 

Does the fact that I see forced tickling as a violation of my bodily autonomy seem minor and petty to you? 

If it does, then I would ask you to examine why. Why should my personal experience and preferences mean less than your right to use my body how you want to? And if it sounds like I'm equating tickling with assault, I am, because it's a similar control issue. They are not the same, but they are analogous.

If a child is raised that her body and her experiences are less important than those of her relatives and stronger peers, it is no surprise that she learns to discount her will and her perceptions. If she can't say no, or if her no isn't respected in small and frequent ways through her growing up, how can it be a surprise when she doesn't believe she has ownership of her own body? 

I was assaulted and I never even considered telling anyone. I had already internalized the message that my body wasn't really my own. That I was somehow to blame, so why bother reporting it? The teens who assaulted me were part of the fabric of my neighborhood. I had to see them through my entire childhood, so the only way I could manage was to pretend nothing happened.


I am the parent of 2 sons. From the time they were young, I worked hard to establish healthy boundaries and instill in them a sense of bodily autonomy. We were always a huggy/kissy family, but we never forced them to be physical with anyone (even us) if they didn't want to. No, "you have to give grandma a kiss". Rather it was presented as a choice. And their "no" was respected, even as we modeled appropriate physical affection with one another. 

And yes, I hugged and kissed and tickled my kids. But I made certain that stop meant stop. Full stop. No questions asked. 


Teaching and modeling bodily autonomy is not the ultimate solution to sexual assault and harassment; it is only a starting point. Our culture is full of examples and messages of normalized sexual predation and harassment. We still have a society in which we shame and blame the abused and don't hold the abusers accountable. We still have a society in which the depiction of violence is perfectly acceptable, but the depiction of consensual and respectful sexuality is not. We still have a society in which we believe that sexual urges in a man is normal but in a woman is proof she is immoral and deviant and fodder for shaming her.

We still have a society where powerful men are celebrated for overriding the bodily autonomy of others. 

And that has to stop. 


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Monday, October 02, 2017

Food, Words, Dogs

When I'm at a loss for what to do about the pain of the world, I turn to a few things that keep me centered: food, words, and the comfort of my dogs.

Today is for chopping and freezing more tomatoes and canning applesauce. There is something about preparing food for the future that reminds me there is a future. There will be family meals and laughter and the reminder of a clear summer day or a cool autumn breeze.

I put away the harvest in part because I want to hold to that imagined future day when we will gather with loved ones to feed more than hungry bellies; we will feed souls and nurture our whole beings.

Food is definitely my love language.

And I also turn to words, particularly poetry, during times of crisis and mourning. Sometimes that's reading others' work, sometimes it's writing my own. I can't count the number of times I've read Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" and received comfort from her assurance:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

This week, I was reminded of something I wrote right after hurricane Katrina tore through so much of the south. We were visiting our in-laws at their home by the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland - the home that they had lost and rebuilt several years earlier in a different hurricane.

After the Levee is Breached

Only the lightest puff of air stirs
pennants along the dock. Telltales hang
from luffing sails. In the stillness, bees
stagger between the open throats of thirsty

orchids. When wind and full moon forced
the bay to rise, it scoured the eastern shore.
This time, the great tidal surge gathers
elsewhere. Camera crews rush to film

other places more prosperous, newly drowned.
Watermen haul their catch by hand, chant
a guilty mantra--Hugo, Andrew, Isabel;
new storms spin elsewhere. Tonight a front

gathers force; it rends high, thin clouds.
Stars pour through the rift like water.
                                                                       LJ Cohen 2005

The lines that keep running through my head today are these: This time, the great tidal  surge gathers/elsewhere. Camera crew rush to film/other places more prosperous, newly drowned.

We seem to only crave the newest tragedy, the freshest disaster. And only until the next surge and the next.

I envy my dogs, especially on days like this. They soak the world up through their senses, find happiness in a warm pool of sunshine and the sound of a familiar voice, the jingle of a car key, the promise of a treat.

We are left to try to make sense of what cannot be understood, to carry heartache piled upon heartache. Is it no wonder I want to feed the world?

May you find and hold to that which brings your comfort and may you be able to share that comfort with others.


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