Following Your Muse Is Sometimes Like Following a Bumper Sticker

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“Calliope” by Troy Pillow

Conversations With My Brain

save-darfur-logo I used to work with a woman in the English department at ODU who ascribed to the adage, “Follow Your Muse.” I always thought that it was a terribly wise saying, but never really thought about how a person could actually go about doing so in real terms until years later. I mean, it’s a nice sentiment, something lovely that you might see on a bumper sticker, like “Whirled Peas,” or “Impeach W,” or “Save Darfur Now,” or “Not On My Watch.” All of these aphorisms are accepted as meaningful, and who would actually argue against any of them?

You sit behind a car in traffic that is bearing a sticker calling for World Peace, and are you actually going to think, ‘no, I’m not for world peace. Screw it. Let’s all go to war’? Of course not. But do you actually take action?

In sociology classes, wearing a button, or putting a bumper sticker on your car is classified as the first level of social/political participation. In other words, you have participated, but on the most passive level. You have made a statement that shows the rest of society that you believe in something, but unless you move on to the next level, say contacting your representative in Congress, you remain at that actively passive level. That is not to say that your level of participation is not good, because usually to get the bumper sticker or button, you have contributed some money to the cause in which you believe, and those funds will go in support of that cause.

But how about how I end my blog entries, with the word peace?  What exactly is my point? What am I trying to prove? That I’m a throwback to the days when everyone used the word peace as a word of departure instead of goodbye? No, that’s not it. Perhaps I thought that “Live long and prosper” would be too pretentious even though I think that it happens to be a wonderful statement? No, that’s not it either. I just happen to be so tired of conflict, so tired of the conflict that this country is mired in that I thought that using the word ‘peace’ as my closing could be my small statement towards following my muse and being true to myself.

For me, the word peace is not a throw away word. It is filled with significance, and I do not close with it lightly. It is my benediction, my way of saying to you, my reader, ‘thank you for taking this journey with me, and I wish you well until the next time that you visit.’ Like the Quaker who says “Peace be with you” upon departing, it is my fond farewell that you remain safe, inviolate when you go out and about in the world.

But getting back to following my muse . . . My muse is Calliope, the muse of poetic inspiration and oratory, sometimes called the muse of epic poetry and eloquence. I used to think that my muse was Erato, but she is actually more closely associated with erotic poetry and mimicry, as well as song and dance. I just don’t see myself as being inspired by dance. I mean, I love the ballet, but I love rhetoric more. Of course, all creative people are supposed to be a blend of the muses; supposedly, I am a mixture of predominantly Calliope, with some Erato, Terpsichore, and Polyhymnia mixed in. All righty then.

But to follow your muse, truly follow your muse, you must first know your muse, and as I said, it took me a while to determine who mine is, and I have yet to begin to know her truly. But to decide to take the journey to follow your muse takes some real dedication on your part. I mean, following my muse means that I will actually dedicate myself to finding my inner creative being, my inner source of poetry, eloquence, inspiration, and oratory.

Consider the ramifications of this for a moment. Following your muse isn’t something that you actually take on lightly. You must be willing to look inside yourself and find those pieces of you that actually are being driven by your muse. Do you realize how crazy this sounds? Looking around inside yourself, opening those spaces inside your brain, your memory, those hidden places, saying hello through the cobwebs . . .

Don’t mind me. I’m just looking for some inspiration here?

Some what?

Some inspiration. You know, my muse sent me.

Your what did what?

My muse, Calliope. She said that I had some creativity stored in here somewhere, some eloquence or something like that. Said I might be able to use it.

Have you lost your mind? This section has been closed off for a good decade or so. What in the hell are you bothering us for?

Wasn’t my idea, really. Some bumper sticker thing, or maybe repressed memory, something about . . . give me a sec . . . oh yeah, “follow my muse.”

You’re kidding right? You’re dusting us off for a bumper sticker?

No. It’s not a bumper sticker. I told you. It’s a repressed memory, and quit giving me such a hard time. It took me a while to remember this. Trust me. This is going to be a good thing. Following my muse is going to let me write even better, be more creative.

What in the bloody hell are you going on about? In all of these years, you’ve written what, maybe five good pieces, and how many have you sent out for review? And you can’t even be honest about that. Can you?

Mind your own business. This isn’t about how many pieces I’ve sent out. This is about what I’m going to do now. Calliope is calling. I’m going to write like the wind. Now open your doors, and let me through.

Bloody hell. Some twit named Calliope rings you up, and now we have to come out of a perfectly good hibernation. For what? Waste of time, if you ask me. Bet you anything she’s off her meds again. Dee-loosions of grandeur, that’s what this is all about.

I heard that.

Okay, so maybe it will take a while for the whole muse path thing to really work for me. But I think that perhaps I am closer to understanding what my colleague actually meant by her statement on a real level, not just on a superfluous level. Following your muse is a way of life, not just dabbling here and there. I’ll have to give it more time for it to become second nature.

In the meantime, the next time you see a bumper sticker that makes you think, consider giving some money to the cause. That takes you up one level from a passive activist to a level one activist, and that can give you a nice warm feeling, even it’s only a $5 donation. I know, even $5 is a lot in this economy, but in Darfur, $5 can be the difference between life and death.

For more information about this particular ongoing world crisis, please visit this site: http://www.savedarfur.org/content. And please believe, a crisis such as the one in

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Darfur is not regional. What is happening to these people is a human crisis of epic, global proportions. No one remains untouched.

More later. Peace.

 

Infallible, Untouchable, and Immortal?

Why You Might Be Surprised on My Feelings About Drug Use

I know that I have mentioned my use of prescription drugs more than once in some of my entries, and I have admitted to inhaling as I was no angel in my younger days. I liked to get high, and for about a year of my teen years, I did it quite frequently, but then I decided that that was probably enough playing around, and I got my act together, stopped getting high all of the time, stopped skipping school, and still managed to graduate with honors, and that’s something of which I’m proud, especially since I know that if I hadn’t had a lost year, I could have probably ranked higher (absolutely no pun intended) on the list in my graduating class.

As to prescription drugs, yes, I have a dependency on muscle relaxers. I wish that I didn’t. I don’t take pain pills unless I absolutely have to, but I cannot get through the day without muscle relaxers. My back, shoulders and legs simply will not allow it. I have spasms that are so bad sometimes that I feel as if the side of my back has moved into my shoulder. I get knots in my shoulders that are the size of walnuts, and they have to be massaged out, or I have to get trigger shots to release them.

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"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

I also take preventive medication for my migraines, which I feel is a miracle drug. Before I started on the preventive regimen, I used to have migraines that lasted for weeks. Now, a bad one might last for days. I once had a migraine that was so bad that I could only eat jello, and I lost 12 pounds. I looked mah-velous, but what good is that when you feel as if you can only live in a bat cave?

And then there are the anti-depressants. These are a way of life for me. On occasion, I have convinced myself that I am all better, and I have thrown them away. For a while, I feel great. Life is great. The air is great. Everything is great. The birds are singing. La la la la la. And then comes the crash, which isn’t great. People who are clinically depressed do not enjoy being that way, believe me.

People who have never had any kind of clinical mental illness simply cannot understand it. They believe that you can snap out of it. Or will yourself to be better. Or pray yourself out of it. Or take vitamins. Or (and I love this one, my mother used to say it to me), think happy thoughts. Okay. Sure. That works for a while, for some people. But for those of us who are truly, clinically diagnosed, you may as well be chewing sweet tarts for all of the good that it will do you.

The advances that they have made in psycho-pharmacology are really incredible. I mean, I remember when everyone was handed Prozac, and it was declared a wonder pill, capable of curing everyone’s ills. Well, I’m here to tell you that it didn’t cure mine; it made me worse. It took trial and error and time to find the right medicine for me. But now, pharmacology has advanced so far so fast, and even though it’s still trial and error in getting to the right medicine for an individual’s body, there are so many more roads to try so that your medicine doesn’t end up turning you into a zombie.

No one should ever feel ashamed to need medicine for being depressed or anxious, and any sect of society that still imposes that kind of stigma is living in the dark ages. Many of these conditions run in families; some are caused by hormones, others by traumatic events that have occurred in life. Some last a lifetime; others just months. With the right medication, some people who are diagnosed with a mental illness can continue to function in society without major issues and without having to announce to the world that an issue exists, because after all, it isn’t really the world’s business. Is it?

But the kinds of drugs that I’m talking about having a problem with don’t come with a prescription. I’m talking about pot and cocaine and meth, or prescription drugs that belong to someone else that are being used for something other than that for which they are prescribed. That kind of drug use bothers me and is weighing heavily on my mind right now.toking

Let me clarify. You’re probably thinking that I’m being a hypocrite about pot because I just admitted that I smoked in high school, and I didn’t turn out horribly, and everything seems to be fine. However, I’m talking about excessive pot use, as in getting high every day, sometimes, a couple of times a day. I smoked pot once or twice a week, maybe. I still went to school, turned in my assignments, took care of my chores, you know, basic things.

What I’m seeing is getting high on pot, and then abusing prescription drugs, too. The result is a crappy personality, full of smart ass retorts, no respect, and manipulative behavior. An incredibly narcissistic person whose dysfunction is being exacerbated by the drug and alcohol abuse. And I cannot even believe that I am writing about this because it violates his privacy. But how about how he has violated my soul, my essence?

Am I to continue to allow this personal pummeling on my morale without responding to it? Each time feels like a new violation on my spirit. Each time I wonder where the boy has gone that I knew, the one that I rocked to sleep every night the first year of his life. Do I love him less for what he is becoming? Do I beg and plead internally in this ongoing argument with myself to wait patiently, that things will turn around, that this is just a phase, that all parents go through this, that the boy I love is there beneath this arrogant, selfish, man-boy? Do I remind myself that all youth are self-centered, ego-centric, narcissistic, wholly wrapped in the concept that they are infallible, untouchable and immortal?

When I was 17, I was already going to college full time, working, paying for my own car insurance, gas, clothes, and expenses. But I was atypical, and this goes back to my belief that I have already lived a hundred other lives, and this one is but one in which I am already an old soul. I wanted to have these responsibilities at a young age. I was already beyond where he is now. Not everyone is like me.

So how do I keep my expectations realistic? I know that he is not me. That much is certain. But to be on the receiving end of so much disdain, such a lack of common courtesy is unacceptable. My children were not brought up to be heathens, barbarians. That is intolerable. Perhaps the wildness is youth, but the rude temperament is not a matter of age. I can cloak the wounds to my soul for now in the hopes that he moves past this phase, but I will not tolerate shunning the teachings of basic human decency that he has heard since he had ears to hear and a mouth to speak.

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Cover from French Lieutenant's Woman

So, it comes to this now. I wait. I will put into action the plan to remove the drugs that I have access to from his access. I will try to find within myself some of my father’s stalwart patience, the kind he used on me during my rebellious years.

I just had a fleeting image of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, who went to the edge of the bluff each day to look out to sea, no matter what the weather, even though she knew that her lover would not return. It was an open-ended story, but I always saw her time on the bluff as a way for her way to gather her strength to face the day and all that it held for her, for she knew that it would not be easy. Funny how the doors in the sand castles of your memory open and release something for you to hold onto when you need it most.

There will be more later. Peace.

Music as Muse

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Euterpe: Giver of Delight

For as long as I can remember, music has played a large part in my life. I remember being in the chorus in the sixth grade and getting one of the coveted solo spots in the big end of the year pageant. I was such a ham. Then all through junior high I took chorus until I had to choose between chorus and foreign language, and I picked French because it was what I needed for my academic diploma. But it didn’t really matter because by that time, I was already well into formal piano lessons. I took lessons for 14 years.

Many people asked me why I didn’t major in music in college. To put it simply, I wasn’t that good, and I knew it. I loved playing the piano, but it didn’t come second nature to me, not like reading and writing. I knew that if I were going to be a classical pianist, then playing should be as natural to me as breathing, and it wasn’t. I tried to explain that to my mother, but she didn’t understand that. My piano teacher did, though. It’s just one of those things. Either you have it, or you don’t, and I knew early that I didn’t. I loved it. I loved the instrument, loved the music, loved learning, especially Chopin, even Bach’s two and three-part inventions, but they were not extensions of myself. I had to fight hard to win them. And so I did not go to Julliard as I once had dreamed of attempting.

However, that never diminished my love of music. When I write, I always have music playing in the background. I create play lists for everything. When I worked, I always had music playing in my office. I once had a job that did not allow music to be played, even for those individuals with private offices. It was like working in a tomb. I did not stay at that job for very long, not just because of the music. That was just a symptom of the larger issues, namely complete control over the employees.

But as usual, I digress . . . To me, music is a reflection of a person’s soul, a soundtrack of your life. My tastes are very eclectic. I love classical music—symphonies, operas, string quartets, piano solos, the cello, all of it. But I also love classic rock ‘n roll, pop, country, soundtracks, reggae, salsa, blues, alternative, even some metal once in a while. Most of the time, I’m mellow, but driving with all of the windows down, I want rock, loud. In the islands, I want reggae and Buffet. Sunday afternoon, I might want an opera. Saturday afternoon, some blues would be good. Right now, I have my mellow mix on because I’m writing.

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Music of the Sphere by Michail Spiridonov

Artists who inspire me tends to be writers themselves: Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan, Sting, Van Morrison, Jamie O’Neal, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Springsteen, Melissa Etheridge. Of those, my favorites are probably Lennox, McLachlan and Etheridge, probably because they tend to write in my key, and their songs are so intimate and moving. Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” is one of my all-time favorite songs because it feels as if it were written just for me.

I still love to sing, and I’ll admit to being a karaoke junkie. I used to go to a favorite karaoke bar at least once a week back in the day. I would take my journal, and sit and write, people watch, and wait for my turn to sing. Then when Corey came into my life, I got him hooked on the karaoke habit, and we would go together, but when money is tight, you give up things, and that’s one of them. We haven’t been in over a year. It’s good for grins if you’ve never been. Lets out your inner star, the one that’s been hiding inside.

When I was still living at home, I would put on soundtracks and go around the house and sing at the top of my lungs when I was the only one home. Then when I got my first apartment, I would do the same thing. My poor neighbors. Every Saturday when I cleaned, I would sing and dust. Lemon pledge and “A Little Night Music.” Yes sirree. Pine Sol and “Grease.” Let no one be spared.

So now that I can’t clean every Saturday, the Broadway musicals are left unsung, and since I don’t go on long drives too often, Springsteen doesn’t get rocked out. But I still listen everyday to my tunes, and anytime I hear something new that I think might touch a chord in my creative muse, I download it and add it to my play list. I go on my friends’ MySpace pages and check out their play lists occasionally and steal from them as well, because, well, they get out more. And there is always my oldest son, who loves music as much as I do. I steal from him as well. So from all of these sources, I manage to stay fairly relevant.

But some songs still have a way of moving me to tears. Right now, the one that is wrenching my heart is Annie Lennox’s “Lost.” For a while, it was Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullabye.” Undoubtedly, though, one of the most beautiful songs ever written is David Lanz’s “Cristofori’s Dream.” Bartolomeo Cristofori is generally regarded as the inventor of the piano, and this song is a beautiful homage to the instrument. The soaring chords are reminiscent of a cathedral, and the song itself paints a picture in my mind of many vibrant colors and hues.

That is what the best music does: transports the listener to a different place and time, removes the here and now, if only for three or four minutes, so as to allow that transcendence beyond the mundane, the dripping faucet, the leaf blower, the blare of the television, the neighbor’s mulcher. Instead, all that you hear are the notes of pure beauty and power and timelessness.david-lanz-cristoforis-dream

More later. Peace.

For Me, This is Hearth and Home

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Central Park in November (L. Liwag)

Thanks Be To Thee

I never did learn how to make those wonderful homemade biscuits that my Aunt Ronnie used to make for Sunday dinner. In fact, my only attempt at homemade biscuits turned out to resemble something more like unleavened bread that the tribes took into the desert as they wandered for 40 years. That’s pretty much how most of my baking efforts have turned out. I’m just not much of a baker. I can cook up main dishes no problem, no recipes, just a pinch here and there, which is why it frustrates my daughter when she asks for recipes from me because I cook by smell and texture, but baking? That’s just not my forté.

The only time that I ever baked anything successfully was in the 9th grade when I had to make something for French class, and my father helped me to make boucheé, little cream puffs. My father used to be an amazing pastry chef in his heyday, which is why getting him to make anything in later years took an incredible amount of coaxing, but this was worth a grade, so he helped me, and I turned out these incredible, flaky pastries filled with a delicate cream. Of course, I was only able to do so under his guidance. Ask me to replicate such a feat today, and you would get tiny little bricks filled with something curdled. Hence, I do not bake.

Today begins the cooking for a huge dinner for Thanksgiving: turkey and all of the trimmings, which we shall cart over to my mother’s house to eat at her dining room table because my new dining room table is still in a box in my shed because my living room and dining room still haven’t undergone the planned makeover from last year. Don’t even get me started on that particular subject. To say that I am completely uninterested in this meal and its preparation is an understatement. I am leaving said preparations to my wonderful husband, and my daughter, who is trying her hand at making a turkey for the first time ever. She is learning how to make dinner one dish at a time each year. Last year, it was the homemade mashed potatoes. I give her credit for her willingness to learn.

If it were up to me, you can guess what I would be doing: hiding deftly under the covers in my bed, surrounded by the dogs, who would have no idea that today is any different from any other day, so they are perfectly content to sleep in all day with me, given half the chance. But that is not allowed, so I must put on something festive and sit at the table and try to make it through a family dinner with my mother without losing my patience or my sanity.

In anticipation of this wonderful event, I have decided to try to prepare myself mentally by doing my personal Charlie Brown list of things that I am truly thankful for in my life, having already done a list of things that I am thankful for as an American. I will put aside my cynicism, dig deeply, and promise to be honest. So once again, here is a list of things for which I am personally truly thankful:

  • My family still has a roof over its collective head. We may be three months behind in our mortgage, but we are still holding onto the house. For that, I am truly grateful. We are not living in a shelter, or our car, or in a tent city. I am not being disingenuous here. I know that today, many people will be lined up to be served the kind of meal to which we will be sitting down at a nice table to have the privilege to eat.
  • I am grateful to have my family, as dysfunctional as we all are, I love them all. I know that I talk about them as if they are crazy, but I wouldn’t trade any of them. My heart is torn all of the time in fear and worry over what will become of us, but I know that the reality is that our problems are relatively small in comparison to what many other people are facing. We have a place to live, food in our pantry, clothes to wear, cars to drive, computers to use. We have so much more than so many others. We forget that even though times are hard, they could be tremendously harder.
  • I am thankful for my health. In spite of the constant pain, it could be worse. I don’t have cancer. I don’t have some rare blood disease. I do have health insurance. Yes, it is costing a lot to maintain, but at least I have access to it.
  • I am grateful that I have ears to hear the music that I love so much, eyes to see the pictures that I love to take and share, fingers to write the words that flow from my heart and my brain.
  • I am truly thankful that somehow, I have a gift for words that allows me to sit down at this keyboard, and the words just flow, unimpeded most of the time. It may not be a gift of greatness, but I feel that it is a gift nevertheless.
  • I am happy for the few true friends that I have. I don’t think that you really get many real friends in life.  You get lots and lots of people who come in and out of your life for different reasons, but true friends, only a few. And I love and respect the ones that I have.
  • I am so glad that I reconnected with my family in Germany. I have missed them, and I am really glad that they are back in my life. Not to mention being very glad that I am still very close to the rest of my ex-family-in-law. They have been my family-in-law forever. My sister-in-law has been more like the sister I never had. I have known her since middle school, and we are still very close. I am very thankful to have that relationship and thankful that she lives to close to me. My ex-mother-in-law is still my other mother, and she too, live only two miles from me. So I am very fortunate to have extended in-laws—Corey’s family and my ex-in-laws. Sometimes, the in-law clichés are just that. I divorced my first husband, but not his family.
  • I am thankful for books. That might seem like an odd thing to some people, but I could not live without books. I must have new books to read and old books to reread. Books have kept me company since I was a very young child. At times, they have been my only solace. I don’t know how I would exist if I did not have books constantly in my life.
  • I am grateful to have this outlet in which I can express myself and ponder different things everyday. It has come to be such a big part of my life now that I do not work full time. It has made me much more disciplined about writing. If I do not write every day, I feel as if something is missing. If there is no entry posted for a day, it is probably because I have been unable to get out of bed on that day because I am feeling too spent, and then I spend the entire day feeling guilty for not writing. On those days, I really miss my laptop.
  • I am thankful to have worked on the Obama campaign. Many of you may be tired of hearing about this, but it was one of the best experiences in my life to know that I contributed in even a small way to helping a great man get elected to the highest office in this land. I only wish that I could have been more involved and done more from the beginning. And I regret that I won’t be there for the inauguration, but I think that the size of the crowd really would overwhelm me.
  • I am so glad that I completed my second master’s in Publishing. I have a real sense of accomplishment for doing that because there were times when I thought that I wouldn’t be able to go to one more class because of the long drive and the pain. But having Corey here to help me really made a difference. I just wish that I could work on a doctorate now . . . 
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    Tillie Listens Closely
  • I am wonderfully grateful to have three great dogs. I love dogs. Most of the time, I think that dogs are better than a lot of people that I know, in large part, because dogs take the time to look at you when you are talking. Seriously. Talk to a dog, and then talk to a person. Notice which one pays more attention to you. Dogs read people’s faces, and they react to them. Cats could give a damn if you are having a bad day. My dogs have been having a really hard time lately with my crying spells. They are unaccustomed to my crying, so when I cry, they all start to talk at the same time. The smallest Jack Russell, Alfie, whines. Shakes, the horizontally tall one, tries to get me to lie down on the bed, and Tillie, the lab, starts to weave in and out of my legs. It’s hard to cry when your dogs are overreacting, which I think is the point. I love my dogs. And if Sarah McLachlan doesn’t stop with her animal shelter commercial accompanied by her song “Angel,” I may end up with six more dogs because it’s really getting to me (which is the point, I know). She’s sinister, that Sarah Mac.
  • I’m thankful to have a spouse who still loves me in spite of my best efforts to become a hermit. He brings me hot tea and massages the knots out of my back and never seems to get too exasperated with me even when I would have been exasperated long ago.
  • And finally, I’m grateful that even though this has been one of the worst years of my life, I still have my true love, my family, my dogs, my home, and my sanity (somewhat).

And on that note, I think that for now, I will close. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. There will be more later. Peace.

Mark Doty’s Incomparable “Sweet Machine” of Wordsmithing

Mark Doty Book Covers

Doty Wins 2008 National Book Award

Renowned poet Mark Doty recently won the National Book Award for poetry for his book Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems. Fire to Fireis a collection of Doty’s work from seven books of poetry spanning over 20 years. Doty’s poems are full of images about the human experience, fierce declarations about love, life and loss, and rich sensuality. His themes have included AIDS, death, and homelessness. Doty has won numerous awards for his poetry and his non-fiction, and his titles include Atlantis, My Alexandria, Sweet Machine, Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir, Dog Years, to name but a few.

Below is one of my favorite Doty poems from Atlantis. “Faith” is the first part of a series of six poems written about the eventual loss of his partner Wally as a result of AIDS. The series, entitled “Atlantis,” the same as the name of the book, is an incredible psychological and emotional glimpse into the intimate experience of caring for and eventually losing someone you love.

1. Faith
 

 

 

 

“I’ve been having these
awful dreams, each a little different,
though the core’s the same-

we’re walking in a field,
Wally and Arden and I, a stretch of grass
with a highway running beside it,

or a path in the woods that opens
onto a road. Everything’s fine,
then the dog sprints ahead of us,

exicted; we’re calling but
he’s racing down a scent and doesn’t hear us,
and that’s when he goes

onto the highway. I don’t want to describe it.
Sometimes it’s brutal and over,
and others he’s struck and takes off

so we don’t know where he is
or how bad. This wakes me
every night, and I stay awake;

I’m afraid if I sleep I’ll go back
into the dream. It’s been six months,
almost exactly, since the doctor wrote

not even a real word
but an acronym, a vacant
four-letter cipher

that draws meanings into itself,
reconstitutes the world.
We tried to say it was just

a word; we tried to admit
it had power and thus to nullify it
by means of our acknowledgement.

I know the current wisdom:
bright hope, the power of wishing you’re well.
He’s just so tired, though nothing

shows in any tests, Nothing,
the doctor says, detectable:
the doctor doesn’t hear what I do,

that trickling, steadily rising nothing
that makes him sleep all say,
vanish into fever’s tranced afternoons,

and I swear sometimes
when I put my head to his chest
I can hear the virus humming

like a refrigerator.
Which is what makes me think
you can take your positive attitude

and go straight to hell.
We don’t have a future,
we have a dog.
Who is he?

Soul without speech,
sheer, tireless faith,
he is that -which-goes-forward,

black muzzle, black paws
scouting what’s ahead;
he is where we’ll be hit first,

he’s the part of us
that’s going to get it.
I’m hardly awake on our mourning walk

-always just me and Arden now-
and sometimes I am still
in the thrall if the dream,

which is why, when he took a step onto Commercial
before I’d looked both ways,
I screamed his mane and grabbed his collar.

And there I was on my knees,
both arms around his neck
and nothing coming,

and when I looked into that bewildered face
I realized I didn’t know what it was
I was shouting at,

I didn’t know who I was trying to protect.” (1995)

 

Congratulations Mark, on a much-deserved award. Your poetry continues to inspire those of us in the trenches. I can still remember exactly where I was the first time that I read “Faith” and how much it moved me then. It still moves me in the same way today. To me, that is the sign of a poem’s true test of time, and the endurance of a poet’s ability to see words, to take words and cast them upon the page and make them his in a way that bypasses the mundane, the expected. The dog licking your partner’s face, the visit to the shelter for another dog, the need for something living in the last days of dying, these are all images that I still remember years later because they were curiously poignant in the very act of being ordinary.

Thank you for continuing to share your words. Peace.

On The Wings of an Eagle*

golden-eagle

Golden Eagle in Flight

We Dare to Dream Again of Friendly Skies As We Give Thanks

Okay. I’m going to do it. I’m going to write a blog about what I’m thankful for. A Charlie Brown blog, if you will. I debated whether or not this subject matter would be too trite, too overdone in the blogging world, but then I decided that my cynicism would prevail, especially in light of my recent entries, which admittedly, have been a tad on the nostalgic side. I’ve decided to write about unlikely things for which we, as in the collective we, can be grateful, in spite of the dire times we seem to be facing.

Here goes:

  • The nation’s first president of color, a man of incredible presence, intelligence, and insight. I can only hope that the fates are good to him and surround him with good karma. If he runs his presidency with just one half of the calm, executive demeanor that surrounded his campaign, then there is hope that his White House will never be likened to a college fraternity without any adult supervision.
  • A new administration, one headed by a president who won’t mangle the English language. No matter what your political leanings are, you have to be grateful for a man who is articulate
  • An apparent real goal for an end to the Iraqi war, or at least a major draw down of troops in that country, even if it means that we will have an increase of troops in another country
  • An attempt to provide access to some kind of health insurance for everyone in the country, even if it takes a couple of years. Hillary Rodham Clinton first attempted this during Clinton’s first term in office and was roundly criticized for not sticking to her role as first lady. After that aborted attempt, nothing has ever been done nationally until now.
  • A chance to regain our status in the world as a nation that can be respected as a leader
  • A chance to turn our economy around and stop the practice of “Trickle Down Economics.” The plan, of course, was that everything would trickle down in an equitable manner. Um, so sorry, but WRONG. When Ronald Reagan took office, our country could be described as a diamond, with most of the country falling in the middle of the socio-economic ladder. What we have now is an hourglass, with almost no middle class, an upper class and a very bottom-heavy lower socio-economic part of the ladder. Anyone who tells you that America is a class-less society is still in their naive idealistic phase.
  • A commitment by an administration and apparently a nation to harness alternative energy and preserve resources. A long overdue wake-up call has finally been answered, and more and more people are doing what they can, in big ways and in small, to help the environment. As someone who has been recycling for over almost two decades, it is refreshing to see the changes all around. I don’t care if it’s trendy, as long as it makes an impact.
  • More awareness of post traumatic stress disorder as a real problem with far-reaching issues that can affect people for years
  • The fact that Sarah Palin and her family are back in Alaska, at least for most of the time, but the governator still can’t seem to find enough work to do as governor, so she hits the road every other week.
  • A big win in the House and Senate, but the pressure is on to deliver. Remember: with great power comes great responsibility Spider Man.
  • Law & Order, the original, is back on Wednesday nights.
  • Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC is kicking butt big time.
  • Virginia went blue for the first time since 1964, and Thelma Drake lost her seat in Congress to newcomer Glenn Nye thanks in large part to a grassroots effort.
  • The first amendment allows people like me to write things like this whenever I want, which still makes this the best country in the world in which to live.
  • colorado20river20from20deadhorse20point
    The Colorado River from Deadhorse Point
  • With any luck, President-elect Obama will be able to reverse some of the more egregious laws that Bush has signed into law, in particular, those that allow drilling near state parks in Utah and Colorado, and those that ease pollution laws. Because after all, it would be nice to leave a legacy to our children, you know, something like majestic trees, clean rivers, the Grand Canyon, some Golden Eagles, and maybe some uranium-free land. Or maybe I’m being naive and full of youthful idealism in spite of my age.
  • And finally, with any luck, the next few years we will see some glimpses of that hope we held onto so tightly when we stood in line to get into those rallies. When we stood at those rallies waiting to hear the words we needed to hear. When we heard those words of hope and better days and we actually allowed ourselves to dare to believe, even when our cynical hearts did not want to. Yes, we can dare to hope. Yes, we will believe.

These are the things that I am thankful for as an American this Thanksgiving. Perhaps I’ll write about what I’m thankful for personally later, or maybe not. But it’s nice to think that maybe this time next year, there will be a change a coming.

Peace be with you.

*On the Wings of an Eagle, song by John Denver

I Vant To Be Alone . . .

Hermits, Eremites, Anchorites, or Just Plain Recluses?

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Aran Islands Hermit's Cave, Ireland

I’ve been contemplating hermits. You know, those people, usually men, sometimes women, who go off and live by themselves. (The word hermit comes from the Greek word erēmos, which means desert or uninhabited; hence “desert-dweller”; adjective: “eremitic”; (Wikipedia)).  Hermits have been around since the 3rd century AD, and their associations have traditionally been religious. Originally, Christian hermits would live in huts or caves, called hermitages, in the desert or forest, and they were sought for spiritual advice, which kind of negated the whole solitude concept. (Here in Norfolk, we have a museum called The Hermitage, which has nothing to do with hermits, and that’s always kind of bothered me, but I digress.)

By the Middle Ages, the hermit’s life had changed in that it had become more anchored to the Christian church, thus the term anchorite. Instead of living in forests or deserts, many anchorites were actually walled into mud or brick attachments on the sides of the churches with a window opening into the church so that the anchorite could receive holy communion and another window open to the street to receive donations of food. I suppose that this allowed for more of the life sought by the Christian eremite, which was to be in total praise and devotion to his god.

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Tiger's Den Buddhist Monastery in the Himalayas

Of course, there were and are many kinds of hermits, not just the Christian ascetics. For example, Buddhist monks and nuns seek solitude for meditation, contemplation, and prayer. They prefer to life without the distractions of modern society or sex, and their lives follow a regimen of a simplified diet without meat, drugs, or alcohol. Buddhist monasteries and temples can be found all over the world, with an expected preponderance in China, but also from every place from Queensland, Australia, to Slovenia, to Oregon, to Chile and Bali.

Then there are the hermits who have no religious affiliations, the ones who are hermits simply because they choose to live a reclusive life apart from the rest of society.

When I was about 17, I contemplated becoming a nun. Now, given that I’m not Catholic and was not raised Catholic, you might find this a somewhat interesting declaration. I had a very good male friend in my teens who I may have mentioned before, and he was pretty much my sounding board throughout my teens and college years. We have known each other since the fourth grade, so I trust his judgment, even though he was a Republican for almost forever. So when I made the statement that I thought that I might like to become a nun, his response was to raise an eyebrow and wait.

These were my reasons: Let me preface this by saying that I find the Catholic religion particularly sexist, so I really have a hard time with that part of it, which I know pretty much disqualifies me from the start, but I love the rituals of it: the incense, the candles, the kneeling, the holy water. I wish that they still said the mass in Latin, not that I understand Latin, mind you. I loved the idea of being a nun and not having to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I mean, bingo, you’re married to god, you have a vocation, your wardrobe is chosen for you, you never have a bad hair day.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to be flippant. These really were my reasons. I was 17, and I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. It had nothing to do with religion. I loved the idea of being cloistered. I had not idea that I might have to teach school children or anything like that. I just wanted to be away from the rest of the world, and I didn’t know how to go about being a hermit, and I wasn’t sure if you could still actually do that, at least not in America. I knew that they still had hermits in England, or at least, I thought that they did.

My friend listened to my reasons, and then very calmly pointed out two main flaws in my plan: First, I wasn’t Catholic. And second, I wasn’t particularly religious or even spiritual at that point in my life. As he said, he thought that I needed to be at least one of those or to at least have some kind of “calling,” as he put it.

I cannot say that I was surprised. Disappointed yes, but surprised, no. It has seemed like a good idea at the time, and one that I revisited from time to time, especially when I was feeling as if I did not want to be of this world, if that makes any sense.

Over the years, I have toyed with the idea of finding a monastery to go to for an extended retreat. I have heard of one that is in the foothills of Virginia somewhere, but I have never actively looked for it. I suppose that I have never given up on the idea of the monastic retreat even if I cannot live the lifestyle full time, which, in reality, I know that I cannot. I mean, I am already pretty much of a hermit already. Since going on disability, I have retreated from the trappings of life by choice, and I cannot say that I miss it all that much.

I miss going to school and learning new concepts and new information on an ongoing basis, but my computer is my lifeline to information, and I am tapped in 24/7. When I cannot sleep, I surf. I watch MSNBC for new political information, and I watch Law & Order, Without a Trace, and CSI for my doses of crime drama. That much hasn’t changed. I still like to eat out once in a while, and I would love an occasional night out for karaoke, but other than that, the world outside my bedroom doesn’t beckon to me in the way that it used to.

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Hermit's Cave Quarry Bank Garden

If we had the money, I would still like to take a trip once a year to a new country just for the experience, but a trip to a mall? Not so much. The movies? I really resent paying $30 for tickets and drinks and popcorn when I can pay $4 on cable in a month. Now a museum? In a heartbeat, but I would need to be in a new city for that. The symphony? I would probably get out of my pajamas for that. But just going out to go out? My hermit tendencies kick in, as do my curmudgeonly feelings about people in crowded stores like Wal Mart and the like.

If I had been around in the Middle Ages, and I believe that I probably was, I think that I would have liked to have been a hermit, probably one who lived in a stick hut in the forest. That sounds about right. And my name would have been something like Leonid of Aghast and I definitely would have been a misanthrope.

I’ll get into the whole idea of reincarnation and my thoughts about past lives and Zen and Karma and getting it right in another posting. But just one parting thought on that one. Why does everyone who believes in reincarnation believe that they were someone great like Napoleon or Marie Antoinette? I mean, why isn’t anyone ever a chambermaid or a stable boy or something like that? Just a thought.

As always, there will be more later. Peace.