Tucked into the Clouds: Everyday Magic, Day 888

img_2966For days, it’s been overcast with an active sky varying hews of gray in between tossing out ice pellets, a bit of sleet and freezing rain, a lot of regular rain, and a smoky sense of being. Although we avoided the potential big ice storm in this town, thankfully keeping our electricity and most trees intact, there’s no sunshine to be found for miles, which doesn’t cheer me.

But what there is: a dog napping on the couch behind Christmas lights adorning shelves for the cats to climb and sleep on, skillet corn bread baking in the oven, and Ken typing on his computer to my right, and classical music on the radio to my right. The ice-encased tall grasses around our house are free to shift slightly in the warming air, and for the first time in days, there’s some variation of gray with darker clouds on top and foggy horizons lightening up to almost white. There’s also hot tea in the mornings and warm piles of quilts at bedtime, piles of books, a happily-used simg_2965ewing machine and lots of colorful fabric, and a lovely time to pause and watch the junos and chickadees eat the birdseed on the deck.

Eventually, the clouds will dissipate, but for now, here we are despite whatever human-made turmoil rolls into and out of form close by or far away. In the distance, here is also a lone great blue heron winging her way back to the water as whatever is changing unfurls in its quiet and active ways.

“Kansas Just Wants to Be Kansas”: Everyday Magic, Day 887

“Southern California Wants to Be Western New York” is the title and subject of one of Dar Williams’ songs about what happens when the left coast suffers from yearning for a post-industrial crisis. On January 4, I got to read this poem along with other poems I wrote that riff off songs from Dar’s “Mortal City” album. Given that one of my most ardent fans (my son Daniel) said I should share this on my blog, here we are, and here’s a video of this incredible song.

Kansas Just Wants to Be Kansas

Southern California may want to be western New York,

but Kansas just wants to be Kansas, large and hidden in plain sight.

Too bad the earthquakes have migrated north, fracking us out of bed

to land on ground not used to shimmying. Too bad about the politics too,

shocked out of their long stay of sensibility, and smelling like

the aftermath of tragedy. Yeah, Kansas just wants to be Kansas,

weather-weary and not taking any prisoners, ready for whatever

the sky between the Rockies and the rivers storms together

past, present and future in the sweet smell of rain and heat lightning.

Kansas doesn’t want to be San Diego, swanky and silk in its

Mediterranean rags. We’re just not a picturesque Vermont town

ambling down the side of a mountain, or Texas where the heat is as intense

as the chutzpah. Kansas certainly doesn’t ever want to be Iowa,

all dressed up in its big-box statehood but with brighter ribboning interstates.

We just want to continue to be your friendly waitress at 2 a.m.,

able to carry six different slices of pie cascading down one arm,

and in the other hand, a pot of coffee, fully-loaded, ready to serve you

something that makes you forget about the desire to be what you’re not,

and remember the beauty of the wind, an old train that arrives

ahead of schedule to say, “yes, you’re finally home.”

“I Will Not Be Afraid of Women” and Other Dar Williams Inspired Poetry: Everyday Magic, Day 886

xrm4tiidlrvud8m074mkTonight, I have the delight of opening for one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Dar Williams, in her performance at the Lawrence Arts Center. To get ready, I wrote a bunch of new poems, all inspired by Dar’s lyrics from songs on her Mortal City album since her current tour is a 20th anniversary celebration of that groundbreaking album (“Iowa,” “The Christians and the Pagans” and lots of other Dar classics are on it).  While I’ve spent the last month writing these poems, the one I’m sharing here — dedicated to my sister-friends — came in a rush while taking a break from revising other poems). If you’re in Lawrence, come on down tonight to the arts center at 8 p.m. and join us! This poem steals lyrics (italicized) from two songs — “As Cool as I Am” and “Iowa.”

I Will Not Be Afraid of Women

 

Because I learned early and often that when it comes

to all those falls from great and gruesome heights,

there is no one like a sister, and it’s worth driving all night,

ten miles above the limit, and with no seatbelt,

to sit at her table and drink her tea while she agrees

that we’re here to dance out of the lines even if it means

we singe our hair in ways we can’t remember the next morning.

I will not be afraid to go to her, and to her, and her, and her

my whole life: the ones who hold my stories

like Christmas ornaments, careful not to drop the glass ones

or make fun of the ones made by my children’s baby hands so long ago.

I will hold her 3 a.m. phone call, when she says,

“it’s all broken or it’s all better,” and when I call,

she’ll remind me why we’re lucky in this life,

sistering me away from hoarding the horizon, and toward

the new song we’ll write, then sing over and over until we’re sure

it always existed, just like this friendship, and this one, and this one—

each made of of cedar and wind in the long walk at dusk,

lukewarm coffee we drink anyway because it makes us laugh,

or a long nap on her couch in the middle of a December day

when I didn’t know where else to go, so I went to her

with my tattered heart and shining breath, to say, “please,

gather me up,” and she did. I will never be afraid of the mirror

she is or holds up, and the real life beyond that mirror

where we get in her car and drive for the love of motion.

A New Year to Be Kind: Everyday Magic, Day 885

I know the Dalai Lama says his religion is kindness, but it took a while for this truth to catch up with me. As I get older, it overtakes me: intelligence, creativity, initiative, even happiness and many other qualities, without kindness, are hollow at best, dangerous at worse.

While I am stripped and spotted with many flaws, the flaw I’m most ashamed of is when I’m unkind, that is, when I catch such moments. It’s easy enough to see when I lose my temper (mostly catalyzed by stuff with family, or any headline involving he-who-will-not-be-named-but-will-in-inaugrated-soon). But there’s also those micro-aggression moments when I’m dismissive or simply not aware of someone or something, and striving to be kinder means getting realer so I can do less harm in this world.

There’s also the issue of balance and boundaries. Sometimes I struggle with what the kind thing is to do when I’m struggling to take care of myself (an essential foundation for kindness). As an Olympic gold ribbon champion of overfunctioning, trying to decide how to be kind can stop me in my tracks, and often, there’s no clear answer. I breathe, and try to choose wisely, which inevitably leads me toward a hot bath before I leave the house, do the task, make the call…..or not. Being kind to my young adult children has a whole lot to do with doing less for them and conveying how much I know (or desperately hope) they will find their own best answers (although I often trip into offering more than enough advice).

There’s also what I label in my little head as “black hole people” who are so damaged and hurting that they need — or seem to need — every ounce of attention possible. As a former black hole person (hello, early 20s!), I can relate, but I know how being kind entails sustaining ourselves, finding and holding healthy boundaries (confusing since those fences have a way of moving), and in the whole complex enterprise, being kind.

There’s also the very quiet opportunities for kindness as many sages note when encountering someone who can do nothing to benefit you. I’ve failed at this infinite times, yet striving toward kindness means looking at what the moment offers. Do I let the person in a rush get in front of me at the food co-op? Do I listen to someone I hardly know tell me a long story when I’m tired and just want more pita and hummus at the party? Yup, it’s back to boundaries here, but kind ones communicated without an edge in my voice.

Falling out of balance seems to me to be one of the leading causes of jerk-aholism. I’ve noticed for years that with organizations I’m part of, when someone acts seemingly cruel and mean, it’s almost always because that someone is burnt out, exhausted from working without adequate support or recognition, running scared, and/or too isolated to see the ramifications of bad actions. The same is true for me when I’m unkind, and given how life has a habit of throwing more at us than we can deal with at times, it’s inevitable that despite my best intentions, I will screw up again and again. I’ll land on the floor where I’ll need to cultivate a bit more kindness toward myself for failing, then get up again.

Being kind is a state of being: it’s embodied, and we feel it in our bones and organs (just as cruelty can feel like a kick in the stomach). When my heart is wrapping around another’s heartbreak, I carry a visceral sense of sorrow and yearning. It’s not easy. It can be tiring too, but what else are we here for? I think of being at Aaron’s memorial service (see previous post) a few days ago, and how all of us were held together in the active love a community can make when holding together the impossible. We cried at how he died. We laughed at stories of his kamikaze skiing. We hugged on another. It was a kindness to have been there (to have gone, to have been so welcomed): a door open into the ultimate meaning of belonging and purpose. It’s a gift to be part of collective kindness.

And it’s a gift to practice kindness alone and with others, in the light and in the dark, and in the kindly-emerging one-of-a-kind present.

Remembering Aaron: Everyday Magic, Day 884

boyswithturtleshellYesterday was the shining memorial service for Aaron Calovitch, our friend who died earlier this month. Held in Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence, and officiated with great spirit and vitality by Rev. Michael Nelson, the service brought together hundreds of us to share stories (through Aaron’s friends Dave Johnson, Skylar Sterling-Simon, and Mike Doveton, and stepdad Frank Norman),  and music (via Aaron’s uncle Gary Frager — with accompaniment by Sue Frager, and Lana Maree Haas). I also shared this poem I finished just a few hours before the service about the Aaron that was and is still one of our own. Here’s also the photo that got me started on the poem, a scene from KAW Council many years ago featuring Aaron and some of his closest pals (Aaron is in the center). Aaron’s gone (at least in this way of being), but our love for him binds us together for many adventures to come.

One of Our Own

 

He’s one of our own: a golden-limbed boy,

one hand on his hip, the other holding an ornate box turtle,

his open face shining like the lake behind him,

everyone laughing until the camera shuttered,

and he flew back into motion. There he is in a canoe.

There he is running the woodlands balancing two prairies.

There is is, cutting carrots in the kitchen with women his mother’s age.

There he is in our arms, no shame in hugging anyone ever.

 

He is the boy who watched falcons lift off the naked limbs

of a sycamore while he stood still as fallen leaves.

He is the man who knew his sauces as well as his snakes.

He could track the arc of a great blue heron, swim

the length of the wide pond, and return home with a story.

He is the artist leaning into the refrigerator to find

what’s forgotten, then swirl and saute it into dinner for all.

He is the man mowing his grandparent’s yard before

watching the big game, and he is always laughter

around the fire, in the dark with friends,

or in the living room at Thanksgiving.

 

He is the blown-over bluestem next to one butterfly milkweed

in the loop-sided circle we made with him in spring

to offer up water, wishes, prayers for prairies and lives.

 

He flew through hard landings and delicate losses

to go somewhere else. Our present one, our gone beloved,

we love him fiercely as drought loves rain even if

what we knew of his flashing smile didn’t reveal

his flight path across the blue to the golden horizon.

He is a river more than a highway, and wherever he is,

wherever we go, we listen for the sound of wings.

The Day After Christmas: Everyday Magic, Day 883

The day after Christmas is a clearing and arrival at once on the other side of what too often has felt like a great divide for me (check out why Christmas has been like the Dread Pirate Roberts to me in this post from 2014). Emerging from a mysterious case of food poisoning or taking bad supplements or a weird-ass virus, I’m especially relieved to be on the shores of December 26 where I’m no longer crawling to the bathroom or tossing myself awake out of stomach-turning nightmares.

Beyond whatever kept me collapsing on my bed most of Christmas day, there’s the lightening of the weight of this holiday, the big Kahuna of mainstream culture, blasted from all directions for weeks leading up to it, while many of us labor and delight under its anticipation. This year, I got to labor and delight in setting up a tree to wrap in lights and and Hanukkah gifts, and string lights in assorted places around the house because who couldn’t use more light, especially this year? We also hosted Christmas dinner for the family, which I could only made brief guest appearances at between trips to dreamland.

Awake and grateful now, I meet a mostly-clear sky, and luxuriate in Kansas Public Radio playing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Symphony #5 in D Major after days of overcast choirs churning out carols. Our annual Hanukkah party awaits later today, and New Years is coming as well as many other ceremonies, including a funeral for a beloved community member, but for now, there’s a tiny celebration of landing on the other side of something — a holiday, an illness, a bout of pressure, a stretch of cloudy weather, and what is beyond I can name, but know is burning brightly in the center of my heart.

Wherever you are, and whatever wraps around you, I wish you a lovely and refreshing day-after, and a glowing and meaningful day of December 26.

Winter Solstice and the Shortest Day: Everyday Magic, Day 882

Nora Jones sings on my computer, Natalie naps under a Tardis blanket on the couch, and Miyako the cat bird-watches in the windowsill. It’s mid-afternoon on the shortest day in the year, but the sun fills this room as if it’ll always be here.  A crescent of blackbirds shoots out of the far-off cedars, crisscrossing some of the other birds in flight. On the highway to the southwest, car windshields gleam to broadcast news of their adventures.

I love the winter solstice, and how it brings us into close-up witnessing of the effects of light and darkness as well as what is right now. The snow on the fields in the distance tells of weather past and to come. The pacing dog wants only the usual affection or food. The light in particular is exquisite on these annual bonsai days.

For all of us, I wish peace most of all, and all the gumption and grace to make and keep re-making that peace.  I also share this poem from my book Landed to mark the world gathering up more light.

 

Winter Solstice: 4:22 p.m.

 

The blunt air morning-stark,

a glass light that levels everything,

makes me forget my intention for this or that,

the insistent hands home to roost

even if my walk is sodden.

Trees gleam like bronze etchings

rising from the cacophony of

cell phone rings, car tires’ turnings.

The night must have its way

even against the snow geese slightly lost

until they find their rut in the wind.
The solstice is a bird with feathers so black

they mirror the buildings, then lift

to land back to this date in time as if time

never left its perch. The motion of breath,

or a wayward finger tapping on the wooden desk

aged by light. The inward turn of stillness,

a slight sway as if standing on a bus, holding

tight to the bar when the wheels mount a sharp corner

and something completely new appears.

Solstice and then the world at this point

flips over, begins arming itself

with light.

Beyond the Dark Tunnel of Mid-December: Everyday Magic, Day 881

As a kid, I dreaded the stretch between New Jersey and New York City when our family station wagon would descend into the underworld, otherwise known as the Holland Tunnel, to cross through the dark waters of the Hudson River. Since then, every mid-December, I feel like I’m transported to the way-back seats of that station wagon to watch the lights of the tunnel sweep over us at regular intervals, all the time praying we make it back to the open air and neon swirls of what’s on the other side.

Part of it has to do with the truncated length of each day, only about 9 and a half hours long near the winter Solstice, but a bigger factor is the quality of darkness. When it gets dark, it gets really dark: a black charcoal darkness that makes driving home past sunset feel like I’m back in that tunnel, especially when I’m beyond the reach of street lights, and the inky clouds wrap tight around those on earth.

This year, the nights seem longer because the son of dear friends, someone we had watched grow from boy to man, died suddenly. I look into the big blanket of gray, frigid air with sadness in my heart — for the sorrow of a beautiful man’s life cut short, and for the seasons of pain my friends and their family are inhabiting. The anniversary of another big loss approaches in a few days, and despite the warmth and lights of winter holidays, I often experience December as having a particularly hard underside.

December has a way of reminding us of what despair echoes within and around us, but it also calls us to see anew in the dark. I think of how David Abram, in his writings, teachings, and in  conversation with us, talks about “the good darkness.” In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, he writes:

The story [of the sun’s journey] follows a kind of perceptual logic very different from the abstract logic we learned at school. It attends closely to the sensuous play of the world, allowing the unfolding pattern of that display to carry us into a place of dark wonder.

In this time of more night than day, there’s exactly “the unfolding pattern” and the subsequent “dark wonder” now visible not just because of what this darkness reveals, but what it conceals, which for me encompasses a lot of bright and shiny distractions. These long nights make it easier to see in the dark, and to see how much our lives are patterned by forces and sources far more vast than our thoughts and habits of thinking.

It turns out this darkness isn’t really a tunnel, but a time to wander through the open and mysterious space on the other side of whatever we’re tunneling through in our lives. It’s also this: a call to learn more about the art and necessity of slowing down, and although I’m a slow learner, I’m looking toward how I can hang out more with what is in between cooking something hot to eat, sleeping more than usual, and right now, watching the dark cedars wave hello or goodbye against the darkening sky.

Birthdays, Graduations and Charmed Lives: Everyday Magic, Day 880

img_2834A month ago, I found my old charm bracelet that my parents gave me in 1972. It had two charms to start me out, one for my 12th birthday and another for my graduation from junior high school with room for charms in the future, such as marriage, children, perhaps even grandchildren. In the time I grew up, it was common for women to have charms for rites of passage and other markers mapping the trail into and through adulthood.

I’ve come across this bracelet before, like a treasure lost in a pond that comes ashore haphazardly, and put it away again as a relic of my past. But this time I realized it was time to wear it again. The only problem was that my almost 57-year-old wrist was bigger than my 12-year-old one, so off to Goldmakers we went where Monty managed to somehow make a few new links, not easy given that each tiny link is entwined very fine strands of gold. When I picked up the bracelet the other day and put it on, it felt oddly familiar, and within hours, I remembered how its tiny, sharp jewels had a talent for catching on threads of sweaters and shirts. But it also felt great to wear probably my oldest material possession.

Over the past few days, I realized I didn’t need to add charms to mark occasions and game-changers over the last 44 years because “birthday” and “graduation” pretty much say it all. There are new beginnings to celebrate, births of insight, starts of projects, and the old refrain that to live is to continually begin again. There’s also constant graduations: what we’re finally able to finish, release, or shed img_2837because it’s done or no longer serves us. Of course, not all graduations are liberating: we leaves places and people who are home to us, we lose friends and relations to change or death. Time is one big graduation and birthday machine, churning out opportunities for moving on whether or not it’s our will or desire, and if we’re lucky, celebrations of hard-won leaps and landings. The irony of graduation is that another word for it  is “commencement,” new beginnings, which circles us right back to birth and birthdays. Like seasons that birth themselves, then die into the next season, every moment can be a touchstone, perhaps even a charm to remind us to open our eyes to the vibrant life — even if bitter, painful, tender, or grief-stricken — happening right now.

Tomorrow, on my birthday, I’ll wear my charm bracelet again and try to remember how  I’ve been blessed with a charmed life eve if it catches on my sweater and pulls out a thread here and there. And for all of us today, I want to say, Happy Birthday, Graduates! Keep on shining.

Sustain the Beloved Community, and Reject the New Normal: Everyday Magic, Day 879

Like many people I know, I’m caught in a panoramic response to the presidential election. One moment, I’m crying, another I’m agonizing over an anti-semite named as chief strategist and a racist touted as the incoming attorney general. I turn away from the news to compose myself and listen instead to the wind, consistent in its variety lately, only to return later to the world outside my windows and hear about a potential Muslim registry and how, according to one Trump advisor, the Japanese internment camps were a good model. Sometimes I go numb between the pulses of despair and bad news over how we can stand with those most threatened, and take care of ourselves and this beautiful and endangered world.

Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the making and keeping “the beloved community” as cornerstone of non-violence. This is challenging enough with people we agree with, yet there is plenty of opportunity lately to showing that love. I’ve witnessed and experience immense tenderness in my community and beyond. The day after the election, at our local food co-op The Merc, I walked up to a friend, and we held each other without talking. People I see on the street or at the bookstore check in with each other. We gather in the shadows to find mutual kinship, strength, and courage.

It’s easy enough to soften our hearts and reach out to those who feel the same way we do, but what King meant by the term “the beloved community” is to build community with those who don’t think and vote the same way we do.  As he said in a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court Decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery’s buses, “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

This work is so expansive, a climb up Mount Everest to where it’s hard to breathe, yet  polarization is at the heart of the situation America is in right now. Reality itself is so splintered into all-encompassing separate and even opposite realities on so many issues that it’s as if we don’t occupy the same planet, country, even neighborhoods. As I was standing in line to vote 10 days ago (back in the age of innocence), I thought, “Here we are all together, and I truly don’t understand why some of these people won’t vote the way I’m voting.”

How can we find our ways into civil, respectful dialogues in which we’re actually able to drop our shields and swords? I find this very difficult because there’s so much we need those shields and swords for right now, but on a person-to-person basis, I applaud anything we can do to soften the heart-hardened polarization between us. I think of a friend of mine who called a state representative’s office about Steve Bannon. When the aide said the media was exaggerating Bannon’s history of racism and antisemitism, my friend read him Bannon quotes (the aide said, “Oh, I didn’t know that”), and they ended up having a conversation instead of a confrontation. Will one conversation change anything? Probably not, but dozens might, and multiplied across our country, millions will.

By reaching out to those we disagree with, I’m not in any way saying anyone should accept attacks (some already in process) on Muslims, the LBGTQ community, Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, Immigrants, Women, Jews, People with Disabilities as the new normal. Everyday, I read about swastikas spray-painted on synagogues, racist slogans hurled out of speeding cars toward people of color, and even a horrible incident in which a bunch of middle-school kids yelled at a Mexican-American kid, “Build the wall.” We need to stand with those targeted, and stand up for civility and peace.

The fact that these things are happening speak to a terrible truth: there’s so much hatred and fear of each right under the surface, even traces of it in the best of us. We have a great many gated communities in America whether they have literate gates or not; so many places that are racially segregated especially. Although I have friends, family, and colleagues of color, I can look around at a lot of places I go and see mostly white people. There’s a lot to learn about why we’re splintered in so many ways, and what splinters we may have to remove from our own ways of seeing.

I think of small rural towns where I give talks on books with Jewish content, often being the first Jew some people there ever met. With a safe space for people to ask questions, I continually encounter a healthy sense of curiosity. I think of how the gay marriage movement gained great momentum quickly because so many people in all walks of life knew someone who was gay, and how, a friend of mine single-handedly changed many people’s attitudes toward lesbians by chatting up her neighbors in a very conservative Kansas town.

This is a wake-up call for us to reach beyond our echo chambers and begin conversations, person by person, and to not to take “liberty and justice for all” part of our Pledge of Allegiance for granted. There’s a lot to do right now to show that we are not accepting such hatred as innate to our government and country, and many are already taking action: calling and writing legislators, donating to advocacy groups, organizing community meetings and events, facilitating development of meaningful actions, and writing, singing, performing, dancing, and others to put forth the vision and real unity we need.

It’s also a time to balance the sometimes impossible work of how to take good care of ourselves as a vital part of this beloved community but still do good in the world. Self-care as well as caring for each other is essential for the long haul, and we’re likely in the duration. Humor, health, breaking bread (gluten-free or otherwise), long walks, deep sleep, rallying around those in grief or crisis, listening deeply, showing up, and reinhabiting our individual bodies as well as our communities all are part of the mosaic we’re making out of the broken shards around us.